Saturday, October 6, 2012

The "Boss"

 "Leaders should influence others in such a way that it builds people up, encourages and edifies them so they can duplicate this attitude in others." - Bob Goshen 
Today or make that yesterday, October 5th was World Teachers' Day to celebrate the individuals who were instrumental in shaping who we are today - our teachers. I have done a blogpost in 2010 honoring my Philosophy teacher in college Mr. Jose Maria Tomacruz or simply Sir Nonoy for teaching me the value of hard work. This year it was an easy choice who I want to pay tribute to. He was a teacher but not my teacher and he taught a subject in school I was not crazy about. My mentor and yes, my hero - Ian D'Arcy Walsh.

D'Arcy in his element, GenSan 2012
I met D'Arcy in 2004 when I applied for a job with the Philippines-Australia Basic Education Assistance for Mindanao (BEAM) Project. It was funded by AusAID and we were helping DepEd improve the quality of and access to basic education in regions XI, XII and ARMM. He was then the Australian Project Director travelling all over Mindanao and propelling BEAM to be AusAID's flagship education project. Before becoming an established and respected international consultant, he was a Chemistry teacher in Adelaide back in the 70s. After that day he interviewed me and welcomed me into the project, I did not have the slightest idea that this man will be one of the people I would learn a lot from and look up to, that he will help define my career and my character.

As the APD, D'Arcy had a lot on his plate. But he was a boss that all of us enjoyed working for. He treated us equally and made sure to know his staff on a more personal level. He called all of us by our first names and refused to be called "Sir". I will explain later why. When he returns from his trips to Australia where his family is based, he would drop by all five different BEAM offices and give each staff chocolates and catch up. We would be invited to the house he was renting in Ladislawa and have staff parties where he would be so engrossed in preparing the food, from salad to main course to dessert and yes, the perfect wine to go with it. And he is an amazing cook who introduced our very Pinoy palattes to international fare and how to eat this and that. "Don't put ice on your wine, this is the right way steak should be cooked, oh-I-used-this-herb-and-that-spice to marinate the lamb, it's not toothpaste Lany Girl, that's mint jelly!" We have karaoke nights and he would belt Frank Sinatra's "My Way" like it's the greatest performance of his life. He was so Pinoy as lechon and balut, so Davaoeno as durian and so human that despite the demands of a very successful development project, all 170 of us understood and appreciated the work that we do.

Unlike other bosses who work in a cloud of secrecy, he was transparent with all of us especially when there are very important office matters and he asked for our support. When BEAM would receive important guests and citations, he made sure that all of us were in the loop. BEAM was a very big project but despite that, D'Arcy praised and would congratulate all of us for doing our job well - from the Australian consultants to the drivers and contract workers. It was a fairy tale.

I bloomed under his management style - he will tell you the results he wants to see and will allow you room to work on it and develop strategies to deliver. When he sees that you are behind your work, he would spend time and talk to you to ask what's wrong, like a coach. He is also very perceptive and would quickly realize if you are telling the truth or not so it was better to come clean than make up stories he will eventually find out. Mediocrity was not tolerated and you would be challenged to give a good output because almost if not all of your colleagues were so efficient taking his lead. D'Arcy was a fair boss because if he would see your hard work and where your strengths lie, he will build on it and give you assignments that would play on where you are good at. He also tried to be a matchmaker to us single Admin ladies but I guess his playing cupid was not as good as his project management skills are. :)

From a project officer to communications manager then as his EA, I witnessed his passion for excellence and how driven he is as a leader. I looked up to him and tried to learn as much as I can in the five and a half years that I was with BEAM. I saw how he painstakingly reviewed and studied all facets of the project and gave us clear and concise instructions how to get BEAM to where it should be. Amidst his success, D'Arcy refused to be called "Sir". I summoned enough courage to ask him one day why after explaining that in the Filipino culture, being called "Sir" or "Ma'am" means you are respected. He looked straight at me and said, "Lany Girl, respect is not how people call you; it is how they react to what you say". BOOM! His words stayed with me and became the reason why I don't want to be called "Ma'am" eversince.

Bob Bairstow (engineer sir), Ina-Tay and the "Boss" D'Arcy during my birthday
When I left BEAM in 2009 I thought I will not get to work with him again. In September of last year, he asked me along with three other ladies from BEAM to join him as consultants for Sagittarius Mines in GenSan. My parents were initially hesitant when I informed them of this offer. But when they heard D'Arcy's name and that he was the one bringing us there, all Dad could say was, "When are you starting?" He was very proud of the team he formed and gave us the chance to rub elbows with managers and other important people. Not all had that privilege. He looked after us and made sure that we have what we need to do our jobs. I did all I can to be good at what I do because I was associated with D'Arcy, knowing that my performance will be an indicator of how he was as my former boss. At SMI I had a different superintendent and was not under him anymore although we were still in the same department. Yet he never stopped being the D'Arcy we all worked for few years back. He would give me a bear hug for my successes at work or when he would hear good feedback about me and my performance. The young and energetic community reps found a father figure in him and openly talked to him about their thoughts and ideas. He earned the respect of people not by imposing but by showing how spirited he was at getting things right and making a significant contribution to the company.

D'Arcy's contract concluded a week after my stint ended. He and another Aussie Bob Bairstow (I miss you!) cooked dinner and we all had a good time that night, along with other SMI people, celebrating a good year of working together. I asked him, tears welling up, if I made him proud. He put his arm  around me and said yes, I did very well then raised his wine glass for a toast. His approval always meant a lot to me because I always tell people he is my mentor, that if I was good it was because I learned from the best. I am grateful to him for the chance when I needed it most after I became an Ina-Tay. I would have never been as effective as I was in my role had it not been for D'Arcy and his guidance and appreciation. He taught me excellence, professionalism and genuineness especially in dealing with stakeholders.

Boss, I learned well from you - thank you for setting a good example. Thank you for pushing us to work hard and partying harder to reward each success. I will be taking with me and put to good use your words of wisdom and work ethics. I am honored to have worked with you and I will try damn hard to make you proud of me in my future endeavors. It was a great year Boss. You never ceased to be my mentor, my friend and a father to me.

Chemistry never made sense to me in high school but you and your brand of building people did.

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