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Executive Ability

Here I am – it’s 2 AM and I can’t just get myself into bed. I’m resisting the next cup of coffee, because I know it’ll trash me, but I’m on the fence between being too tired to do anything more (rightly so) and not tired enough to feel that sleep is inevitable. And so, I blog.
The entry I’m writing now I’ve been chewing on for about a week, mostly becaues I haven’t had the time to get back to it, but also because I’m still heavy in the process of introspection. This blog entry is about executive ability, and in specific, my recognition of my own capacity and talent for executive ability. It’s funny, but I have never before considered myself to be on a track towards leadership, even if I’ve continually shown capacity for it throughout my life, and I certainly never viewed myself as being on track for a job that leveraged that particular skill set.
My dad was (and is) a technition, primarily, and I’ve learned my work ethic and my approach from him. I was gifted with a keen mind, and a willingness to get my hands dirty, both figuratively and literally. If there is a problem in front of me, I often approach it like a technition/engineer, and hammer through until I find a solution. The engineering / technition way is, for the most part, a solitary act, where the work transmits from mind to hand to solution in a direct way. Yes, you can work on a problem in teams, and yes, you can have a hierarchy of individuals in an engineering team, but the fundamental nature of the work is solitary, back in one’s own office/cube, applying mind and force to the implementation of a solution to the problem.
Executive ability, on the other hand, occurs at a much higher level than implementation of solutions. Executive ability is the particular trait of being able to access higher-level information, to digest that information, and to create the conditions under which a solution is found, usually in the act of the utterance of a directive, intended for others to implement. To put it coarsly, it’s telling others what to do, but to be accurate, that is not the complete story. An executive takes the readings of a situation, and above all else is willing and capable of deciding on a course of action where others may fear to do the same, for any myriad reasons: lack of data, lack of power, lack of courage, lack of funding… An executive will carefully weigh all factors, and will cut through the situation like a gordian know with the sword of decision, given forth in a speech act. ‘Do this!’.
Maybe because I come from a technition’s perspective, where one never tells anyone to do anything that they are not willing to do themselves, and where one often knows that doing it themselves will yield better results than delegation (the arrogance of intelligence and ability in action), the thought of executive action, especially if coming from a place of incomplete understanding (or downright ignorance) has been an anathema to me. Well, perhaps that’s putting things too strongly — it is certainly uncomfortable.
And yet, over the last few years of my career, I have begun to recognize the value of executive ability, and have recognized it in others. What’s more, I’ve begun to recognize it in myself, and have realized it is closely bound to courage. I have born witness to executives that know the wisdom of the decision made, even when made with incomplete information. The truth is that information is never complete, and decisions are never final — the facile executive is firm but flexible, resilient to the effects of the tides of change, but unwavering in resolve. The truth is, any social organization, be it military, commercial, public, political or familial, needs a leader — someone who will call the shots, take charge, be responsible, and get things done.
I am learning to get things done. My boss actually noted this ability in me perhaps a few months ago, where she made the comment to the effect that I am the type of person that gets things done. This was in regards to the leadership I was taking in the CSU open source movement, but in specifically in regards to my ability to get people together, to talk about problems, to come forth with solutions, and to help the implementation of those solutions. While not exactly my boss, but the executive of the Pachyderm project recently told me that he has been impressed with the leadership that I’ve taken on the project, and seeing that I have been the acting founding chair of the pachyderm advisory council, it feels really good to both get the opportunity to lead, and the recognition when my leadership is valued.
I feel that I’ve been maneuvering myself in my career, orienting myself towards leadership. I used to envision my career to proceed along the purely technical track, perhaps placing myself in the position of chief architect, or some such big-brained primary role in the creation of solutions for problems. Now, I wisely (or cynically) realize I will never be the best technical worker, for a number of salient reasons. I am certainly proficient, and I’m very good at creating solutions, but the implementation details are best left to the younger, smarter, fresher and let’s face it, cheaper labor force that’s out there. My place, ultimately, I feel is in the role of decision maker. I don’t think I could ever give up my love of technology, or my involvement with it, but I feel that it is precisely because of my deep and broad technological understanding, that I could make an excellent executive, armed with my raw talents in coordinating conversations, teaching, diseminating information, and coordinating the actions of others, but augmented by my learned experience as a technical worker.
It’s getting late, and finally I’m tired enough to fall asleep. Unfortunately, I’m beyond the ability to write coherently. I guess the point I was getting to is this; there is no room for advancement within my current group for my current office environment, and so if I wish to continue to move forward but remain in the edu system, I need to get very good at self promoting, and to score points with individuals within the edu system, but outside of my immediate group. If I can land a sufficient number of projects as the leadership role, I might build a fairly good reputiation, and might be able to leverage my popularity and stye into a new role, job, position, etc. Who knows. For now, I know that I am shaping my own destiny, and for once I feel that it is in the palms of my own hands, and that I am capabile to make anything happen.
That being said, I’m off to sleep. I suggest you go to sleep now aas well 🙂

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