Monday, November 4, 2013

Modern Manliness and the Perpetual State of Low Expectations

I know that someone, somewhere, is going to be offended by this one...

As bored followers of this blog know, I’m constantly searching for a few good men. We see a lot of guys come through here who are, according to their birth certificates, “men,” but few who embody the qualities men are moved to emulate. (Quick note: I’m not talking about anyone who is currently on the MTB workforce -- we have one of the best overall crews we’ve ever had.) Instead, we get a lot of “guys,” shall we say, who talk big but need constant supervision -- sometimes literally to the point where I have to issue bathroom instructions. (“Don’t pee on the toilet seat” is something I’ve had to say to my kids and to former employees…)

Ron Swanson: unofficial spokesman of MTB. 

So, I’m constantly thinking about how to identify good men and lead them. Leading them is particularly challenging -- in order to be a leader of men, you have to BE a man. Preferably a good one.

Naturally, the question is then “What is a good man?” It’s a simple question that, unfortunately, inexplicably, is difficult to answer these days. Or is it?

This article sparked the question this morning: Modern Manliness and the Perpetual State of Low Expectations. I came across it in some news aggregator or another. It’s actually a riff on something in the Wall Street Journal that sheds a little more light on the “manliness void.”

The author (and I) want to be clear:

“I’m not talking about some fabricated, fake ‘machismo’ where dads need to be calling their sons sissies if they don’t like to hunt or fish. I’m talking about a re-establishing of what qualities and characteristics both men themselves and the women they want to end up with actually esteem in adult males.”

Unfortunately, some variation of the “machismo man” seems to be the standard by which men are measured these days, either as some grasping attempt to define true manliness, or as an easy straw man to take shots at.

As Kay Hymowitz says in the Journal piece, “Today's pre-adult male is like an actor in a drama in which he only knows what he shouldn't say.”

“He has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can't act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisors and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.”

If I was sitting around a bonfire with the guys (like I was this weekend!) and was pressed to provide a definition of what a “true man” was, and I had to give a definition on the spot, I’d say what my dad said a few times: a man is someone who has integrity. “He says what he’ll do and does what he says.”

Obviously it’s more than that, but this “defining manhood” thing is a regular theme in my life, and something that benefits from, enhances, and finds expression in, this business. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again -- this kind of work separates the men from the boys. It’s not just about strength (I’ve also mentioned that some of our best guys are some of the skinniest. Those guys are often like ants -- they can lift something like ten times their body weight. It’s spooky.) This work, properly approached, fosters perseverance and persistence in some of the most grueling situations. It DOES challenge you mentally -- an advanced degree in geometry wouldn’t hurt. It challenges you morally -- a lot of cash goes through here, and there are always opportunities to hide damages or other screw-ups, especially when you aren’t sure if YOU caused a knick or a ding. (By the way -- my guys are instructed to bring any damages to a customer’s attention upon discovery, whether they’re sure they did it or not. It’s much better to own up to it immediately than to have a customer discover it later on. If the latter happens, it doesn’t matter if you knew about the damage or not, you just LOOK guilty.)

Hymowitz raises an excellent point:

“It's been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers.”

There is AMPLE opportunity to “pass a test” in this business. In fact, we’re making it the focus of our winter re-tuning project to identify and reward guys when they go through all those rites of passage. Their first all-day “ambush job,” their first 5-star review, their first Angie’s List ‘A,’ their first sleeper-sofa-up-a-three-floor-walk-up, etc...

Creating leaders is an increasingly important goal of MTB. In the past, I would have characterized it as a “quasi-goal” or something, but every day I realize how important it is to have LEADERS here, leading. No, I’m not in the charitable non-profit business -- I do this to support my family (one thing I would unapologetically say is a core principle of true manliness). Having a solid crew of competent leaders helps the bottom line. But even if there wasn’t a direct link between that and profitability, I’d pursue it as a worthy goal in itself.

More on this soon.

Question: how do you define a “man?”

1 comment:

Byron Traylor said...

I always thought it was ironic but Elton John has one of the best songs about manhood: 'The Measure of a Man' from the Rocky 5 soundtrack.

Great sources, right!

But if a person looks past the Balboa speak (Eh yo') and Elton's rather un-masculine persona, the song is pretty much on point.