Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lincoln Lesson

A post on my friend Bill's blog (Cycleguy's Spin) told of the story of one of Abraham Lincoln's earliest political enemies. Edwin Stanton called Lincoln a "low cunning clown" and the "original gorilla". However, President Lincoln decided to choose Stanton as his Secretary of War. Just a few years later, when Stanton stood over the coffin containing the president's body he said, "There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen." I recently had a similar turnaround, that I have referred to as my own "Lincoln Lesson".

Several years ago, the lab where I work decided to bring in a team from another lab that had developed a very sophisticated piece of equipment. This equipment was well known in my field as having a great deal of promise that never quite materialized. The promise was so great that it became an unquenchable vacuum sucking in resources and manpower. So, when the group came to my lab and was made a part of my group, their arrival caused me concern. To top it off, to have sufficient time to modify and upgrade the equipment, the entire group was excused from the service work the rest of the group was assigned. As was expected, shortly after the group's arrival, the giant vacuum was engaged and great amounts of money and personnel were reassigned to make this equipment work. This really soured my opinion of this enterprise and the man who was the group leader.

The piece of equipment was ultimately installed early last winter and it certainly lived up to its reputation. Its performance promise was sky high, yet it just never got to the point where it delivered on this promise. However, I watched from my sideline position as every member of this team worked hundred-hour weeks and dealt with all of the incidents along the way. I came to know the group leader as a very smart and patient man. He endured all of the issues with the equipment, but also, as the public face of the group, endured the enormous pressure from the management and government folks who had backed this whole venture. He handled it all with grace and dignity and skill. He impressed me, melted away my animosity, and earned my respect. The other day as I was sitting in my office with these thoughts in my head, it seemed better to give them voice, to go over and talk with him, and that is just what I did.