“Who’s Gonna Feed Them Hogs?”

Posted by jlubans on April 17, 2018

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Caption: Steel Roofing Nail

The resolution of Tom T. Hall’s mournful song about a hospitalized pig farmer set me to thinking about work, the dignity of work, and perspectives on work. The song ends:
“Well, the doctors say they do not know what saved the man from death
But in a few days he put on his overalls and he left.”
(All to feed and care for them hogs!)
The song’s about work’s dignity and its life-giving purpose.
Given work’s power, it’s positive influence on all of us – but for the most derelict - why is one type of work presumably better than another? Why the demarcation between blue collar vs. white collar?
The blue collar ones are the people who do things. They work with their hands, mind and muscle, yet, somehow our culture diminishes the importance of their contribution.
The most important worker, I was told by the deli counter manager at NYCs famous Zabar’s grocery store, was not the owner Saul Zabar, but the guy hauling away the trash!
These are the people that keep your car running, clean your office, paint your house, clear the stuck drain, and renovate your house.
Sure, you might think you can do it yourself, but most of us can’t nor do we want to.
We want, if we can afford it, for someone to come in and do it right the first time.
And, if a blue collar career is managed right, one can make a living from doing what others don’t want to, don’t have the time, or are not bit by the DIY bug.
The Wall Street Journal focused my attention several months ago on the topic of celebrating unheralded work: “The Thrill of Victory in Welding, Baking and Bricklaying”. The article talks about going for workplace gold: with over 1200 young workers showing off their vocational skills” in 51 jobs.
Bricklayers, cooks and florists may be unsung jobs, for sure, but are they not mainstays in our economies?
In my business, I was most drawn to the “support staff” doing the work. I turned to them for ways to improve.
While some, due to poor leadership, were reluctant to speak up, I was able to convince more than a few to share what they thought.
These ideas, coming from the people doing the work, helped clear major roadblocks and bottlenecks.
Certainly, a professional – those someones we pay to think – may come up with an idea, but often, lacking will it may go unimplemented or, worse, it may, when adopted, only aggravate the bottle neck or create a new one.
Have you found yourself marveling at how a craftsman can quickly, skillfully, assess and zero in on a problem?
I recall a leaky roof; do I ever!
Replacing the roof did not fix it. Nor did caulking or creative ways for draining water off the roof.
The leaks stopped when a master roofer traced the leaks by deftly lifting up a dozen row of shingles, and then looking for the likely source: rusty nail heads. I was on the roof and got to see what he was doing.
The first row of shingles did not reveal what he was looking for, the second ditto, but the third row, was the Aha!
There were the rusty nail heads, driven though the rubber plenum.
Once the heads rusted out (from earlier leaks), the water followed down the nail shaft into the house.
That skilled craftsman solved a chronic problem and I was able to sell the house with a clear conscience. I did not have to be like Frank Lloyd Wright who famously responded to an owner complaining about the leaky roof:
“So? It’s a Frank Lloyd Wright house!” In other words, get used to it.
Getting back to my line of work, I often wonder what it was that I brought to the organization.
Many people I supervised did things far better than I ever could.
So, how did I add value? Well, there were my ideas on what we should be doing a la the big picture.
I demonstrated and promoted innovation.
I made a contribution, but as for the day-to-day, the bread and butter of our work, I contributed seemingly little.
I was an asker of questions and I queried what customers were thinking and brought those answers to the workplace. Sometimes those questions and answers led to improvements, but only if the people doing the work did something about it.
Unlike most of my peers, I was not very good at exerting the types of power that come with a name on the door and a rug on the floor.
One way my leadership helped was through freeing up people to think about what they did and how to improve it, no small accomplishment.
When those ideas were forthcoming, they made a big difference to the organizations.
How does an organization quantify the result when a leader frees up people?
Or does the organization - made up of would be experts – recoil at the very idea. As experts, my freeing up workers was giving away their jobs!
So, I am left wondering if those of us who liberate workers are not perceived to be like the comical slacker philosopher in Jerome K. Jerome’s novel, Three Men in a Boat:
“I can’t sit still and see another man slaving and working. I want to get up and superintend, and walk round with my hands in my pockets, and tell him what to do. It is my energetic nature. I can’t help it.”
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For more insights into the work world, buy Lubans’ new book“Fables for Leaders” at Amazon. Or, be frugal and get your library to order a copy! Just tell them you want it.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018


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