Lessons from Everyday Heroes
My brother, the legendary guitarist Robert Fripp, played on David Bowie’s Heroes. In our presentations Robert says, “There are three kinds of heroes. The occasional hero, the everyday hero, and the superhero.
“The occasional hero may perform a heroic act; however, it is not repeatable.
“The superhero knows what happens in every office, in every location at all times. Not every company is fortunate enough to have a superhero.
“On a daily basis, ordinary everyday heroes perform what is expected of them, plus 10%, without complaint.”
Every company has employees or associates. By the Fripp definition, not every company is lucky enough to have an abundance of ordinary everyday heroes. Here is an example of one.
This is a blast from my past.
Perhaps you have noticed that everyday heroes, many you’ve never heard of, often teach us more than their managers? Why? Because ordinary everyday heroes handle problems either instinctively or through trial and error to get their jobs done.
The smartest and best managers and leaders have developed the ability to discover extraordinary employees right under their noses.
Earlier in my speaking career, I had a conversation with three of my attendees during a break in my seminar. This is the best way for speakers to develop their repertoire.
Joyce Ward was with Shore Intermediate Maintenance Activities, a Navy organization that fixed ships.
She told me, “As a Business Performance Officer, I go out and work with the shops, focusing on teamwork.
“In 1994, I was working with my first team, our lifeboat repair shop. These rafts hang on the decks of ships and need to be inflated in an emergency. However, the failure rate in 1994 was 40%. After we asked some questions, we dropped the failure rate to 1% or less by the year 2000. How did we do this?
“We looked at the processes and made a flow chart. We kept track of who was working on what so we could spot where the errors were occurring. When we did this, we discovered one extraordinary employee whose work was always perfect. There was no failure rate for Joey.
“We decided to observe Joey carefully to figure out what he was doing right. We watched and watched but couldn’t see that he was doing anything different from the other workers. Then we decided to videotape him and asked him to describe what he was doing as he did each step. We encouraged the other members of the team to observe, reminding them that they or their family might be the ones needing a lifeboat in an emergency.
“The entire team was there watching. At one point, Joey said, ‘And now I fold the valve under.’
“‘Wait!’ another team member said. ‘But we fold it toward the top. Why are you folding it underneath?’
“Joey said, ‘Because it lies flatter, and there is less chance that it could be broken when the life raft is compressed into the little package.’
“Joey was a young man who was low on the totem pole. What he taught us was that you have to listen to the kids down on the deck. They often are the ones who innovate and solve what in this case was a major problem.
“We ask the teams to define problems and describe what they’ve done to solve it. After we collect their answers, we brief the executive officers who can make it happen. Then they make recommendations to leaders who can bring about a permanent change. Joey’s idea became the department standard for the entire Navy. (He also received an award of $2500.)
“And thanks to Joey and our asking the right questions, your chances of having a working lifeboat have risen to 99% or more.”
“Your talents as a speech coach have helped me craft my story so well I have delivered it on the MDRT main platform 3 times as well as countless other stages around the globe. Always your raving fan.” John Nichols, President, Acrisure Insurance Wholesale Solutions
“Patricia Fripp’s super-power is she can listen to a superb presentation and find ways to make it even better.” Krister Ungerböck, Author of Talk Shifts