My Own Horrifying Jerry Maguire Moment

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“He that speaks the truth must have one foot in the stirrup.”-- Turkish proverb

par·al·lax--, noun, the effect whereby the position or direction of an object appears to differ when viewed from different positions(note: parallax is also the term used in tank gunnery to describe the lining up of the gunner’s or tank commander’s sight with the tank main gun gun tube)

Bottom Line Up Front: Recently I posted a blog post critical of Human Resources departments dominated by women. I was trying to advocate for greater cooperation between men and women and make a point about a situation faced by men. I fear I offended hard working women. As men, getting it right—keeping our integrity while fulfilling our responsibilities-- is the toughest thing we’ll ever do. We will fall many times. It’s terrifying and necessary in this crazy world for all of us—men as well as women—to keep trying to get it right.

It’s completely worth it, but let’s be careful of each other.

The Jerry Maguire Moment? Realizing to your horror your conscience may have over-ridden your good judgment.

In a crisis of conscience in the middle of the night during a corporate off-site, sports agent Jerry Maguire writes a mission statement criticizing the company he works for and the industry it serves.

Before he can stop himself, he distributes it to the entire company.

He wakes the next morning horrified to realize what he’s done.

He is fired two weeks later and must re-build his life.

A compelling story to watch, a tough road to travel.

“Let’s face it. Men are insensitive. They don’t listen.”

Let’s go back a few years.

After I retired from the Army in 2002 I went to work for a defense contractor. I was a Program Manager and Section Manager. I attended an HR training event run by two former corporate Vice Presidents. At the event they self-described as a Jewish lawyer and a WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) manager. I remember thinking, “OK, now our cards are on the table.”

 I think the event was aimed at making everyone more sensitive to the needs of a diverse work force.

The word diverse had already lost its meaning, even then.

I had watched the company’s HR department try diligently for two years to manage a rapidly changing work force in our crazy litigious society.

Well into the event one of the presenters said, “Let’s face it. Men are insensitive. They don’t listen.”

I shot my hand up. It seemed this was a typical moment of self-serving corporate hypocrisy.

I worked hard and was proud of the professionalism I tried to show every day to all people.

He called on me.

I said, “I gotta throw the flag on you for that one. You sound pretty sexist, there.”

That was me, a man, calling him, a man, sexist.

Crazy or what?

Further down in the auditorium a young lady shot her hand up.

Can I say young lady? In my culture it is how I show respect.

She was black.

Can I say black? I have lost track of what other people tell me I am allowed to say.

When she put her hand up I remember thinking, “OK, here we go. Now I’m going to get it.”

The presenter called on the young lady.

She said, “I gotta tell you, he (meaning me) is right. I have worked here for some years. I love my job. I love working here. White, middle aged men have tried harder than anyone else to get this stuff right and have been the most helpful of anyone here. They listen. They have helped me. They have taught me. I am very grateful for that.”

Maybe she wasn’t quite that complimentary, but it’s been some years. I remember feeling that complimented.

That honored.

That appreciated.

She was absolutely great.

That is the story—it must happen elsewhere-- that doesn’t get told enough.

“Men just don’t take me seriously.”

About two years later at the same company I attended another HR sponsored training event.

The presenter was a very attractive young lady.

Attractiveness matters. It’s relevant. Don’t kid yourself.

She had started her own training company.

She was a subcontractor.

Very professional.

Very competent.

Very confident.

Her task? To teach a room full of men—former soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen-- to manage their security clearances properly.

It was a good class.

So good that I, even then wanting to launch my own business, asked her to coffee to learn from her.

She taught many different kinds of courses and said she was considering cancelling this particular gig.

She said men were under-represented in her field because HR was dominated by women and HR made the training decisions.

I asked her to connect the dots.

She said, “I know my job. My business is profitable. I’m good and get invited back. I hope it’s because I am effective. However, it’s also because I’m a woman.  There are advantages to a woman-owned business and being hired by other women. But there’s a down side. I know when I am not getting through to men. They look at me. They see an attractive woman and they check out. They are not thinking about what I’m saying. They look at me and think of… let’s just say… other things.”

She said a man could make a lot of money in her field because his training would be more effective if the target audience is men. Men listen to men.

She encouraged me to start a business like hers specifically training men in the cleared community because that market is under-served.

 The result? Men aren’t getting trained effectively. The client was not getting as good a product.

Like it or not, human nature plays a role in communication.

Sex is part of human nature.

Sometimes you have to test a limb to see how strong it is. Sometimes that limb is yourself.

My Jerry Maguire moment was the decision to publish a blog post. Scared me to death.

Two weeks ago I published a blog post titled The Invisible Engine. In it I describe a situation I have discovered through talking with men. They have confirmed my own experience in corporate America and to a degree my experience working in the Federal Government.

You can read it here.

When I was frightened I had done the wrong thing by posting it I wanted to re-write and soften it.

I have not re-written it.

But I have re-thought it.

It is a pretty fair assessment of the situation as I have experienced it and as I have learned of it through speaking with other men.

Many men I have spoken with do feel marginalized and patronized if not outright persecuted just for being men.

Many men are sort of punch drunk from the PC wars.

They have checked out.

They are throughout the work force and want to engage and work hard, but are hesitant to do so because they believe they will be penalized.

Some of them are using their employers’ resources to cheat the system.

That is not getting it right. You can’t cheat.

Here’s why I was horrified. I work with very professional women. I thought my blogpost would offend them and women and men have to solve the problems we face together.

My manager is a woman.

She is one of the hardest working, most detail oriented, professional managers I have ever encountered.

Like all of us, she has her faults.

Like most of us, she is probably painfully more aware of her faults than anyone else is.

She works hard to get it—managing-- as close to right as she can every single day.

She pours herself into the job with all she has. She busts her back.

She works long hours and puts all she has into every task.

I assume she reads my blog posts because writing blog posts is a public act.

However, I don’t know for certain.

She is so attentive to being professional that she would not mention my blogposts because doing so may cross a line she wants us to keep in place.

The HR Reps who help me are women.

I am trying to learn to be more effective at my job.

I reached out to my HR reps.

They have agreed to meet with me.

They are women. Hard-working, professional, detail oriented and crazy professional.

They want to succeed and they want me to succeed.

Our senior-most manager is a woman.

Finally, not too long ago a very senior official in our organization came down to talk with us.

Professional, knowledgeable, experienced and very generous with her most precious asset: her time.

Again, too, she is a woman. Like me, like you, she is trying to get it right.

The Masculine Genius. The Feminine Genius.

We all know who Warren Buffett is. His business partner at Berkshire Hathaway is a man named Charlie Munger. Buffett said something very wise that I have applied to my marriage. He said, “Charlie and I disagree on many things, but we never argue.”

That’s gold, there, gentlemen. Gold. Men and women may disagree but we both lose when we argue.

When I first started doing research on how to launch Authentic Masculinity I read two books simultaneously. One was Choose Yourself by James Altucher. The other was Free Range Human by Maryann Cantwell.

A man’s perspective.

A woman’s perspective.

Parallax (if you missed it, see the definition of parallax at the start of this post).

 I benefit.

Call To Action: Write a Personal Mission Statement.

Jerry Maguire moments can be devastating, but life is a force of crushing compromise and those compromises can crush our value to our employers. Most of us start a career with high ideals and then slowly allow our ideals and standards to drop in response to day to day realities. Fight that trend by doing the following:

First, today, right now, write down as quickly as you can why you are in the line of work you are in.

Second, answer these questions and remember the answers are strictly for you, nobody else, so feel free to let yourself go with the answers.

Why are you doing the work you do now and why did you start some years ago?

How are the reasons different?

How have your reasons changed over the years?

What are your current motivations and what are your current ideals for your own profession?

Finally, after considering the answers to these questions, how has experience and the lessons of your career made you better and how can you bring that sense of being better to the work place to add value? Use that answer to write for yourself a personal mission statement that is your call to action on a daily basis. Use it to serve your management with passion. All of this can help you to re-energize yourself and help you to boost the contributions you bring, as a man, to the work place in which you serve.