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The Day Job – The Call

Old phone

     I’ve received some pretty darn interesting phone calls over the years, usually at odd hours. Here are some examples:

     “Chief, I’m fleeing the scene right now. The police are looking for me. I’ll call you when I get someplace safe.”

     “Chief, I woke up on a park bench in Mexico. I don’t know how I got here, and I don’t know where the border is.”

     “Chief, the wildfires are across the street. We’re evacuating to someplace safe.”

     I have many more examples, but I think you get the point and the rest are less fun to write about.

     When things go truly south in the ‘worst case scenario’ sort of way, I get the call.
Well, I hope to get the call, because when the chips are down for someone, it’s part of my job to make things that suck hopefully suck slightly less. When I get this call, I can rally the team and get things moving in the right direction. When I don’t get the call, things usually go from bad to worse.

     And yes, when bad news is knocking on someone’s door, I need to get the call, but that’s not the only time.

     We have a number of stressors in our lives associated with being functional adults in society. Relationships need to be maintained, bills need to be paid, and sometimes lessons need to be learned about things like managing debt, work life balance, and defining ourselves as adults. Let’s sprinkle some family drama in there, just to spice things up. On top of these regular adult stressors, there are also professional stressors. For us in the military, those can seem pretty drastic, but being a college student brings an entirely different set, and so do most other professions.

     The fun thing about these competing stressors is that they don’t usually make room for one another or coordinate which stress will arrive when. More often than not, they just kind of dog-pile on top of us. When this happens, it’s easy to lose focus and momentum on our goals, which is when really I need to get the call.

     When it’s all boiled down, I’m a resource guy. I know where the resources are, and I know who to call to get them. When I know what resources people need, I can pick up my magic phone and connect the dots to make people successful, or in this case, keep them from becoming grandly unsuccessful.

     I see a fair amount of disciplinary moments in my line of work, and after about a decade, I’ve realized the trend. It was only this year that I could start speaking intelligently about it. Two thirds of all the disciplinary stuff I deal with start first as one of those personal stressors. When those personal stresses aren’t resolved, be they financial, relationship, or life balance in nature, they become professional problems when people start making bad decisions. When that happens, I have to be the bad guy and deal with it.  

     When things start getting out of balance, make the call, and make it early. I’d much rather get people resources and invest some time into getting them back to normal now vice punishing them later. Getting in trouble is not some right of passage we all need to go through. Even two years after I started writing this series, I still tell my people the same thing: Be proud of your service, be proud of the uniform you wear, but please don’t be too proud to ask for help.

     With any luck, people can make the call while things are just a little off balance instead of calling me when they’re fleeing the scene. The hard part, I’ve found, is somehow making people understand that they can call, even when things get messy, and I’ll do my best to make things a little better. How we do that has a lot to do with connection and trust in the organization, which we can’t start working on once the bad stuff happens. We have to start on that early and keep at it every day.

– Have you ever gotten the call from someone when things had already gotten a bit messy?

– Have you seen yourself heading down that path and made the call for help early?

– Looking back on some discipline, either yours or someone else’s, have you seen how unresolved personal stressors can lead to some bad professional decisions?

Have a great week out there.

– JT

Related articles:

Make it suck less
Be proud, but not too proud
What only you can do
I can be the bad guy

My good thing: My parents will be here this week, which is about as good as it gets.

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2 Responses

  1. Robert Hemmnigway says:

    As a retired military law enforcement officer I have seen many episodes similar to the ones mentioned in this article. Usually when I got the call that there was a problem the situation had deteriorated to a point where the UCMJ must be applied. Several times when I looked into the matter I found instances where effective leadership could have prevented the problem from reaching my desk. Then, the leadership wants to intervene and solve the problem at the lowest level. Sometimes I took their advice, other times I felt it necessary to apply my influence because the situation required it. Many times my decision was swayed by the leadership and the environment they created and maintained for the Sailors under their leadership, When people feel free to share their problems with those over them the problems can be resolved before they spiral out of control.

    • admin says:

      Thanks, Robert,
      You’re absolutely right. Things don’t need to turn into big problems if leadership makes their people realize that none of us are in this alone. Again, it’s about connection and trust.


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