Farewell to The Olde One…

The Savage Knight rose slowly from the ground as the energy surrounding him slowly dissipated. He straightened and removed his helmet, looking intently at the door in front of him. Recognition brought a tired smile to his face and he reached for the handle. The door opened easily and he walked through, his smile growing wider as he took in the welcoming sights and sounds of Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon. 

The first face he spotted was, as usual, Mike Callahan, who returned The Savage Knight’s smile with a nod and a wink. “Greetings Traveller,” he said wiping clean the bar at an open spot. “It’s been way too long since you visited.”

“Aye, that much is very true, old friend,” said Savage, taking the proffered seat. “You have been in my heart for many moons and thus have I visited in my dreams while duty has kept me away.”

Mike nodded in understanding and placed a drink in front of Savage. “Welcome back,” he smiled and turned to his other patrons.

Savage lifted the glass and looked at the dark ember. He couldn’t remember the last time he had the opportunity to hold that magical potion of Ire in his hands.  He took a small sip, savoring the flavour as the liquid spread over his tongue. With a happy sigh – a sound seemingly strange coming from his lips – he put the glass down and looked towards the fireplace.

The Savage Knight’s eyes began to gleam, whether in reflection of the warm fire crackling in the fireplace or because of a sudden rise of tears in his eyes, he would not say. There, seated at the table closest to the fireplace, was his old friend and comrade who he had not spent more than passing moments with in over 48 moons. Savage immediately made his way over, taking the seat next to the Olde One and grasping him firmly by the arms.

“Olde One!” he exclaimed, “how it does my heart good to see you again! I should have known I would find you here, right by the heart of Callahan’s good cheer, stoking the flames you so gallantly control!”

Flamebringer, the Olde One, smiled at seeing Savage again, his eyes twinkling like a mischievous elf while his ever-present grin acknowledged the play on words he was so fond of.  “Savage!” he greeted, “time seems to have played a foul trick on you considering how the weight of ages seems to have spread upon your face!”

Savage sat back and toasted his friend, his laughter ever louder than the clinking of glasses.” I’m not certain you should be throwing such stones, old friend. Your glow is a little dimmer than I remember and there is certainly more white to your features.”

“You know me,” he replied. “I am not one to make much public in regards to bad tidings, especially when they come from the matter of the ages catching up to me.”

“But what of Callahan’s decree?” asked Savage.  “Shared Pain is Lessened, Shared Joy Increased. It is at the heart of our beliefs.”

“Yes, it is. And for me, the focus has always been on the Shared Joy,” he replied. “And that’s exactly what this moment is for me! Joy at seeing you again!”

The Savage Knight held his tongue for a minute and frowned in thought. The Olde One continued smiling, enjoying teasing his friend. Before Savage had the chance to speak again, the doors to Callahan’s opened once more. This time, everyone within felt the energy change. Callahan’s doors open regularly and constantly, so much so that no one pays any mind. And, as is custom, those who enter aren’t barraged by questions as each visitor arrives for their own reasons and only when they are ready to share do they find themselves surrounded by friendly ears.

Mike Callahan looked at his latest patron and sadness chased his smile away.  Most of his clientele couldn’t recognize him, but there were definitely some who knew the Grim Reaper. It wasn’t the first time he had set foot in the bar, nor would it be his last. After all, even the Reaper needs a place to get away sometimes.  This visit was different, unfortunately. He was here for one of them.

The Savage Knight was in his direct sight and watched him enter, just as he watched the subtle changes around him.  He noticed the Olde One shiver just a tiny bit and felt the heat from the fireplace dim. Death was not unknown to either of them and both were brought back to their last encounter as they met to remember a fallen comrade, the Slicer of Pix.

The Reaper passed them and sat at the bar stool closest to them. He greeted no one but just sat looking at Savage and the Olde One. Although the bar still hummed with activity, it was a lot more subdued than before. Savage glanced around, watching the reactions of other longtime friends from the Lands of Baud who were familiar with Reaper. They kept their tongues and their distance.

“This is not a normal night,” said Savage, still keeping an eye on the Reaper. “It is no wonder I found myself drawn here.”

“True, true,” replied Flamebringer. “That’s probably got more to do with me than with you,” he grinned.

“What do you mean?” asked Savage.

The Olde One moved his drink off his coaster and picked it up.  He showed it to Savage and whispered, “Hello, I must be going.”

“No!” yelled Savage, standing up suddenly and brandishing his sword. Holding it towards the Reaper, he yelled again through gritted teeth, “No!”

The Reaper cocked his head to the side and looked at Savage. There was nothing for him to say. The black coaster was a universal sign.

Savage felt a hand on his sword arm and he turned to look at Mike Callahan’s sombre face. He knew. The Reaper comes for all. In time. He sat back down and stared silently at his friend, the sadness palatable and heavy.

“I would give of my own time to keep you here longer,” he said. “I am certain that all your friends would as well.” There were nods all around at this statement.

The Olde One smiled and shook his head. “As generous as that sounds, it would end up being a curse for me.”  Savage looked puzzled so Flamebringer continued. “There’s so much love here that you would end up making me live forever. It would then be my curse to keep on while I outlived all of you,” he finished.

Savage sat silently, fighting back the tears that were beginning to force their way out. Around the bar, everyone was doing the same thing. Staring into their drinks or looking at the floor, they were trying to stay brave in the face of this most frightening reality.

“We’ve been down this road before, my friend,” said the Olde One. “There is no bargaining with death. It comes when it must and it is not up to us to know when that time will be. All we can do is face the final walk with dignity and pride in having lived the best life we were able to.”

“I am proud to call you my friend,” said Savage, finally losing the battle with his emotions and letting the tears fall. “I will miss you, terribly. But I will carry you in my heart until such time as we meet again and can rekindle our friendship.”

The two men stood and hugged as everyone else began to move closer to say their goodbyes. “Teh flame of our friendship will never die, oh Savage One,” smiled the Olde One.

Savage nodded and moved closer to the fireplace. He raised his glass to his friend, nodded to the Grim Reaper, and said, “To The Flying Yank, known in some lands as Flamebringer, known fondly as The Olde One! Long will his presence and history be felt! Though you move off this plane of existence, you will never vacate our hearts!”

Savage downed his drink, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and let fly his glass into the fireplace where it crashed and tinkled before disappearing in a whoosh of flame as the fire accepted his offering.

Before he could walk back to the bar, a line had already formed and toasts rang out as more glasses crashed into the fireplace. It was a night of sadness, but also full of love and remembrance. Savage, his eyes focused on the Olde One, watched as he slowly made his way towards the door with the Grim Reaper beside him. As he got to the door, he turned back towards the Savage Knight. Placing a finger on the side of his nose, his eyes twinkling, he gave Savage one last smile, and then the Olde One… disappeared.

At that exact moment, from the Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon in the land of The Crypt to The Drunken Wench in FayryLand, to The Restaurant at the End of The Universe in The Savage Land, the Olde One flickered from existence and was no more. On the walls of each of those establishments a frame appeared with the photo of their old friend and would hang in a place of honour from that moment on.

“Rest in peace, my old friend,” whispered Savage looking at the frame. “My journey has been better because we shared the road for a time…”

For Gene 9/16/2018

 

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Where has the time gone?

I received notification that this blog had failed to load this week and upon attempting to see what was up it pretty much crash and burned.  Of course, as I’m aware of how often systems tend to die I didn’t panic as I had a recent backup to recover from.

Of course, what amazed me after finally getting the site back up and running was the fact that there hasn’t been that much activity here in quite some time. There’s been plenty of activity in other aspects of life, of course, but this blog has been very quiet.

Yes, it made me a little nostalgic for the “good old days” of the very active LiveJournal community but that really has to do with the ability to be able to have a public and private life on LJ that isn’t as possible here without some serious work. And that’s where it fails.

If something isn’t natural enough that it can be incorporated into everyday life, then it will fade.  And since I’m not willing to share everything that’s happening here on a public forum, I stay silent until something does come up 🙂

At any rate, we’ll have to see what 2018 has to offer…

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Old/ New Flash Fiction Piece

As a Writer, once you’ve sold a piece, there usually isn’t a very large time lag before you see it published. Yes, it sometimes happens that the work you sold doesn’t end up getting used for whatever reason (publisher out of business, funding fell through, etc) but that’s usually not the rule.

This morning I was pleasantly surprised to find that one piece from 2006 finally made it online!  After all this time the imagery still makes me giggle 🙂  You’ll find it at ScienceFictionFantasyHorror.com at the link below:

The Old Clown and Horror Movies

Hope it adds a grin to your day 🙂

 

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Pixel Project 2016 Father’s Day Campaign

I was asked, for the third year now, to participate in this year’s Pixel Project Father’s Day Campaign.  It’s an important campaign but I hadn’t been able to verbalize my thoughts the last couple of years.  I’m happy to announce that this is no longer the case and my short interview is now up on their blog 🙂

You can find the full piece on their site: The Pixel Project Blog

 

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Team Goals, Rules, and Strategies

Welcome to the third of three posts on Team Engagement.  Here’s where we Sharpen the Saw (as Stephen Covey would say) in regards to keeping Teams focused and productive.

Let’s say you’ve managed to Engage your Team, and worked on making them more Effective, how do you ensure that they stay on track?  I find the following are important behaviours to keep in mind and keep us focused:

  • “Team Time”  As teams strengthen, it’s only natural that some members will build their own relationships.  Be aware of how members naturally congregate and see how that strengthens their work. Use “team” time (electronic or in person) to encourage members to share their knowledge and experiences.  Encourage their group discussions and delegate resolutions (or solutions) to them. If anyone feels left out (or you notice that they aren’t as engaged) remind them of how everyone’s contribution, skills, and thoughts work together to reach the team (and company) goals. You should always be in a position to connect the work being done by the team to the impact on the company’s success.
  • Team Goals.  Speaking of goals, it’s extremely important that the team understands what those are and where they stand in relation to company goals.  Items of note in regards to success:
    • Teamwork.  Together, the boat rows faster.  Address any roadblocks be they process, technical, or people. The same point I made regarding not letting minor disputes linger applies here. If something is tripping up the team, clear it up.
    • Performance. What does “success” mean to the team? Discuss everyone’s opinion on “Team Success” and establish an evaluation criteria together.
    • Challenges. Are there outside influences impacting the team? Every team has some members who seem to be regularly pulled into other emergencies.  Make sure interruptions and the impacts of those interruptions are understood by all stakeholders. Your schedule will suffer and your stress level increased if it’s not handled properly.
    • Clarity of Solution. Is the team clear on what needs to be accomplished and how success will be measured or what timeframes are important?  It’s sometimes easy to be bogged down by trying to get the “perfect” solution, but not at the expense of hitting milestones. The better the focus on the goalpost, the clearer the road to get there.
    • Clarity of Members. Does everyone know their roles and responsibilities? When it comes to a team, your official title does not denote your only responsibilities. Everyone on the team should understand what is expected of them. For example, who completes the documentation? Who reviews it? Who is responsible for external communication? Who gives the final sign-off on a process or a delivery? Don’t let assumptions ruin a team’s cohesion.
  • Team Rules. By the same token of setting boundaries between the leader and the members, boundaries should exist within the team as well. Make sure everyone is aware of them, accepts them, and commits to them.  Some sample rules could include:
    • Time. Start meetings on time, end meetings 5 minutes prior to the end. No one, and I really do mean no one, should be forced to wait for meetings to start. The reason we all deal with agendas and schedules is to ensure everyone is available when they are needed. If you can’t make it, don’t accept.  If you accept, be there on time. By extension, don’t wait until the very last minute of the meeting to end it. Everyone should be allowed 5 minutes (or even 10 depending on how long the actual meeting is) to get to their next meeting or at least go for a bio-break.
    • Respect. Everyone should get a chance to speak or have an opinion. No one should be talking over anyone else.  If necessary, ensure each meeting has a moderator.
    • Agreements. How does the team reach consensus on actions? This is where a moderator (if it is not you) is important to gather opinions.
    • Debate. How long can we discuss until we either vote on an action or agree to push forward? Does everyone need a voice (although as a leader, you should encourage feedback). Is further information required? Can the decision wait until a follow-up meeting?  Or is an answer required at that moment? Was the decision coercion or consensus? Agreeing to disagree is ok and does sometimes happen, but everyone should understand the implications of the decisions (both business and project-wise).

In summary, I would have to say these are my top 5 strategies for Teams:

  1. Get to know them – who they are, how they like to work, what challenges them.
  2. Engage them: Give them what they like to do and the leeway to do it (whenever possible).
  3. Focus them: Make sure they know what needs to be done and why.
  4. Get buy-in: Prove they have a voice and that everyone’s opinion is respected.
  5. Communicate: this is the clincher. Keep them in the loop. Explain decisions. Update them when something changes. Share knowledge. Share expectations. Get them working and thinking as a cohesive unit and not just individuals. Teach them to play ideas against each other to find the right solution.

Obviously, what works for me doesn’t always work for everyone else. After all, every team has its own restrictions and challenges. Either way, I hope these last few articles have given you ideas to try out or at least hope that building effective and engaged teams is possible!

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona recently underwent Starfleet Academy Training and was confirmed as being able to join the Communications team due to his near-perfect score.  Considering the amount of articles and discussions he’s had on the importance of Communication, he found that extremely appropriate, especially in relation to his love of languages.  His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead. Qapla’!)

 

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Tips to Building an Effective Team

To continue from my previous post on A Quick Intro to Team Engagement, here are some of the tips I like to share with new Managers. These are as valid for a team that you are leading as much as they are for teams you are a part of.

Everyone knows that the old saying that there’s “never a second chance to make a first impression” is quite true.  This is also a true and important reminder for teams.  Building, or coming into a new team, requires a clear sense of who you are as a leader.

It’s been said that the best team leaders build a relationship with their direct reports through trust and loyalty. Another important item is staying consistent in your approach. The best way to ensure this is to set and realize that boundaries do exist when it comes to your words and actions. Your role as the “parental” figure is to protect your team, not scare them into submission. Prove to them that you can be relied on at the same time that you show your trust in them.

Some specific points to keep in mind when working with your team, in no particular order, are:

  • Every opinion matters.  If someone is made to feel that what they say is as valuable as anyone else, they will be more prone to participating in working sessions, brainstorming, etc. Being part of the discussion and agreements is a sure way to get buy-in for the path to take. This can’t happen without the team feeling that they can share their opinions.
  • What’s not being said is as important as what is.  Empathic listening is being engaged in a discussion to the point that you can see if someone is holding something back. Look for clues in body language and make yourself be open with your team and sensitive to their moods and feelings. The more you get to know your individual members, the more you will be able to see and gauge their impressions and reactions towards what the team is planning.
  • Mediate.  Don’t let minor disputes linger.  Remind the team of their goals. They have been put together for a reason, and working together is how it will happen. Anything that gets in the way of that collaboration has to be resolved.
  • Communicate.  Clearly. And often.  There shouldn’t be any confusion as to what’s expected of your team.  Similarly, they should not be kept in the dark as to what’s going on around them.  This does not mean holding constant meetings, but rather in finding a way to share information (especially important information!) with them, be it through IM Chat Groups, Emails, or impromptu stand-ups.

As you can see, and as I continue to stress, Communication is always at the heart of employee engagement and is vital to successful teams. In my next post, I’ll wrap up my thoughts on Team Engagement by sharing tips on Team Behaviours.

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona believes that the road to greatness is built by a heavy dose of information (communication) that leads to successful collaboration. This, not only for development teams and business, but for relationships as well! His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead.)

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A Quick Intro to Team Engagement

I have found that when it comes to Teams, the best way to approach them is like an extended family.  If you’re lucky enough to be the one pulling in or creating a team, you can pretty much ensure that (depending on how well you interview) you’re getting a group of people who share your values, drive, or maybe even sensitivity.  When I speak about treating team members like family, I’m not talking about inviting them into your home and sharing all your deep, dark secrets.  Instead, I’m talking about some basic, intrinsic values such as:

  •        Benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume something they do is purposefully negative. If an action or behaviour makes you step back and wonder what happened, don’t go on the attack. Get to the root or the why and understand the situation.  Accidents happen and sometimes bad judgement calls are made. Don’t immediately believe it is malicious.  Share your expectations and explain why you felt it wasn’t right.  Offer training and guidance.
  •        Listen, with your ears AND eyes. Get to know who they are by learning how they respond and interact, not just to the words they say but “how” in speech and in body language. Does the tone they use in speaking with you match their pose?  Are they hiding anger, regret, or resentment? Getting to know an employee and their strengths means you can get more accomplished by focusing on their positives.
  •        Trust them. You hired them for a purpose. Trust that they will do what is required.  It may not be the way you would do it yourself, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be successful.  If something doesn’t work, go back to the first item on this list and discover where the problem may be stemming from.  Is it lack of understanding?  Not being aware of how their individual positions and work enhance the group and team dynamics?  Again, offer training and guidance either in reviewing operating procedures or working with an established “buddy” that can share knowledge.

Building a team and allowing the members to reach their potential is an ongoing process that will result in a strong and cohesive unit. They not only share expectations for accomplishing tasks, but trust and support one another. A team takes on a life of its own and you have to regularly nurture and maintain it, just as you do for individual employees. Using the “Family” analogy, think of what happens when a child brings home a significant other who joins the family, or, alternatively, if one leaves the “nest”. They dynamics will change and the team will adapt to the new group – hopefully in a positive way. I’ll share some thoughts on keeping the team cohesive in my follow-up post.

With a strong team and good team-building skills, employees are united around a common goal and generate greater productivity. Without good practices, the team is limited to the effort each individual can make alone. In other words:

“Individuals Play the Game, but Teams win Championships.” – Source Unknown

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona may not have built many sports teams, but he has definitely been lucky enough to build a number of excellent Development and Support teams! Although tackle football is still frowned upon in most offices, he’s glad that at least morning scrums have caught on. His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead.)

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