Saturday, January 17, 2009

Unwanted help

Looking back, 1991 was not the best of times. I was a senior manager on the production line of a major new aircraft development program, the days were endless, the “level of difficulty” was off the map and I believed I was doing something important. So when my director asked me for the second time to take an assignment in Cambridge England for 6 months, I said “no thank you” for the second time. The third time he visited me on the topic he simply said “you must be confusing these inquiries as an actual question.” With that, I understood I would be leaving the country for the first time! I learned that Joe Pickle, the senior vice president of Operations had selected me for the task so I visited him to clarify the mission. He said he wanted me to do three things - 1) Build the three airplanes and get them back to the states, 2) Take over for the existing on-site executive thus allowing him to return home, and last 3) “get some culture.” He told me he expected a one page report each Friday covering all three topics.

I was great with the first two missions. No problem, but what did he mean on the third one? Being a mechanically inclined schooled engineer, the first week I found a British motorcycle museum and enjoyed it. Week two was the WWII airplane museum – fantastic. By week three I was out of the obvious ideas. While in London Sunday afternoon, I ran into The National Galley for a quick look. This was just not in my comfort zone, but catching up with a tour group, I learned so much. It was a whole new world. As you might guess – there were plenty of options for culture the remainder of my assignment.

As leaders, we must be able to see the inner potential of our people and determine what assignments will bring them to light. I had no idea what Joe was talking about, but since that time my wife and I have visited 36 countries, countless museums and natural wonders that would blow you away.

What was the best assignment you were given or gave someone else to raise them to the next level?


Cynder said...

John, I am always curious to hear about others first experience with traveling and working abroad. You were fortunate to have a senior officer of the company see your potential and give you an opportunity to develop it. As a child and an adult I've lived and worked in Europe and the Middle East and traveled to every continent. Sometimes I forget that we have diversity in our own towns and companies. Thank you for the reminder that it only takes a little extra effort to reach out and explore our surroundings to benefit from the culture around us.


Anonymous said...

Thanks cyndern,

It is amazing how differently each person travels and sees the world when they do. One of my favorite questions to ask travelers when they return is "did you meet anyone interesting?" This tells a lot about their curiosity.

Off to WDC for a world of events.


Karl Waggoner said...

My favorite assignment was to conduct training in Moscow. What a great, welcoming bunch of people. Having grown up during the Cold War, my concept of Russia was totally shattered by that visit.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Joe re: effectively getting you out of your box.
Assigning is a form of inspiration that works well for some.

Thanks for posting this, John.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Joe re: effectively getting you out of your box.

Assigning is a form of inspiration that works well for some. Invitation works well for some. Whatever works well.

Thanks for posting this, John.

Anonymous said...


You are absolutely correct that good leaders do look for the inner potential of individuals. My last MDC assignment was head of procurement at MDTI in San Diego. .I used to give my group assignment but was available to act as mentor. They felt safe to take the assignment, even if they failed which they never did. Since 1997, I have been part of a company I co-founded to take this to philosophy to other organizations. .We have create all our tools and assessments. I have a PPT on my profile of our Team Scorecard. It is an example of tools we us to encourage the inner leadership in others.

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