Things I've Learned 2008

In an effort to continue certain traditions, I present the “things I’ve learned 2008” column. For me, 2008 was quite a robust year in terms of expanding my horizons.

The company I work for nominated me to their board of directors, and my state APPA chapter, FLAPPA, nominated me for the presidency. The outcome will be determined at our annual educational conference in March 2009. We have seen budget freezes and cuts, as well as whole projects and even jobs eliminated altogether. And yet, like all Physical Plant folks, we’ve taken what we were given and learned to make lemonade, or maybe a better mousetrap!

Working relationships, whether close or cursory, aren’t always on the best of terms, but they must always be tended to just as any personal relationship. Sure, there are times when we would rather just lock the door and throw away the key on a certain relationship. But at some point — we don’t know when, where, or why — we will need to be able to work with that person and achieve a positive result. Don’t let differences get in the way of that potential success.

We don’t always get what we want. Being told “no” or having something taken away is not much easier as an adult than as a child. It is how we handle that situation that separates us from the rest of the pack. If this job were easy, anyone could do it. Just the other day a fellow staff member said to my boss and I, “I don’t know how you do what you do. Every day is something different, not knowing what it will be and having the pressure of being responsible for so many things out of your control.” She was right. The adage “it may not be my fault, but it is my problem” truly applies to the work we do. Truthfully, I can’t imagine a job that is the same, day in and day out… and I suspect neither can you!

I’ll follow that up with a brief thought that no matter how good of a job you do, something, somewhere will still be your fault. Be ready for it, and handle the situation with humility and professionalism. Being humble and professional in the face of disaster will win you fans!

Then I’ll follow that up with this: Trust and respect are things that must be earned. There are very few people that adorn anyone with trust or respect immediately, and if you do find those people, proceed with caution, as they probably want something from you. Knowing your job, leading your people by example, making solid decisions, and simply doing the right thing go a long way in earning the trust and respect of your peers, employees, and leaders.

Regarding relationships with our leadership, develop solid relationships with as many as you can. Do not put all your eggs in one basket. We went through a change in our chain of command where someone in the chain moved up a few links. Without having developed that relationship previously, the learning curve could have been very steep for both of us.

We all know that having good people surrounding us makes our jobs easier, and in my case, affords me the time to pursue other professional opportunities such as participation in National’s Board or helping to lead FLAPPA. Building up these folks’ professional tool bags is in your best interest. Make sure that you fully equip them to succeed if you are going to rely on them when you are out of the office!

I learned that seemingly simple things like elevator inspections and their certificates of operation can consume a tremendous amount of time if you become complacent with them. Staying on top of the details of such routine items is quite important. This can also be a lesson in humility and professionalism, as I previously mentioned!

There are times to fly under the radar, and there are times when you’ll feel as if you alone are the Blue Angels performing at an air show. Just remember… when trying to fly under the radar, know that at any moment the spotlight may hit you. When it does, you had better look like a Blue Angel!

Finally, focus on what is truly important in your life. I lost my only brother in a single-vehicle motorcycle accident in 2008. As the Reverend Billy Graham said at Palm Beach Atlantic University’s 1997 commencement address, “the only thing we are assured of is the brevity of life.” Don’t let your work consume you. Most of us have others besides our students, faculty, staff, and administration who rely on us. Be sure to give them the time they deserve. Remember, no one will utter from their death bed, “I wish I had worked more!”

About the Author

Michael G. Steger is director, Physical Plant, for Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, FL. He can be reached at [email protected]