My boss is a really nice guy. He cares about his staff and is very concerned with boosting morale and encouraging esprit de corps. In that spirit, he nominated me for an award intended to recognize good leaders in state Government. I was touched when he told me about it.
While I am fond of attention being paid to me, I don’t seek out awards. I write books and blog posts because I want people (you, for example) to enjoy what I have to say and think I’m a decent, funny guy, but I don’t write in hopes that I’ll receive an award. If I wanted that sort of recognition, I would write in a different genre than memoir. An award for best memoir would be a bit strange. Would the criteria be based on the best life or best presentation of a life story, regardless of how boring the life is?
As much as I appreciated the nomination, I was hopeful that I would not win the award that was to be presented by the Governor. I have nothing against the Governor; I voted for him. My concern was related to the accomplishments for which I was being nominated. Specifically, my boss thought I deserved recognition for my role in developing two software applications. Some of the people who use those software applications are not overly impressed with the final products. I like to think they work better than http://www.healthcare.gov, but they do have some glitches that we’re still working on. I thought those users might be critical of me winning an award for building – in their opinion – crappy software. That’s definitely not the kind of attention I seek.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the software, and I’m even more proud of the people who did the hard work to build it. Being nominated as a leader of the development effort felt like recognition that I had done a good job creating space for the folks who did the work; a space where they could be successful and build cool stuff. I firmly believe that my first duty as a manager is stay the hell out of the way.
When the awards were announced, I was relieved to learn that I didn’t win, but they way I learned was both deeply touching and profoundly strange. It happened at a weekly meeting of the agency’s Leadership Team (a label which, by the way, has always struck me as a a bit too Motivational Slogan Poster-ish, like “Determination Group” or “Perseverance Club”). Our director – a guy I have known for many years and greatly admire – gave a short, moving speech about me and presented me with a letter from the Governor. For moment, I thought I had won the award, but the director explained that while I had not won the award, being nominated by my peers who know and respect me was more significant than not being picked by a review committee at the Governor’s office who didn’t know me aside from the written nomination. I presume it was poorly written (JK). I shook his hand and felt really good about it. Then I started thinking, which is usually when the problems begin.
I read the letter from the Governor. It was very nice, but, when you boil it down, it went something like this:
Congratulations on being nominated. I’m really glad your friends think you’re pretty cool. I don’t agree with them but good for you!
It truly is an honor just to be nominated, but I suggest that the academy not send letters to the runners-up. It’s a bit silly, don’t you think?