COGITATIONS, CONTEMPLATIONS, AND CONSIDERATIONS BY BOB WOLFF
Reflections

Reflections

I find myself spending more and more time reflecting and thinking back on past events in my life. At first I attributed that to age, what I thought was a natural by-product of growing old. Hah, no….not the final “life flashing before your eyes” myth per se, but reflection on your successes and failures is, I believe, natural as you age. But I now think otherwise; I suspect it is because I have time to think, to reflect. My work was so focused and so intense for so long, that I think I just never had time to look back and think about things – always needed to be forward thinking.

I sense that this behavior, howsoever unintentional, is due in part to my mind’s concept that all is now done: the fat lady has sung, the cleaning crew is picking up the trash, the flag has been lowered, the lights have been turned off, the band has packed up their instruments, and a trumpet is playing Taps. Done. Finito. Finished. You go to school for years to learn the skills to work and then you get a job and work your whole life. It is what you were seemingly born to do. And then you stop – you retire – and you don’t work. And the mind knows little more how to handle it then to assume it is the end and time to start reflecting on how you did.

Inevitably when you start looking back, the mind automatically initiates a grading system. Initially it is a wide and broad assessment of your working career aimed at answering the question: “did what I did matter? Did I make a difference?” At least for me it has always been important to excel and achieve; to make a difference, to leave a mark. But not so much for future generations – it’s not like I wanted to have a wing named after me for all to remember. It is more about the here and now; it is that competitive streak that makes you want to finish higher than lower. You want the people you know now to recognize your worth more than future people you do not know. Or I do (did) anyway.

But truthfully that is only part of it, on the bigger flick what mattered most to me was actually being “the guy” – about making a difference, about making things better, and about making positive change. Much of what I did in my career was done without many people knowing about it, especially in Facilities where everything I did was intended and designed to make the plant better and safer and more energy efficient. And I did most of that behind the curtain, so to speak. Oh I was recognized for my work from time to time and that was great, but the motive force behind all I did was the betterment of the facility. And I know I made a difference, that what I did mattered.

As you do this though, sooner or later you begin drilling down into those devilish details and breaking it into smaller and more finite details. So the initial review is: “did I pass or did I fail?” But once you go through that exercise you want to know about all the individual classes and subjects. And that is exhausting and frankly can be depressing. Because when you are done, and when you are reflecting, and when you determine that you did not do something as well as you might have hoped, you become upset that you didn’t meet your expectations and want to go make it right. But you can’t – you’re done.

For example: upon reflection of my years as a manager, I am certain that I was not the manager I should have been. Believe me, I took it seriously and I thought about it every day and I read about it and did all I could to learn about it. But upon review I did not perform as well as I wish I could have. And that bothers me because it was an important job and was my last job and you hate to leave on a negative. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know I left as the manager of Quality and in nuclear submarine construction, which is a critically important role. And I did the quality side of it to my satisfaction; I left behind a QA organization with the depth and resources to be prepared for future success. Training could have been better but I think we left with great improvements to training literally on the precipice of implementation. And of course, the ships always came first – the safety and well-being of the ship and her crew was always foremost in all I did – that we did.

What I did not excel in was caring for all the people in my organization. They came to work daily and wanted and tried to do their best, but I do not think I did all I could in enabling their success and growth. It was my responsibility to help them achieve and grow, to teach them, train them, enable them, and elevate them. I tried to express my gratitude and appreciation but I don’t think I did all I could. Interestingly enough, my vision of my role in Facilities was different, especially as a superintendent
(as I was only manager there for a couple of months). I was a bit of a prick, a hard ass. I had a bark and at least a bit of a bite. I felt it was a job requirement. But even at that, I valued my people and tried to show them that.

Happily it occurs to me that it is not done, not over. My working days are (I fervently hope) are done, but that does not mean that I am done. I have this blog through which I can express these thoughts and hope that someone out there reading this takes a thought or idea on managing people and can use it to help themselves grow and become a better leader. And to that end, I have to implore you to try to never lose sight of the fact that your people are your most valuable asset, your best resource, and your most treasure customers. They deserve every ounce of you, every day. As a manager you do nothing but give your team the goals, the tools and resources, and the training they need to go accomplish the task. They get it done – not you. Give them your all – they deserve nothing less.

As I reflect, I am tempted to hang my head a little; this because I was trained my whole career to focus on what you did not do correctly and to largely ignore what went right. Perform, assess, evaluate, correct, repeat – that was our mantra. But I am not a fan of this approach when looking back over a lifetime; it is severe and too critical and affords no chance to implement the final two steps of “correct and repeat”. Looking back over the finished product you have to cast a gentler eye, a kinder heart, and a softer evaluation. And in doing so, I think I find myself content and proud for what I accomplished overall.  Hopefully these words strike a chord with someone out there and will help. Push yourself every day and at the end of every day, assess and evaluate so in the morning you can correct and repeat. Do it for your people…..they deserve the best of you that you can give them.

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