No Soup for You and Taking the Lead

It's that time of year at work where awards are given out to the most deserving of my fellow air traffic controllers. Not really. What I just said sounds good but in reality, the awards program is only designed to drive wedges between the workforce. I seriously doubt it will still be in place this time next year after an Obama administration has had a chance to give it more than two minutes of consideration.

Yesterday afternoon one of my friends at work was taken aside an hour before his shift ended and his weekend would begin, say nothing of it being New Year's Eve, and told that he'd be receiving no bonus money. His efforts weren't good enough. No soup for you. He'd finished in the money the previous year and gave the same effort this past year but it wasn't enough.

This blog entry belongs in the context of having just finished the Crew Resource Management class and my encounter with my Area Manager (AM) the next morning. I began working on this post back in November but shelved it as it was too depressing to think about. I had my year-end review yesterday as well and that prompted me to finish this post. It's an important message which needs to be heard.

My conversation with my AM was civil but I had a difficult time keeping my composure in the face of such utter hypocrisy and poor management decisions from himself and others. I began my talk with him by asking him if he'd attended the CRM class. He said he had and that he was one of the first persons to attend it. He almost seemed proud of that small fact. I asked him what part of the public lynching that he and the others had put me through last April was exemplary of the concepts being pushed in the CRM course? He paused a moment then stated that my situation was one of discipline and therefore not one where CRM would be utilized. I said that the only reason we were talking discipline was that the supervisor at the center of this (Doug Mark) had jumped the gun and elevated it to that status. Nobody asked for my input at all. No CRM for me.

I recounted for him how I'd tried to find Doug when I got out of the sector but he wasn't around. I was told he was in a meeting but I'm quite certain he'd found a nice quiet place to build his case against me. I went on to tell my AM how the first thing I did the next morning when I came into work was to ask to have a meeting with him, my supervisor and Doug to talk about the distraction Doug had created in the sector the day before when I was training Reid. I was told that there would be no meeting and that there was disciplinary action being taken against me. Oh really?

I told my AM that everything I did in the course of responding to management was textbook CRM but there was nothing in kind being utilized by management. I challenged Doug's poor plan at the sector; again, another technique taught in CRM. Yes, I offered resistance but his plan was so poor that it cried out for resistance. I told my AM that if given the same scenario today I'd respond the same way. I'd challenge Doug's poor plan again. We were talking live aircraft here and this was no time for chest-thumping.

I asked my AM why he didn't interview Rex and Barry as they were witnesses to what played out that day. I told him that had he interviewed them he would've heard something 180 degrees different from the story being told by Doug. He responded forcefully that he will always back his supervisors. Say what? "What about when you've got a 26-year veteran controller telling you something completely opposite" I asked. "I will always back my supervisors" he restated. "Didn't I deserve to have Rex and Barry interviewed?" I asked. Blank stare. I repeated my question again and he agreed that yes, I did deserve to have them interviewed.

I was upset after hearing him say after all this time and hassle for me that he was now finally admitting he should've interviewed Rex and Barry. I demanded an apology. If you have to demand an apology what good is it? I still wanted one. He responded with "Kevin, I'm sorry if you perceived...". That's as far as I'd let him get with it. I stopped him in mid-sentence and told him to forget it. I said that what he was about to say would be nothing but a hollow apology and that I didn't need it. I turned on my heels and left to go sign in.

After signing in I got together with my trainee to get into the sector but there was already training in progress so we went out on break. As I walked toward the front desk on my way out my AM saw me and got up out of his chair to meet me. Our conversation was far from over.

"Kevin, can we talk about this?"

"That's all I've ever wanted" I said.

I told him that I lost a lot of sleep over this issue and I was vacant for the better part of two weeks, maybe longer to my wife and daughter as I tried to come to terms with this train wreck of CRM meets heavy-handed FAA management with heavy-handed management winning out and the truth becoming a casualty.

I told him that I disagreed with him backing his supervisors no matter what, especially when this particular supervisor has a history of confrontation with those he works with. He responded that there have only been allegations of Doug being difficult to work with. Whatever. Everybody knows his reputation and for him to suggest that there were only allegations against Doug discredited anything more he would say to me.

I reminded my AM of the story I'd related to him about how this wasn't the first time Doug had wrongly accused me of disrespecting him.

I told my AM in so many words that my expectations of him were higher than what he was delivering. I thought he'd bring fairness to any sort of conflicts we'd have to work through in Area 5 but I couldn't have been more wrong. I said that the only leadership in this entire debacle was what was being provided by me. I asked why I was never given a meeting with Doug and himself. I said that was my one request in putting this behind me. He didn't have an answer. I told him that I thought CRM was all about coming together and discussing problems and finding solutions. All I ever wanted was to sit down and for all of us to put our cards on the table. What could be so hard about that? Why would Doug be reluctant to meet with me?

Everything I did in my endeavor to try and resolve this matter was just as the FAA's own Crew Resource Management class had taught and I hadn't even been to it yet when this was all going down.

I could see that there were some people in the periphery listening to all of this as we talked next to the watch desk in front of the control room but I didn't care. Let them know my side of the story because it's likely they may have heard the other version. My reputation is important to me and nobody else defines it for me.

I asked my AM what message did he send to Doug in all of this? A bewildered look came across his face. He didn't get it. I told him that by backing Doug the way he did he had emboldened him to do the same thing to some other poor unsuspecting individual who's out there just trying to do their job and that Doug knows he'll have management's support. I said that I didn't think that was a good thing but it's where we are.

I closed by telling him that as long as his only interest lies in defending management's flag there can be no CRM ideals practiced in our area and that it was past time to move beyond his doing just that.

To his credit, he offered me a more sincere apology and we shook hands.

I'd always assumed early on in my career that I'd one day find myself in a supervisory position but it wasn't meant to be. I have respect for others and I stand up for what is right, not for what side I may be on. I wouldn't be a good fit for today's FAA management team and that's definitely their loss.


John A Hill said…
The only thing that I could get from becoming an FAA supervisor is fired.

I just couldn't follow their lead when it comes to complete disregard of the men and women that they are supposed to supervise.

I'd tell them they were being stupid. I wouldn't back down from that position. I would be fired.
Kevin Gilmore said…
I think we'd be in the same boat, John.

Any organization is better served by encouraging differing points of view and not stiffling that through fear of reprisals.

We have a very small minority of supes who are sympathetic toward our cause but when asked none of them have written any letters expressing that concern. Is that out of apathy or fear?

My problem is that I'm a reasonable person and I expect that other people are as well. It's frustrating for me to come to terms with being wrong about that belief in the workplace.
Anonymous said…
Feel better Kev?

So, are you apart of the zero club? I think everyone in Stevie's crew is going to get a zero this year.

We are the area of misfit controllers.

Kevin Gilmore said…
Pdog...didn't you see the photo I included with the post? I'm a point sixer. I only included that because what it says totally goes against what it was xxxx was writing me up for.
Kevin Gilmore said…
Oh, yes, I feel better.
Anonymous said…
I think XXX is the same sup who accused me of defrauding the government before he talked to me and found out the truth about the situation. He was wrong then also!!
Anonymous said…
Nope, I didn't read the pic, but I have now.

You are a super employee MR. GILMORE!

You know you don't get to hang out with Tim and I anymore since your not a ZERO, right?
Kevin Gilmore said…
I wonder if calling in sick for an evening shift so you can speak before the city council is considered defrauding government?

Are we really concerned about 'running it like a business' at work because if we are I can think of somebody who is getting Sunday pay for a job that can be done Monday through Friday on admin hours.

The hypocrisy is too much some times.

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