Posts Tagged ‘Humor’

From Man Cave to Bat Cave

Posted: February 3, 2014 in Humor
Tags: ,

batThis post is simply a story of an eventful Saturday night at the Ross house – no deep lessons to take away here, just an accounting of one of those events you hope never happens.

It was Saturday evening and I was in my man cave with my dog, Callie. I was reading the Bible in my recliner. Callie was asleep on the couch beside me. My wife, Linda, was in the living room on the main floor of the house on her laptop and watching TV. So far, everything was very normal.

Then suddenly Callie jumps off the couch and runs to the other side of the basement all excited and looking up. I look up to see a bat – yes, a bat – flying around that half of the room, circling a fairly small area. In 27 years of living here, that hasn’t happened before.

Normally, I’m pretty calm, cool and collected during a crisis. Not much phases me. Not having experience, though, with bats in my house before, I did what any calm, cool and collected 57-year-old, reserved, quiet introvert would do in such a situation – I started screaming like a girl. After a few yells, I started up the stairs to the back door of the house, knowing I’d have to open it to try to shoo the bat in that direction.

Now you would think that hearing your spouse scream repeatedly from another part of the house would prompt the other spouse to at least inquire about the reason for the screams. Oh, no. Not in our house. It took a number of screams and me yelling my wife’s name before she bothered to leave her laptop and TV and make her way to the top of the basement steps by the kitchen. Why the delay? She first thought, “He must be asleep and having another nightmare.” Heaven knows, she’s heard me yell at attackers in self-defense in countless dreams through nearly 35 years of marriage. After a couple of screams, she said later that she thought, “No, that doesn’t sound like a nightmare scream. Maybe it’s a ‘the dog is throwing up’ scream.” Then she finally concluded it wasn’t that scream either, so she would come see what was going on. How kind of her.

First major realization: If I ever am in deep doo-doo and screaming for my life, I may have to wait for Linda’s TV show to be over or for her to be caught up reading her Facebook news feed before she’ll ever come to my assistance. I guess I’d better be prepared to handle things myself.

So Linda makes her way to the kitchen/basement stairs door while I’m opening the back door and tell her that there’s a bat flying around. Now she gets the seriousness of the situation. Her instinctive response? To shut the door at the top of the steps blocking the bat, the dog and me from coming into the kitchen with her in hopes that I can shoo the bat outside.

Then she laughs from the other side of the door.

Moments later I hear a blood-curdling scream from the kitchen because somehow the bat sneaked by us and got in the kitchen just before Linda closed the door, trapping herself on that floor of the house with the bat while Callie and I were safely blocked off. She starts screaming repeatedly and scrambles to open the door to the stairs so she can get on this side of it.

Now it was my turn to laugh and to punctuate it with “Well, that’ll teach you to laugh at me.” At least we can both laugh nervously in the midst of crisis.

Of course, now it was time for the man of the house (albeit one who screams like a girl) to go upstairs and somehow corral a bat. Linda cracks the door open enough for me to get through and then she slips and nearly falls down the steps trying to get the door closed again. Neither of us would’ve laughed at that.

We don’t own a fishing net or any obvious item with which to catch a bat, so at Linda’s suggestion I get a large plastic mixing bowl from a cabinet. Bowl in hand, I start stalking the main floor of the house in search of my prey. The bat has decided to chill for a moment and hang upside down on the hallway wallpaper just above the open door to our upstairs master suite.

This gives me a moment to go open the front door of the house and start closing off other rooms one by one to restrict the bat to the hallway, living room, dining room and kitchen. Fortunately, the bat hung still while I closed the door just inches under it to our upstairs.

Before I could trap it in the bowl, however, it took off flying toward the living room. Armed with the bowl in my right hand as the bat circled the living room, I would swing violently at it when it approached me, yelling loudly with each swing. I hit it a couple of times, but it would quickly recover and start flying again – never choosing to go out the open door just feet away.

We live in a quiet neighborhood. In the stillness of the dark night, I could only imagine how many neighbors were hearing screams from our house with doors open and what they must be thinking. At the moment, though, that didn’t matter too much.

A broom was nearby, so I grabbed the broom thinking I would have a better shot at hitting the bat with the length of the broom, but one wild swing of that was enough to convince me I would quickly break any number of items in my frantic swinging, so I put it down and went back to the trusty mixing bowl.

Eventually the bat went back to the hallway wallpaper above our bedroom door. This was it! I was going to trap it this time. So I palmed the bowl like a basketball player about to go for a slam dunk and slapped it over the bat, trapping it against the wall.

Now what? Exactly what do you do when you’re on your tip toes holding a bat against a wall in a mixing bowl?

I needed something to slide between the bowl and the wall to trap the bat in the bowl so I could throw it outside. At this point, Linda was willing to come back upstairs and search out a piece of cardboard that would serve the purpose, as well as to get me a stool to stand on because my tip toes could give out at any moment and then the bat would be loose again.

The bat was a trooper at this point, not wanting to let go of the wallpaper and let me slide the cardboard between it and the wall, but I eventually succeeded. I told Linda to shut the front door behind me as I went out just in case it tried to fly back in. I trotted out to the edge of the very wet yard in my lounge pants and sock feet and slung the bowl and cardboard out into the street as far as I could.

Of course I had to retrieve the bowl, but as I tried that, the now-injured bat was flopping around in the street and made its way to nuzzle right up against the bowl. I kicked the bowl farther down the street and then retrieved it, leaving the bat in the road as I finally went back inside.

Second major realization: My dog Callie is the only really calm life form in the Ross house. She never barked. She didn’t go crazy. She was the first to notice the bat and go toward it, but once the new sideshow of Linda and me started, she just pulled up a chair and watched the remainder of the time, much as she does for two full hours whenever I yell and clap and pace during a University of Kentucky basketball game.

Fears of more bats, of course, came to mind and are still there, though they will hopefully dissipate with each passing day. My mother-in-law once had to have an exterminator come to her house in St. Louis to rid it of bats nesting in the walls and we want nothing of that kind of experience or expense.

I realize that some bat species are protected in Kentucky. Some are officially “endangered.” But any bat that finds its way into my house is without a doubt endangered because I will do whatever I need to do to make sure it permanently vacates the premises. So I shed no tears when I noticed Sunday morning that a car came along soon after I threw the bat in the street and finished the job I started. Flat bat won’t be flying in our house again.

Third major realization: Our neighborhood is very much a “live and let live” neighborhood. When Linda talked with our next-door neighbor Sunday morning to ask if she heard any commotion, the neighbor’s response was, “Yes, I heard, but I figured there must just be a fight going on.” Now I can’t recall a time in our 27 years in this house when we’ve ever made such a commotion  – yelling, doors open, flailing arms swinging, fight or otherwise – but the neighbor just takes it in stride.

I confess that there is an evil side to me. There always has been. I occasionally like to scare people, including my wife. If she didn’t scream and make a scene every time, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun and I would probably stop, but she always does, so I keep doing it for my own entertainment. So I just had to sneak up the basement steps once today when she was in the kitchen with her back to me and yell. “AHHH!!! There’s another one!!” Of course she screamed and turned around expecting a bat to be circling her head, but I started laughing and told her I was kidding. She hates that, of course, and gets a big pouty lip and tells me I’m mean and to go away, but I laugh, give her a hug, attempt to kiss her (unsuccessfully) and then I go away.

After posting about the event Saturday night on Facebook and seeing the creative responses of my friends, I realize that all my references to my basement man cave must now be changed to refer to the bat cave. One friend even posted some videos of the original Batman TV show that we both grew up on (one of my favorites). Nothing like calming a frantic spirit with some happy childhood memories.

As I said above, before the bat appeared I was just sitting quietly in my recliner reading the Bible. I tried to go back to where I left off once everything calmed down.  I was in the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32) where he’s talking about what curses will be brought on God’s people for their unbelief. The next 2 verses I came to picking up where I left off read: “I will pile disasters on them; I will use up My arrows against them. They will be weak from hunger, ravaged by pestilence and bitter plague; I will unleash on them wild beasts with fangs, as well as venomous snakes that slither in the dust.”

Oh, great. Now I feel a lot better.

I’m Thankful for Humor

Posted: December 18, 2013 in Humor
Tags: , , ,

LaughI’ve had some good laughs in the past few days – some with my team at work, some online, some at home. Laughter is healthy, both physically and emotionally. Over time I’ve written several blog posts related to humor, and I’m compelled to do so again as I reflect on some of the highlights of recent days.

There was a period of several weeks recently where work was more stressful for me than usual due to turnover on the team, but a new team is forming and it looks like it will be a fun group. Some of the apprehension of recent weeks is giving way to confidence in our future. Humor isn’t the reason for the confidence, but it is a welcome indicator of the manner in which personalities are coming together to gel and start a habit of getting things done while having fun along the way. That’s important. Workplaces, homes, schools, churches and other types of gathering places that don’t encourage and inject humor into everyday life are missing out on an important part of the joy of living.

A former pastor of mine in Missouri would occasionally tell his congregation that some of them looked like they were weened on dill pickles! At least that line got a chuckle out of them for a brief moment before they returned to their typical sour expressions. Perhaps you know people like that.

I appreciate people who can find humor in everyday things. I like it when a well-timed spoken line breaks the tension in a room. I don’t want to be around someone who thinks he always has to be funny constantly – never having a serious conversation, but I admire those who have good judgment on when to let their humorous side show and when to tone it down.

Life has enough stressors. We need humor as a daily part of life to balance things out.

Best BossI got my first job at age 16.  I was a clerk at a locally-owned grocery store in my hometown of Winchester, Kentucky, happy with the $1.60 per hour starting salary.  I did my work to the best of my ability.  I was thrilled when I got my first raise of five cents per hour.  I got along with the owners and the extended family that ran the store.  They were each different with their own personalities and ways of doing things.  In that environment, I got my first taste of the differences that bosses can bring to the workplace.

That was 40 years ago.  Over four decades of working, I’ve had experience with a lot of different bosses – some great, some mediocre, some awful.  In this post, I will share with you the characteristics and practices demonstrated by the bosses I consider to be the best that I’ve had the privilege to work with.  My next post will discuss the flip side – those dreadful characteristics and practices that have made working under some bosses a painful time of endurance testing.

The best bosses I’ve ever had:

Are encouragers.  We like to be encouraged with kind words and with recognition of a job well done.  We like to know that others have confidence in us even if we aren’t quite as confident in ourselves at times, especially when tackling something new.  If you tell me you know I can do something, I will do everything in my power not to let you down.

Are approachable.  Whether via an open door policy or by ample other opportunities to engage with employees, bosses must create an environment where their direct reports know that they are welcome and encouraged to approach them any time with questions, concerns, suggestions, complaints, etc.  An unapproachable boss will be detached from the team and woefully unaware of the reality around him/her.

Are organized.  A boss who knows how to set priorities, plan and successfully execute sets a great example for those who report to him/her.  On the contrary, unorganized bosses can leave a whole team disorganized and discouraged by the constant chaos.

Are willing to do grunt work if needed.  I appreciate bosses who don’t mind getting their hands dirty, digging in when necessary to help the team churn out what needs to be done.  This can’t be the primary role of a boss, of course, but in those times when extreme work loads or looming deadlines tax the ability of others to get it all done, this is a great gesture of teamwork that goes a long way in developing good will.

Give me a job to do and turn me loose to do it.  I work best when I’m left alone to get things done without anyone peering over my shoulder or constantly checking up on how things are going.  If I need help or hit a roadblock that will take a boss to overcome, I’ll let the boss know.  Until then, he/she can assume all is well and on schedule – maybe even ahead of schedule and expectations.

Help me understand the big picture.  I don’t want to just know how to do tasks A, B,and C.  I want to know how the work I do fits into the overall purpose of the company and its larger mission.  I don’t want to just be good at tactics; I want to understand strategy.  I am helped by having core values that underlie the business reinforced in word and deed by people at all levels of the org chart.  I want a leader who can help a team take a step back when needed and help us remember why we do what we do.

Exercise fairness in how each employee is treated.  Any hint of favoritism from a boss toward one employee over another creates a very dysfunctional team.  If some employees seem to get away with poor work performance, excessive absences, or inappropriate behavior that is not tolerated in others, fellow workers are potentially demotivated from doing their best because of the disparity.  I don’t expect better treatment than other employees, but I do at least expect equal treatment.

Address personnel issues quickly.  This may be with an under-performing employee or it may mean stepping in to mediate interpersonal tensions between two or more employees.  Regardless, issues cannot fester or they do more damage the longer they are ignored.  Dealing with conflict or difficult situations must surely be among the least favorite roles a boss has to play, but it is an essential one that pays big dividends in the long run.

Tangibly reward top performers.  While recognition and encouragement go a long way toward job satisfaction, it is also true that none of us are employed full-time merely for the fun of it or the kind words that may come our way.  We work to earn a living, and if we go above and beyond what is expected, then we should be compensated accordingly.  Any business that places arbitrary limits on how much people can earn in certain roles or who do not allocate funds for increased salaries and bonuses only demotivate employees who feel like they have maxed out their earning and growth potential in a role.

Expect accountability.  My first boss at my current employer ten years ago was as good at this as any I’ve ever had.  Like clockwork, we had one-on-ones with a common, simple agenda that showed what we had accomplished since the last meeting, what we would do before the next one, and any issues standing in the way that we might need her to run interference regarding.  There’s something about knowing that periodic check-in with the boss is coming up to sometimes light a fire under you to get things done.

Do what they say they’ll do.  Just as I expect to be accountable to my boss, I expect my bosses to follow through and do what they say they’ll do without needing frequent reminders from others.  I know schedules can be crazy and demands from above and below in the org chart can be hard to juggle, but failing to follow through on commitments is discouraging to those impacted.

Challenge me to do better.  Regardless of how well I may perform my duties, I know there is always room for improvement.  When I was a training manager for about two dozen trainers at a previous company, I took seriously sitting in on the classes they taught and meeting with them afterward to discuss what they did well and what they might work to improve.  If someone comes to me and praises me for how I do A, B, and C, but suggests that I might consider some suggested changes to improve how I do D, E, and F, I’m going to value that information and take it to heart, trying to improve in those areas.

Welcome innovation and initiative.  I can’t think of a job I’ve had in 40 years where I did not go above and beyond what was expected, voluntarily taking on new responsibilities and attempting new things that I thought would be beneficial to the business and/or its customers.  That doesn’t mean that I was in a role where such was expected or demanded, however.  Good ideas can come from any level of the org chart at any time.  Good bosses hear those ideas, weigh them, give guidance, and, where appropriate, approval.

Delegate authority – not just responsibility.  There is not much more frustrating in a role than having responsibilities without the accompanying authority.  The power to make decisions and implement them needs to be pushed as far down the org chart as possible instead of being concentrated up the chain.  Work gets done more effectively and efficiently when this is the case.

Have my back.  Nobody likes being thrown under the bus by anyone, but especially by your boss.  I appreciate bosses who have gone to bat for me, defending decisions made and actions taken when challenged by others.  It’s like having an older sibling step up to a playground bully and say, “If you want to get to him, you’ll have to go through me first.”  Of course, it won’t be in those exact words in a business conversation or email (although that would be awesome!), but the positive emotional impact is the same when a boss takes up for you in discussion with others.

Show a sense of humor.  Humor goes such a long way in strengthening relationships, in making an environment fun, and in showing someone’s personal, human side.  Work days can get long and stress can take its toll, but if days are broken up with regular moments of laughter and fun, it makes them seem shorter and the stress more bearable.

So, there you have a number of characteristics or practices that I consider to be among the most admirable I’ve seen in the best bosses I’ve had through the years.  What about you?  Which of the above resonates with your experience?  Do you have additional ones from your work life you could add to the list?  If so, let me know in a comment.

(Side note: Some may question why I use the term “bosses” throughout this post and not something more positive or official sounding like “supervisor,” “manager” or “leader.”  Nothing negative or insulting is intended.  Any of the terms could have been used.  I chose the shortest.  Actually, I like the term and have on many occasions affectionately referred to various managers as “boss man.”)

Good WorkerLast month I wrote a couple of posts about The Best Behaviors I’ve Shown As An Employee and The Worst Mistakes I’ve Made As An Employee. They were very well received with the post on worst mistakes being the most viewed post on this blog in the two years the blog has existed. Having examined myself first in those posts, I now turn my attention to what I appreciate most and what annoys me the most in coworkers. I’ll split the topics into two posts. I’ve worked at a number of places over 40 years, so don’t make any assumptions about particular places, teams or individuals referenced. I would never name names in a negative comment.

Since many working adults spend more waking hours with coworkers than with their families weekly, how we get along with others at work is important. When relationships are good and healthy, when work is fun and fulfilling, life is good. Most of us, though, have experienced those jobs or coworkers from time to time where interpersonal conflict and other issues cause stress and dissatisfaction. This post focuses on the characteristics and behaviors that I most appreciate in coworkers. My next post will deal with the flip side.

Here they are, not in any particular order of importance:

1. Strong work ethic. I don’t necessarily expect everyone to willingly and consistently put in the 50-55 hours per week I typically give, but I do expect people to work hard and to go above and beyond when needed. It turns me off if someone is so tied to a clock that they don’t consider putting in more than the minimum required. I love working with people who are driven to give their best and to put in the time necessary to put out quality work.

2. Sense of humor. It’s amazing how much quicker a day goes by when it is sprinkled with laughter and good-natured fun along the way. The presence of humor makes me want to be with the sources of that humor.

3. Creativity. I don’t claim to be very creative, but I appreciate others who can look at issues and tasks in new ways, present solutions I would never think of, and turn something otherwise mundane and bland into something that meets a need in an appealing, attractive, and unique way. There are almost always better ways to accomplish things, and being surrounded by creative minds increases the likelihood of coming up with remarkable solutions to business needs.

4. Willingness to help. When coworkers notice that a colleague is sinking under a heavy workload and needs help, it is encouraging to see them offer to share the load even if they already have a full plate themselves. Sometimes we all need a helping hand, and having colleagues you can turn to in a pinch or who initiate offering help is a godsend.

5. Emotional maturity. It is not helpful in an office when people wear their emotions on their sleeves and don’t know how to stay professional. I like working with others who can address matters calmly, reasonably, and with a common purpose of solving problems, moving forward, and getting things done. It is nice when people can receive constructive criticism and suggestions willingly. It’s helpful when others do not take things too personally when the intent of the conversation is to do what is in the best interests of the company and the work to be done.

6. Integrity. I like working with people who do what they say they they will do. I respect people who are honest in all situations. I expect that of myself and of others. Without it, I just can’t trust you, and that will negatively impact our ability to work together.

7. Initiative. It is invigorating to work on a team where individuals constantly think of new things that can be done as well as new and better ways to do what has been done in the past. When colleagues act on those inclinations, you have a scenario where the workers are fully engaged and enthusiastic about what they bring to the table, and the company ultimately benefits. It’s a win-win for the worker and the business.

8. Willingness to bend or break the rules. This one may get me in trouble. While it is important to live within corporate policies, it is also important to put faith in trusted, proven individuals and give them some leeway to act on their knowledge, experience, and instincts, even if some rules get bent in the process. Most of us don’t have to think too long and hard to come up with frustrating examples of corporate practices and policies that have been allowed to morph into some giant, life-sucking, time-consuming albatross around the necks of people who simply want to get their jobs done in the most efficient and effective manner possible. The rebel in me loves people willing to break rules in order to do a better job at something, asking forgiveness rather than permission.

9. Managers who give me a job to do and turn me loose to do it. I have been blessed with more managers than not who have trusted me to get my work done without them breathing down my neck and trying to micromanage everything I do. If I need help, I’ll ask for it. Otherwise, they can know that all is well. Check in with me every week or two to hold me accountable, but otherwise give me space and I’ll do you proud. Those who understand that and give me that freedom get my best work. Those who do not are now former managers.

10. Friendship. I don’t have to be best friends with anyone at work, but I do like thinking of several as genuine friends – people with whom I would be glad to hang out outside of work from time to time. That requires common interests, liking each other, and someone taking the initiative to get together outside of work occasionally. There is much to be gained from simply going out for a meal together or joining in some fun activity just for the heck of it.

So there you have my top ten characteristics or behaviors I most appreciate in coworkers. Some of my roles and teams have aligned better with those expectations than others. I am incredibly fortunate to be on a stellar team now that lives up to all of these.

What about you? What do you appreciate most in a coworker?

What are some reactions people have after failing at something?  Several possibilities come to mind:

  • You can learn from it, shrug it off and go on your way;
  • You can let it embarrass you, devastate you or inhibit your future attempts at similar endeavors;
  • You can get mad about it;
  • You can blame it on others;
  • You can have your own little pity party for a while.

Chances are, though, that most of us don’t think of the option of having fun with it.  Yet that is exactly what my team at work has started to do the last couple of weeks.  The photo above is of a lemur with the look and apparent attitude to match the caption of “Just…just stop.”  The small print says “Because the more you talk, the stupider you sound.”

A week ago, I revealed to my team at work that I had “friended” a certain someone on a social media site.  It was only moments before my clever manager made up a sheet of paper with the lemur on it, added the hashtag #fail, and “awarded” it to me, complete with my name and date (but thankfully not with the reason for receiving it).  We got a good laugh out of it and I proudly hung it in my cube.  Today I awarded it to a teammate for something he’s been doing all week, some might say to excess (although I’m actually jealous).

The contexts of the award have so far been silly and inconsequential.  If I cost us $1 million it might not be so funny.  Still, I wonder about how we address failures, especially when they are known by others.

I’ve seen bosses practically skin the hide off people for making mistakes.  I’ve heard horrible, humiliating attacks in front of others – something inexcusable in my book.  But rarely have I seen people find a way to discover the humor in it, get past it, learn from it, and move on.  Our team has the ability and inclination to do just that.

So if you’re letting failure get you down or impede future progress, follow the lemur’s advice and just…just stop.

Leap year lesson #162 is Find fun in failure.