Thursday, January 06, 2011

Guns, police, alcohol, and leadership

image Back on February of 2010, I went on a business trip to Brazil. The idea was to both visit a customer and spend some time with my new team in the Sao Paulo lab.

I arrived on Sunday night, and with the customer visit scheduled for Wednesday, I had the opportunity to visit the lab during the other days of the week until my departure on Saturday morning.

My manager, Jason, arrived on site on Monday afternoon, joining me in the meet-and-greet with the local manager. Taking a couple of vacation days before the trip forced me to split my time between the team and a backlog of email chores that invaded Monday night.

Next time, put it in the trunk…

Tuesday would not be so uneventful. Now joined by Russ, our senior architect, our three-person crew managed to elbow other guests in the rather luxurious hotel lobby and secure a cab by 8AM.

This is the point where I made my worst mistake in that trip: in the rush to secure the cab, I left my briefcase containing the IBM notebook on my lap instead of insisting that it be put in the car’s trunk. Halfway through our trip to the IBM site, our cab stopped in traffic for about 30 seconds, enough time for an armed motorcycle rider to tap my window with the barrel of a small handgun. The barrel seemed fairly weathered and I obliged with my equally weathered work equipment.

Sitting in the back, Jason and Russ were not robbed, but were just as shaken. With the rest of the day somewhat taken by filling various incident reports with IBM and local police, I figured my weekly stupidity quota was over and decided to muscle through reimaging a loaner laptop from the local lab.

…after hours, the secret of leadership

That day was far from over. Before resuming my email chores in the hotel room, I joined Jason and Russ for dinner at the hotel cafe and for a post-meal discussion on motivation and leadership that would invade the late hours of the evening.

My initial point of view is public and sometimes unpopular, based on discipline and technique as the requirement for anything done right and as the foundation for anything worth doing. It turns out the abbreviated version of those tenets channelled through the enlightened perspective of two beers in the bloodstream can make you come across as a bit of a Sergeant Hartman in the making. I may or may not have shared a link to "Technique, Art, and Quality” later to dispel any misunderstanding, and it may or may not have worked, not really sure, not really the point.

Russ offered the cornerstone of his leadership belief, that people needed to believe they could “climb that mountain”. Russ has led similar teams many times over in his long career, so I pinned his advice to a long list of thoughts I have been mulling over for the past year or so. I will come back to that list in a new post very soon.

Reunion time

It is still Tuesday night, back in my room, an enveloped letter from the desk tells me a good Samaritan found my wallet with everything in it sans cash and brought it back to the hotel. It even had the IBM badges neatly stripped of their plastic hooks and slotted next to the (already cancelled) credit cards and hotel room card. Interesting factoid, this would *not* be the last time I was reunited to my wallet sans cash on 2010, that wallet is either as loyal as a dog or cursed, or both.

Reminiscing times…

On Wednesday we headed back to the IBM site in an inconspicuously executive cab, bulked up our party with the local customer rep and then headed back out to our scheduled customer visit. I often forget how much fun I have during customer visits and being outside the lab. Other than frequent traveling I could get used to that life.

…times to be remembered

Thursday and Friday rounded up the visit to the lab with enough quality time with the team before my departure on Saturday morning. I cannot value enough the opportunity to have met my new colleagues face to face and I cannot value enough the realization of the 13 years separating my initial days in the Brazil lab and this visit, a mixture of time warp and role swap.

I would still be back to the lab during Summer time (which means I had two Winters during 2010, one on each hemisphere) for a longer stay spread out between working remotely from my home town and periodic visits to the lab.

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