Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Untouchable

At some point, I'm not exactly sure when, he was tainted with the stigma of failure; an invisible brand that rookies might miss but which veteran employees would sense within a day.

No one ever explained to me just what his crime had been, but they whispered that there was an "event" that "ticked off upper management." Although Harold would not be fired, his sentence involved being kept close enough to the head table to see the food, but he would never be given a plate.

Some thought that was kind.

What baffled me was that throughout all of my dealings with Harold, he epitomized kindness and competence. I kept waiting for the gap in the tape; some seconds of wild raving followed by barking at the moon, only the moment of madness never came. Only once did he hint at his restrictions. We were discussing the culmination of a project and he softly noted, "Perhaps I'm not the best person to make the presentation to the top brass."

We both knew that his familiarity with the ins and outs of the proposal was far beyond that of anyone else on the team. Still, the unspoken message was clear: "I'm not going to carry this one and don't ask me why."

I don't know why he stayed on. If he expected a change for the better, then perhaps he was mad. My own sense is that he continued to accept the "punishment" because he'd transformed it into a protest. He would do his job extremely well to demonstrate, on a daily basis, that they could not hurt him.
His focus was solely on excellence and never on advancement.

He may have been the only free person in the entire company.

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