Secretary, Not Secretary Of State

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Our friends Bill and Tammy Kemper were sharing dinner with us in one of the many fine restaurants in beautiful downtown Athens, and Bill was mentioning how things were going at work. He manages to juggle the requirements of maintaining a large medical center, from procurement to installation of new computer systems, while working with the entire staff.  

On perhaps our third glass of wine, Bill talked about the frustrations of trying to interact with the dozens of doctors and staff, each of whom had an opinion and to whom he had to listen. Bill is a take-charge kind of fellow, but when all was said and done, he laughingly said, “I thought I was the Secretary of State but I was really only the secretary.”
 
That’s a statement we all should laugh about, and one that should remind us to never take our chieftain roles too seriously. I am “in charge” of the trial gardens, a large research program, and have the futures of dozens of students before me in my classes. This seems pretty straightforward–we can’t trial everything in the gardens–so I should be able to make the decision to trial plant X rather than plant Y. It is my research program, so I should be able to pursue a reasonable hypothesis and in a reasonably straight line–and heck, what do students have to do with the material I decide to teach and how I teach it? If they don’t like it, too bad.

Listen Up

Any veteran of management reading the last paragraph would laugh out loud at its fallacy. Although we may have serious titles like CEO, executive director, head grower or shipping foreman, none of us are really in command. We may be responsible, but we are not solely in charge. And that is not a bad thing to remind ourselves of every now and then. 
 
Management is just another word for listening. And if there is anything we don’t do well, it is listening.  Bill had it right: We are all secretaries, making sure things get accomplished in such a way as to make the job efficient and giving others a sense of involvement. 
As for me, the trial gardens just keep getting larger, but after I listened to Meg and my students working there, it is more productive. My research program is guided by the principal of usefulness (i.e. who will benefit from the results I share, and that, for sure, is a moving target). 
 
As far as my students are concerned, good grief, they have opinions. I offer my opinions of our industry, and they give me theirs. Secretary of State? Not even close. But what a ball I have being the best secretary I can be. I hope you enjoy that role as much as I do. 
P.S. I respect and love secretaries. Really!
Allan Armitage was a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia for 30 years. He recently retired and remains an active consultant, author and lecturer.

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