You might recall several months back that I wrote about running into Jorge—a contractor neighbor of mine—whom I hadn’t seen for what seemed like a coon’s age. We chuckled for a bit about “the good old days” before dashing off our separate ways promising to “…get together soon,” a polite way of producing in advance an excuse for the next several years of absence. But not so Jorge’s wife, Mary, who called a week later, asking me over to dinner. In addition to my hankering for some of Mary’s great cooking, I needed an update on how Jorge’s business was doing.
When I first met Jorge nearly a decade ago, he had a half-dozen pieces of ancient equipment and an aversion to what he called “tootie-fruitie” stuff such as joy sticks, comfortable seats, and air conditioning, so when he told me about some of the new toys he’d bought in the meantime, I was really impressed…and I told him so.
“Don’t be,” he said with an obvious grump in his voice. My interest perked up to an unbelievable high. “What’s going on,” I asked?
“Golly darned people problems,” he growled—or at least it was something like that.
“Why don’t the two of you go for a walk while I get dinner ready,” Mary called out from the kitchen, clearly past the saturation point with his grumbling. So off we headed for a trip around the block.
“All that high-tech stuff doesn’t do a thing for dealing with people,” he took up where he had left off.
After another eighth-mile of silent reflection, he stopped abruptly. “You just can’t be everywhere at once,” he blurted, as if I had just accused him of something. After a few more seconds he took off walking again at a more leisurely pace, explaining the situations in which he now found himself…as much for his own benefit as mine.
“I’ve got 24 people on the payroll at the moment…half of them who don’t know squat about construction.” This was an exaggeration, of course, but his point was valid. Siegfried, his head grader driver ran one crew, while Steve, who’d been with him from the very first, honchoed the other. Both were top-notch equipment operators with magic in their fingers and feet, but as Jorge spun his tales of woe it became increasingly apparent that neither was particularly skillful in his management role. “I used to be a happy man back when we were just one happy family,” he lamented, and I could see he really meant it.
By rights, Jorge should be even happier today. After all, he has enough work to keep two crews busy, something few of his competitors in the area could boast. Moreover, most of his equipment is less than a year old and he’s in the enviable position of being able to equip his machines with some of the new trick stuff that makes him even more money because of the increased productivity they bring. Most of all, he’s able at last to spend time doing what he laughingly calls “strategic thinking,” which to him, in the past, meant the ability to look at the world from more than a foot above the dirt he’s working.
“My people are going to put me in an early grave,” he sighed, half in jest, but half seriously as well. “Last week Steve got into a shouting match with Tony [Tony’s been driving a dozer for Jorge for over a year and really knows his stuff], and before I could get there the two of them were rolling around on the ground like a couple of school kids.”
Now I hate to admit it, but at this point I couldn’t hold back from laughing at the way Jorge described and pantomimed the affair. At first he shot me a dirty look but then he too began to chuckle. “Yeah,” he admitted as the old Jorge came to the surface at last. “It was a pretty silly sight, but it’s still a bad situation.” After another moment he repeated his prior complaint… “I can’t be everywhere at once.”
“What happened when you were promoted to E-4? Did they send you to some sort of leadership school?” I asked, hoping like mad the Army had done what it was supposed to.
“Sure,” he answered. “I was in Germany at the time, so they sent me to 7th Army’s NCO School at Bad Toelz.”
“How was it?”
“Tough,” he said after a moment’s reflection. “Tougher than boot camp even, but I learned a lot about dealing with troops and helping them to get all their mess gear together.” In fact, he continued without prompting, it was the best school he’d ever gone to…in many ways, he confided, the best preparation he’d ever gotten for running his own business.
We had just turned on his driveway when he stopped and said, “You know, I wish there were an NCO School I could send Steve and Siegfried to. Then maybe I wouldn’t toss and turn all night wondering what kind of fur ball they’ll get me into next.”
“Thanks a lot for all the great ideas,” he said, as I was taking my leave after dinner. “I’m going to see what kinds of schools are out there.” To my recollection I hadn’t uttered so much as a word of advice, but who knows, maybe I laughed at the right time.