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Let's Be Frank: Be the Leader You Would Follow

By Inspector Frank. December 26, 2019
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Editor’s Note:

Writing under the pseudonym Inspector Frank, the author of this column offers a first-hand, candid view of what he has witnessed throughout his career. His purpose in sharing these experiences and opinions is to encourage readers to think deeper about what they do, why they do it, and the possible impact of their decisions.


Inspectioneering is committed to protecting the anonymity of pseudonymous authors. We do, however, hold these contributors to the same editorial standards as those writing under their own name. In this, we know the author’s identity and maintain communications regarding the author’s published works. If you have any questions, feedback, or concerns stemming from this article, please send an email to befrank@inspectioneering.com and we will forward your correspondence to the appropriate party.

I once worked with a chief inspector who refused to hire anyone who had any National Board inspection certifications. “Why?”, you might ask. I had the same question, and when I asked, his response was “Because anyone with National Board is gunning for my job.”

I remember thinking, even as a relatively new member of the integrity world, that an attitude like that was going to knock out some seriously good candidates. Then I started discovering that this kind of bad management attitude was relatively common in the industrial world.

I have always figured that if I’m doing my job well as a supervisor or project manager, then there should come a time when I am almost irrelevant to carrying out of the actual job functions or day-to-day responsibilities of the team. Maybe it’s just my laziness talking, but I would much rather be in charge of something that functions properly without my interference or meddling than something that requires my constant input or oversight. Micromanagement seems like a lot of work. 

In contrast to the above person, I also worked with a manager who had the quote “If you want to appear smart, surround yourself with people smarter than you” hung on the wall behind his desk. He lived by that quote and fostered a very teamwork-driven environment where people felt appreciated. He tried to hire the brightest and most driven individuals he could to work under him. Were some of them gunning for promotion? Probably all of them. Did that bother him? Not in the least.

When I first started working with him, we had an issue with a tubular inspection contracting company. They had performed some eddy current inspections and informed us that the majority of the tubes tested were showing indications ranging from 40-75% through wall. Well, finding that out in the middle of an outage made no one terribly happy. In a panic, we replaced the air condenser (fin fan) at great cost. The problem was when we cut up the old bundle to confirm tubular results, the tube walls had minimal-to-no corrosion.

This manager – who had just hired me – then said, “go take care of this.” I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly, so I did everything I could think of as the new guy trying to impress. 

I started by holding meetings with the inspection company to establish a path forward that would ensure better inspections in the future. A couple of meetings in, I found out they had no interest in anything but blaming everyone else. So, I recommended we cut them loose, which is exactly what happened.

Then the obvious problem came up, how do we select a new tubular company in such a way that we have some faith in them? I got a small team of peers together to come up with an answer. We developed and manufactured a test bundle and procedure to ensure potential tubular testing companies were at least somewhat competent by meeting a minimum detection and assessment threshold.

We ran techs and analysts through this test as part of the contract award system and hired a tubular inspection company that turned out to be a much better fit. We trusted the competency and expertise of their technicians and built a long-term working relationship with the company as a result. 

As an aside, I may write a whole other article on how running NDE tech competency tests in various forms throughout my career has led me to find out how many ‘certified’ techs aren’t truly competent at their job. Although, I am not sure I would want all the hate mail from the NDE companies.

At the end of this tubular adventure, the manager was happy, said “good job”, and kept throwing stuff my way, while more or less leaving me to my own devices. He would support and mentor when needed but didn’t stick his nose into everything I was working on. It made me a very content and productive employee.

To counter that, here is an example of a time that I didn’t enjoy as much. In this instance, I had a separate supervisor who also left me to my own devices. He would assign me tasks or projects above and beyond my core duties. No big deal. Unfortunately, in this case, I should have probably had more direction as I was junior and definitely not competent. When I invariably made a mistake, instead of supporting and mentoring me, he hung me out to dry. He acted like I had gone ‘rogue’ and not followed his excellent advice and, as you do with problem employees, had me up on some disciplinary action. He then told upper management that he had dealt with ‘the problem employee’ and definitely put some effort into selling himself as a manager who was being decisive and able to handle personnel issues. Although, I’m not so sure he succeeded in selling that message to his superiors. The message that really came through loud and clear was to the team he led. That message was that as your supervisor, I am incompetent, untrustworthy, and I don’t have your back…

Needless to say, that team dismantled itself as personnel moved to other areas or left the company altogether. That particular supervisor eventually went on to become a consultant, although, not one with a good reputation.

Another interesting contrast in management styles was demonstrated to me by two different levels of management at the same time. I was working on an emergency outage that involved a tube leak in a heat exchanger. It was a reactor effluent/reactor feed exchanger in a hydrotreater, and as it turned out, the leak was the result of one carbon steel tube being installed in a 5-chrome bundle. While we were trying to figure out and rectify the issue, I noticed my direct supervisor and his manager behaving in two very different ways. 

My direct supervisor met with me the morning after we shut down (I had spent most of the night working beside the trades as they disassembled and then started leak testing the bundle). When he met with me, all he had to say was how this problem had to be dealt with immediately as it was costing the company a lot of money in lost production. I didn’t see him the rest of that day (or evening for that matter). The second morning, he met with me (after we had figured out the problem with the tube and started the repair path), and all he had to say was that I had better have documented all of this very well and to make sure I didn’t hold up any of the work. He barely acknowledged any of the work I had just done to help keep production going or the extra time I had just put in.

In contrast, my supervisor’s manager showed up the first night at midnight with coffee for the crews working on the problem. He also stayed and helped with some of the grunt work for about 30 minutes or so before thanking us all and leaving. When the problem was solved, he published a thank you letter in the company newsletter that recognized those involved by name.

None of this is meant to say I believe management is easy. To the contrary, leading people, projects, or departments is difficult. So, why do we all seem to find managing personnel to be hard? I obviously don’t have all of the answers, but, in my experience, there are some similarities shared between leaders I admire. I’ve come to see these similarities as fundamental rules of effective leaders. The basic rules are pretty simple:

  1. Remember the good managers you had. Try to act like they did.
  2. Remember the bad managers you had. Do not do the things they did.
  3. Try to hire, recruit, or steal the best and brightest personnel you can, and let them do their thing.
  4. Own up to your mistakes – including in front of your own team when necessary, and try to correct what you have done.
  5. Always have the back of your team in front of upper management and other departments. Deal with the team issues yourself, within the team.
  6. Delegate everything you can and need to, but do not pass the buck on what is your responsibility or job. Do not shy away from hard decisions or difficult conversations. That is the major part of your job.
  7. When assigning work no one wants, pop in and help out now and then. That way your team knows you are ready, willing, and able to take on even the crappy work that needs to be done.
  8. Throw your ego out the window. Nobody respects or wants to work for the person who is in charge because they are just so bloody amazing. You are a human. You will make mistakes. You had better learn from them and stay humble in the knowledge you will never be perfect.

You all know the saying that most people don’t quit their job; they quit their boss. Try to be the boss you would want to work for. At the very least, try not to be the one that drives everyone away.

I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes that have stuck with me over the years. These are the words of famed advertising executive David Ogilvy. Ogilvy was a pioneer in the modern advertising industry and is often credited as the “Father of Advertising.”

''If you ever find a man who is better than you are – hire him. If necessary, pay him more than you would pay yourself.''

''If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.''


Comments and Discussion

Posted by Syed Zafer Sayeedi on January 28, 2020
I agree with the author. Inspection job not only... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by Juan Francisco Arias Ramirez on January 28, 2020
I enjoyed to read this article. I agreee with the... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by Adam Guidry on March 20, 2020
Great Article! Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by Praveen M N on June 29, 2020
Beautifully written! Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

(Inspectioneering) Posted by Inspector Frank on June 29, 2020
Thank-you. Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

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