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Hydrant Repairs . . . and leadership values

Here is the refurbished hydrant! Ready to water the orchard, blueberries, and garden areas. Pre-repair picture below.

Here is the refurbished hydrant! Ready to water the orchard, blueberries, and garden areas. Pre-repair picture below.

Repairing, not replacing, Yard Hydrants

Repair or Replace? On my “to do” list this summer is fixing a couple of frost-free hydrants. To get technical, one is a Woodford Y34 that is starting to leak and the other a Woodford W34 that tends to freeze in the winter (see below). These two hydrants were put in roughly 15 years ago and only now are we having some minor issues. Interestingly, they are not our oldest hydrants. We have three that were already installed when we bought our property, 18 years ago, and which are at least 5 years older. But, the two hydrants with issues that I am repairing are the most used hydrants on the property and perhaps it is this fact that has led to the issues.

Notice, I said “repairing” and not “replacing.” Why? Why am I attempting to repair and not just replace them? Well, not because of aptitude or confidence, in my ability to fix mechanical things, that’s certain. I have never install— or fixed—a hydrant before and, if you are a regular reader of my blog you’ll know, I am not particularly mechanically inclined. But . . . I am cheap . . . and I don’t like the feeling of paying 3-4 times more than it’s worth to have someone else do the work if I think it is possible that I can accomplish it with a little—hopefully not irrational—faith and a willingness to take on small risks.

So, this kind of “new mechanical test of my adequacy” is, admittedly, threatening to my psyche. Fraught with danger . . . I struggle how to approach these tasks and minimize the nagging anxiety of failure hanging over my head. Do I order lots of extra parts to make sure I have the right ones? Resign myself to making multiple trips back and forth to the store? Try and figure out exactly what I need and order only the parts I think I need? Each of these options are laced with potential for feeling like I have failed. Extra parts? Waste of money. Multiple trips? Berating myself for not being smart enough to analyze the needed parts correctly. Exact order? What if I don’t have the right parts and have to delay the repair. Each feels like a failure, looming, like the foreboding outline of a turkey vulture, just waiting for death.

Yes, I know this is part of my irrational expectations for myself—is it too much to ask to just succeed, each, and every time . . . without too much trouble? An irrational product of a brain conditioning over time to fear even minor set backs. My healthier “mind” knows that even people who have good mechanical aptitude may have these issues and even do these same things . . . they just don’t appear to define it as proof of their ineptitude the way my brain does.

But this post is not about repairing my irrational thoughts and beliefs, but about how repairs reveal a leader’s values. (BTW, If you have the same unrelenting standards for yourself, like I do, you might want to do yourself a favor and read what I learned watching a choir make mistakes).



Here is the Woodford parts bag for the repair.

Here is the Woodford parts bag for the repair.

Choices Revealing Values

Lucky for me, that You Tube exists today! You Tube is often my source, or security blanket, for mechanical courage. So, one of my confidence boosting activities, is to watch videos, often times several, of repairs that I am attempting. Seeing the repairs made on the videos makes if much more possible for me to step over the threshold of fear and get started on my own challenges.

But repairing the hydrants reveals something about me and my values . . . here are some of them and, as it relates to leadership, I want to focus on the last one—wanting something that is common.

  1. Yes, I’m cheap. I don’t like “wasting money” that doesn’t have to be spent. So, I am inclined to repair things if possible unless there is a clear advantage to replacement. I know not every one shares this value. Some want “new.” Fine, but I”ll take value, old or new, over “shiny” and “trendy.” Personal preference or value.

  2. I prefer good quality over “new” and often trust that older items have escaped some of the present cheapening of manufacturing that does not make new parts, especially on the cheap end, better than old ones.

  3. I like learning and becoming more mechanically competent . . . even if I’m afraid of “failing.”

  4. I derive a strong sense of success seeing the results of overcoming my fears and items in good working order.

  5. I want a popular quality name brand. I don’t want something that is unique, hard to find, an outlier. This is not true in other areas of my life. I like something different, unique, unusual. But not when it comes to hydrants. I want easy to find parts, An item that won’t be hard to repair or replace. There will be on-line advice on how to operate, fix, or replace. (Seven different You Tube videos so I can find one with the right tools, procedures, etc. that make it “doable”) These are the things I value. So, I have Woodford hydrants—one of the oldest and leading manufacturers of hydrants.. (If I was installing hydrants in a place like Mata Mata, New Zealand, better known as Hobbiton, I wouldn’t want Woodford. But then again, I’d probably be hiring someone else to manufacture and install them!)




Imagine my Woodford hydrant here? It would definitely look modern, out-of-place, and would spoil the magic.

Imagine my Woodford hydrant here? It would definitely look modern, out-of-place, and would spoil the magic.

Values and Leading

Recently, someone was telling a business owner about how we help repair human systems in organizations. He struggled to explain to her how we use intensive interviews, focus groups, executive reports, action plans, on-going consulting and coaching . . . to help leaders, teams and employees. Her response? “Why don’t they just fire them?” He retorted, “Sometimes you have an employee so valuable that you want to give them a chance to succeed.”

Now, any of us who have managed large groups of employees know that, regrettably, there are many times where firing someone is the solution that is needed. For me that demarcation line of an employee being “workable” or “not workable” is tied to things like integrity, safety, and honesty. An extreme example will make the point; for most leaders, in most situations, an employee who threatened other employees would be a cause for termination. Stealing, falsification, absences without leave . . . there are plenty of examples. But, most situations, involving people are not this clear.

So, I don’t want to be too hard on this owner. I don’t know what he was thinking . . . maybe it was about a situation most would consider a fire-able offense . . . or what situations he has encountered where repairs were made or were successful.. But I would propose that there are times, many times, when replacement is just not the best option. Let’s consider these from a view point of general principles.

  1. You know that the overall product is good and of high quality. It just needs some upkeep or repair and it will work well for many more years. The cost, in this case, of replacement often exceeds the repair. In business terms, terminating an employee, advertising and recruiting, hiring, on-boarding . . . there are a lot of potential costs to turnover that must be accounted for in the decision. In human terms, what impact does firing someone have on the culture, the motivation, and production of the other employees. For every action there are reactions—positive and negative—that should be considered. There also may be the value of being fair, forgiving, loyal, or other values that make a leader want to factor in past years of good performance.

  2. Replacing sometimes leaves you with an inferior product. Sometimes you just can’t get a good quality replacement or the cost to get the same quality “part” is too high. What do you lose when the experienced employee leaves? What if you can’t get a quality replacement? I recall the impact on an organization who fired a Child Psychiatrist in a rural setting. It was very difficult to find someone to relocate under the circumstances. The organization would up paying for a locum tenens Psychiatrist out of Boston for an extensive period—I’m sure that did not help the bottom line. Similarly, I run a 1948 Ford 8N tractor to do a lot of my shredding/mowing partly because the cost to replace it would be very high.

  3. Replacing a part when the new part undermines the entire system. There is an ancient phrase, “You can’t put a new patch on an old wineskin.” At times a new part is “too much” for the old system. Often organizations bring in a new leader because of problems but if nothing has been done to deal with the underlying issues, these new leaders often either fail to make significant process or are “run off” Then the organization or team is often labelled as “toxic” and failure becomes an expected “explanatory fiction” of the “way it is” making transformative change extremely unlikely.

  4. Replacing a part when it’s role is more than just it’s functional value. I mentioned the Ford 8N tractor earlier. The truth is, it is more than just a tool. It is my father-in-law’s tractor, passed down to his daughter, and an item around which many family memories have been made and core family values have been reinforced. That farm-born independence, hard-working, care for your equipment, cherished memories of past accomplishments . . . Maybe, someday, this tractor will pass out of our family’s ownership, but I don’t see it happening for the next generation or two for sure.

As a leader, conveying a belief that 1. your employees at their core possess good qualities, 2. that replacing them will not automatically lead to a better product, 3. that the system will react tot the seismic shift as an employee leaves, and 4. that employees and their relationships within the organization are not just a transactional exchange of function and remuneration can go along way to creating a valued culture where high performance can be built. It is not the “be all or end all” but it’s a good start.

Repair or replace? What ever you as a leader decide it will express your values and may define how you are perceived as a leader. Keeping a defective hydrant is frustrating, and discouraging to those interacting with it, and it may lead to more damage of the system. It needs to be replaced. But sometimes, really understanding the problem, taking it apart, and replacing the deteriorated bushing, refreshing the old hardened rubber with new, and a little paint gives you something more valuable, and less costly, that buying new.

Here’s my close up before the repair . . . so I can remember how the handle linkage goes together!

Here’s my close up before the repair . . . so I can remember how the handle linkage goes together!

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Six spots left for our free training.

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As of today, May 23rd, we have 6 spots left for our free training. As a reminder, this training is designed to be a brief tutorial on how we have used games to create trainings for organizations focused on improving teamwork and leadership. These workshops, typically delivered in a 4 or 6 hour format focuses on using game processes to teach real life skills.

For us, this process provides an alternative to another therapy-heavy clinical day , easily replaces, or surpasses, any displaced income, and gives the professional a break from providing healthcare services.

If you are interested in learning if this is something you would like to add to your practice, feel free to reserve a spot while there a some left.

Here is the original announcement . . . with the links to get registered . . . maybe we’ll see you in June!

Providing Team Training: Teamwork through Gaming . . . free training June 23rd!

On Sunday, June 23rd from 3 to 4 pm central time Bryan Miller, Ph.D. will be providing an on-line training on the HSC process of using gaming to train work teams to be effective. This is a training we have done in 4 to 6 hour segments with nonprofits, ecclesiastical bodies, business owners, and governmental departments.

The training is for professionals in the behavioral health field who are interested in providing training to organizations and who would like to find new and innovative ways to deliver good value and work outside of their typical clinical practice.

May 13th Update: We are now opening the training to professionals beyond our subscribers.

Want to know more?

Watch our You Tube trailer.

Email Bryan

Reserve your seat at Gumroad. A $20 fully refundable fee required —to prevent no shows.

Or check out our website where you can Subscribe and get a free eBook.

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My Coach, National Awards, Spoiled Brats . . . and remembering a great team

 

Well, Coach Neal, my college Basketball coach, was named the WBCA NAIA Coach of the Year!  And I'm bitter about it. Why? Because, I only got to play for him for one year . . . in college, where I was a woefully undersized forward at 6'1", and mostly sat on the bench. He was supposed to be my coach for three years in High School, where I was a starter, and where he was the coach until he got "railroaded" by a bunch of . . . well, I won't label them . . . other than to say "immature kids"  . . . and the complicit adults . . . before my sophomore year. Without going into the details, the end result was that the board of education, I think taking the politically safe course, suspended him for a year, to appease the disgruntled and the local college, recognizing a good deal,  promptly offered him their open position. The only redeeming factor, as far as I was concerned, was that this let me play a lot of "noon ball" with him--and even tryout some prospects--but it wasn't quite the same as working one-on-one with this talented leader. 

But this post isn't really about my Coach--or my bitterness. It's to set the stage for what I am about to tell you.  A life lesson that has stuck with me throughout my career as a leader. It's the story about what makes a good team.

You see, after the kids (and their enabling cadre of adults) got rid of Coach, I played with two distinct groups of players. One, a very talented group of athletes that was a terrible team, followed by an average group of athletes that, as a team, excelled. What was the difference?  I'll tell you . . . in  a minute. But first, let me jump forward to the end . . . .

I still can feel the shock. It was my senior year. We had just finished the district final. We had been beaten. Badly. Our "arch-enemies," and the best team in the state, which they proved in the state tournament, had just beaten us for the third time, ending our high school career and launching them, in our place it felt like, to the state tournament. Why in "our place," given they were admittedly the best team in our Class?  Simply, because,we never expected to be beaten. Ever. Why would we feel so confident having been beaten twice before? Because each time we had lost only by a few points and each time we had a starter injured who did not play. Now we were back to full-strength, and at full strength we just didn't lose. But, we just had lost . . . it was inconceivable.  

But, let's go back now to the moment when Coach was suspended . . . .

Playing on a team where the players have just successfully "booted the coach" is interesting to say the least. Once Coach Neal was suspended, my ninth grade coach--a nice man but not a charismatic leader--was promoted. This good man struggled, I think, going into a situation where the "inmates" were really in charge. Oh, he tried to take charge and lead but underlying everything was the feeling that the players could call "mommy and daddy" at any moment and the coach would have to answer for the player's complaints. Not an inviable position to be in as a coach! The result of this, as far as the team's performance, was devastating. The players were good. The team was bad.

A say the players were "good" because they had a lot of potential. Compared to the team that would follow, they had advantages in height, speed, and most of all, in talent. (For example, the average height? Over 6'3" the latter team? Barely 6'0") They were fiercely loyal to each other--but only to each other--and they made sure the other players knew they were to "stay in their place." (There were, to be fair, a couple exceptions to this rule but only one played, so it had minimal effect)  Over the next two years, whenever my play elevated to the point that it threatened their status . . .they "messaged me" with their displeasure.  In a scrimmage, I received a hard elbow to the sternum which laid me out (I didn't know until that moment that you could bruise your sternum!),  I had a player take a swing at me in practice (I dodged it), and had two random fans ask me after one game, "why wouldn't they throw you the ball in the second half?"

I found myself adapting to survive.  So, when my coach rushed across the court after the player took a swing at me and asked, "Did he just try to punch you?" I deferred . . .  "I dunno coach, you'd have to ask him." When fans asked about not getting the ball in the second half, I said "I don't know," --when I had a pretty good idea.

The season, as a reflection of these dynamics, was a disaster. The team only won 5 games. One, proving their elevated talent level, was over the third-ranked team in the state. With enough talent to challenge for a conference title and a trip to the state tournament, it was a complete and utter failure.  Meanwhile, the next team, the "Junior Varsity," was having more success. What would happen when they became the Varsity? Shorter, less talented, less experienced--the prospects were not promising.

So, after the 5-win season,  the ninth-grade-coach-turned-varsity-coach was out, and a new coach was brought in. The coaching change, in my opinion, had little effect. The new coach, certainly came in under a better political climate, but his leadership was not such that it inspired any exponential improvement or motivation. As a change it was simply a replacement, not an upgrade. Besides, the JV had no trouble playing for either coach. 

But, something was different.

Athletes would say this next team was "coachable." With less talent, this team was far inferior "on paper" than the older team. Yet, this team played beyond its potential. This team beat every team they faced except three--two of the three went to state and one being the best team in the class that year. This was the team that played in the district final and were defeated, as told above, by the number one team presenting them from going to the state tournament. 

Two teams. Two different talent levels. Two different outcomes. One grossly underperforming. One excelling.

The difference was  . . . trust.

There was no trust on the older team. Everyone played for themselves. The awareness that the players had ousted the coach, made the coach be timid--who could blame him in a situation that was potentially dangerous. (After stepping down as the coach, he went back to teaching and, I think, coaching the 9th grade team). Underclassmen knew that the older players were more interested in their own status than having a great team. The older players just wanted the starting role and played to their egos, not as a team. One game, a player's shoe came untied, as the other team moved the ball down the court, he ran behind, signaling to the coach that his shoe was untied. The coach shrugged, knowing, I think, that the referees would not allow a time out when the other team was on a "fast break" and about to score an "easy bucket." Not good enough for this player, and frustrated by not being attended to, he violently kicked his shoe off-. . . sending it flying high over the bench where we sat and on to the track behind us. Then, he became "unhinged"  . . . fouling indiscriminately in his anger. Coach let him go. It is the first, and only time, I have seen a player foul out in the first four minutes of a game.

Meanwhile, the JV team didn't care about status. They wanted to win.  They played with whomever the coaches deemed would make them the best team--even when it meant that the center position, occupied by one of their buddies was replaced by an underclassman. No one was concerned about who was "the star" on any given night and, consequentially, different players excelled throughout the season.

Maybe, we learned from the chaos and failure of the older team, we certainly witnessed it and experienced its effects. But I don't think that was it. If it was, we never once talked about it.  This latter group, I believe, just had the idea that being successful was more important. Because we shared that goal, because our behavior aligned with that objective, there was trust.

When the season was over. It was time for the post-season awards.  Some players shared with me their expectation that I would be voted "All Conference.." The facts supported this assumption. I was the high scorer on the second-place team in the district. I appreciated the fact that my fellow players would acknowledge that I should be considered. When the list came out, however, I was not on it. One of my teammates, who was in attendance  said our new coach made a mistake in putting up three candidates for the award which resulted in our votes getting split. Perhaps they were split due to who performed best against each specific coaches team? I don't know. Oh I won't tell you that I wasn't disappointed not to get the award. But, with the hindsight of many years, it really was the most fitting ending to it all. This really was the success of a great team . . . not of a great player.

 

My coach and teammate respond! A follow up post.

 

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