Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On Leadership

So, just got back from an interesting hitch on the Champion Coal (more to follow on this later) i finished this while underway, probably didn't proof read it enough, whatever.

Perhaps the most important aspect of my experience in the past year or so revolves around the concept of leadership, as in the manner in which managers, bosses, officers, what have you interact with their employees. I left my last employer extremely bitter. I finally became a professional in my field only to find that the management had no intention of fostering my growth and absolutely refused to grant me even an iota of respect, no matter how hard I worked. This comprised only one facet of my dissatisfaction. The run down is as follows.
My former employer has an industry wide reputation for nautical excellence and training which, in its current incarnation, is not deserved. Though the management level employees of this organization are extremely knowledgeable, this knowledge is not transmitted in any meaningful sense to those of us seeking to grow and develop our skill sets. The only lower level employees granted any extended training are those who attended a certain secondary education institution, or, are buddies or personal favorites of the management. Training was entirely oriented toward creating useful cogs in the wheel of a daily routine, once you fill that role in this organization that is as far as you will go, especially if you crawled in through the hawse pipe. I watched for months as the select few were fostered, trained, allowed to take on and master new tasks as I stagnated and was pigeon holed. All of the things I was capable of learning and performing were denied to me. Pair this with watching people who went to school to perform in this profession making the same sort of mistakes I, a relative newcomer made, yet still being ever so eager to mock me for them, and you have a recipe for serious frustration and resentment. This leads to my next point.
The management of this organization mistreats people. Lower level professionals such as myself were regularly subjected to intense sarcasm, mockery, and public humiliation. I saw this, or experienced it personally on an almost daily basis. Initially I thought a large portion of this was banter, which would lessen with time. I imagined that respect on some level would eventually be given. No matter how hard I worked, or how good I got at my job this respect never came. I spent nine months like this. Language commonly directed at myself, “faggot, pussy, homo, moron, and retard.” This was commonly used in public, adding to the humiliation of being treated so poorly. Also, one upper level manager was chronically lecherous and a sexual harasser. He made remarks in poor taste to my girlfriend, insinuating she should go to a hotel room and ready herself for his company, he also stated to one volunteer that he thought she had “been down on everything but the titanic,” and to another, “so what you are saying is you want to be under me,” This kind of thing was said all the time. Also, the management allows the continued employment of individuals with no proper concept of decent treatment of fellow human beings. Last year one such individual, still employed in the organization, interrupted me while performing a safety crucial function to criticize me for an error that had already been addressed by my acting supervisor. This is not an exact quote, but while pointing his finger in my face he stated, “you fucking retarded faggot, you just fucked up a job illiterate idiots did perfectly two hundred years ago, you are fucking worthless.” Other management personnel watched this happen and laughed as I was demeaned. Essentially what this constitutes is an organization that is accepting of employing a thirty plus year old man with literally no concept of right or wrong behavior. Because he was not forced to by a superior he never even gave a token apology for this verbal dressing down. This year, said individual while overseeing a safety crucial function, opted not to give the task his full attention but instead took the time to verbally abuse me while I was participating in said function, referring to me as a “bull dyke” amongst other things. This individuals poor behavior is not limited to the workplace, last year he was kicked off an airplane for acting out, this year he almost involved many of his coworkers in a bar fight, which he instigated by shoving a girl. I consider this egregious as I was, after my employment, typecast as a potential threat due to violent remarks which I admit were in poor taste. This notwithstanding they were made under extreme stress and were only remarks, not actual deeds contravening norms of basic social propriety. I cannot fathom an organization continuing to function in a manner so negligent towards basic decent treatment of others. The saddest part of this is that I watched many of my fellow lower level employees fall into this pattern of behavior, along with myself, much to my regret. There is nothing more disheartening than seeing yourself and other people you love become, to some degree, a copy of those abusing you.
Training methods, if you can refer to them as such at my former place of employment were atrocious. As I said previously, the management level employees are extremely knowledgeable but this is either very poorly transmitted, or not at all. Commonly, upper level employees made demeaning remarks to me when I did not know something or did not perform a task flawlessly on the first, or even second or third go. They are all seemingly completely unaware that it is to be expected that they know much more than me as the either have from five to thirty years experience in the field, or obtained a four year degree in it. This frustrated me to no end. No recognition was given to the fact that I learned an incredible amount in a very short period and I could not be realistically expected to match that kind of experience. Those who had a four year degree were probably no more naturally talented than I, and often made the same sort of mistakes I did just with less frequency. I found this particularly maddening with one individual in the management who jumped on the management behavior band wagon while still proving over and over, despite a four year degree in his field, he was still making the kind of mistakes that in my field, (History) were the equivalent of academic plagiarism and would result in termination of employment in said field, concomitant with a permanent blacklisting. If you are going to hold me to a standard of excellence on par with yours, and you have been schooled for four years in a field I have not, you had better be excellent, or understanding, preferably both. I went to school for six years and am excellent at what I was trained to do, I would not expect someone with no training to do what I do, at the level at which I do it. I would however encourage someone attempting to try it and understand where they are coming from rather than demean them.
At my new place of employment training is regimented, and performed in a positive manner. No one expects the new guy to do the job as well as a captain who decked for twenty years before he got up into the pilot house. Sure there is banter, but it is restrained by bounds of common decency and good treatment. Also supervisors here are subject to oversight and can be called into account for their words and actions. What a pleasant surprise, which I am still adjusting to as I go. I am still burning out the bit of my old workplaces overtone I absorbed via osmosis, although generally speaking I am getting back to being myself, a happy guy who treats people the way they would like to be treated.
An example, I have now been with my current employer long enough now that I participate in training new employees. At one point I worked a hitch with a rather overweight eighteen year old kid. He was terrified of us and I remember what that feels like. It’s so much worse when you are being treated like garbage at the same time. From time to time what I experienced at my last job crept up in my mind telling me to mock this kid for not knowing things, to be cruel, sarcastic, etc. I didn’t do any of those things and it was one of the best two week experiences of my life, doing the exact opposite of those who made my life so miserable every day for months on end. This showed me that I had learned the best possible lesson from my former employer, how not to treat your co-workers or employees if you want them to be happy, to learn, and to strive for improved performance. At the end of the hitch this kid shook my hand and thanked me for being cool. I might not have learned as much in the way of professional skills as I wanted to but I feel what I took away was ultimately way more valuable.

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