Two Lessons, One Story
Forty-five years ago I started on the road that has brought me to today. That was 1973, I was 16 years old. I worked for $1.00 an hour for an Architect. Oh, I had other jobs before this one – but this job was my first job in the industry that I would spend my adult life learning. Had many stops along the way, and learned many things as I walked down this road. Even though I had several opportunities to change paths along the way, I found myself drawn to Architecture and construction. It’s always been exciting and interesting to me. I always enjoyed drawing and sketching when I was young, and I was always good at seeing “how things worked”. Of course, I spent a lot of time in trouble as a kid for taking apart all my dad’s new tools to see how they worked!
Back to when I was 16 (1973); my dad towed a car to our house (yes, we had cars in 1973….). The key here is “towed”. It wasn’t working. He said if I could fix it – it was mine! For weeks I made my dad take me to several local junk yards to get some parts. Long story made short – several months later, I drove my new-to-me 1963 Covair to high school. No a/c, a heater that barely worked, and some paint on most of the car – but it was mine, and I fixed it myself. Well, myself is probably a stretch of the facts. I used my dad’s tools, in my dad’s garage (while his car sat outside), with parts mostly purchased by my dad, to fix a car my dad bought. Oh, and he had to show me how to diagnose why it wasn’t working, and then instruct, and help me do the repairs. But as far as I was concerned, and especially what I told my friends, it was my car and I fixed it!
So – did you catch the lesson in that short story? Actually there’s 2 lessons there…. No, it’s not that I’m old, and not that my first car was a clunker. And for the record – the Covair was a cool car, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
The 1st lesson – It’s very easy to take credit for someone else’s contributions. When you’re on a team and working towards a common goal, sometimes we don’t always give everyone the credit they deserve. Sometimes we forget to, sometimes we think everyone already knows, and sometimes we like the attention from others when they think “I” did something. Often in the heat of the moment, when you happen to be the person in front, it’s just so easy to say “I” instead of “us”, or “me” instead of “we”. The fact is, almost nothing in your world or mine that is of any significance will be achieved by just one single person. That means that you will probably never achieve anything of any significance without help from others. Think about anything you feel is a significant achievement – did just one person do that? You may have heard of Bill Gates. He is a remarkable person who has achieved many significant things in his life. He has helped change technology as much as anyone else in the world. But did he do all that by himself? NO! he has always been a part of a team, some were small teams, some were large teams. Right now, and for the last number of years, he has a team of thousands of other people who dream up all the stuff he gets to put his name on. But the way our world works, it those few out front in the “public eye” who seem to be given all the credit and glory. A perfect example: at the last super bowl – the quarterback won the MVP and got the new truck. But there’s no way he could have been successful without all the other folks on the team – including the coaches. A fact Tom Brady understands perfectly. He knew who the real hero was and made sure everyone else did too by publicly giving the truck and the credit for the win to Malcolm Butler, the guy who intercepted the “pass” to end the Seahawks chance to win. Be sure you strive to include everyone in the praise and credits that follow a job well done and remember how you felt when someone “forgot” to include you in the credits, and then strive to not make the same mistake. Practice and train yourself to use “us”, and “we” far more often than “I’ or “me”. It will serve you well in the future and will draw people to you and your teams rather than push them away.
The 2nd lesson – OTJ is by far the best way to learn almost anything. OTJ= On The Job, learn by doing. Any good leader or manager knows the best way to train someone is to have them do the actual work. If you do something, it engages your mind, hands, and emotions – you will remember this type of training far longer than just listening to someone telling you how to do the same thing.
Best way to train someone in a new task:
a) you watch me do it;
b) we do it together;
c) I watch you do it; and
d) you do it on your own.
A good leader/manager will spend the most time on step “c”, that’s where you learn the most and he can monitor your mistakes (yes you will make mistakes!). Learning from mistakes is the best way to learn. This 4-step process is exactly what my dad did for me. He set up the project, provided me the tools and knowledge, and then walked me thru the work. When we first started the repairs, my dad was there, hands on getting dirty with me showing me the pieces and parts, explaining how it all worked, and how to figure out why the engine wouldn’t run. As we looked for parts at the junk yard, he let me get experience with the tools and the parts, and let me decide what parts we would need. By the way -I got way too many parts the first couple of trips, but after hauling parts back to the junk yard a couple of times I figured out not to take everything in sight. As we worked thru taking apart the engine and putting it back together my dad was less and less involved in the “getting dirty” part of the work and more and more involved in watching football on the couch. He would come check on me every hour or so (during commercials) to make sure I wasn’t breaking anything. At the time I thought he was just not interested in helping me, what I couldn’t see at the time was - he was teaching me how to teach others one day. I figured out later (much later) he had to go inside, or we would have never gotten past steps A and B. Surely, he let me make some mistakes, and then told me what I did wrong and how to fix it right the second time. I learned how to use new tools and ask questions, and I learned how tight is to tight – busted several bolts trying to make sure nothing could come loose (He showed me a torque wrench after several broken bolts). I learned its always better to spend the time doing those tedious tasks (like scraping off ALL the old gasket) correctly the first time, because it ain’t any funner the second time. As we wrapped up the project and got the car running, my Dad let me take the credit for “fixing my car”. Many years later (about 20), I could look back and see this was the beginning of my Dads lessons on how to be a Leader, a Manager, a Doer; how to plan a project thru to the end from the beginning; how to take pride in my work, and how to learn for my own mistakes; and how to teach and learn. Basically, this is when my Dad started teaching me how to be a leader.
There were many more lessons after this one as the years passed by. Some were big lessons, some were smaller. There were several other people who added to my Dad’s lessons to make me who I am today. I’m lucky to still have my Dad around today, and I still ask his opinion from time to time when I need someone to help me see things clearly. My Dad never went to college, but he is the smartest man I’ve ever known.
So, find a good Leader/Manager/Mentor (and Dad’s too) to help you in your professional and personal life. It will make you better in the long haul. It may be hard to see the growth in yourself at first, but give it some time. You will see a difference one day. Sometimes that person already has you in the 4-step process and you can’t see it – I didn’t the first time either (actually the first several times). Maybe you feel abandoned or left on your own too much – but maybe it’s that you’re in step C and they are trying to get you ready for step D. Think about it.
We have spent a lot of time in the last few articles talking about you, your future, and setting goals – but that’s only because its important. You still have time to change the course of your life – but you have to have a target to aim at, otherwise you wander around never amounting to anything.
We never plan to mess up our lives, but unfortunately, most of us never plan not to. When making decisions, we should always ask ourselves, in light of my past experiences, my current circumstances, and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for me to do?
Here are a couple of links to get you thinking about where you are now, and how to think about what’s in front of you:
I will be more than happy to personally discuss this with anyone who really wants my input.