WORK­ERS’ COM­PEN­SA­TION

Pasatiempo - - RANDOM ACTS - — from “A Vi­sion of Voices: John Crosby and the Santa Fe Opera” by Craig A. Smith

Crosby tended to go through as­sis­tants with what seemed like fa­tal reg­u­lar­ity. As­sis­tants would last for a year or two or three, then van­ish — not nec­es­sar­ily be­cause they did any­thing wrong, but be­cause they were ex­pected to live for and with the opera, with per­sonal af­fairs and lives kept a dis­tant sec­ond, and it was too much stress. Other em­ploy­ees also felt the weight of Crosby’s ex­pec­ta­tions. He once be­came an­noyed when a fa­vored staff mem­ber had the temer­ity to get mar­ried dur­ing an Opera Amer­ica con­fer­ence in Santa Fe. From his point of view, the nup­tials should have been post­poned, and the staffer should have been on duty. She noted in be­wil­der­ment, “What was I sup­posed to do, live in sin?” An­other time, he was an­noyed rather then sym­pa­thetic when an as­sis­tant wanted to leave due to a death in his fam­ily, in the midst of sea­son prepa­ra­tions. Although Crosby was a per­fec­tion­ist, a mis­take could be for­given if ac­com­pa­nied by an ex­pla­na­tion, an apol­ogy, and a game plan for en­sur­ing the er­ror would not re­cur. In­so­lence, in­sub­or­di­na­tion, or de­fend­ing one­self when in the wrong — and oc­ca­sion­ally the right — would prompt a growled rep­ri­mand or a fu­ri­ous, full-scale dress­ing down. As a demon­stra­tion of author­ity, such a re­ac­tion was un­der­stand­able, if de­plorable. From a hu­man per­spec­tive, es­pe­cially when Crosby was in the wrong, it was more puz­zling. At those times, he would some­times apol­o­gize meekly; at other times, he would demon­strate that he knew he had been in the wrong, even if he could not bring him­self to for­mally ad­mit an er­ror. His at­ti­tude to­ward the in­jured per­son would show his re­gret. And Crosby could be a car­ing and thought­ful boss. Once he sent a young staff mem­ber to work in a bank for sev­eral years to gain fi­nan­cial ex­per­tise. An­other time, when some­one left the com­pany to take an­other po­si­tion in town, he was told, “You’ll have a bet­ter chance of com­ing back here to the opera if you go some­where else and get ex­pe­ri­enced in a lead­er­ship po­si­tion” — and in time, the staff mem­ber did re­turn. He re­paid loy­alty with loy­alty, even though the road to the top could be bumpy. He al­ways pre­ferred to pro­mote from within, but he ex­pected loy­alty to con­tinue and even in­crease as ad­vance­ment oc­curred. With Crosby, no news was good news. If you heard noth­ing, you knew he was sat­is­fied you were do­ing your job. One sim­ply did not ex­pect lav­ish praise for do­ing so. And he en­joyed be­ing a men­tor, es­pe­cially when in­tro­duc­ing peo­ple to num­bers and ac­cu­rate ac­count­ing. “The best way to work with him was to be re­spon­si­ble,” one long­time staff mem­ber put it. “He was re­ally good at let­ting peo­ple do their jobs. He had clearly de­fined ex­pec­ta­tions, he ex­pected the high­est level of ser­vice and great­est amount of cour­tesy and the best skills. You lived up to it or you weren’t stick­ing around.” Crosby also hated it if peo­ple them­selves chose not to stick around; he could not imag­ine why any­one would choose an­other or­ga­ni­za­tion over the Santa Fe Opera or an­other boss over him. For him to en­cour­age a staff mem­ber to leave to gain ex­pe­ri­ence was one thing; for a staff mem­ber to leave to fur­ther his or her own pro­fes­sional aims was un­think­able.

Crosby in­spects the car­nage on the morn­ing of July 27, 1967, af­ter Santa Fe Opera’s theater was de­stroyed by fire; photo Alan Stoker; left, the Santa Fe Opera, 2010; photo Robert God­win; far left, Crosby clear­ing his head; photo Michael Salas; op­po­site page, John Crosby in the pit, 1988; photo Hans Fahrmeyer All images cour­tesy Santa Fe Opera/ Uni­ver­sity of New Mex­ico Press

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