In my fairly long but strangely unchequered career, I've been lucky to have had mostly mentors rather than bosses. But even in a line of giants, Joe stands out.
Recently, I stood up in front of about 70 people and made a presentation. It's not the first one I've made, so it was not a big deal, and that was exactly what was special about it. It's a long distance from the person I was at Joe's first appraisal of me seven years ago. He looked calmly at a defensive writer and said "I agree you don't really need it when you're a writer. But if you want to grow into something more, you have to be able to talk." Then he told me the crucial thing I needed to know: "Making a presentation is not about showmanship. It's just about telling a group of people what you know or believe in." And changed my view of my job, what I could do and how far I could go. He introduced me to ambition.
He grew up in Africa, went to graduate school in San Francisco and is Lebanese at heart. He had a parrot in his office that adored him like a dog and brought a happy German Shepherd named Pablo to work occasionally. His opinion is brutally frank and his compassion, disarming. He's eccentric and moody, but his scrupulous sense of fairness is only matched by his self awareness. I have co-worker friends who for some reason were not considered "my people", so I know that life with Joe was not all joy. But I was very squarely under the mantle and so felt no growing pains for six years, though I was making gigantic leaps as a person.
His annual appraisal of me consistently included the emphatic words "too nice", which graduated to "stupidly nice". My essential nature and first responses have not changed. I still find it hard to correct someone I like but because of Joe I do it anyway. I still shy away from confrontation but I will speak up against injustice. I still want people to like me but when I have to I will nevertheless go ahead and do things that will get me disliked. I was taught well.
Most of all, Joe gave me a role model, a template and manual that I refer to a million times in my working day. He only asked that we did the best we could and enjoyed ourselves doing it. He inspired absolute trust, which for a creative team, translates into having the confidence to take risks. He knew that his team's loyalty was the index of his success, their triumphs, his own.
That seems clear and logical, but when you're in the fray and surrounded by the loud and the hasty, it is easy to forget. Away from Joe's guidance, work is a particularly nerve-wracking episode of Survivor, but I brought with me four magic words that work without fail in any situation: "What would Joe do?"
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