When you are going through Hell….DON’T STOP!

May 7th, 2015 by Aegis CMS

I attended a benefit dinner recently for a Central Florida homeless shelter.  The shelter provides more than mere housing by offering vocational training, medical and dental care, addiction treatment, and psychological and spiritual counseling.   Work, accountability for one’s actions, and the absolute requirement to give back to the community are critical parts of the program and their ‘clients’ consequently build true self-esteem and pride that lead them away from sometimes lifelong patterns of poor decisions.  As a result of this holistic and comprehensive care, there is no shortage of previously homeless, hopeless, and perhaps drug addicted individuals who have returned to the workforce and stable lives, now willing to tell their life stories of utter desperation and renewal, addiction and recovery, self-hatred and pride.  As one of the clients stumbled uncomfortably through his testimonial  in front of over 1800 riveted attendees at the benefit, he offered that one of his coaches along the way once told him, “when you are going through Hell, by all means don’t stop.”  It became his personal mantra throughout the 24 month program and stuck with me.

For a week afterwards, Hell had arrived at our office.  At the end of each day, we all got to go home to loving families instead of a railroad bridge or highway overpass, but a stream of trouble burdened our workdays and late evenings.  A key team member falls, requiring surgery and at least 6 weeks out of the office.  An annual meeting notice has the wrong date.  A fire alarm erupts at 2am requiring a physical response and repair.  A leak from an overfilled bathtub on the third floor drains to the lower floors.  The entry gate is struck by lightning and requires a part only available from a warehouse in Singapore, evidently to be delivered by rowboat.  Then the phone rings again and a haggard and weary-eyed manager nervously answers.

Community managers are used to juggling and aligning disparate tasks to be done, objectives to be fulfilled, and deadlines to be met.   But imagine juggling three bowling balls and having a running chainsaw tossed into the cycle without warning.  All the objects would likely be dropped.  Most often, all the planning possible would not prevent or affect the surprise task.  How can we manage when it seems there is no end in sight?

  • Make a list. Take a few moments to write your list of things that must get done every day.   No one wants to wake up at midnight thinking, “gee whiz, I forgot about the five alarm fire!”.    Obviously, avoid spending too much valuable time merely planning to get things done.  This is a general rule of efficiency for any manager.
  • Prioritize and attend to your list. This is also a good idea as normal practice   Move the less important to a following day.  I like to knock out a few of the simpler quicker tasks, or at least get them started, first thing.  There is almost no more satisfying a feeling as the smooth stroke of a capital letter X beside an item on a to-do list.
  • Report and document your list. Board members and owners have regular lives they are living.  They do not automatically know the things you are doing to see to it that they come home everyday to a clean and quiet community.   They may think that the entry gate was broken for two weeks but have no idea why.  Report the events that happen frequently so they are aware of the value you are delivering.   Even more importantly, every manager must find a reliable way to catalog the jobs that get done.   You never know when saving that broken pipe, or noting a chain of events will be the difference between a huge financial loss and some better outcome.  Acting urgently is wonderful but the everyday priority of strategic planning remains vital.
  • Stay hydrated and don’t skip meals. It seems crazy, especially considering my personal affinity for food in general, but all too late in the day and feeling quite grumpy, I have found that I have not eaten or taken one sip of water all day.   Always keep water nearby and even a quick nutritious lunch will help you stay focused.    Avoid sugar and caffeine drenched ‘energy’ drinks.
  • Remember to protect yourself from excessive worry, hopelessness, or even bitterness. It will eat you away on the inside and be counterproductive to accomplishing the job.  Conscientious managers take their jobs seriously and can sometimes even begin to feel that the broken plumbing line or lightning strike is somehow their fault.  Not all Board members will understand that we are imperfect but it remains true nonetheless.
  • Watch for the community where the bad times are perpetual and uninterrupted. They do exist and they are like big food processors made just for managers.  Either get help or get loose from the communities that offer no plan to get matters in order.  Most of the time, these communities are beset by lack of focus, lack of long term planning, or lack an efficient governance structure.   Help them with their foundations and a stable community can emerge.

Just like all vocations, there are good times and there are bad times.  The now half decade old economic crises and stagnant recovery has taken an especially costly toll on community associations and their managers.  While it is improving, many of us continue to manage meeting greater expectations with fewer resources.   Most importantly, community managers are not automatons building a daily quota of widgets in a sweat shop.   Part of what makes this job so unique and enjoyable is the novelty we find every day.   But sometimes we find too many exciting and urgent challenges (opportunities for success) waiting for us in the morning.  Often more than can be accomplished in a work day.  Every journey begins with a single step.  Just don’t stop.