Ask not what your Gorilla can do for you

“Go away Hogarth…”

I knew it was him. I mean who else would loom in my doorway at 8:30 at night? Every sane person in the company had gone home hours ago.

“So what does that make you?”

Sigh… I really hate when he does that. Pushing back from my keyboard I looked across the dark office to where my gorilla stood. The few lights illuminating the hallway lit him in an eerie haze that made him almost ghost like in appearance. Given how he haunted my every move, it wasn’t that far from the truth.

“I’m not dead yet,” he said before he swung his arms forward to propel his body into the darkness of my office. I lost sight of him for a moment, as he moved out of the faint light cast through the door. And then there he was, his leathery muzzle poking into the light given off by my monitor and his teeth flashing as he offered up a toothy smile. “Though you’re not looking so great. When was the last time you saw the sun?”

“Very funny, Hogarth, I don’t have time for funny. I’m three chapters behind on our book. You do want to see this book published someday, right?” Looking at him, I gave a triumphant grin. I had him on this one. It’s not like I was toiling away on office work. I ‘d learned my lesson on that long ago. I was just taking advantage of the quiet of after hours office to get in some quality writing time (using my own laptop of course).

I could feel Hogarth’s eyes boring through me from the darkness beyond the monitor glow. As he spoke, his white canines sparkled in the light. “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can and are good, do both.”

I blinked, “What? Seriously?” Okay, he’d gone to far this time. “I’ve done everything you’ve told me. I’ve gotten better at being a person, a project manager, a manager, a coach, you name it. I’m applying your lessons and things are going great here.”

He nodded, “Yep, you are. So why aren’t you at the agile coaching circle tonight?”

What the heck? “Are you smoking banana peels again? I’m not there because I’m here, writing. You’d think with you hanging around me, you wouldn’t have to ask. What on earth can anyone there teach me that you can’t?”

Hogarth leaned back into the darkness, his entire form become just a faint outline in the greater darkness of my office. “Who said anything about learning?”

Now I was really confused. And that usually meant he was about to hit me upside the head with some painful lesson. I’d gotten a lot better about seeing these coming. Only I didn’t know what it was, I only knew it was coming. “What?”

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Yep, he did it again… Oh, my head.


The Kennedy Approach to Being a Professional

Until recently I never really understood why I have become so passionate about helping others. I spent a long period of my career trying to stay below the radar. Don’t rock the boat, don’t stick out your head, don’t go the extra mile.

After Hogarth entered my life (See Wake up and Smell the Gorilla) , I found myself coming out of the bunkers and reaching out to help others. Even during the dark times, when I too was unemployed, I found myself reaching out to help others. I didn’t even think about it or when I did I was just thinking about my own karmic bank account. I was still early in my path and had much still to learn from Hogarth.

For the last year I’ve been regularly attending the Silicon Valley PMI Job Search breakfast. Why? I can hear many of you ask. After all I’m gainfully employed and am very happy with the job. Why would I be going to a breakfast for out of work project managers? For a long while, I thought I was just building my own network for a rainy day. I had a job, surely I can help others. The roles might be reversed someday and I’d need that persons help. Ultimately I thought I was doing it just to build up job karma for myself. It was all about me, right?

Then came the day I finally heard and understood what the facilitator had said many times before. Skip Le Fetrawas also employed and yet was devoting many hours a month to running the breakfast. Skip regularly said “I keep doing this because I get as much out of it as I do giving to it.” This took a while to sink into my head and it took another conversation for it to really gel.

We’d had a particularly intense meeting. One of the attendees had been facing some very specific challenges and the meeting had entered what I call “Group Coach” mode to help this one person. Now being a regular, and employed, I tend to be someone people turn to a lot, especially if Skip has to run off to a meeting. So on this day I had one of the attendees come to me. The attendee (We’ll call this attendee Pat) had something on their mind and needed to get it off. I was there to help. They said (I’ll paraphrase heavily), “This was a great session, X really needed it. I’m just curious, we did something like this for Y two weeks ago and while it really helped X and Y, I don’t feel like it is addressing everyone’s needs.”

I mentally rocked back on my heals on this one. Not so much by what Pat said. What got me was how everything was dropping into place as I formed my reply. I suddenly realized it wasn’t about building karma for myself. I suddenly realized why I help people and why it makes me feel so good.

Because it’s the right thing to do.

On that day I was Hogarth to Pat. President Kennedy’s speech came to my mind and the whole picture became clear. When I explained to Pat that what they should be getting out of the meeting is “what can I give to others.” As Skip had said for the last year, he learns and gets so much just from giving to the meeting.

Do it because it’s right, the rest will follow.

What can you do for your team?

Gorilla Ethics: Is that your banana or mine?

Have I ever mentioned how much I loathe team building exercises? Not the real one, no.  The ones that take cut-throat competition and slap a happy veneer over it to call it team building?
I squinted through the sunlight, trying to see where Sue was in the obstacle course. It was one of those big inflatable things that look like some swim float on steroids. She was struggling through inflatable tire rings about halfway through the maze. Meanwhile our opponents, from accounting, were just clearing the exit with their second to last man. And I was standing helplessly at the starting line, waiting for Sue to reach me so I could take my turn in the inflatable torture chamber.
The referee (okay the high school kid overseeing our event) came up to us and asked Monica how many were left to go on our team. She turned to look at Mr. Huggle . He looked over at me and then back at the ref, “Just him.” I looked at Mr. Huggle in confusion. He was the anchor, he’d called it at the start of the event and as the boss, he got it. He looked at me and gave a short shake of his head, the meaning unmistakable.
And then I didn’t have anymore time to react. Sue was running towards me. No matter what, I needed to do my personal best…
I walked into the  air conditioning of the sports center’s cafeteria. I made a beeline for the coolers full of beverages and yanked a bright blue sports drink from the ice. Putting the bottle to my neck I let its cold wash through me as I closed my eyes and tried to let go. Mr. Huggle had never run the obstacle course and because I’d run my heart out, we’d “beaten” accounting and “won” the obstacle course.
Yet, in the end it hadn’t mattered. They had already trounced us in the soccer shoot-out and then went on to annihilate us in ultimate Frisbee. So in the end, accounting won the overall competition and all I had for my experience was a lingering unease and a sweaty t-shirt.
Finally I gave a shrug and took a long pull from the sports drink. I had to let it go. It’s not like it was a big deal and we didn’t win anyway. So what if Huggle cheated?
<Clunk… Slide…. Clunk… Slide…>
Fearful of what the sound could be, but knowing full well what it was, I turned towards the door. He was silhouetted in the sunlight, his black form even more indistinguishable than normal. He was moving strangely, a waddling shuffle, almost like he was wearing…
“Hogarth! Why are wearing skis?”
Hogarth shuffled across the room his skis knocking over a couple of chairs the process. Plucking a banana from a fruit bowl and taking a bite from the unpeeled banana he chewed on it thoughtfully for several seconds. Finally, just as my patience was about to boil over, he turned to me and said. “To go down the slippery slope of course.”
“What slippery slope? It hasn’t rained in weeks!”
My gorilla gave a shrug. “The slippery slope that starts with fudging a team building game and ends with a Bernie Madoff sized Ponzie scheme.”
I threw my hands in the air in disgust. Stomping to a chair, I flung myself down and took a long pull on my sports drink. “Hogarth, it’s not the same. It’s light years difference between the two.”
Hogarth nodded, “You’re right, the difference is vast. And you’re wrong, it is the same. That’s your problem.”
My gorilla looked me right in the eyes and spoke. “There is no such thing as black and white only shades of grey. The secret is knowing that and always questioning what you do. If you’re always checking to see if you’re off course, you’ll get back on course a lot faster.”
Ethics- In this post Lehmans, Enron, Madoff era you can’t go a week without some kind of news article about ethics. Whether it is decrying a lack of it, tips for being better, passionate arguments for the use of it or even unethical advice on how to fake it, ethics has become a major component of our professional lives. This isn’t the three martini Mad Men era of business (if that ever really existed) where anything goes to close a deal. This is the era of the always online internet where what you said ten years ago is still floating around on some Alexa server. PMI has made ethics an integral part of its certification process, as had many professional organizations.
We all know it is right to be ethical, we all know what it means. Google summed it up in their corporate motto “Don’t be evil.”
Hey, Google! How’s that working out for you?
The world has become a lot murkier in the 21st century. The clean and crisp lines that had Superman as good and Lex Luthor as evil have given way to hero’s like the Dark Knight and villains  the Libyans throwing off their “legal” government.
Where is the line now? If there is not black and white, then how do we know if we’re on ethical ground or a quicksand pit of corporate malfeasance?
Unfortunately, I don’t think there are any magic bullet on this. In the example above, you risk the wrath of your employer if you point out he’s cheating in a simple game. Is it unethical to stay quiet? At the other end of the spectrum, if your boss is embezzling seven figure amounts from the company, it’s pretty clear cut that you should do something.
But those examples are like night and day!
Yes they are. The question is, what’s the difference between night and day? The answer is about one minute.
There isn’t a magic formula to tell you when you’ve gone from skating the edge to full on breach of ethics.
The secret is to always be asking yourself if you’ve crossed that line. Just as the courageous man is a man that knows fear but does it anyway, an ethical person is one who is constantly examining their own actions.
At the end of the day, there is only one person who can tell you if you’re being ethical or not.
Look in the mirror.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Talker
Want me to talk to your gorilla?
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP