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Showing posts from 2011

Leadership By Necessity Not By Vanity

A paramount virtue of a true leader is the ability to recognize the need  to step up and lead regardless of whether anyone is watching or where the spotlight may be pointed.  Some people aspire to lead, and need others follow them in order to bolster up their self-esteem and self-worth.  Recently, my brother lent me a book, Falling to Earth   by Astronaut Al Worden, the Apollo 15 Command Module Pilot. I have always been fascinated by the US and Soviet/Russian space programs since I vaguely remember the 1971 Apollo 15 live coverage.  What was most interesting about this book, was its uncanny similarity to other books I have read recently on the 101st Airborne 506th Parachute Infantry; better known as "The Band of Brothers."  Stephen Ambrose wrote a book, of the same name back in 1992 which was later produced as a ten episode HBO miniseries chronicling the Easy Company soldiers from their training in Toccoa, Georgia through the Normandy Invasion, Battle of the Bulge, and the fi

When 95% Success Can Still Lead to Failure

Last week, while finishing up a two-day maintenance outage at work, I was exhausted.  I was about to get myself ready to head home when I saw something in a co worker's office that caught my attention.  He had an 18" adjustable (often called Crescent) wrench on his bookcase that was missing the movable jaw and adjusting worm gear.  I picked it up and grinned.  My coworker said he was disappointed that he couldn't find economical replacement parts allowing the wrench to be repaired for less than buying new. I stood there, looking at him, exhausted from 15 hours at work, with the wrench in my hand, and said "I feel just like this wrench, 95% here, but completely worthless."  It then dawned on me the significance of the joke so I asked him if I could keep the wrench.  He was glad to have one less piece of junk in his office so he said "Sure." All weekend long I thought about the broken wrench and why only 5% of it missing made it useless, and how that

Me thinks thou art a suck-up

from I was speaking with a couple of friends of mine recently about some of our common trials and tribulations at work.  During these two conversations, the subject of ingratiating sycophants, more commonly known as suck-ups came up in the discussions.  It is interesting why this type of personality is so prevalent in just about every organization.  The brown-nosing yes-men (persons) can sprout up like dandelions, for some very significant reasons.  The behaviors of acting like a butt-smoocher, or enjoying the company of them like a court of fools, both reside with a lack of confidence and security.  Organizations in most environments are dynamic, with the levels of management experiencing frequent movements.  This flux is caused by positions opening, outdated positions closing, and people being transferred, promoted, or demoted.  If the organization you are in doesn't experience these changes, it is either very small or dying.  How supervisors and manage

Are you really communicating, or showing others how much you really don't care?

An increasingly amount of one-on-one communication is no longer face to face, but rather via email or its special-needs cousin, texting.  The proliferation of smart phones and pads have made it very easy for most of us to depersonalize one-on-one communication by using pure text.  Back in the day, before phones were everywhere, professionals needed to find each other physically to discuss plans, conflicts, and solutions.  With the widespread use of telephones in the 1940's and 50's face-to-face was replaced with picking up the phone and letting your fingers do the walking.  Our body language is hidden on a telephone conversation, but our subtle verbal cues and sighs at least convey or betray our true feelings. The age of text communication not only takes on more degree apart from one another by filtering out the verbal and non-verbal, but it allows for us to take that much less responsibility for what we communicate. This high-tech / low brains approach to communication has d

First time supervisor - The adventure begins

1993 D4 Rebuild - Is that a beard? This past week I helped interview some candidates for a shift supervisor position.  Interestingly enough, all of the candidates would be first-time supervisors.  While reviewing the candidates in a meeting just a few days ago, I couldn't help thinking about my first supervisory experience.  An intertwined chain of events concluding with a whirl-wind last minute interview process landed me as one of the youngest general foremen in the company at 27.  Before I realized what was happening, I was supervising over 45 skilled millwrights with an average age of 44.  Many of these guys were old enough to be my father, two of them my grandfather, and I still couldn't grow a decent beard. Along with the 45 skilled millwrights were a day turn foreman and three planner foremen, all with 25+ years of experience to my 6.  I was very fortunate to have a strong mentor who helped guide me through a treacherous workplace minefield.  Rather than micro-manag

Know when it is time to keep your mouth shut

from As a youth, I don't remember ever having the right comeback when caught by surprise by a schoolmate making an antagonizing quip.  In high school, most of us were mising a lightning quick wit, and thus were subjected to indefensible attacks from those few who did.  A time did come however, when I did develop a quick wit, and the ability to stun an antagonist with lightning fast remark.  It is a well known fact that working in a steel mill can be compared to being in the 8th grade for life.  There is something about heavy industry that can bring the juvenile idiot out of each of us. In this world of never ending immaturity and adolescent humor; quips and zingers zip about at times like speeding electrons.  It is always fun, until someone loses an eye.  The problem I have experienced is that observers in the periphery can at time take great offense to the ping-pong like banter that results from a pair of us dueling it out with sharp rema

I haven't fallen off the face of the Earth.

 For any of you few that hit this blog from time to time, I apologize for not keeping current with my writing.  Between school, work, long hours in the hot steel mill, my kids home for the summer, and various other distractions, I have neglected my blog and my handful of fans.  from Please forgive me, I am working on some new articles that should be posted by week's end.

I Do Everything On Purpose.

from I recently finished reading (actually listening) to a book that was recommended by a friend titled "Drive" by Daniel Pink.  This friend of mine recommends many useful and interesting books that I have read diligently, since they always seem to apply to what I am experiencing in my career transition.  This book was no exception.  In my mid-life crisis, I am continually analyzing what I have accomplished in the past twenty years since I have been in the workplace. Twenty years ago this week I started working at the now defunct National Steel Corporation at what now is the US Steel Great Lakes Works.  I was fresh out of engineering school after working a month after graduation finishing up a design project for national competition for the University of Michigan-Dearborn.  I was eager to start making some real money and putting my new engineering degree to the test.  For anyone who has been in a steel mill it is either the loudest, hottest, dirtiest pla

Kids and Coworkers, Attitude is Everything.

I can remember the day when I learned I was going to become a father.  It was over seventeen years ago, but it really does seem like just yesterday.  The thought of being responsible for a new life, someone completely dependant upon me was overwhelming.  I remember driving down to the local K-Mart to pick up some house items, walking through the aisles in a daze of confusion.  Something caught my eye, and it brought everything into perspective (yeah, just like that).  A young couple, younger than me, pushing a stroller with a young toddler; meanwhile the young woman was pregnant (and very close to delivering).  They walked through the store like it was any ordinary day.  I knew from watching them for three minutes that I would be able to raise children as well. from Life became challenging right away, and hasn't gotten any easier since.  Each step along the way, I kept telling myself that it was going to get easier, but much to my chagrin, it has only becom

Invite Hansel and Gretel into the Workplace

from The past few years have certainly been a reality check.  Following one of the greatest economic booms of recent years has been a financial calamity.  The year 2009 was certainly the hardest in my career, and probably harder than most people have endured past 1980.  A great many jobs were lost as companies that weren't strong enough to weather the storm crumbled under the force of the collapse. It is easy to think only of ourselves when these things happen.  Most people have families and financial obligations that often feel daunting when the threat of joblessness is looming.  It is times like these when we need to leave a trail behind us to guide us back safely.  The old saying "knowledge is power"will always be true, but true knowledge isn't what we keep only for ourselves, but what we share with others.  I have met many coworkers that keep "vital" work related information very close to their chest.  They may have small notebooks or

Collecting people instead of things

    About twenty years ago, I purchased my first house.  I remember all of the houses that my wife and I visited and looked at before we decided to put in offer on the one we liked.  One house we saw stuck out because of the owner's peculiar collections.  On the walls of his house were framed shadow box collections of all sorts of items including : matchbooks, shot glasses, playing card decks, thimbles, hotel note pads, you name it.  I found it almost mezmorizing how many different things this man chose to collect and display.  Personally, I collected baseball cards as a youth.  I used my lawn-mowing and paper route money to purchase cards that I knew would appreciate in value, as well as certain players that I fancied.  Thirty years later, I am not sure what to do with the cards.  Combined, the entire collection is theoretically around $5000, but realistically, I wouldn't be able to get half that amount by selling them to dealers or on the internet.  Worse yet, even though I d

Instead of fighting City Hall, you may just want to move to a different City . .

 from While I was studying engineering at the University of Michigan in the late 80's, I was continually surrounded by the active protests and political movements of students eager to change the world.  The diverse student body of U of M was a hotbed of cultural expressions brought about the intoxicating need to "take on the MAN".  As a young engineer, I would sometimes take on the establishment at work and school with a bull-headed charge which often resulted in bruised relationships and a reputation for being a troublemaker. Please don't get me wrong, I haven't become a sell-out.  I haven't abandoned the need to be a part of radical change, but I have learned a more subtle, lower-key method of affecting change while not drawing too much attention to myself or my goals.  I am not referring to abrupt political revolution like we have seen recently in the Middle-East, I am discussing cultural changes at work that improve the abil

Back to School: Reinvent Yourself

  Back in the 80's Rodney Dangerfield starred in the movie "Back to School" about a self-made millionaire and entrepenuer that decided to enroll with his freshman son played by Keith Gordon.   The premise is an amusing tale of a successful business man, who never graduated high school, trying to reinvent himself and connect with his frustrated son on the verge of dropping out.  In the real world going back to school is far from easy.  In fact, it is so challenging that many cannot find the motivation to start back into something that was seemingly finished years ago.  The chasm that must be crossed is intimidating.  It is what my father always teaches his students about . . . Reinventing Yourself. Twenty years ago, when I graduated from engineering school, I found a good job, and soon enrolled in a Master's program.  I felt at the time, that if I didn't go back, that I never would.  Four years later, married, with a son, and one on the way, I graduated.  Atte

I think I am losing it! Blog Writer's Block

I was daydreaming today in class and I came up with the best idea for a blog posting.  Unfortunately, I completely lost my train of thought and can't remember what I was even thinking about.  I have been so frustrated trying to realign my thoughts so I could pick up the lead, but alas the only thing I can remember is that I needed to get some clip art showing pictures of someone donating blood.  I can't explain it, and have no idea what it means, except that I am getting a little older and a little bit dumber. Interestingly enough, earlier in the morning, I made a request online with my local library to hold the movie DVD for Finding Forrester for me to pickup.  I made a detour on the way home to get it so my wife and kids could enjoy it with me.  It is certainly one of my favorite movies for several reasons: 1) It stars Sean Connery, who clearly is an excellent and my favorite actor; by far the best ever James Bond, 2) The William Forrester character strongly parallels the

We need to see through our coworker's eyes and solve the problem together.

A while back, I endured the results of miscommunication between myself and a coworker.  There was a serious accident at work.  Fortunatley, there wasn't anyone hurt, but quite a bit of equipment damage did result.  I received the call late in the evening, about an hour before I was going to sleep.  My coworker was a bit frantic with his description about what happened.  I tried several times to get detailed information, but he was unable to answer my questions clearly.  It could be that he hadn't seen the damage himself or that he had a tough time describing what had happened.  Either way, while driving into work, I called a few other people in the plant to gain a better understanding about the mess I was walking into.  I finally reached someone who knew what was going on, and thankfully received better details on what really happened. During the last twenty years, I have received hundreds of calls from work about mechanical failures, accidents, explosions, inujries, etc.  So

Avoid Mid-Air Collisons! Watch your Managing Altitude

Mid-Air Controller (E-3) My son and I are huge afficianados of military aircraft.  I have purchased a couple of Jane's books for him to review all sorts of trivial facts about different aircraft from all over the world.  My son can go on for hours about the nuances and intricacies with each type.  The complexity and power of these different platforms has always been exciting for me as well. Even though military aircraft are meant for different purposes, they all have one thing in common; they are expensive and nobody in command would like to see them crash into one another because of carelessness.  That is precisely why every air force in the world uses a combination of ground control and mid-air control.  Very sophisticated systems are used to keep  aircraft from turning into one another or mistaking friendlies for enemies.  Why can't there be a similar system used in mangement? Management in an organization is like a sky full of multi-million dollar aircraft.  Each memb