[February 8, 2019] Yesterday morning I was at my dentist’s office for a cleaning and checkup. The dental hygienist was talkative, of course, while my mouth is open and I couldn’t talk. But she said something that interested me. She said that I was one of few people who came in that actually knew how to do maintenance on my teeth. I was, she said, an “aware customer.”
I had a likeable commander once who told me that one of the hardest skills for a leader to learn is to encourage everyone to “bully through the work” necessary to keep up our physical and mental fitness. To be a good leader in the military requires learning about tactics, weapons and equipment, soldier psychology, and a host of other things that require constant care.
Growing up in a rural culture in the Deep South of the U.S., I had learned about guns and ammo, hunting dogs, and safety. This translated nicely into the Army where I used my ideas to improve our unit’s combat effectiveness. But there was one thing, but also unremitting maintenance of our equipment and health. Maintenance was paramount to ensure the long-term viability of the unit.
I wrote last year about how New York City political leaders deferred maintenance on their subway trains and stations, bridges, utilities, and roads for short-term fiscal gains (see link here). Now the costs and inconvenience to the public has become a scandal. Furthermore, the problem cannot be fixed even with large amounts of money. NYC, like so many other large cities, has failed to carry out its most basic function of keeping the city operating properly.
Regular maintenance is crucial to keep things functioning smoothly, to keep costs under control, and to prevent unnecessary disruption. It must be a part of the organizational culture; otherwise, there is the tendency to put it off until a later date.
When this occurs and problems accumulate, the required new effort to fix everything can be close to impossible. I saw this with several small towns in the North East U.S. several years ago during an unusually cold winter. Their failure to keep town snowplows operating meant the snow built up on the roads leading to more traffic accidents and damage to sidewalk-mounted traffic lights and other town equipment.
I’ve been doing my due diligence to keep my teeth and gums healthy. No cavities, mom! The leadership lesson is to maintain the maintenance of the effort.