Friday, August 27, 2010

PR part one: In which Tim Gunn spoils my evening.

In the careers workbook I'm currently working through, in the skills section, Mentoring is listed as the highest-order People skill one can attain. A mentor helps "people deal with problems by giving legal, scientific, clinical, spiritual, and/or other professional advice."
I have always thought of Tim Gunn as a good mentor, someone who listens to a vision, comments with his professional opinion, and does so in a way that does not judge. At times he is called upon to exhort, and he has had to deal with a great many messes in the workroom, but he has done so with aplomb. Even when he has expressed bafflement with the judges' decisions, he has done so calmly and with disappointment rather than anger.
Last night was a game-changer, and I cannot admire Tim Gunn as much as I used to.
I've already pointed out that Tim Gunn has seemed more emotionally invested this season. So, when he began his talk with Team Luxe, I was not especially surprised. But then he publicly shattered Gretchen's character, essentially defaming her in front of her peers, acting very much as though she wasn't even there as he lambasted her.
What was exceptionally griping about this is that what happened was not Gretchen's fault. I mean that. Is she egotistical? Yes. Annoying? Yes. Micromanaging? Yes. A turncoat? Yes. But she didn't ask her team to be sycophants. Did she backpedal on the runway? You bet. But we all knew that the "team spirit" was going to explode on the runway. That is how Project Runway works. It's not her fault that none of her team had the spine enough to disagree with her, or show any ounce of leadership at all. This has happened before--Gretchen is not new. Usually, though, someone else in the group speaks up to put the leader in his or her place. That is the group's job.
In Tim Gunn's speech, all of the negativity was placed on Gretchen's shoulders, most certainly blaming her for the other team members' lack of integrity. He correctly pointed out the team's lack of courage to say anything, but he blamed Gretchen for everything that went wrong (one could see his anger escalate in the middle, and I think he just lost it). What upset me most was his manner of addressing the group, as I said, as though Gretchen weren't present at all. That is not only rude but absurd.
It could have been handled so much more as a mentor should--if Mr. Gunn really wanted to say something, he could have said, "I'm disappointed in you; Gretchen seemed to be pulling the strings here, even though you argued you were a unified team. Gretchen, your micromanaging was a problem, and not collegial. The rest of you need to work on speaking up for your point of view." Speaking directly to Gretchen would have been mature and helpful, especially given Mr. Gunn's credibility in the fashion world.
Instead, Mr. Gunn's anger got the better of him and he has demolished his ability to be objective in the workroom (or at least for me to believe he is objective), or to assist Gretchen, as is his job. As he has said so often in his own blogs in the past, "Shut up, Tim." In essence, he failed to empathize and let his judgment cloud.
All kinds of arguments can be made defending Tim Gunn, against Gretchen, in favor of the rest of Team Luxe, and so on. But here's my bottom line--I know Gretchen. I can understand where Gretchen is coming from, like an A student put in a group for a project, and no one can show initiative, endangering the final product and even the working process. Twice in my life, I have been gently admonished by a superior for making suggestions to colleagues. In my eyes, at the time, I thought I was helping out with colleagues who clearly didn't know what to do and lacked the ability to think of their next step (and really, what I said wasn't an order or a demand, or even a big suggestion). Yet I could understand my superiors' point, and worked on it, especially because it was presented to me seriously but kindly. It would be appropriate, I think, for Tim Gunn to speak with Gretchen, privately, or perhaps during their next workroom critique. Sometimes, people like Gretchen and I need a brief talk to curb our impulses. And perhaps Mr. Gunn's snappish comments will indeed help Gretchen in the future. Even so, the way this was handled was revolting, and worse than Gretchen's own actions, considering her character, that of her teammates, and what actually happened in the workroom.
If you would like a similar commentary from a contestant who has actually been there (and one I also defended in a past season), you can visit Laura Bennett's blog. For a counterview, you can see Nick Verreos's blog.

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