Workplace Leadership: My Boss Résumé

How hard do I have to smolder to get this done?

Workplace leadership has been a fascination for me since my time at UMKC, studying nonprofit management and innovation. This lovely, fledgling company is expanding, and Alaina will be taking the role of social media manager and booking agent.

To dispel any mysteries and/or awkwardness around my persona as a manager, I’ve prepared the following document for her.

Paul as a boss 

Expressing Appreciation

When I’m making an effort to see to, communicate with you, and find us projects to collaborate on, then I’m expressing my appreciation.  Long periods of time might pass without me expressing my gratitude verbally, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  However, I will receive a verbal compliment deeply and remember it forever.  I’m comfortable with high-fives, handshakes, literal pats-on-the-back, and brief casual hugs, but in professional relationships I avoid much physical contact beyond that.


I’m liable to become frustrated if I feel like I’ve had to repeat myself several times, as I begin to feel my time is being wasted.  Similarly, I’ll get confounded when someone “ghosts” me in the middle of a business relationship.  I’ve had multiple colleagues tell me that my standards are too high and I take work too seriously.  A good way to reassure me is to encourage me to “look from the balcony”, and everything’s going to work out.  :-). Even reminding me not to get too hung up on pushing my workplace leadership agenda…that’s helpful.

Skewed Encouragement

I very much enjoy artists who take risks and find authentic, honest ways to express themselves.  This is an ideal I also try to cultivate in myself.  I have much respect for these people, and I frequently encourage the people who work for me to find ways to express their own identify through their art, or at least find something joyful in what could easily be mundane.  When fellow musicians report to me “this is just a job”, or they prioritize drugs & alcohol, I can get crestfallen quickly.  I sometimes struggle to find a healthy detachment from my music career. At my lowest, I always find solace in my family.  At my highest, I’m collaborating in a healthy, vibrant community of artists, and I’m helping musicians support themselves financially.

Communication and Boundaries

At 42 years old, my communication-ettiequte is both elder-millennial and young gen-x.  I will not text or email negativity, and I prefer to administer feedback and/or criticism in person, usually in private.  If the criticism is especially pointed, I’ll ask for a third party to monitor the conversation.  Sometimes there are fun ideas or dialogues that will flow faster in a zoom-call or phone call, and if a text conversation is becoming too cumbersome for me, I’ll request to port it over to a different method of communication.  I’ll utilize text for brief exchanges of information, and I prefer a response by the end of the day.  I’ll utilize emails for sharing broader information or focused computer work, and I prefer a response from emails within 24 hours.  Show-time is a bad time to try to reach me, unless in an emergency.  I’m not a fan of group-chats and will nonchalantly exit them if the information doesn’t pertain to me.  I want to detach from social media, using my day to focus on health, exercise, and coordinating creative projects and production.


I’m the band-leader for Songwheels, my favorite party-band in Kansas City, and I’m used to being around people with big, quirky personalities. I love them! A band, like or not, can sometimes feel like a workplace, in need of workplace leadership. Being emotionally aware of our quirks and flaws allows us more grace, and the good times can keep rolling.

This Weird, Freaky Bird

Here’s one of my favorite paradoxes, courtesy of Bruce Springsteen, from his 2012 SXSX Keynote Address:

Don’t take yourself too seriously, and take yourself as seriously as death itself. Don’t worry. Worry your ass off. Have ironclad confidence, but doubt – it keeps you awake and alert. Believe you are the baddest ass in town, and, you suck!

It keeps you honest. It keeps you honest. Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideas alive and well inside of your heart and head at all times. If it doesn’t drive you crazy, it will make you strong. And stay hard, stay hungry, and stay alive. And when you walk onstage on tonight to bring the noise, treat it like it’s all we have. And then remember, it’s only rock and roll.

Here’s a similar one from author Elizabeth Gilbert, taken from her book Big Magic.

…Art is absolutely meaningless.  It is, however, also deeply meaningful.

That’s a paradox of course, but we’re all adults here, and I think we can handle it.  I think we can all hold two mutually contradictory ideas at the same time without our heads exploding.  So let’s give this one a try.  The paradox that you need to comfortably inhabit, if you wish to live a contented life, goes something like this.  “My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me (If I am to live artistically), and it also must not matter at all (if I am to live sanely)

Gilbert goes to on claim that we need the mental agility to leap between these two polar opposite in a matter of minutes.

So if I attack these paradoxes from a different angle, do we actually find balance?  That seems more like an ideal, not quite a practical way of living.   The equality of the paradoxical ideas is an illusion.  We must accept the paradox, but then also accept that we will forever be sliding back and forth between these ideas.

I can’t freeze my mind the moment that It trips the threshold between the ideas.  My mind is too fluid.  Perhaps that’s a lie I’m telling myself.  To slow my mind down, find the balance between contradictory ideas…that would probably earn me some genial applause from the zen masters.

In reality, when I find myself too far on one end of the spectrum, the other end beckons.  It calls to me, either “Get serious” or “Relax!”, depending on where I find myself.

I frequently fumbled this balance as a leader.  I always espoused to my band that our music was important, that we were part of Kansas City’s heritage, that we were bringing people together with the power of live music.  I worshipped that god every night.  I transformed our stage into an altar, and I sacrificed myself on it, again and again.  I cared about every random customer that stumbled into our bar, rushing over to them in exultation.

This was really intense to be around, and it wasn’t easy to talk me down from this position.  The only compromise I was willing to make was that we had to entertain these people.  To be an effective professional entertainer is to step outside of yourself and take a seat in your own audience.  You must observe how you appear to others.

So here we find that rack that I was mounted on for six years.  I was a slave to the holy mistress of music, while also a professional entertainer.  Was this a perfect balance?

Depends on your viewpoint of me at the time.  If you were a patron, stumbling into our bar, looking for a good time, a good beer, or good company, then you probably saw a professional entertainer onstage.  I loathed being self indulgent, and the interactive element of our platform allowed me to directly poll the audience for the kind of music they wanted.

However, if you were a fellow musician, in a band with me, then I was a fireball of passion, angst, and sacrifice. This was tough to take for long periods of time, anything more than a few minutes.  These dogged professionals, their skin burned from my heat, have been thankful to be away from me during the pandemic.  I might never recover them.

It runs counter to my narrative that the power of live music pulls us together.  But we’re not talking about music now.  We’re talking about egos (crowds love me!), sacrifice (extra rehearsal to get this bass-line right), determination (this isn’t good because we didn’t practice enough), and disappointment (we worked on that and the crowd didn’t care).  The artist in me says that all of these things are necessary steps on a journey.  The human side of me, my heart that values connection, is unsure what I gained from all that tension.

We’re so bad at saying goodbyes these days.  Social Media allows us to stay connected forever; we’re perpetually presented with photos and videos of anybody, ranging an entire life span.  There’s a distinct possibility that I’ll never see some of these musicians again, but the more I evaluate that, the more remote it seems.  What’s lost forever is our context, not necessarily our bond.  Live music is being reborn like a phoenix, and we don’t know what the plumage will be for this weird, freaky bird.  We sure as hell watched it burn, though.

Now we see it again, so small and fragile, yipping around in the ashes of what it was.

            This eternal, mythical phoenix is also a contradiction.  It’s always dying, and it’s always being born, in a cycle.  There’s a big burst of fire when the cycle starts over, but it’s death and birth at the same time.

            Death and birth at the same time.

The Art Of War, drifting from music to parenting

Sun Tzu

Authors Note: This post is from June  of 2020, when the Howl At The Moon band in KC was formally disbanded due to Covid-19

Sun Tzu

The Art of War in Parenting

My buddy Drew recommended Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to me years ago.  He enjoyed framing the audience as the enemy to be conquered.  I’ve read The Art Of War three times now, each time with a different translation.

My first foray, I felt lost.  While I sensed that I was reading wisdom, the language was too stilted for me to appreciate.  Drew’s analogies seemed like a stretch, but I enjoyed searching for them.  This was also high tide for e-readers, and I’ve never been able to enjoy an e-book the same way as a traditional hold-in-your-hander.

I purchased The Art of War for Managers a few years ago.  The authors sprinkled in casual managerial lessons through-out, making finding the leadership lessons much easier.  By this time I was leading my band at Howl on a nightly basis.  I felt like I had “troops”, instead of being an army of one.  I enjoyed it, and I passed it on to one of my favorite band-mates, Sean.  Sean has been gracious to share stories about his Chinese heritage and trips to the mainland, and I’ve loved learning about China and Hong Kong through his experiences.  I’m always ready to bond over Chinese philosophy with Sean, or any philosophy for that matter.

Now, I have no band in a professional sense.  I’m reading the latest translation, the first by a woman, Michael Nylan.  I’m enjoying it immensely.  Nylan’s translation holds on it’s own; she hasn’t inserted any modern anecdotes as a crutch.  My mind constantly drifts towards having a band, and conquering a crowd.

For a time, I wanted to continue to use The Art of War in this manner, but now I’m picking up parenting tips.  Most recently, I found this passage:

In Warfare, there is

1.     Deserting

2.     Insubordination

3.     Peril

4.     Collapse

5.     Chaos

6.     Rout


These six are hardly due to natural catastrophes, they are the commander’s fault.

I was able to lightly ascribe these to leading a band, but they really hit home for parenting.  Any six of these is basically a failure of leadership.  Here we go.

Desertion follows one arm attacking another ten times it size, when the strategic advantages are equal on both sides.

             I’ve seen my kids give up or become frustrated when they feel completely outmatched by something.  This has happened only a few times in organized sports, but seems more likely in scenarios that challenge their intellect.  If it’s ten times beyond their understanding, they will abandon it.  It’s my responsibility as a parent to present challenges that will push them, not overwhelm them.

Insubordination follows when the infantry is eager to fight, but the officers are weak.

            This is my children failing to be patient when something they want is just out of their reach, and they take it without permission.  This can be theft, or commonly extra food in the kitchen.  My kids are probably testing boundaries, and also testing the consequences for their actions.  I need to give them a strong sense of integrity to keep them from making impulsive decisions, and give them comparable consequences when they give in quickly to temptation.

Peril follows when officers are eager to fight, but the food soldiers are weak.

            The metaphors get slippery when Sun Tzu seems to interchangeably use terms like rulers, generals, commanders, officers, and soldiers.  I rarely position myself as ruler, and most of the information in this book is for generals and warfare.  So let’s say in this example I’m an officer.  Peril happens when I shove my kids into an activity that they find frightening, but I don’t.  They are too scared to function.  This is similar to desertion, but not quite the same.    It’s okay for them to be challenged and out of their comfort zone, but I still need to teach them about fear, and Ideally coach them through it.  Even when attempting something dangerous, they should have a way to feel safe.

            Sometimes, I’m the thing that’s frightening to them.

Collapse comes when unbridled rage consumes a senior officer, so much that he moves with-out authorization to engage the enemy and fails to understand his capacities.

            The warning here is for me.   Do not loose cool.  I should be thoughtful, strategizing, and not lashing out at people when I fail.  My kids are watching.  They will collapse when they see me flailing.

Chaos comes when a weak commander fails to enforce the regulations and delvers instructions that are far from clear, so that his officers and men cannot be trusted and his military formations are in disarray.

            When my three kids play with their three cousins, chaos usually ensues, and we parents laugh and use that term lightly.  However, we bristle when we sense that our kids aren’t respectful, and their energy is out of control.  Are people are getting injured or property is being damaged?  It could be that I failed to adequately calculate the risk of the activities, or the chemistry between children is off.  They might need to be separated for their own well being, especially if disagreements are spiraling out of control and turning violent.

Rout comes when a commander proves incapable of assessing the enemy, so he sends a small force out to engage a large, a weak force to attack the strong, or he operates without crack troops as a backup.

            Bad planning led to total failure.  Nobody had fun, and the only thing we learned was that we should have had a better plan.  That’s a tough lesson, and I’m unsure how much my kids should be penalized for their perceived lack of a plan, especially if I’m supposedly in charge.

Reflecting back on this list, I find that some of these things are inevitable.  Making mistakes and failure is how we learn, even as parents.  I’ve undoubtedly experienced these six failures as a parent, but the true crime would to be refusing to learn from them.  The supreme lesson from the Art of War is that the best preparation will yield to no battle at all.  Conquer your enemy without fighting, before the battle ever began.

Paul will give a presentation about the Art of War: Onstage, July 8th at 2pm, at the Central Resource Library in Overland Park.