Your Gift

Being gifted….means you have something to give. 

It’s not just another year that’s coming to a close, it’s another decade! 
Of course, you may be reading this thinking, “What’s the big deal in that?” If you are, consider yourself lucky: to borrow a line from Jay-Z, “Your future is ahead of you.” Because for you, it is. But not for me, at least not the way that line is intended.
My industrial career dates all the way back to the late 60’s, meaning I’m closing out my sixth decade working in the wonderful world of industry. That translates into “a lot of past, but not a lot of future.” 
Writing the final edition of the News to close out another decade in the working world, it’s impossible not to reflect on all that’s gone on over all those years, and in particular, what’s gone on in the last decade. Even if your career started in this decade, and your future really is ahead of you, it’s not a bad idea to engage in a bit of thoughtful reflection and analysis. 

It’s another way to learn, and believe me, there is plenty to be learned about managing safety performance.

Headline Events
Like bookends, this decade began and ended with headline making events directly involving the matter of industrial safety. In April 2010, there was the loss of the Deepwater Horizon. In 2019 the entire fleet of Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft was grounded following two crashes claiming 346 lives that were caused by aircraft design flaws. Different industries, different geography, different facts, different root causes might lead to the conclusion that they have little, if anything in common.
Think that, and you’re missing some vitally important lessons to be learned. 
In both cases business pressures caused leaders to make decisions to take significant safety risks. In real life, those risks turned into events that cost human lives. There was also property loss, damage to the name and reputation of two industrial names know around the world. And when the dust settled, two CEO’s were looking for new jobs.
Proving once more that bad safety performance is bad for people, bad for business, and bad for careers. 
What leader doesn’t know that? Makes you wonder why any leader would ever willingly commit to do something that imperils human life, the business and their career. That this happens is something every leader needs to reflect upon. Unless some leader is perfectly willing to “be that guy.”
Because things like this happen, for the last two decades we’ve been making what we call “The Case for Safety” the world over.  The “Case” boils down to a simple set of facts about managing safety performance that are incontrovertible: bad safety performance is bad for business, worse for careers, and worst for the effects a serious injury can have on all the reasons anyone has to get up and go to work in the morning. The opposite has also been proven true. 
I have yet to meet a leader anywhere on the planet who doesn’t know that. But if nothing else, they have a name for what they know: the Case for Safety. 
As to why the Case fails to cause every leader to always do the right thing, I’ll offer this. In the heat of the battle, when the pressure of business goals like cost, schedule, customer seem all-important, it’s possible to lose sight of the Case. 
Thinking, “that will NEVER happen” doesn’t help matters. Technically, thinking that is “assigning zero as the probability of an event happening.” 
Bottom line: if nothing else, Deepwater and the 737 Max cases are important reminders to leaders of the Case for Safety and the nature of industrial risk.
Your Gift
The best thing a leader can do is to see to it that everyone working for that leader goes home, alive and well at the end of every day. That’s the “gift of safety.” In my travels I get to see that gift given by leaders all the time. 
In a perfect world, everyone working for a leader who accomplishes that goal – zero harm – would say regularly say, “Thanks, boss.” If people didn’t need help from the boss to be safe – often a lot of help from the boss – everybody would be safe simply because nobody wants to get hurt.
It’s so obvious, isn’t it.
Since we are on the subject of gifts and leaders, there is another gift that needs to be mentioned. More than mentioned: this gift should be understood and fully appreciated for what it is and what it means. Trust me: it is a huge gift!
That gift: being a leader.
I’ll assume that, by virtue of reading this edition of the News you are one. Do you have any idea just how special you are? Your followers do. That’s why they follow you. 
I suppose you could make the case that being a leader is a gift given by followers: they have chosen to follow you. Of course, it’s possible that you’re thinking those followers of yours don’t have a choice in the matter: someone appointed you as their boss, and they gotta do what you tell them to do.  Or else.
That’s true – up to a point. But as someone once wisely pointed out to me, and a room full of supervisors, “Not every supervisor is a leader. And not every leader is a supervisor.” 
So, let’s focus on the real leaders in the outfit, starting with you. 
That’s something I have been doing on a regular basis, starting way back when I was an eighteen year old General Helper, assigned to the Midnight Shift, working for a front line leader with the job title, Foreman. In the years since, there have been easily a thousand leaders I knew on a first name basis (sometimes because I worked for them) whom I observed up close.
Yes, there is a distribution curve as to their effectiveness, but the influence had by the best of them on real people who followed them was nothing short of amazing! There is incredible power given to leaders. 
As to who or what gives them that power, take your pick: (a) followers or (b) innate talent. 
That said, no matter what the talent level might be, a leader’s influence is found in “what they do” and “how they do that.” That’s the practice of leadership. Hang around with the best leaders, watch them in action, and pay close and careful attention, as I have, you’ll see leaders do certain things, and do things in a certain way. In a word, that’s practice. The way they ask questions for example: probing, thought-provoking, “let’s understand this” kinds of questions. 
The good news for those of us who may not be so gifted and talented at leading is that these practices can be studied, learned and put into practice. By doing that, anyone can lead better.
Now Where?
The final point of the final edition of this decade’s News sums up in two words: Now where?
If you’re a leader, and in particular, if you’re one of those who are fabulous at leading, what are you going to do with that special gift that you have been given? In a sense, your followers are waiting to see…..and follow your lead.
So, now where? 
Where do you want to lead your followers? What do you want your followers to do?
There’s choice in that: that is the leader’s choice. Looking back over six decades of leaders and leadership, it’s obvious that some leaders made good choices, and others did not. Peter Drucker called the latter group, “mis-leaders.” Mr. Drucker had a way with words, and, wow does that word say a lot. 
But I would add into the mix the many really good leaders staying on the sidelines. So much talent given to them, but not willing to commit to something, to stand out and lead. My guess is that “going along to get along” (to borrow a line from Sam Rayburn) was more important than doing the right thing and making a difference.
What they failed to notice was that their followers took note, and really were following their lead. 
This edition of the News will end with a simple question: As a leader, where do you want to lead those fine followers in the next decade?
If you’re now thinking about leading people to do things that will make a difference, there is nothing more important to make a difference than by sending everyone home alive and well at the end of every day!

Paul Balmert
December 2019

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