Build People – Focus on Potential, a Leadership Task

ToolsWhile walking through Home Depot, my favorite aisles are those aisles with tools, power tools, hand tools, and so forth.  My mind always goes on imaginative wanderings, thinking about what those tools will go out into the world and do.  Will an inexperienced hand learn on those tools?  Will they build grand buildings?  Will they destroy?  What will those tools help accomplish?  The potential held in a tool is as much a mystery as looking at a babe in arms and thinking, what will that soul go forward and do?  I never become bored thinking about the potential held in a tool as part of the ongoing saga of humanity.

Without hands, a tool is useless; the tool cannot act independently.  Guns do not shoot themselves; hammers do not strike anything alone; thus, we can see that tools need someone to fulfill the measure of their creation.  For good or ill, the tool is only ever a force multiplier and requires intention through another party to act.  A critical point to understand is the person’s intention of holding the tool, who decides whether that tool will build or destroy, and the value to the owner.

Knowledge Check!But, this article is about people’s potential; why begin discussing tools?  To a leader, each person is a tool requiring training, delegation, trust, and motivation to achieve the measure of their creation.  Have you ever witnessed an unskilled manager use, or abuse, their people?  My first officer in the US Army National Guard was one of these unskilled managers.  The stories and experiences from this manager are legion, fraught with examples of what not to do and the hubris of a person placed into a position of power above their competence level.  I have long wondered, what did this officer’s boss think about this officer’s performance?

The first lesson in building people is this; everyone has someone they report to.  Do your people know who they report to, and are they comfortable talking to this person?  Consider the following:

Leadership is solving problems.  The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.  They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care.  Either case is a failure of leadership.” – General Colin Powell

In more than nine years of Military Service, I can count on one hand the number of officers I trusted enough and were approachable sufficient to bring problems to, and I won’t even need the pinky and thumb.  In talking to friends and family about this issue, their experiences are similar.  Worse, the same problem exists with the non-commissioned officer corps.  In my professional pursuits outside military service, I have worked with precisely one boss to whom I felt comfortable bringing issues.

While I strive to be the leader I wish I could take problems to, there is a realization that to my teams, I am being measured, weighed, and if found wanting, will never know I failed to be the leader to whom I would bring problems.  Consider this for a moment.  A leader could be solving problems and thinking, “My people bring their problems to me QED: I am a good leader.”  While never realizing they are detestable and hated by their people.  All because their people only bring work-related problems, and then only rarely.  In the US Navy, I experienced this exact issue more than once, and the officers all thought they were “God’s gift to their people.” Massive egos, compensating for being vile and despicable.

Leaders, take note:

    1. What are the preferred names of the members of your teams?
    2. When was the last time you shared problems and asked for input from your followers?
    3. What are you learning daily, and who is teaching you?
    4. Do you know your followers sufficiently to advise?
    5. What quirks, talents, skills, or abilities do your people possess that you appreciate?

How you answer these questions determines more than your destiny as a leader and your team’s productivity in achieving business goals.  When I begin a new project and select tools, I review what I know about my tools.  My hammer has a loose head, but I will not change it out because it has the smoothness of age and is the best hammer for finishing work.  This wrench has scratches in the head and a chisel mark in the handle that is exactly 6” and is handy in a pinch.  Thus, when used on soft brass, the head will leave marks in the metal on which it is used.  All this and more is reviewed, strengths and weaknesses, quirks and peculiarities, all known before engaging in a new project.  When you know your tools, their potential is declared, and in communicating their potential, how and where they can be best used becomes common knowledge.

Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character.  But if you must be without one, be without strategy.” – General Schwarzkopf

Ninety-Nine present of leadership failures are failures of character.” – General Schwarzkopf

Several of the worst people I have ever worked for had the moral integrity of a used car salesperson.  They could not be trusted, except to be trusted to stab you in the back.  No honesty, never forthright, always acting for the downfall of anyone they deemed was competition, and constantly engaged in stealing glory while meting out the worst punishments.  While the experiences fulfilled another axiom from General Schwarzkopf, the education was brutal to suffer through.

You learn far more from negative leadership than from positive leadership.  Because you learn how not to do it, and, therefore, you learn how to do it.” – General Schwarzkopf

These experiences alone would qualify me to write this article; however, through a multitude of academic classes and degrees, I have gained more fundamental qualifications to justify what I am about to declare.  If you think a title makes you a leader, you are the problem in your organization’s leadership!  In working with newly minted, freshly commissioned, officers in the US Army and the US Navy, I have learned through sad experience too many consider the rank and titles their “Golden Ticket” to being abusers of people through “leadership.”  One particular example stands out more clearly from the others.

While serving in the US Navy, my first Chief Engineer was book smart and common sense inept!  This man was more dangerous with tools in his hand, even though he could verbatim quote pages from maintenance manuals.  Shortly before I arrived on the ship, the Chief Engineer had started a fire on board the vessel in multiple engine and auxiliary rooms by applying shaft brakes to an operating shaft instead of to the shaft that had been locked out and tagged out.  The Chief Engineer then compounded his errors by blaming the engineers who had properly locked out/tagged out the shaft needing maintenance.  This was a major issue that proved cream rises and trash sinks, and this leader was absolute trash!

The bitter cherry on this crap sundae, the example of the Chief Engineer, was a symptom of a greater sickness and moral desert in the Engineering Department.  Chiefs were force-multiplying the Chief Engineers example, and the senior non-commissioned officers were force-multiplying the chiefs example.  Who suffered, the lowest enlisted, and the rest of the ship.  Maintenace was rarely done properly, watchstanding was hit or miss, and the example plagued the Engineering Department for years after the Chief Engineer was summarily dismissed.

The only redeeming factor from this experience, I learned the lessons of what negative leadership does well.  Leaders take note:

    1. If character problems lead to poor performance or behaviors detestable in your teams, look no further than the reflection in the mirror for both an answer and a root cause.
    2. Your followers will observe what you do more than what you say. How are you acting?
    3. Stop looking up, you are a leader, and your first vision should be to look sideways and make sure your people are on the same level before you look up.
    4. Before embracing new strategies, first review character!

The following is critical to building people and promoting potential:

To be an effective leader, you have to have a manipulative streak – you have to figure out the people working for you and give each tasks that will take advantage of their strengths.” – General Schwarzkopf

Leadership is a balancing act between helping people take advantage of their strengths and training them to overcome individual weaknesses.  Yet, leaders often act like managers, never training, and always micro-managing to shave strengths preventing competition with the leader.  Which are the actions of neither a leader nor a manager, but a tyrant!  Petty authoritarians acting the role of tyrants produce more harm than war, poverty, and disease combined.

What actions are needed?  We conclude with the following:

TRUE courage is being afraid, and going ahead and doing your job.” – General Schwarzkopf

The job of a leader begins with being a good follower; even if to be a good follower, you must be the loyal opposition standing like a rock doing the right thing in the face of adversity.  Moral integrity is critical to being a good leader and is foundational to building people.  Leaders take special note and act accordingly:

    1. What is your moral code?
    2. Why do you embrace those morals?
    3. Do you understand integrity is doing what is right, especially when you think nobody is watching? Do you have moral integrity?
    4. Do you know your identity, and are you comfortable with your identity?
    5. What character do you possess, and is that character tied to your morality and integrity?Exclamation Mark

When you are placed to influence people, build potential by first knowing, and then doing that which is the harder right, than the easier wrong.

© Copyright 2021 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.  Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.

Code Enforcement Response Letter – 29 October 2021

The Honorable
Mayor Ken Miyagishima
City of Las Cruces
700 N Main
Las Cruces, NM
88001

29 October 2021

Dr. Dave Salisbury Ph.D.
1805 E Idaho Ave
Las Cruces, NM
88001

Subject: Unequal Treatment Before the Law, Code Enforcement, and Staff Incompetence and Unreliability

Dear Mayor,

On 19 October 2021, Officer S. Chavez (#C438) drafted a letter to me complaining that my property was somehow in violation of Las Cruces Municipal Code Section 18-2(1).  Which according to the website linked, states the following:

Noxious weeds and other rank vegetation.”

Item 1:  What is a “noxious weed,” how does one identify “rank vegetation?”  The municipal code is vague and unclear.  This means that the code enforcement officer is left to use their own opinion, opening the doors to authoritarian interpretation and the abuse of the taxpayer in the application of the municipal code.  I have some deep and abiding concerns.

Item 2:  The letter was dated 19 October 2021, but the postmark from the stamp machine is dated 25 October 2021, and the US Postal Service delivered this notification to me on 28 October 2021.  These dates are important for several reasons.  Please note, I was mandated to comply with the authoritarian and opinionated code enforcement officer’s interpretation of the municipal code by 31 October 2021.

  1. Why did Officer Chavez (#C438) sit on the letter for six days before stamping it and dropping it in the mail?
  2. I asked this exact question of Officer Chavez (#C438) and received three separate and distinct excuses, and then was “offered” an extension of the deadline without asking for it. Alerting me to the fact that Officer Chavez (#C438) knew he had done wrong, knew he had been busted, and knew he needed a plausible excuse.  This is a clear indication of Officer Chavez (#C438) being incompetent and unreliable.
  3. When I called his supervisor on 28 October 2021, I left a message; I identified myself, left my number, and left an expectation for a callback. Officer Chavez (#C438) identified the supervisor as simply “Roach, like the bug.”  Alerting me to another problem, a lack of respect for authority in the code enforcement offices.  I have some concerns; if the officers do not respect each other and their supervisors, how can they respect the law, the municipal codes they are expected to enforce, the taxpayers, and themselves?
  4. 0815 – 29 October 2021, I called dispatch and asked for Roach’s supervisor, as I refuse to play phone tag. If “Roach” will not meet a taxpayer’s expectation or make it a priority to call that taxpayer the following day, then it is time to speak to a higher power.  More than an hour later, “Roach” calls me.  By the way, I am still expecting a callback from “Roach’s” supervisor.  Who is that, and when is that call going to transpire?  The dispatcher did not know and could not tell me.
  5. For the record, who is “Roach?” What is his title?  What is his full name?  None of which were provided when “Roach” called me.  By “Roach’s” call, I have now introduced myself three times to the Code Enforcement Officers, and still, “Roach” proceeds to call me not by my name.  Indicating disrespect is endemic in the City of Las Cruces Code Enforcement Department, and there is a severe lack of leadership on top of the problems with unreliability and incompetence.  Where is the training of these officers coming from, and who is modeling this execrable behavior?
  6. When I asked “Roach” the question, “Why did Officer Chavez (#C438) sit on the notification letter for 6-days?” he proclaimed he did not understand what I was saying, chose to become offended that I was trying to explain, and claimed I was berating and belittling him. “Roach” actively refused to listen, preferring to listen to the voices in his head instead of the taxpayer voicing legitimate concerns about being abused by his staff.  Are we sure “Roach” is a supervisor?

Let me pause here and clarify a few points.  I possess more than 20 years of experience as an industrial and organizational psychologist.  I have worked in many different roles across the United States, including government, the private sector, and non-profits.  I have been in crisis management, led teams in emergency response, enforced legislation, and much more.  My jobs often see me needing to evaluate and observe, quickly make conclusions, and then develop action plans to generate positive results in a timely and efficient manner.  I am very good at my job!  I am a data analyst, a project manager, and hold an MBA in global management specializing in human resources, a master’s in adult education and training, with deep experience in eLearning design and delivery, and am writing my dissertation to complete my Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology.

I have seen incompetence and unreliability in people many times and in many places.  The experience witnessed over the last two days at the hands of the “Code Enforcement Officers” for the City of Las Cruces leaves me mentally breathless, and my blood is boiling.  There is no excuse for this unprofessionalism, lack of respect, and the refusal to apply the law equally and appropriately answer simple questions from taxpayers!

Item 3:  When I drive through my neighborhood, my yard is desert and is in no way, shape, or form less or better than my neighbors.  How many of my neighbors received code enforcement letters for their yards?  If the answer is none, then the law was not equally applied, and the officers involved need discipline for being selective in their application of the law and enforcement of the municipal code.  Suppose the answer is all of my neighbors. In that case, the code enforcement officers need to visit the neighborhood and explain precisely to everyone what specifically the code means by “Noxious weeds and other rank vegetation.”  The same vegetation growing in my yard is found in the desert surrounding Las Cruces.

Item 4:  The vegetation in my yard was left alone intentionally because the birds had been eating the seeds.  I prefer to see the birds as I am allergic to cats and dogs.  Since I cannot have a pet, and the vegetation had pretty flowers and had a valuable purpose of feeding butterflies and birds, I am still at a loss as to which of the vegetation is considered, “Noxious weeds and other rank vegetation.”

Item 5:  The time delay of Officer Chavez (#C438) cost me more than $1500 and worsened my injuries that were sustained in US Military service.  I am a 90% disabled veteran, and the stress of having to comply due to the refusal to notify taxpayers timely meant I could not hire anyone to help, nor could I obtain assistance from friends.  Thus, I had to perform the work myself, causing me significant injury over the 5-hours I was performing the yard work.  I take serious umbrage at the time-lapse in the notification from Officer Chavez (#C438) and his unreliability, and incompetence which need immediately rectified and resolved to my satisfaction.  Officer Chavez’s (#C438) actions were unconstitutional and potentially criminal.

I expect a prompt and timely response as a taxpayer.  Please note that a copy of this letter is posted to my blog and found at this link to promote governmental transparency.  Thank you for your time in this affair.

Sincerely,

Dr. M. Dave Salisbury Ph.D.
I/O Psychologist
US Army/US Navy Veteran

MDS/mds

CC: City Councilor Gabriel Vasquez