Wednesday, June 15, 2016

I Learned It From Watching You

My work ethic comes from my father.

Maybe that's not the best opening of a blog post. And maybe I should have lead with some father-daughter story that makes you ooey-gooey nostalgic, but put simply, my dad is a huge influence in how I do things at the office. Sorry, boss, next time you complain about me, I'll give you my Dad's number. 

Lemme splain. My father came from a low income family in New Orleans. He was the oldest of nine kids and as an adolescent loved to take old beat up cars, fix em up, and race them til the crashed.  He met my mom, they got married, he started working as a truck driver, eventually worked his way up in management for a big trucking company, and voila, I happened somewhere in-between.  One of the greatest lessons I learned is that my father made it to upper management with no college degree. Just good business savvy.

I had the opportunity to watch my Dad in action when I was younger.  He'd bring me to the office sometimes after school or on holidays cause 1) there wasn't an older sibling or babysitter who could watch me or 2) he just wanted his daughter around. Many times I was tethered to a desk and asked by his secretary to staple some papers or meander around the break room deep in imagination land.

But I watched him. And now, years later I recognize some of the vital lessons I've learned:

1. Everything Can Be Done
My father was a problem solver. A natural fix it man. In my family we jokingly (but lovingly) have coined a phrase "A couple of pieces of wood, couple of nails, no problem!" as my father's frequent "fix-for-all" method to anything. For my Dad, nothing was unfixable. Nothing was unmovable. Anything can be accomplished. You simply had to just - figure it out.

2. If You Can't Walk the Walk, Then Don't Talk the Talk
As the manager of a trucking company my Dad would have family BBQs and invite out the families to come and break bread together. For the kids it was an opportunity to run around the loading dock playing make believe, but I also vividly recall the "The 18-wheeler Contest." Essentially drivers, maintenance, my father (anyone with a CDL license) would go out and perform a series of driving challenges in these big rigs and someone would win the award. Now I can't recall whether my father would win or not, but I always remember hearing drivers impressed with my father. That not only was he a manager, but he could go outside and do what he expected of his employees. He was always a man of his word and wouldn't require something of someone, unless he was willing to roll up his sleeves and go out and do it too. You have to be able to back up what you say.

3. Everyone Has Worth
My father is a very joyful, congenial, friendly man. He's like Santa Claus (something that I mention is a potential job opportunity for him now that he's recently retired, srsly Dad). He was always a man of the people.  Most of his employees conversations seemed natural. He had genuine concern for their well-being, for their families. He treated each employee, in the moment, as a very precious individual. Always sincere in their concerns and needs. He was good at identifying their talents and their faults, and was real with them about it, even with difficult topics.

4. Focus on What's Important, Everything Else Will Fall In Place
One of my favorite stories to tell is when I was very young, my Dad was moved around from site to site. Basically his upper management sent him in to failing sites and had him clean house and rescue the site - bring it into black. When my Dad would do this he'd focus on one thing - safety.  He'd rally the employees, put up posters and banners, and infuse the culture with "Let's have Zero Recordable Incidents." By doing this he'd lower liability, increase empowerment and accountability, but most of all - he'd get the buy-in from the team. Safety is a universal binder in blue collar labor, but also - it's a morally right thing to do.  Everyone had a clear target, a clear focus. I learned, when you distill things down to the core issue - it all seems to work out.

5. Live by Scout Law
Lastly, my father was is a boy scout. And I don't say that just as in he's a honest, friendly type of guy (which he is) but that he is literally a Boy Scout. To this day if you ask my father to recite the Boy Scout Law, he knows it by heart. As a little girl I'd ask him this frequently cause I enjoyed hearing him rattle it off as fast as he could. This instilled in me a love of Girl Scouts, which I was in until my early teens. And IMO, both organizations, though they have their missteps, encourage leadership in young individuals.  This motto or ethos was something my father lived every. day. It was embedded in his psyche and outwardly it showed in his work. As a manager, as a leader, he displayed this with all his employee interactions and demanded the same in return. And maybe he wasn't Thrifty all the time. And maybe I'm not Clean as I should be... (my house certainly isn't) but these are goals by which he tried to live. And so do I.

I started this post in January 2016 and have been working on it through out the year. I found myself  so eager to post it because a) it contains great wisdom and b) I want to boast about my awesome Dad. Given that it's now Father's Day, and I can't think of a present to give to a man who has given so much of his life for me. His time, his energy, his patience, and mostly his love... it's tough to find the perfect present for someone who is so humble, he asks for nothing (except sometimes socks and handkerchiefs). I can think of no better present for a parent then the knowledge that their legacy lives on in their children. That their effort did not go unnoticed. And that upon reflection, their children look back and are appreciative for everything they've done.

So this one's for you, Dad. I love you. Thank you... for everything.

(PS So in 8th grade me and a friend stole her step-dad's credit card and bought Nine Inch Nails concert tickets. We lied and said we were spending the night at each others house and hitched a ride with some high school friends down to New Orleans. Only we didn't realize we had bought the most expensive ones that were general admission front stage - in the middle of the mosh pit. It was crazy. Then we made friends with some other college guys from LSU who gave us a ride back home. So, sorry about that. I could have died. But I didn't. Oh well, can't ground me now!)

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