I am just finishing my first year in the fourth job I have had since leaving the Marine Corps eleven years ago. It is not what you think.
It turns out, mostly because of my leadership experience in the Marine Corps and my significant exposure to Marine aviation maintenance; I apparently have a knack for turning maintenance departments around. Hence I have been able to leverage this skill to my economic advantage as those needing my services find themselves inclined to pay to lure me away.
My first-day-on-the-job experiences are now becoming quite typical and predictable. Lack of organization. Lack of training. Lack of trust. Lack of motivation. Lack of leadership and direction. Lack of confidence as a team.
All of these issues have to be addressed coincidentally with the primary task of keeping the equipment running, so that we can deliver the right product on time.
Typically I have to go out on jobs and physically turn wrenches with the mechanics, both to learn the equipment and to demonstrate to the team that I have some mechanical aptitude. This helps get me familiar with the team members and the equipment, and it helps the team get to know me. Although this has sent many a greasy shirt to an early demise, it has become a key tool for me to ensure my effectiveness.
Key to my success as well is finding the root causes of failures and providing correct and long-lasting repairs. This past year we found that because we were running the wrong RPM electrical motor and that its wiring was incorrectly sized by half, that one of the ring mills could bog down the gearbox and trip the circuit breaker for the motor. This is problematic in several ways, but quickly, the wiring could have caught on fire, the breaker was prematurely failing, the motor was building undue resistance in the windings and was also on the path to premature failure, and the stalling of the mill on the parts was a certain part quality issue.
We found a check valve on a hydraulic pump case drain line that was creating undue pressure on the backside of the pump and causing premature failure. We found sequential timing errors on three of our largest presses that were causing valve failures and excessive down time. We had die retaining system failures that necessitated a bulkier replacement system in order to protect our press workers. We had to completely re-do our breathing air system to better protect our grinders. The list goes on.
Each time my team was rewarded with fewer return calls on those systems and the knowledge that they were indeed solving complex problems and not simply applying band-aids as had been the case previously.
But never once did I make a speech. Never once did I give an esoteric dissertation on the theories of Preventative Maintenance (PM) or Total Productive Maintenance (TPM). Never once did I use some jargon-de-jour in an effort to hype up my team on the next “new thing.” Never once did I have prepared notes or a speech writer. Never once did I rely on a tele-prompter.
Not for a moment did I believe that I could turn around this department without the grunt work that goes with truly making a difference. I understand that speeches don’t get the job done; hard work and technical proficiency do. I know that slick buzzwords and catchy phrases don’t impress the hard working men and women that forge steels and exotic alloys for a living.
I have never used a teleprompter, because the material I cover, I know. When I talk to my team the talk comes from the depth of my knowledge on the subject. I don’t filibuster when I don’t know something, I find out the answer. I don’t always expect a receptive audience, and I rarely have one in the beginning, but I don’t lash out at those who question me and I don’t get flustered if they get off my targeted message. I have the patience to work with my teams and I have the fortitude to make sure we reach our goals as envisioned, whether that increased the degree difficulty or not.
No, successful leadership is not a collection of harmonically pleasant banal oratories given to audiences packed with sycophantic ovine.
Unfortunately, President Obama has decided that his role is to help this country through our economic challenge via a collection of feel-good, audibly-pleasing, highly scripted, tele-prompted events that are somehow supposed to be a substitute for a real Presidency.
Joe-the-Plumber first exposed his lack of skills off of the teleprompter, and his little stroll through the White House press room cemented his un-preparedness for the rigors of the office of the Presidency. And he was left naked at his first press conference as he covered his lack of direct knowledge by filibustering. His performance was unbearable to watch.
But nothing exposes his weakness as a President more than his addiction to talking-point laden, jargon potent speeches that are crammed into a schedule that is more like that of a candidate than that of a sitting President.
A tactic I fear that is designed to make him look and sound Presidential while all the while he has abdicated his agenda to Reid, Pelosi, and the dozens of left-leaning special interests best represented by the MoveOn crowd. This Presidency is beginning to resemble the cars on the Disney Autopia, it looks like you’re driving, but you’re mostly just holding onto the wheel.
No, leadership is not buzzwords and speeches; sometimes you actually have to do the work and throw away a few greasy shirts in the process.
Get off the stump Mr. President, and get to work.