Honestly, I don’t know what came after that, because the word came out of my daughter’s mouth. I was “Daddy.” Calling me “Dude” had the shocking effect of a swear word spoken by my sweet daughter, and I completely lost traction with the conversation.
Dude is one of those words invented by a genius—or at least popularized by a genius in the last couple of decades—because it can mean virtually anything you want it to mean.
If you do something really cool, even accidentally, those around you might say, “Dude!” and pat you on the back.
If you win an award? “Dude! Congratulations!”
But if you’ve just embarrassed yourself and tanked the project, it might be
“Duuude! What were you thinking?”
If you’re the only one in the room who didn’t get the joke? “Dude.” Inflection and body language mean more than the urban dictionary entry. In my case at home, Ellie was also rolling her eyes while saying, “Dude,” a
combination which even I realize has meaning all its own. Maybe I don’t want to know. I can’t even ask what she meant because she just rolls her eyes all over again.
Ellie just turned ten and is growing up so fast. Relationships change as you grow up, of course. We all test the limits and boundaries. I’m used to my adult son constantly jibing me, but I am not used to Ellie calling me Dude. But even established relationships continue to develop new dimensions as we enter new seasons.
At work, in a new role I took on only a few months ago, I’m going through a similar process of sorting out nuances of relationships. What exactly does “Dude!” mean in this situation?
Most new jobs have a honeymoon period, during which people extend us grace as we get to know them, understand their work, appreciate their contributions. And they’re figuring out the same things about this oddball British bloke who turned
up on the doorstep. What an enlightening time that has been.
I want to do well. I want to achieve something. The coherence around work I’m doing gets clearer day to day. I meet with colleagues who run hospitals, behavioral health service lines, and home health services. They have fascinating stories. Their visions are strong and powerful. It’s so energizing to listen to them. And what a fantastic reminder of the value of growing into relationships.
What we often do not have in work settings, and which I’ve been given in this unique position, is time. My responsibility is to piece together a program of work largely delivered and supported by others—not in the sense that I sit in a cushy office while the little people do all the work, but in the sense that many parts of the hospital system, and agencies in Memphis, are doing great work that can be leveraged to new levels of excellence by understanding and appreciating what we each bring to the table. Being influential often is associated with levels of knowledge or a title on the door, but this time I think it has to do with how well we listen to one another.
At work, if anyone calls me “Dude,” I hope it’s in the vein of “Dude! Genius!” But I’m not holding my breath. If I see the Ellie eye-roll going on, I’ll know it’s something else.
So they don’t call me “Dude,” at least not to my face. But a good friend and leader of strategic change here where I work has named me “Sir Outalot.” And to me it feels as if I’ve been knighted by the queen herself. If I’m out of the office a lot, it’s because I’m out in the community listening. And if I can use my new stature to ennoble my colleagues and make them Lords and Ladies of Listening, then all the better.