My career has been a patchwork quilt with many industries, places and people along the way. Each step along the journey has given me a chance to learn and grow. In fact… some of the most humbling and powerful moments came in what I describe as “the moments in between”. When no one else was looking and only I knew the impact that it had on me.
So I want to tell you a quick story of one of the longest working relationships I have had…
About 15 years ago we moved the whole family from Canada to Arizona. When the moving van backed up to unload our stuff it was a 118 degree July summer day and I remember thinking…tell me again why the house has a fireplace? In addition to navigating the heat, the people we bought the house from warned us that their outdoor cat may try to sneak back to our house and we should just shoo him away…he would eventually get used to living in their new place around the corner. As it turns out… the cat was not to be deterred. Every time we brought him to his owners place or stomped our feet to get him out of the yard, he would always return the next day. It got to the point a couple of months later, in the oppressive heat of summer, that this now scrawny cat finally laid down by our back patio door and declared…”do you really want my death on your conscience or can we finally agree that I am here to stay?”
Given how insistent he was that this was his house…we relented and let him in. For an animal that was mainly an outdoor cat, he turned out to be a great pet. He spent most of his nights outside on the patio and patrolling the perimeter. During the day he would come inside and be content to keep us all company. He actually seemed more like a dog than a cat as he would follow us around like a puppy, herd us when he needed us to open the door or feed him and would give a paw when he wanted a treat. A very unusual cat to say the least.
Over the years we have often commented that he chose us…we didn’t choose him. That he decided we were worthy to live in his house and care for him. With that choice came mutual respect and contentment.
As with many other people in Corporate America, I have had long days in the last 6-8 months as I have exclusively worked from home. The cat that came with the house took his job seriously to ensure that I was not missing a moment of work so that I could keep the household sufficiently stocked with kibble. He would ensure I was up early for my 5 am meetings (meowing outside the bedroom door like an alarm clock to escort me down over the stairs to my office). He would paw at me at the appropriate intervals to ensure we got breakfast, lunch and dinner on time. He would sleep soundly for hours during the day on the bed behind me as he listened in to every call. I came to nickname him “my disruptive co-worker”. While he seemed to be looking out for my best interests – it really was all about him. If I was not where he thought I should be he would herd me back to the office (he was particularly insistent that I work nights and weekends – what a work-a-holic). If he felt I was not eating on time…he would walk across the desk and sit on the keyboard or threaten to knock over my monitor. In those moments I would tell my family “I have a toxic work environment and that my co-worker is harassing me”. I was instructed to report it to HR but honestly no one had my back on this one!
Well on Monday… I bid a final farewell to my disruptive co-worker. He had been diagnosed with kidney disease 2 years ago and we had run out of ways to help him. His was a life well lived and he was one of HPEs most loyal employees, even if he wasn’t officially on the payroll.
So here are a few leadership lessons learned from 15 years with my “disruptive co-worker”:
- You don’t always get to choose your co-workers, sometimes they come with the job and you are lucky when they choose you in their lives
- Your co-workers can be the biggest influence in keeping you on track and motivated…they can also be welcome distractions and remind you that there is more to life than work
- They can require your attention in some of the most inopportune moments and all you can do is smile because even though what you are working on (or the video call you are in the middle of) may seem like the most important thing…they remind you it really isn’t
- It is humbling to be “in service of another”. It is not about how much money you make or the title you carry, it is about how you show compassion and care to your coworkers in the moments when they need it most
I know many of us have our own “disruptive co-workers” that have been keeping us company day in and day out through these unusual times. Many of us have been road warriors over the years so this extra time with our pets has been a welcome distraction (ok… not always welcome but we are doing what we can). From dogs barking on conference calls, to cats meowing across keyboards to bunnies, hamsters, birds and all others… they make up a part of our family. So raise a glass tonight if you would to Frisco…the cat that came with the house. His was a life well lived!
Leadership Questions of the Week for YOU:
- DO YOU have a disruptive co-worker helping YOU each day as you navigate the new normal?
- How has working from home with pets changed the way you approach work from home?
- Do you find that more people are understanding of dogs barking, pet distractions and interruptions on calls than you thought? Does it help build connection with others as you share your stories?
- What are YOUR lessons learned from having pets in your life and how it compares to your leadership journey?
Thanks for reading and remember…YOU make a difference!
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