Monday, July 2, 2012

Gutted and Guarded: What Counts as a Good Day

A long time ago, I worked for an unorthodox, character of a superintendent. Predictably and like many in positions of authority, public opinion on him was mixed. Some hated him and others loved him. I was in the latter group. In fact, most of the folks I thought were working hard to do the right things for kids felt as I did. Though resources were less than minimal, he worked damn hard to provide people with the things they needed to help move kids forward.

Lots of the things he did (and said) do not appear in any of the educational leadership textbooks on my office shelves. But above everything else, I remember something he taught me: the importance of a sense of humor. When I would see him after school, I often asked "How was your day?" Often his answer was, "Really kind of shitty. Almost nothing was funny." Point taken, lesson learned.

I'm a lot more orthodox and by-the-book (sometimes to my detriment) than this former superintendent, but he helped me learn a lot. Despite our style differences, I have figured out that when I have a less-than-stellar day, the cause is often the same: Almost nothing was funny. The days when I do my best work and am the kind of leader--indeed, person--I want to be are days when things are funny (I will save the obvious jokes here about how fortunate I am to work at a university--a sure fire provider of plenty of humor).

So here's a recent good day. You know those cell phone commercials that show the dangers of bad reception where messages are grossly misunderstood? Here's a winner for the next round of ads.

My buddy's son is a really good high school basketball player with a "high basketball IQ," as they say. He was attending basketball camp and was chosen to play in a game against some of the camp counselors at the end of the day. That meant he had the unenviable task of matching up with senior Panther guard Marc Sonnen, below.

It is fairly well-established that I am as biased as they come. It is also well established that I love the way that kid plays. Great storyline, too. He's tough, dependable and not a showman. Tenacious. An eye-contact guy.

So, I'm hanging out watching the game, excited for my buddy's kid. He has a rough go. Really rough. The next day, my buddy tells me his kid called him after the game was over. When he asked how the game went, he heard his son say, "I gutted the kid with the tats." Long pause. Stunned, my buddy asked, "You gutted him? Sonnen?"

Then the reception improved. "Nooooo, dad. I said I guarded him."

Big difference. The truth is, I was there. It is no more true to say he guarded Sonnen than to say he gutted him. He did neither.  But he did mix it up with a great player and good man who any dad would like to see his son emulate, on or off the floor. The reception stayed clear long enough for the son to explain that Sonnen thoroughly dominated him and at one point knocked him out of bounds so hard he thought a couple of Marc's tats might have rubbed off.

Watching the game and hearing the story fit my definition of a good day. Something funny.