Monday, February 07, 2005


In Which I Follow Management Advice From My Dad...

My dad and I couldn't be more different. He barely hits 5-foot-5; I'm just a whisker shy of 6 feet. He started losing his hair at 19; thank God I still have mine. I lost the last vestiges of my New England accent when I started working for a college radio station; my dad's accent has only grown thicker with age to the point that, if the word "ayuh" was in a dictionary, you'd find it in a word balloon above a picture of my father, by Gorry.

If you've viewed the images of him in my little holiday tale, you can see for yourselves he's a bit on the rustic side, somewhere between a gnome and Santa Claus's kid brother. I'm no cover model, to be sure, but I don't look anything like that. I have a longer face, a significantly less bulbous nose. Also glasses, without which I am functionally blind. Well into his 60s, my dad still has the eyesight of a fighter pilot.

In our life's work, we've gone in different directions. By trade, my dad is a welder, coordinating teams of pipe-fitters at thousands of construction sites across the country, but his knowledge extends well into carpentry, electrical work, plumbing, masonry, and other related areas. He can and has built houses from scratch. It's all I can do to center a picture frame or hang a bookshelf level.

Which is why in some ways I am astonished at how alike we are, how much overlap we have in our professional lives. Mostly this is because I have my dad's work ethic (something he would not have believed possible, when I was 13 and used to hide in the woods any time yardwork needed doing). Some years ago, when I was working on a photo shoot of assorted electronics and giant home-exercise products and what not, we hired some guys to come in and assemble some of the more elaborate items. At least three of the big items were put together incorrectly. The photographers assured me no one would notice, but the night before the shoot, I went to the studio and stayed well into the wee hours re-assembling the stuff so it would function correctly. Getting it right, even though no one else will notice or care: that's what my dad would do.

We're also both managers, and the longer I'm in management, the more I find myself looking to my dad for an example of how to handle things. If he has a problem with an employee, he handles it himself. He doesn't go in for back-stabbing political maneuvering. He doesn't go to his superiors to have them lower the boom on a malingering worker, or to document grievances so that human resources can initiate a formal probation. Forget that shit: He goes toe-to-toe with the guy and they either work it out, or my dad shows him the door.

My dad was very much on my mind once, some years ago, after an uncomfortable staff meeting in which it was announced that we had incurred some hefty overtime charges at the printer for our latest issue. Specifically, for one of my stories, in which an image had to be changed at the last minute. The new image was sent to the printer on time, but someone hadn't changed the caption to match the new image. Captions are words, and words are the editor's problem, so I caught the heat.

But the truth is, a certain person, notorious on staff (actually, in the company) for lazy, corner-cutting habits, sent the new image to the printer without telling anybody like, oh, the editor. I didn't even know a new image had been chosen until I saw the final proof. But by then, you're paying overtime fees for any changes so we were stuck. It was not the first time this sort of thing has happened. And there was always some excuse to the effect of how much work this person had or how busy they were and how much trouble it would have been to go find an editor (who were all in a 20-foot radius from this person's door. Also, the editors all had phones and email accounts. I checked.)

I can't stand lazy people who get away with slipshod work, and in that my dad and I have another thing in common. I really wanted to speak up for myself in the meeting. But I could hear my dad saying, "Hog the blame, share the credit, especially in front of the bigwigs." Everyone who mattered knew the back-story there. If I tried to explain what happened, I would just look like some weasel-y defensive manager trying to palm the blame off on another department. So I shut my mouth and made the mea culpa face.

But another one of my dad's nuggets of managerial wisdom is, "If you gotta eat shit for someone, make sure they KNOW you ate shit for them." The philosophy being: if the person you're shielding is a good worker, they're worth eating shit for, and knowing you shielded them makes them more inclined to trust you and be loyal to you and work better for you. And if they're a lazy-ass slipshod dink, they need to know that they haven't gotten away with something. So you better believe I had something to say to this person later, in private.

I've often thought that much of my dad's managerial wisdom could be made into an entertaining and effective book for all managers: Blue-Collar Wisdom for Blue-Chip Companies, something like that. Too bad my dad doesn't know anyone who writes...

Of course, I'd have a hard time making some of my dad's management experiences work for a mass audience. He's still a legend in certain circles for dealing with a disgruntled employee who stormed the job site the day after my dad fired him. The guy was a gorilla, an ex-Marine who was well over a foot taller than my dad. He had put bigger men in the hospital and had in fact been fired for threatening a co-worker with a knife. He had that knife now as he confronted my dad.

"Try and throw me off the job now, you sumbitch," the ex-Marine brayed, his face inches from my father's. "A pissant like you--you'll never put a hand on me!" he boasted.

"You got that right," said my dad, who ignited the welding torch he was holding, and set the guy's shirt on fire. While the ex-Marine was hopping around trying to put himself out, my dad cold-cocked him with a length of pipe.

See? This sort of thing almost never happens in corporate America.

From Somewhere On the Masthead

I really, really like your Dad.
Thanks for my morning laugh!

If more of this sort of thing did happen in corporate america your impending "Blue Collar Book" would be a necessary how-to manual for the business digruntled. Good blog.
Note to self: Never threaten someone who's carrying a welding torch.
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