Growing up, I was like most kids. All I cared about was horsing around and having fun. I also, like most kids, had people I looked up to for how they were living their lives. For example, I saw my dad work hard to provide for our family of seven. There also was my grandfather on my mom’s side, who did so much for us grandchildren. He took us hunting and fishing all the time and even was the one who gave me my nickname, “Rip.” Then there was my older brother, Bob, whose every step I watched and tried to imitate, even though he was four years older. Bob was good at everything he did, from schoolwork to music and sports. Following his example while growing up kept me out of trouble most of the time and helped me to keep working hard at my goals.
These people in my life, and especially my brother, demonstrated so many important lessons. By being around them and watching them, I learned how important it is to set a good example for others. In the Bible, the apostle Paul told Titus at Titus 2:7 to “show yourself to be an example of fine works in every way.” Getting married and becoming a father and now a grandfather, I’ve tried to follow that advice as much as possible with my own family.
I also tried to follow that advice during my 31 years of being an electrical lineman at a cooperative in Minnesota, and I’m still trying now as a safety specialist for the Minnesota Rural Electric Association. If you are a lineworker who is in a position of leadership, remember that someone is always watching you when you are working. That is why you must consider the example you are setting for apprentices and other junior workers. Specifically, here are five questions to ask yourself to help identify whether you are setting a good example.
1. Do I follow instructions? When I am given a job to do, do I find ways in which to change the job to fit what I want, or do I follow the instructions given to me? Remember, someone will be watching how you do the job, and they likely will have to do a similar job in the future – maybe without you. Will you like the way they do it then? Will they do it the safe, correct way?
2. Am I safe? Do I follow safe work practices when performing a task, or do I take shortcuts? If you waver on safe work practices, you send a message that no one really has to follow the safety rules. Additionally, your shortcuts eventually will hurt you or someone else on your crew; it is just a matter of time.
3. Do I teach? Do I allow an apprentice to do some of the work, or do I do it all because I can get it done faster? After being in the business for a long time, many journeymen can certainly do the job faster than an apprentice, yet apprentices will never learn if we don’t let them. Allow them to do the jobs and, more importantly, tell them why those jobs are being done. Talk through the choices being made as well as the potentially poor outcomes. This is an opportunity for you to share what you have learned along the way.
4. Do I commend? When an apprentice does well, do I tell them so? We sometimes forget to tell people the good and safe jobs they do each day because too often we are focused only on what they are doing wrong. If you don’t think you are doing enough commending, then make it a point to offer at least one positive comment to your apprentice each day.
5. Do I correct? When an apprentice does something wrong, do I let them know and tell them why it was wrong in a constructive way? How you perform this action is almost as important as doing it in the first place. Use an error as a teachable moment, not a reprimand. If you’ve made the same mistake in the past, let the apprentice know that and provide any tips you have to help them remember how to do it the right way.
Shape Your Safety Culture
Setting a good example is such an important part of the job for a senior lineworker because it helps to shape the safety culture for future generations of lineworkers. A foreman I had early in my career would always ask how I would do the different jobs we were assigned. I thought that was so unusual because he was some 25 years older than I was. We usually did the job his way, but sometimes I would have a good idea and we would do the job my way. He took the time to teach and listen; he was like my big brother.
I have been fortunate to have many good role models in my life, and I have learned from every one of them, especially my brother. When working with a new and inexperienced lineworker, don’t feel that you are saddled with the new kid. Instead, think of being an older sibling and set a good example by doing things the right, safe way. Not only will you feel good about yourself, but you will be helping to create a safety culture that will be passed on for years to come.
About the Author: Terry Ehli is a retired lineworker who was employed by the Traverse Electric Association in Minnesota for over 30 years. He now shares his experience, knowledge and skills with other lineworkers in Minnesota as a safety specialist for the Minnesota Rural Electric Association, which serves 50 rural electric cooperatives in the state.
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