Framing the Dialogue

Anyone Can Do It When It’s Dry

I spent part of my career working as the environmental manager for a large waste firm. I was part of a new management team that was coming into an older landfill facility that had a less than stellar reputation. When I considered leaving and taking the position I asked a colleague about the company and facility since he worked with them a lot his advice was that “they could sure use the help.” I took the challenge and spent nearly eight years with the company.  Most times I likened my days to what a surfer must feel like with a big wave.  I always had my day planned, but once I got on that wave it took me places that I had not planned.

My colleague was right in that they needed the help both inside and out. I hadn’t had a lot of real experience working at a landfill. I worked for an agency that regulated them, but spending a few hours every month at facilities really only give a brief glimpse of the inner workings. One thing that I was given as my main task was the results and recommendations of a company internal audit of the facilities environmental and safety conditions. There was nothing overtly serious or dangerous, but there were lots and lots of items to check of my list. One of the biggest factors that I faced was the “we’ve always done things this way” mentality that permeated the operations people. Here I was some young guy (at that time) asking questions that they really couldn’t answer except to say that’s how they did things.

Unfortunately for us the way they did things was okay, but not good and we had somewhat dubious reputation; not about doing bad things, but not about doing good things either. That’s the goal my boss had in mind. Over time, and a few retirements, things changed and got better and more professional. We had some great people who I felt were simmering with ideas of how to improve what they did and in many ways we gave them the tools. The facility started to really shape up.

Early one spring we were preparing for a visit from one of our corporate VPs. While not a formal inspection, this particular VP was an “operations” guy meaning he was promoted through the ranks, knew his stuff, and was not some corporate stiff. A few of the other managers knew him and liked him, but warned that he was rather tough, not prone to praise, and could be rather sarcastic. It was a very nice day during his visit and the landfill looked quite nice and operational. We were passing one of the people that the VP knew from earlier days so we stopped to talk and the person mentioned how good the place looked to which the VP replied, “Anyone can do this when it’s dry!”

Many of us were taken aback by the comment, but what he was saying was true. When things are going well whether it’s nice weather, or having an easy customer, or the delivery is on time, our jobs can be somewhat easier when “it’s dry.” Succeeding when the stuff hits the fan is the real mark of success and skill…accomplishment. I like this story as it has a good message and I shouldn’t ruin the message by adding a political component to it, but I will since everything before “but” is bull.

You probably have to be at least 45 years old to remember this Hee Haw skit's name. Twenty points for the first person to get it right in the comments.

I am struck by a recent speech by the Commander-In-Chief, Barack Obama, where he laments the myriad of events that have marred his first term in office.

“We had reversed the recession, avoided a depression, gotten the economy moving again. But over the last six months we’ve had a run of bad luck…the Arab Spring uprisings, the tsunami in Japan, and the European debt crises — which set the economy back.”

Every president has faced challenges from civil war, to the iron curtain, to the Cuban missile crisis, to an oil embargo, to the little blue dress, the Cold War, and September 11, 2001, and the Fannie and Freddie mortgage crisis. These moments have often provided us with historic moments where we were urged to “Tear down these walls” and “ask not what your country can do for you” and “four score and seven years ago” and Bush quote about getting the folks who did 9/11. Moments where real leaders lead our country to greater heights. I cannot get over the contrast between these former great leaders and our current president.  There is no doubt that we deserve the administration that we have in the White House and will pay dearly for its ineptitude for decades to come, but at some point these brilliant people running our country have to allow the buck to stop at their doorstep. They have to take ownership of the country’s troubles. They have to stop making excuses or blaming others. They have to just stop and do the right thing in troubled times…

Anyone can do it when it’s dry.

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