The Manager #FridayFlash Fiction

The Manager

How had she missed them?

Ally could barely hide her surprise when Stacey and Diana joined the Huddle circle, both with those telltale coffee cups in hand. Warming for them perhaps, but seeing those unmistakable paper cups gave Ally an instant chill up her spine, and she stiffened. She quickly smiled, probably too broadly, mustering whatever nonchalance she could, and said, “Morning ladies, coffee good today?”

She’d watched for them just a half-hour earlier, as she often did. Way too often. Reconnaissance normally didn’t take her this long.

The two girls always had their heads together chatting and laughing (or rolling their eyes) about something. The corner Starbucks was large, perpetually busy and quite noisy, and Ally got braver with each passing morning, for they never noticed her watching them.

Or had they? They were so self-absorbed, center of their own universe —just like at work. She made sure she arrived before they did, ordered her own coffee, then grabbed a table and sat with the morning newspaper, pretending to read it as she covertly watched for them. However this morning they hadn’t showed, and the line snaked so long Ally was sure they’d do an about face and not bother since they were late.

Were they onto her? Had they gone to another Starbucks to avoid her?

Ally knew the pulse of the office usually flowed straight through the racing palpations Stacey and Diana brought to work with them each day. When they were “on it,” they seemed to magically flip everyone else’s switch; when their energies trickled the power dimmed; lights could go out for the others too. What Ally was trying to figure out was if she should use them or lose them; energy can come from different sources, and she only wanted the reliable ones. Just how much would these two girls matter?

They both did a damned good job, no doubt about it. That is, they did a good job yesterday, and would likely do so today. But would they still do so tomorrow, and the day after that, when Ally finally told everyone about the changes to come? Could they up their game? More importantly, what shots would they take if and when they tried to?

Stacey smiled at her, answering for them both. “Mm, real good. We each got an extra shot this morning, just for the heck of it, so we’re ready Ally. You can lay more zooming to the future on us; this rocket ship is ready to shoot for the moon.”

Mitch groaned loudly, “Great, just what I need. You two on more java than normal.” He made no effort to mask the fact that he wasn’t kidding about his distress. Mitch cruised in one gear, and he had no interest in rocket ships.

“Oh Mitch, you love us. You know you do.”

Stacey was ready. Ally could instantly tell this would not be another Huddle where Stacey relinquished the floor to her. Well now, so be it.

Ally smiled again, this time imagining herself the Cheshire Cat for an extra boost in confidence. She glanced at Diana to see if they were of one mind; were she and Stacey both prepared to storm the battlements? However Diana was enjoying watching Mitch grump, saying “Mmm Mmm” as she noisily sipped her coffee, and added, “Moon and stars Mitchell!” For the moment, Ally didn’t interest her. That bothered Ally even more.

Ally suspected, no, she knew, that everyone felt she was blowing company vision way out of proportion: She could feel their impatience, and worse, their thinly disguised boredom ”“ and Huddle was only 15 minutes long! She’d barely given the new vision ten of those minutes the past few days, and the time sped by, seeming to be much less. Nevertheless, she’d vowed to cut her next installment down to just five today and get them to speak up, but there was something she feared more than any objections they could throw at her: Their silence.

Ally felt she’d successfully earned enough management stripes to deal with all manner of pushback from her new staff. A verbal barrage was one she could fence and rally from; she did so with the best of them, and she enjoyed the parry. Silence however, disarmed her. It drove her crazy, and it took all the self-control she had not to scream, “Speak up for Chrissake, I cannot hear what you are thinking!”

She hated that she’d been watching them for this long and still didn’t know where she stood with them. She wanted to be in control, like she usually was. She needed to be in control so she could focus. And there was a lot riding on her focus. If they only knew.

As she’d sat in Starbucks and waited earlier that morning, her impatience growing, Ally caught a story in the business section about the way President Obama would commemorate the 09-09-09 palindrome: He was preparing to address a joint session of Congress to lay out his argument for health care reform. She’d hoped reading would calm her, but it had the opposite effect:

“So as the President huddles with his speechwriter to determine exactly what to say and how to say it, he would do well to recall the example of Winston Churchill. As Oxford philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrote in Mr. Churchill in 1940, ‘The Prime Minister was able to impose his imagination and his will upon his countrymen . . . and lifted them to an abnormal height.’ Furthermore, and here’s the key point, Churchill made the British people feel as if they were part of the action and vital to the cause of victory.”

Did Ally want Stacey and Diana to be part of her action? Were they vital to the cause, necessary in her victory?

She was about to find out. The waiting was over. She’d make sure of it.
Imagination. Will. Ally liked those words. And again, she smiled.

“Okay guys, let’s Huddle.”

Credits:

The newspaper clipping in my story actually came from a good blog post by John Baldoni for HarvardBusiness.org: How Leaders Make Big Issues Personal (and Possible).

2:51 Intermission:

I had chosen this clip for the best visual quality and shorter length, but realize the sound is quite soft: You can click directly to the YouTube page for related clips here (or if you are reading via RSS and don’t see it at all!)

Postscript: About my fiction

Writing fiction is a new exploration for me, prompted by a wonderful new community of writers and tweeters I discovered in my Leading with Twitter project, by following the #FridayFlash hashtag. If you care to follow the rabbit trail this Alice had followed in her @talkingstory Wonderland

1-First path:
Wrote and posted this two-parter to up my game with Twitter: 5 Twitter Tips for Leading and 5 Twitter Tips for Managing. In between them, I posted An idea is a fragile thing: Oh the irony!

2-Winding trail: To lead by example with those two articles, I tried two new Twitter follows knowing they were in the publishing industry: @MariaSchneider and @NathanBransford. By the way, I highly recommend both of the blogs they write: Follow their bio links on Twitter.

3-Refreshment stop: Read this article at Maria’s Editor Unleashed, a guest post by J.M. Strother (@jmstro) explaining, Flash Fiction Gets Social with #fridayflash

4-Rabbit trail? My first attempt was awful, but in the spirit of full disclosure: The Vision. It was much shorter, and you will learn more than Ally did about Stacey and Diana :-)

5-Another playful path: The end of that first post does share more about my thought process on why I would continue to pursue flash fiction. The links I have inserted into the story today are not necessary for the fiction, but are for Talking Story readers who will recall the references to my management and leadership coaching articles.

I may not fit #FridayFlash into every week, much going on right now —and after this one I think it important I be a good community member and fit in more commenting/listening before more writing, but I still love the creative thought aligned in the parallels of my workplace mission and non-fiction writing.

Brings us to today :) Thank you so much for reading! Just made it under that 1,000 word limit, I know.

Now, as Ally might say, “Speak up for Chrissake, I cannot hear what you are thinking!” I mean, the comments are open… not much darkness in my Wonderland!
Trying the Comment Luv plugin here for the first time too: Check it off and it will capture your last blog title, sharing your #FridayFlash as well.

Comments

  1. says

    I do hope that you find time to post to #fridayflash again. I’ve enjoyed reading your stories. Besides, YOU’VE LEFT ME WITH A CLIFFHANGER! I don’t know yet if I like Ally or not. It depends on her next reveal, which is locked inside your brain. I hope you let it out next week. :)
    .-= Laura Eno ´s last blog ..Move Over – #FridayFlash =-.

    • Rosa Say says

      Oh my Laura, you have so delighted me with your comment, thank you. You see I’ve been somewhat obsessing over my fear that I may never think of a good ‘twist’ and didn’t even consider the cliffhanger possibility!

      I am not sure how to fully reveal Ally yet either, for my non-fiction rep is one of being the manager’s advocate, and I want her to have good intentions. Yet I must admit that writing her as less-than-honorable is more fun … and yes, I do have some mental gymnastics going on with this :-)

  2. says

    Oh this was interesting. I want to know more about these three (four counting Mitch, I suppose – but the three main characters are really intriguing).

    Don’t worry about a twist. Your cliffhanger was perfect. And, less-than-honorable are good characters to have. They reveal depths that might, otherwise, not be plumbed.
    .-= KjM ´s last blog ..More than three’s a crowd =-.

    • Rosa Say says

      Thank you for the feedback Kevin, and yeah, no kidding – your story sure illustrates how “less-than-honorable are good characters to have.” These three women and Mitch are puppy dogs in comparison!

  3. says

    Rosa,
    I very much enjoyed your story! This sentence made me think:
    “Nevertheless, she’d vowed to cut her next installment down to just five today and get them to speak up, but there was something she feared more than any objections they could throw at her: Their silence.”
    I lived through such situations – where silence was felt as something unpleasant, instead of thinking of it as “productive silence”.
    .-= Ulla Hennig ´s last blog ..Pink Flowers =-.

    • Rosa Say says

      Thank you for picking up on that Ulla! That part of this is a spin from a coaching lesson within our SLC manager’s curriculum, one we call Silence is Golden: It’s connected to our listening exercises with the Daily 5 Minutes ® (which I know you are aware of from JJL, and the listening conversation we had there.)

      Getting more comfortable with silence in conversational situations can be tough for managers: They feel control is slipping away from them, without considering the obvious — the other person is thinking, and may need the courtesy of silence to finish their own thoughts without a manager (or anyone else in a group conversation) filling that silence with more noise. I like the two words you offer, suggesting that we need to move (grow?) from the unpleasant to the productive — and conversation can give us much practice!

  4. says

    There’s nothing like a good cliffhanger to keep em coming back and I will definitely be coming back.
    Good flash fiction need not have a twist ending. There are really no elements other than word count that define flash fiction. But, the most successful pieces are a complete story.
    Your piece this week stands on its own as a complete story and hooks us into next week’s installment, so well done. I hope you feel encouraged to keep at it and don’t be so quick to dismiss your first attempts at flash fiction. Writing is a constant journey of growth and learning, not unlike Ally’s path toward management.
    .-= Chris Chartrand ´s last blog ..The Carver’s Daughter =-.

    • Rosa Say says

      Oooh, I like this thought Chris!

      Writing is a constant journey of growth and learning, not unlike Ally’s path toward management.

      Thank you so much for that weaving into my work’s mission!

      I must say that I really appreciate the peer-to-peer coaching that I have seen happen within this #FridayFlash community just within these short two weekends I have dipped my toes into the water: Such a wonderful way to learn, from people who are so empathetic with the effort —both the writing itself, AND with their genuine sincerity in the giving and receiving of constructive feedback. Thank you so much for this generosity in catching what I might be doing right!

      And by the way Chris, I know I have already left a comment at your place, but as another prompting for anyone coming by here: I LOVED The Carver’s Daughter, your story this week. (Just scroll back up a bit for the link captured by Comment Luv dear readers).

  5. says

    I read this story earlier, but didn’t see anywhere to comment, just came back and found it (I am so not technically inclined!) The thing I liked about this story is the insight it gave me into a job I’ve never had. “Manager” isn’t something I ever aspired to…too happy being an observer, I suppose. So, I’ve never thought about the fact that they have to inspire their emplyoyees, or supply the energy for the day. Interesting.
    As for making Ally’s motivations “less than honorable”, I say go for it! That’s the fun part about fiction, exploring paths you wouldn’t take in real life.
    .-= Shannon Esposito ´s last blog ..FridayFlash: Birth of an Idol =-.

    • Rosa Say says

      Thank you for coming back Shannon!

      There is a lot to be said about being “too happy being an observer,” especially when it comes to writing. The detail and inner weavings you crafted into Birth of an Idol, your #FridayFlash, taught me so much – others too: You were able to create quite a conversation there!

      And yes, that exploration you took is definitely a path I “wouldn’t take in real life.”

  6. says

    Well? What’s next ;-)
    I am happy to see you again this week, and I will “patiently” wait until next week (I can do patiently… sorta)
    ~2

    • Rosa Say says

      Thank you for coming by Tomara. Fleshing out these characters has been fun for me, so we shall see how this evolves!

  7. says

    I’m not a manager, but I’ve given presentations, and been in the audience of them enough to know that dreaded silence at the end. Nothing makes you doubt yourself more.

    Sorry I’m so late getting around.
    ~jon
    .-= J. M. Strother ´s last blog ..The Double Bind =-.

    • Rosa Say says

      Never too late Jon! I appreciate your visit. Was traveling this week, and so good to get back to my Talking Story mothership and read comments!

      Not sure that Ally doubts herself as much as she has impatience with the situation she happens to be in… we shall see as this story unfolds!

  8. says

    Rosa: By golly, you have hit into something I have long thought is ripe for fiction, especially short fiction — and that is the work environment. Oh, we’ve seen HR give goofy little vignettes that illustrate improper behavior (which, in my working environment of ad agencies and magazines, had the effect of making more people engage in that improper behavior). But you’re touching something far bigger and better, in my opinion. You’re exploring short fiction that is entertaining (it always must be entertaining) and yet has some organizational value (what do I mean by this? To change or encourage more productive behavior, I suppose). I’ve no idea what you do in your consulting role, but I find your “workplace genre” of flash fiction to be highly interesting.

    Okay, I’m going on too long, but I don’t care if you don’t. Why I like workplace fiction is because the workplace has all the elements of good stories — desire, power, obstacles, outcomes, strong characters, etc. I applaud how you’ve managed to elicit a true emotional engagement in a work setting.

    Now I need one piece of constructive criticism. So I’ll go back up and look for something. Be back in a minute …. Okay, I’m back. Thanks for waiting. And my verdict is: The silence. I think you held on a little too long in the arc of the story letting us know that is what Ally fears. Silence. She opens up the Huddle for people to speak, and nothing happens. But I’ve also got to challenge you. Is that really what she’s afraid of? She’s pushing hard. She already knows she’s beginning to lose people. She’s not afraid of simply silence, but that active silence of contempt that happens so often in work environments. But, of course, there’s much more riding on this that you just allude to, the cliffhanger. So, I don’t know. Just a thought. Otherwise, your technique is good and the story is lucid (my way of saying I can follow it).

    I enjoyed this and I look forward to more.
    .-= Jeff Posey ´s last blog ..Perhaps You Shouldn’t =-.

    • Rosa Say says

      What a gift you give me in your comment Jeff, I so appreciate the feedback!

      In my consulting role I coach managers seeking to improve their workplace culture, and so I work in a living laboratory where stories like this one are very real (and multiply like rabbits!) The fun of writing them up as fiction is in adding some drama while trying to convey a good lesson as well – a moral to the work story if you will. However you are absolutely right in saying that it must be entertaining for anyone to bother reading it. The other challenge for me is brevity versus explaining everything too much, something which is the polar opposite of the relentless pursuit of clarity I’m a proponent of in the workplace.

      As for Ally: I do want to pursue this story as time allows me to, and so I enjoyed your speculation about her character tremendously, thank you so much for the time you took to read, and to think about your comment for me.