The Others: Family Members Behind My Every Successful Debating Event

Posted on September 30, 2010

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Let get things straight first and foremost. This is not just a tribute entry, this a HR insight on what event organizers (especially debate event organizers) need to consider regarding their managerial approaches. Good luck and if you ever need any help, feel free to bother me!

The Children: The Volunteers or The Runners

Runners are the convenor’s imperial guard. It takes unusual skills to be a runner. Language skills is not important. What matters most is speed, the ability to gauge quickly what the hell is going on in a busy and hectic situation, keep the time during a debate, remember the location of all the debate rooms and prioritize sensibly. Their primary role is to keep time during the debate, stand motionless at the door while waiting for the adjudicators to derive a verdict and shuttle the speed-ballot to the tabulation room quickly once the result is finalized.

Their job is also to do the convenor’s bidding – whatever that might entail. Other, more nebulous tasks might include intelligence gathering, like a scout reporting back to his expeditor. Providing bits of data like the answer to ‘What is delaying the speed ballot from that room?’, “Are they ready to be served lunch?’ and so on.

Most of my runners may not know how to speak English, but they certainly know what is expected of them, and how to execute them. My runners particularly, are highly motivated Charlie and The Chocolate Factory’s version of the Oompa-Loompas. They will be generally whipped into such a frenzy of enthusiasm, fear and naked aggression that I find myself constantly having to tell them to refrain themselves from bowling over the participants. A really good runner is a rare and beautiful kind. In the best cases, there is a near telepathic relationship between convenor and runner, requiring only a glance or a facial expression to communicate scads of information or instruction. A really good runner will read the dupes over the shoulders of his or her master, immediately identifying what will likely come next and what is required.

Some diplomatic skills are nice too, as participants are likely to take umbrage if things doesn’t go the way they want in a tone of voice they find grating. It takes a strange and terrible power in getting them constantly driven. I like to encourage this, making sure my runners are better fed, flattering them on occassions and taking the interest in their personal lives and finances.

The Criminal Uncle: The Porter or The Fixer

I wish I didn’t need a porter or a fixer. But I do. As a convenor, you must always remain to be seen as the good guy. But at events, you do come across instances where your feet occasionally gets stuck in a giant heap of shit and being the good guy is just not sufficient anymore. And that’s when you make a call to The Porter. Somebody has to do the tasks that no one else in his right mind would do for love or money. Somebody has to chase the debts, deal with the evil and uncontrollably angry participants, and retrain arrogant, stubborn, indisciplined runners quickly. And for that, you need somebody who is wide-bodied, willing to work alone and unsupervised. It’s thankless, dirty work.

Mr. Porter is the guy that would get an elbow in the kidney every time an incompetent runner passes him by. After a few of these inadvertent bumps and elbow-checks, people usually get the message. He’s the one ugly guy that is licensed to have a level of discourse that only Lucifer would concede as usual terms of endearment, all perfectly acceptable in casual conversations in hell.

Therefore, in battlefield situation where the porter is called in, one might find oneself hearing to: ‘I got shit hanging all over the place and you lot falling in the fucking weeds! How come none of you whining little bed wetters are slammed or all fired up like me? Wipe that shit stain from your face and take it in the ass. We’re gonna have 250 debate bucket-heads walking through this door hungry! 250 fucking hungry shit-garglers waiting for you motherfuckers to feed! What the fuck are you doing telling me its not ready? You are in the shit! Hey, you! Step in and help this rat-bastard out!’

Porters or fixers are hand picked or personally trained. You don’t advertise an opening for this special position. Ideally, you would want someone that the debating fraternity has never seen before, a background for running events and a criminal record.

The Wife: Tournament Director

There has long been a symbiotic relationship between the convenor and the tournament director. Simply put, the convenor wants quality and fair debating organized, and the tournament director wants other events within the tournament handled smoothly. In a debate event, this is the real person with the technical know-hows of competitive debating, removing an exact 50 percent of the entire work of organizing a debate tournament from the shoulders of the convenor. The tournament director would ideally be a former accomplished debater, adjudicator and preferably a tab director.

The ideal working relationship with the tournament director would be somewhat close like your wife. Let me rephrase that: The ideal tournament director would be someone much more closer than your wife. I mean no disrespect to wives but running an international debating championship, driving the people running it and herding the participants, is very much like how parents run the house with their kids and the entire neighborhood’s kids.

As parents battle through together in making sure that the family (working committee) stays glued together and the house (event) is in order, it is at this point essential to note that unlike a real marriage, sex is never involved. No one really cares about that. We’re both too busy. So if you’re ever wondering, don’t bother asking me: Who’s the bigger homo? Who takes it in the ass?

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Many people run their organizations and manage their employees like a business entity, viewing employees as exactly just that: people who works for them and their vision. And believe it or not, the lack of honest and sincere empathy you find in that type of managerial approach creates a working environment very much similar to the one you’ll find in a factory or a prison. Lucifer’s version of home.

My organizational approach as a coach and manager is inspired from a home very much the opposite of Lucifer’s. I look up to my parents and mentors when it comes to developing both my coaching skills and my managerial skills. What fascinates me the most is the near-telepathic understanding that all of us have at home – my parents and siblings. It is the combined capacity to anticipate (feelings and instructions) and to respond to the call with a good sense of moral responsibility and accountability.

Companies spends so much money on training and re-training of their employees while they forget, that what is actually downright important is to instill qualities and attributes which makes their employees feel like family. Cultivating a sense of belonging among your employees that would slowly nurture them to develop the combined capacity stated in the paragraph above.

As I am not a real parent or even married yet, you could seriously question the credibility and legitimacy of the managerial approaches that I am about to share below. But I have my share of experiences and proud accomplishments as a university debate coach since 2001. Experiences and accomplishments that I credit to the coaching and managerial approaches of my beloved parents and debate mentors:

1. Expressing care. Successful parents love their children and often make sacrifices to do what’s best for them.

The best managers and coaches care deeply about their employees and will help them make the right choices for them, even if it’s not in the manager’s best interest. Great managers does not simply care about their employee’s productivity. They take the trouble to care about their employees because they are genuinely concerned.

Employees who feel nurtured perform better. I remember one manager I had early in my career for whom I worked as hard as I could. He treated me like a younger brother. I felt so cared for by him that when I received a job offer from another organization, I asked him what he thought I should do. I trusted him completely. We discussed it and, ultimately, he advised me to take the job because it was in my best interest. We’re still friends more than a decade later, and I would still do anything he asked.

2. Practicing patience. Let’s face it, parenting can sometimes be excruciatingly troublesome and boring. Successful parents have a tremendous amount of diligence and patience.

Great managers patiently pace themselves to the unique needs and abilities of each of their individual employees. Great managers need tremendous patience because it’s not about their individual goals and success; it’s about the development and contribution of their employees. Great managers are motivated and driven by the success of others and recognize that their employees’ success is their success. Just like a parent.

3. Leveraging uniqueness. Great parents don’t try to fit their kids into a mold. They watch them carefully for signs of natural motivation and inclination and then try to provide opportunities for them to develop further into their areas of interest and passion.

Great managers know that the best thing they can do for their employees — as well as their companies — is get the right people in the right jobs. Employees’ positions should take advantage of their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses.

Great managers notice their employees’ natural traits and characteristics and put them in the working environment where they will be most successful. Strategic positioning of your employees based on the keen observation of the manager provides a win-win situation and message that the manager is sensitive and genuinely cares.

4. Developing independence. Great parents know they have only a few critical years to impact their children and then, sooner than they imagine, their children will be out of the house. So great parents strive to foster independent, capable and moral children. Then, when their peers have more influence over them than their parents, they would still make the right choices.

Likewise, the best managers build independent, capable and moral teams. They coach them to think for themselves and judge the values. They do not attempt to grasp on to their employees forever. Great managers know that their job is to move their employees up and out of their teams into more challenging opportunities in other areas of the company.

This is an approach that accords a certain level of faith and trust. A huge privilege that most children and employee would not want to abuse or upset.

5. Setting appropriate expectations and boundaries. If children are unclear about what’s acceptable and what’s not, they’ll freeze, unsure and insecure about whether they can act.

The best parents set clear boundaries so their children feel secure and confident. And the best parents set appropriately high expectations so their children know to reach far, allowing for failure without giving up. Never put your expectations too low as it would deprive your child or employee from failures. It is from failures and unexpected experiences that we learn the most and mature. The response is what is most important. Guide them as mentors and advisors throughout these times, making them stronger, independent and tolerant individuals within your company.

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