January 14th 2021
Eight Lessons Learnt by the Young cadet.
I began my informal study of leadership during my second year as a cadet engineer working for one of my state’s electricity utilities. I found myself in a world of engineers, technicians, tradies, tradie assistants, labourers and clerical staff. The engineers ran the show. And I was in the process of becoming an engineer.
Our job was to keep the lights on by looking after the transmission lines and substations that transferred the electricity from the power stations to the population centres and industry that wanted to use it. I quickly found that I much preferred the idea of working out on the job in this sort of environment to working in head office and doing design or contract work.
I was in a unique position. As a cadet, I spent significant time with the technicians and tradies as well as the engineers. I got to know everyone. I got to know the various engineers and I knew what everyone else thought of them.
Some of the things I learned back then have proved invaluable:
Competence: You have to be able to do the job or be able to learn quickly. People will not respect you if you cannot do the job. You can’t make up for incompetence.
Make timely decisions: You frustrate people hugely if you dither and can’t make a decision. You have to make decisions when they need to be made.
Caring: You have to care about getting the job done well. Everyone wants to be proud of their work and to do a good job. You have to enable them to do their job well. This involved visiting workers onsite and finding out the difficulties and challenges they are facing and working out what you can do to help them.
You also have to care for the people doing the job. Their lives, families and situations are important to them. If you can help them do the important things in their lives – they will be appreciative and will often reciprocate by going beyond the call of duty for you in return.
Being mindful of health concerns, family events and other problems and making allowances can really help team morale.
Backbone: You need to be willing to stand up for what is right and good. You need to stand up for your people when something goes wrong or they make a mistake. You need to take a stand against unreasonable pressure being exerted from above. If people trust you to look after them, that frees them up to get the job done. If they can’t trust you to care for them and back them up, they’ll follow the rules blindly and a lot less will happen.
Integrity: People respect leaders who are honest and straightforward. If a leader is competent, caring, and has backbone and integrity then those following will have a sense of safety and security. Even those who test the boundaries will conform and behave while such a leader is around.
Respect each person and their expertise: As a cadet, people didn’t expect me to know everything. They were very happy to teach me what they knew. Through listening and asking questions I came to value the people I was working with along with their knowledge and experience. I also came to understand their values and habits.
Swings and roundabouts: The longer you are around the more you will realise that fads come and go, organisations organise and reorganise and go back to where they started. These fads and fashions are often introduced with much enthusiasm and fanfare. The old timers groan! You have to adapt and change in a way that is recognised as being necessary, well thought out and helpful to the cause and not in response to the latest trend.
Systems: We need to have systems and procedures in place to ensure things are done that need to be done and that important details are not left out.
A poor system that is followed faithfully and thoughtfully will beat a wonderful system that nobody follows every time.
Another couple of things I’ll add to the list are humility and being willing to admit that you’ve made a mistake.
My time as a cadet engineer was formative. I learned a lot about leadership which has been a great help to me over the years. I haven’t thrown any of this out as I’ve moved into leadership of a Christian mission. I have added to this foundation, thanks to God’s grace, Bible study, and the observation and input of Christian leaders. I’ll leave that story to another time.
Christine Platt has served as CEO of Global Recordings Network Australia (GRN) from 2012 until now and has been a member of GRN's International Leadership Team for most of that time. She served with SIM for ten years (2000-2009) completing two terms in Ecuador, South America, where her electrical engineering background proved useful in the establishment of a Christian radio station.