Sunday, June 1, 2014

Leading by Doing Less

As I reported two blogs ago (A Chip Off the Old Block), I'm immersed in constructing a 12,000-gal cistern for Sandhill these days, and we're entering a crucial phase where I'm trying to complete construction of the walls (14 courses of concrete blocks high) before it gets dark Monday.

There are two steps remaining, each of which takes a day: a) grouting courses 8-14; and b) surface bonding both the interior and exterior of the block walls. Once both of these are done, the cistern is safe against cave-ins and the excavation can be backfilled. I'll be departing for a two-week junket to VA & NC early Tuesday morning (during while I'll set down my persona as cementitious maestro and assume my other identity as process consultant/community networker) and I dare not place the project on pause for a fortnight unless its proof against cave-ins.

The grouting is slated for today and that's relatively straight forward. The crew has already been through this for courses 1-7 and they know the drill. Also, if we get some showers today (there's a 40% chance by this afternoon) it won't cause a problem. Grout is pretty soupy anyway and won't be appreciably affected by water tempering contributed by Mother Nature—unless we get a frog drowner.

The bigger worry is tomorrow. Surface bonding will take all day and can't be done in the rain. Unfortunately, Weather Underground says there's a whopping 60% chance of thunderbumpers at dawn Tuesday, with chances for rain gradually diminishing to 20% over the course of the day. Not good. But maybe we'll squeak by.

As the honcho of this project, the biggest difference for me from when I did a cistern for Ma'ikwe three years ago, is that my back can't take the heavy lifting as well, and my right knee is still somewhat gimpy from overextending it in Sept 2012. I still have all the knowledge needed to honcho; I just can't do as much of the work.

It used to be that I'd never ask someone to do things I wouldn't do myself, and I could basically teach construction by the monkey-see-monkey-do technique. With some things (for example, electrical wiring or wood carving) I can still do that. But when it comes to heavy construction I need to give way to stronger backs and more limber bodies. I don't like it, but it's silly to pretend otherwise. Now when someone on the crew offers to do more of the lifting, I accept.

I'm still tired at the end of the day, but I can get out of bed the day after when I don't indulge in sure-I-can-lift-that-bag-of-cement macho stupidity.

To be clear, I am still the one who:
o  Lays out the sequence of steps for the work.
o  Anticipates what equipment we'll need beforehand (so we can find ours, borrow a neighbor's, or buy one).
o  Determines acceptable quality standards for each phase—it's trickier than you think!
o  Explains why we do things the way we do. Occasionally a new person has an innovation that improves our work (its accuracy or efficiency) but mostly I'm explaining why the new idea is not going to work well.
o  Thinks ahead to how large the crew needs to be each day so the scheduler knows how many people to secure and for how long.
o  Orders the exotic materials that cannot be procured locally.
o  Manages what we can do in the rain, and what needs to be halted.

So it's not as if I've suddenly been put out to pasture. I just can't do everything any more, and am (reluctantly) learning to accept that, as well as embracing different ways of leading.

I tell you, this getting older stuff is not for sissies.

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