It was a day I’d been anticipating for weeks. After three and a half months of maternity leave, I was going back to work (not that I hadn’t been working, believe me). I was both excited and terrified, but ready or not, it was time to get back in the saddle. The babies weren’t scheduled to start at daycare for another week, so I had hired a babysitter who could watch them in my home — I thought it would be a good way to transition back to work.
But on Monday morning, at about 6:30 a.m., my phone started buzzing.
“This can’t be good,” I said to my husband.
Sure enough, it was the babysitter’s number.
“No, this definitely isn’t good,” I said.
And it wasn’t.
As it turned out, she had a family emergency and wasn’t going to be available that day.
I racked my brain trying to come up with a backup plan, but I had nothing. My mom lives four hours away, and there wasn’t anyone else I could call on short notice to take care of infant twins. I called Anthony Guerra, my editor, and explained the situation. I was extremely relieved — though not surprised — when he said that he understood, and asked me to keep him posted.
Now, I knew there would be some hiccups on my first day back — maybe I wouldn’t remember all the steps involving in posting content. Maybe it would take hours just to go through all of the e-mails. Maybe it would just be too hard to concentrate on work with the babies in the house.
What I didn’t anticipate was that I’d never even get a chance to log in. But that’s what happened, and I had to deal with it — or, I should say, we had to deal with it. Anthony had been single-handedly running the site since the end of June, and I’m sure the last thing he wanted to hear was that I wasn’t ready to come back. In fact, I’m willing to wager that he was counting down the days until he had some help again.
Fortunately for me, he handled my frantic phone call amazingly well, and assured me that he could run the show by himself for another day. He knew that the situation was beyond my control — as a father of two young children, he’s all too familiar with the dreaded morning phone call from the babysitter.
But for me, it was quite an eye-opener. Until then, I had no idea how much parents rely on child care providers, and how much it can throw everything off when the person you’re counting on doesn’t show up. It made me think about how important dependability is.
When asked about the qualities they look for in their staff, most employers probably list experience as a top priority, followed by traits like ambition, intelligence, ability to work both independently and as part of a team, and punctuality, to name a few. And then there’s dependability. Some might identify it as a key characteristic, but the fact is, it’s often overlooked. And that can lead to disastrous results, particularly in today’s frenetic health IT environment, where CIOs are under more pressure than ever to deliver results. These days, it is absolutely vital that leaders can rely on every single member of their team.
One of my former coworkers always stood out to me as being extremely dependable. If he said he was going to do something, he did, and did it well. But it wasn’t just that. When he was going on vacation or even taking a day off, he always made sure all the bases were covered. The people he dealt with on a regular basis knew he was going to be out, had everything they needed from him, and knew who to contact if anything else came up.
And on the flip side, I remember one writer whose work was almost always submitted late, accompanied by one of a few recycled excuses. And then there was my former boss who cancelled meetings so often that his staff came to depend on him not being there.
Of course, we all have times where we have to back out of a meeting or call in sick — or, in my case, push back a start date because of a child care issue — that’s just part of life. But when it becomes a habit, that’s when it’s a problem. When someone already has a few strikes against him, he needs to be put on warning, and if it happens again, called out.
People remember those who were really dependable… and those who weren’t. If a staff member’s number comes up and you already know there’s an excuse coming, maybe it’s time to take him out of the lineup. Because now, more than ever, CIOs and other leaders need to field the best team possible.