A Lesson To Live By
Since my entire career has been in this great construction industry, you all know how critical pride is to our employees, our work and ourselves. Being a craftsman, with the enviable ability to look back at a job well done, permeates pride throughout every bone in our bodies. I never had to really learn that lesson because it was a God-given trait I inherited from my Pap, who was a very proud craftsman. Learning how to become a proud man was the toughest part of that lesson, which began for me on the very first day I went to grade school.
You need to know the situation and circumstances surrounding my grade school years to understand the importance of this first lesson:
- My grade school days covered eight years: the first four from 1937 to 1941 during the Great Depression and the last four during World War II from 1941 to 1945.
- I was the ninth Ridilla in Pap’s immediate family to attend Baggley School. My siblings were all very intelligent and excellent students. This was a tough act to follow.
- We wore hand-me-down clothes.
- We had to walk one full mile through Pennsylvania’s winter weather to get there.
All of those negatives disappeared when I walked into the first grade classroom and Miss Hough gave me a big hug and welcomed me into her class. She told all of the other children I would be a good example for each of them to follow. My brother, George, was in her class the previous year and he had told her I was “even smarter” than he. Imagine what a proud little man that made me! But the important part of that first grade lesson involved how hard and diligently I worked to live up to those proud and enviable standards.
The next piece of the lesson came on the very last day of my second grade school year. Because of the Depression and our large family of 13 kids, we were all working on my Pap’s home building construction sites. Mostly due to Pap’s personal pride, he decided to put George and me on the payroll for any hours we worked. Since George was already 9 years old and I wasn’t even going to be 8 until August, you know how proud I felt. Pap said he wasn’t quite sure I was ready, but he had faith in me. That was all that it took. I gave every inch, every hour of every day. I worked my butt off and proudly loved every minute of those working hours, along with bragging about it to my friends.
But there was even more I learned about pride — what I now refer to as “second hand praise.” Pap never told us we did a good job. He wasn’t very good about giving compliments or apologizing when he was wrong. Fortunately, for him and us, he would always brag about what we did to everyone else. We were always proud to hear those compliments and consequently continued to work our butts off to earn them.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and America went to war, we no longer were building houses. We were now building war plants and retrofitting existing factories to produce guns, grenades and ammunition for the war effort. This required longer hours every evening and weekends, but the industrial work was far more exciting and challenging. George and I both played a big part in helping America win World War II and we were still in grade school. Is that pride, or what?
To some of you this may seem like a “sweatshop” or child abuse. Not so. We enjoyed being allowed to work side-by-side with qualified grown men.
Pap was very competitive. He had to be just to survive in the Depression and raise 13 children. He never complained about his plight, but he used some effective management methods I learned and have used for over half a century:
- He set a daily goal before we started each task. We always knew how much we needed to produce to earn our wages. (This is a good lesson for everybody.)
- Waste not. Want not. We learned to take care of tools, equipment, materials and even nails, bolts, nuts, washers, etc. All of these materials were expensive and we didn’t have enough money to replace them.
- Your name goes on your work. A craftsman’s work is always neat, plumb, level, square and parallel, and it takes longer to do it over than it does to do it right. If our quality was not up to Pap’s standards, he made us tear it down and do it over. That’s another good lesson to follow.
- Never rush into something without checking for safety. You cannot save enough time to compensate for getting injured or hurting someone else.
- Whistle while you work. Pap knew the cost and negative effect of low morale. Pap always said, “If you’re not smiling, you are not dressed for work.”
Pap treated all of his employees as though they were part of his family. He sincerely cared about their personal welfare and they knew it. He paid as high a wage as he could possibly afford. He would lend them money to help with serious debts, or for building their own homes. He believed owning your own home and a pickup truck was critical for a proud craftsman. All of our employees would volunteer to help build a house for any employee.
Pap’s personal involvement with those employees created an old-fashioned loyalty most of today’s contractors cannot understand. He didn’t even know what turnover meant. He never had an ad in the paper for help because he couldn’t begin to hire all of his proud employees’ friends and family who wanted to work for him. This old-fashioned loyalty still works today.
Pap was also very aware of two big potential negatives with building and maintaining personal pride:
You cannot have pride without respect. If your friends or peers do not respect you, how proud can you be? He always stressed bragging about people in public and criticizing privately.
Negative peer pressure is very powerful and can be quite damaging.
Pap always buddied up each new employee with a positive mentor to assure that neither of these negatives would ever restrict or overshadow his diligent efforts and pride. He also knew positive peer pressure would challenge an employee to do his best to reach or live up to his standards.
I’d say that “Add pride to his life, his work will show it” was definitely the most important lesson I ever learned. Thank God I had the good fortune and opportunity to learn it at such an early age and use it throughout my career. I hope this lesson will add a little pride to your own lives, as well as those who work with you during 1999 and into our next century.
Happy New Year!