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Don’t Bring Your Dirty Boots In Here! – A lesson in leadership

Early in my career I learned a very interesting lesson in leadership that I would like to share.  Ed a contract draughtsman working for me on my project and about 15 years my senior had worked around the world and knew a lot about people and what made them tick.

Our major project on a Crude Oil Distillation Unit required Ed in particular to spend a lot of time on the site.  Crude Oil units can be messy and the control room was no exception and the operator team had become to accept that a dirty floor as a fact of life. 

That was until Ed arrived!

Quite simply over a period of two to three months Ed turned around the attitude of the operator team.  He instilled in them a sense of pride in their work and their unit.  So much so I a cry of “Don’t bring your dirty boots in here” could regularly be heard if on entering the control room!

How did Ed do it?

I learned that change is not an event but a process that takes time.  I also learned that it is crucial to engage with people on their terms not yours.  Most importantly, it was the little things that made the big differences.  Ed showed them he cared and ‘sorted’ niggling problems for them (admittedly on my budget) like a bit of paint here or there, a better notice board, some kit to help clean up better.  Also in the eyes of the operators he put himself out, by turning up on the site on the late shift or weekend, encouraged the banter and becoming one of the team.   Above all he saw the best in each and every one of them. 

In very simple terms he earned their respect! Mention Ed’s name to any of the operators and I can assure you that he was their hero. 

This gave Ed a fantastic gift, the ability to get them to do things to improve the site and quality of their workplace, not because he said so, but because they wanted to!  

Ed showed real leadership skills and qualities and like another more famous leader Eisenhower, who when asked said “great leadership is when people do what you want them to, because they want to do it”