June 2, 2012

How to Cover Your Butt at Work | Lessons From the Life of Captain Kidd

So you have a job that you love.  Great!  But as often as companies hire they also early retire.  What are you doing to insure you keep yours?   
Captain Kidd was a failure who was killed by the hands of those who employed him.  Although pretty extreme, we can learn a lot from him. 

William Kidd, born 1645 in Scotland, was a man who was accused of being a Pirate. Today, however, there is much evidence to suggest that he was merely doing his job as a privateer.  It is important to understand in those days England and the American Colonies privately employed ship captains to disrupt the French’s supply lines.  England was in a long war with France.  With no money to continue to fund their Navy, they employed privateers to board French ships and rob them. Their pay came from what they stole. 

In 1695, Captain Kidd was employed as a privateer.  His target was Thomas Tew, John Ireland, Tomas Wake, William Maze and any other French supply ship.  The venture was commissioned by a group of Noble Lords in Britain.  The King of England even presented Kidd with a letter of Marque reserving 10% of his take for the Crown.  A  Letter of Marque authorized him to attack enemy ships.  It distinguished those who were legitimate from those who were mere pirates.

January 30, 1698,  Kidd and his crew captured a highly valued ship.  Unknown to him, the captain of that ship was actually an English man on an armenian ship who had requested safe passage from the French.  When Kidd found out, he requested the crew return the ship immediately.  His crew refused.  After word got out, many no longer looked at him as a privateer but as a pirate.  Dissension soon spread through out his crew.   He faced an attempted mutiny by his crew, death threats,  and charges of piracy.

Upon arriving in New York, his investors (in a fear of being implicated themselves) turned him over to the Crown.  Those in England who had commissioned disowned him and testified against him.  He was falsely accused of murder and five counts of piracy.  As punishment, he was hanged and left there for three years as a warning to would-be-pirates.  

The sad reality is that time has changed, but employers have not.  So how do we watch our backs and keep our jobs?

​KEEP TRACK OF EVERY PENNY
Literally speaking if you want to watch your back in business or any where else...there had better be an accounting for every penny.  Idea men who deal with concepts don’t always do the best job at bean counting.   So get someone to help you.  There is always a first class accounting geek, know it all, watching your every move.   Even if your an honest guy.
KNOW WHO YOUR BOSS IS AND HOW THEY OPERATE 
I had a friend who once told me of two kinds of bosses he had.  The first boss gave him permission to make a purchase.  After making the purchase, that same boss came back and said they need to check again with the higher ups.  My friend was surprised because permission had already been given and the purchase had already been made.  Years later, while working for a different boss, my friend was given a request to make a purchase.  Based on past experience, he went back to his boss to make sure he had permission from the higher ups.  This second boss was shocked that the purchase had not been made already.  One boss was obviously afraid of purchasing stuff , while the other was not worried (especially after permission was given).  You could easily find yourself without a job if you don’t learn who your boss is. 
KEEP A SMALL LOG
If you ever find yourself in a witch hunt like the one Captain Kidd faced, it is always good to have records.  Keep track of your hours and tasks that you perform while on the clock.  This is extremely irritating and time consuming, especially if you're a go get'er,  But even a small record might help your butt.
STAY IN CONTACT WITH HONORABLE PEOPLE
I'm kind of hard headed.  I don’t suck up to power people very well.  It is better to have a friend who is honest and of good character involved in your job.  That way if stuff goes south, they have your back.
KNOW WELL THE UNWRITTEN EXPECTATIONS
I have been in jobs before where the unwritten expectations were more suffocating than the written ones.   So figure those out before you accept the job.
AVOID BEING SCAPEGOAT BY HAVING A VOICE
Speak up!  Sometimes if you were to have a voice early on things might not trail on unnecessarily.  Speak up!  This is not false modesty, but the avoidance of becoming someone else's punch bag.
​BE CAREFUL OF NEWLY CREATED POSITIONS
Newly created positions could be an opportunity for great creativity, but sometimes they can become problematic. Especially when the bosses think your job involves everything under the sun.  Sometimes being the first guy in a new position can be hard because some senior boss guy created it and now hopes your success will convince everyone else that it was needed. Proceed with caution and know the ins and outs thoroughly before leaping on board.  It could be your greatest advancement or your biggest set back.
In my opinion, Captain Kidd was a cool dude.  Some say he was bad, but I tend to think he was the victim of gossip, unfortunate situations, and a political time of intolerance toward Pirates.

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