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A good few years ago a senior colleague asked me that very question. It was more of a statement, than a question and it was designed to make me think about how I approached work and perhaps more importantly how others saw me in the workplace. It fits very nicely with another saying, ‘if you want the job done, give it to a busy person’. It seems there are those in the workplace that get the job done and those that don’t. There are those that always say ‘yes’ and others that often say ‘no’. There are those that solve problems and those that don’t. Another saying from a senior manager, ‘don’t bring me problems, just bring me solutions’ sums up the majority of relationships in organisations.
My experience of managers (both middle and upper) has been varied, but unfortunately most have fallen into the category of poor, bordering on awful. Perhaps that colours my judgement, but I do know that I’ve also had some very good managers. The good managers always made me feel like I was working in partnership with them and, yet I knew who was the boss. I always tried to find a solution to a problem but if I couldn’t then the boss knew that it was a problem he or she needed to deal with, they trusted my judgement. Often what appears to be the most trivial of problems can be a show stopper, a good boss knows this. If I said ‘no’ to a piece of work, then the boss negotiated which other piece of work would be set to one side for now. Sometimes everything is a priority, and everything is important, it is for those at the most senior level to make the decisions about what will or will not get done. Making no choice is an abrogation of responsibility, suggesting it is another person’s problem is just as bad if not worse.
Good managers understand how much work people are doing and trust their workers to get on with the job in hand. A good manager knows that even the most menial of tasks takes more time than might be imagined and that things rarely go exactly to plan. There is always an element of redundancy. When someone says ‘no’ to a piece of work they understand that there is a reason for that ‘no’ and rather than simply seeing that person as being difficult or lazy, they listen and seek solutions. More importantly, they take responsibility for the problem, ‘bring me the problem and I’ll help you find the solution’.
As we move into a summer of uncertainty where the ‘new normal’ is an anxious time for most, where the ‘yes’ people are needed more than ever, and the managers need to lead from the front, if you are a manager, what will you response be when your undervalued ‘yes’ person says ‘no’?
My favourite TV show - I’m excited for series 4 of The Good Fight about to start, spin off from The Good Wife. I felt like someone in my family had died at the end of the Good Wife series 7, and I couldn’t tell anyone because it seemed pathetic. The Wire was probably the greatest telly series I ever watched, but much too sad to watch again. I loved The Bridge, but it is also too sad and scary to rewatch
My favourite place to go - I run down the tow path from Hampton Court to Kingston Bridge, and it always makes me happy
My favourite city - London. Or Oxford.
My favourite thing to do in my free time - knitting and watching action films, or cooking and listening to audio books or R4. I totally switch off, and am totally happy
My favourite athlete/sports personality - Kath Grainger, awesome oarswoman, kind, and a tall woman superhero.
My favourite actor – at the risk of revealing myself as very shallow, Sandra Bullock
My favourite author - can I have a Playwright? Shakespeare. My husband and I are working through multiple productions of every play. It’s like he was born 500 years into the future and time travelled backwards
My favourite drink - I love coffee
My favourite food - homemade popcorn, in front of the telly, with my children
My favourite place to eat -The Trout, Godstow. Location for Phillip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, it overlooks the river where I rowed as a half blue, and is a walk across Port Meadows away from Oxford’s dreaming spires.
I like people who -are respectful to people who may not seem very important. That includes children
I don’t like it when people - patronise me
My favourite book - Middlemarch, George Eliot, it gets better on every reading. Any of the Earthsea books = let’s say The Farthest Shore, by Ursula Le Guin, which I read first as an adult to my children, and is profoundly true and moving
My favourite book character - Sparrowhawk in Le Guin’s Earthsea books, my favourite literary leader, along with Cromwell, in Mantell’s trilogy. George Eliot’s Gwendolen Harleth, who survives what life throws at her, and walks away whole at the end of a book not named after her. Can I have a play character? Isabella from Measure for Measure. “Did I tell this, who would believe me?” Very #MeToo
My favourite film -Some Like it Hot. Not a single dud scene, not a dud line
My favourite poem -“God’s Grandeur”, by Gerard Manley Hopkins. The last two lines are a fine example in English of the Welsh verse form Cynghanedd, a kind of syllable patterning. “Because the Holy Ghost over the bent/World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.” B…b/W..d..b..d..w..w…b..w..b..w
My favourite artist/band - Runrig maybe. I first heard their songs when I was a PGT and then PGR student at Strathclyde in Glasgow. Next time I heard them was 25 years later when my Scottish husband and I courted each other. Or Eurythmics. I love Annie Lennox’s voice
My favourite piece of music - Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major. The second movement was the theme of Out of Africa, and now I think I love the 1st movement as much
My favourite art - Bridget Riley – explosions of shape and light channelled into structure and simplicity
My favourite person from history - I don’t know if it counts as history, but my College Principal, Baroness Daphne Park, was a spy in WW2, which was pretty impressive