Oliver W. Cummings
Johnnie was as fine a neighbor as a guy could have. When I was a youngster and our families visited, swapped work, butchered hogs together. We also fished and went on the occasional fish fry together. Johnnie favored fishing with a seine, or hogging. I learned to hog fish (now sometimes called noodling) in what we called the creek (actually the Cache River) with the likes of Johnnie, Seedcorn (my dad), Edward and Terry. It was quite a crew: jockey-sized Johnnie, smart, but barely literate; Ed, a hefty, farm-boy-strong, young man; Terry, a church choir boy; Dad, a farmer, trader and all around self-sufficient man; and me, an early teen eager to be one of the men.
Going hogging was a process. We met at Johnnie’s house and filed into his garage to dress for the occasion. This involved some real get-ups. Johnny with his old overalls, patched over knees and a gallus held by a ten-penny nail punched through a pucker of cloth where a missing brass button had been, and old shoes tied with seagrass string for laces. Dad, dressed in a worn-out long-sleeved khaki shirt, old worn out work pants with a rope belt, and a hat he didn’t mind getting wet with the muddy creek water. The rest of us equally fashionably dressed.
We looked like a bunch of happy tramps going down the road. The two men in the cab of Johnnie’s recently-purchased used truck. In the back of the truck with us boys were a couple of tow sacks for carrying the fish that we expected to catch. Down the road, dust fogging up behind the truck we started off.
For most of the last mile leading up to the creek, the road was bordered on either side by fertile farm land supporting a full stand of corn. The humidity put a blue haze above the fields and the heat made the air shimmer. The cool water was going to feel good.
We pulled off the road at the bridge, parked a few yards off the road, and walked another hundred or so downstream to one of Johnnie’s favorite fishing holes. There we made our way over the levee and down to the water level. Then one by one we waded into the muddy water. The mud on the bottom of the creek tugged at our shoes as we waded carefully across, feeling our way with each step to make sure we didn’t step off into a deep hole. As we got distributed along the banks, Johnnie eased down into the water until all you could see of him was his head and one shoulder above the water. He felt along the bank and the fallen tree trunks in the creek. Finding a hollow fallen tree under water he felt into the hole, gently, slowly, touching the sides of the hollow as he explored it for the catfish that should be there.
We had been in the water just a few minutes, hadn’t even caught a fish yet when the farmer-landowner walked up over the levee, a double-barreled shotgun cradled in his left elbow, and his right forefinger on the trigger guard. Johnnie looked up and said, “Hello, Jack.” in a voice loud enough for all of us to hear. Dad waded back toward where Johnnie was standing waist deep in the creek and greeted Jack.
After a short exchange of pleasantries Jack said, “I didn’t know who you guys were, didn’t recognize the truck. I don’t want just anybody driving back here, so I came to check it out. Hope you catch a sack full of fish.” With that, he swatted at a horsefly that had lit on his shoulder, turned and walked off of the levee.
Dad said, “I guess we shoulda gone by the house before we came down here.” Then we went back to fishing.
Some years later, I was the Director of a Research and Evaluation function at a major corporate university. My colleague, Pat, headed the Management Development group in the same organization. We both hired people with similar backgrounds; industrial/organizational psychologists, organizational development specialists, and instructional designers with program evaluation and other specialty skills.
I had recruited a very high performing young woman into an evaluator position and within a couple of years, she was being considered for promotion.
I got wind, from a third party, that she had talked to Pat. I decided to talk to Pat about it.
It was clear that the young manager candidate was interested in the broadening experience that Pat’s group could provide. Our company valued personnel development, movement across the organization was not unusual and I was certainly not going to stand in the way of her further development. Yet, I wanted to make a point with Pat, that I expected to be informed soon after the first contact and before she went forward with serious discussions about a transfer. In the course of the conversation we had, I related the story about the fishing trip and ended it with, “If you want to go fishing in my pond, just come by the house first.”
Pat has reminded me of that story more than once, since. It served to strengthen our communication and friendship with each other, and we did a number of successful joint projects over the years.
Moral of the Story: Having the kind of open communication that allows you and your colleagues to do what is right for the people in your organization in service to strengthening the organization overall should be considered to be a prime directive for all managers. And, how you behave in crossing boundaries in your organization will impact your reputation as a manager. You will likely be recognized as a developer of people if you talk to a person’s manager before inviting them to apply for a job in your group; if you fail to do that, you’ll more likely be known as a poacher.