Our Stories: Debbie | Northwest Center

Jackson Federal Building: Debbie

By Tom Everill

Last week I met Debbie, who supervises the janitorial teams at a number of facilities in downtown Seattle including everything from historic office buildings to modern skyscrapers housing an array of government agencies and officials — an imposing stretch of real estate and a huge responsibility.

Debbie is a highly capable leader by any measure. She demonstrates the most amazing qualities of no-nonsense wisdom and common sense, delivered in a straightforward manner completely without pretense. Most books on leadership would be irrelevant in Debbie’s world because they focus so much on the pretensions, power struggles, and complex masks most of us experience at work. Neither Debbie nor her team worry about any of this because everyone on the team experiences the world differently from most people — they live in the unfiltered world of the present, simply being their honest selves. They are people with developmental conditions the rest of us would label “disabilities,” which is simply another way of saying “not like me.”

And what do Debbie and her crew of janitors accomplish every night? They keep over 50 floors of critical government office space spotless. They handle all snow removal and de-icing of sidewalks. They clean the elevators, stairwells, restrooms, offices, lunchrooms, and ornamental architecture. They manage dumpsters, recycling, and waste disposal. They polish the brass and marble. They consistently receive “outstanding” performance ratings in quarterly tenant meetings. They are embraced as an integral part of the community of government employees in a major American city, without whom the most powerful nation on earth could not do its work every day.




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