Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Audacity To Oppugn The One Armed Bandit, And The Importance Of Good Leadership

I remember sitting in the lavish Captain's Office back on the old cable ship when the office was a spacious auspicious chamber worthy of a time when ships were built to reflect a certain elevated status. With magnificent views of the sea from 100 feet up both fore and aft you were pressed to just gaze out the portholes, but back then I knew that I was merely a fleeting guest. I never felt at ease on the Captains deck in spite of his upholstered armchairs, massive oak desk, custom painted ship oils on the walls, and I never stayed longer than my five minutes of dialogue required.

We were in the midst of a contentious debate about the risk and rewards of seeking a new crew member.

You see in those days it took about 120 people to perform all of the duties of laying fiber optic cable round the clock for three months to connect one side of the Atlantic Ocean to the other. The cable ship housed five departments; deck, engine, steward, transmission, and splicer/joiners. I belonged to the deck department where there 3 Thirds, 3 Seconds, a First Mate, Chief Mate and the Captain. The deck department, as we were collectively known, maintained every ship board requirement that took place above the water line. The ships were always at sea and we had a difficult time retaining Thirds (the lowest ranking Officer position) because it was a demanding job where you frequently out on a cold, wet, hard steel deck performing a boring monotonous task with someone who out ranked you always looking over your shoulder barking orders. It was an intensely hustling-bustling high pressure job as compared to the rest of the Third Mate jobs in the other merchant going fleets. A Third Mate on a cable ship had to have a brain, a back, computer skills, work 12 hour days, and you were at sea for the majority of your rotation time, versus the traditional cargo ships who were quietly at sea or in a different port every few days. All of the old salty mates with experience in what the normal side of shipping looked like quit before the our ship ever left the dock. That left us with green, right out of school, newly minted Thirds. If they were willing to stay after they got a day or two on the job the Captain was very inclined to settle for any warm willing body, than to take a chance on re-hiring someone who would quit and leave us one man short for a three month voyage.

Me, Third Mate, and Noah, my brother visiting in Portsmouth, NH.

I always argued this tactic.

My reasoning was that I would rather walk up to a slot machine pull the one armed bandit and take a chance on hitting the jackpot than to sit at a table where you know the house will never deal you a winning hand. If that bandit spits out a dud fire them at the first port of call, go back, sit down, throw in another nickel, pull the lever, try again. Until by chance, luck, and sheer loss of numerous failures, one Third Mate walks up the gangway that measures up to the rigorous standards you assign. Why keep lowering your standards, settling for sub par and jeopardize the project, the crew, and the already long voyage?

My home for 7 years.
I left the cable ships after 10 years, but I still remain stuck in this mind-set. I am not afraid to try to find someone who measures up no matter how long it takes me or how many people I send packing down the gangway. What I am unwilling to do is waiver on my expectations and jeopardize my crew and my clients.

The Engineers, the heart of every ship and always the most entertaining.

So here I stand, now Master of  my own veterinary clinic, in charge of the hiring, firing, and course we take.

My obligation to my crew remains what it always has been;
I am responsible for the integrity of this business, the safety and well-being of every member and guest aboard, and I know that there may be days of stormy winds, treacherous seas, and forces beyond our ability to predict, but no matter what life or the sea throws at us I will never leave the bridge and will never abandon the souls I am entrusted to care for.

First Mate, on work boat buoy ops.
How do I explain to my clients why there is a change in my crew? Why do I go through so many Thirds? Well, just like on those ships, I have rigorous high expectations, and sometimes it just doesn't work out. There are a few great long time staff members who remain with me, and a few who are happier on ships with different articles, ports of call, and Captains.

After a decade with the same shipping company and almost a decade at Jarrettsville Vet you realize that these two places are like many of the rest of the places we all work at, your job is your home away from home. I have a family of people who I love dearly, some who I no longer sail with, but who will always be a apart of who I am, who I learned from and who shaped me into the leader I am now. And now I have a family that I work with under a roof cemented to terra firma who I remain fiercely loyal to keeping and maintaining in a place that  fulfills their purpose, passion, and is a happy, healthy,  on a daily basis.

I know that most veterinary consultants recommend that anyone thinking of owning their own veterinary clinic take a few business classes, and yes, having some business acumen is incredibly helpful, but I think that after 9 years of own practice I would say that leadership skills are paramount to any other.

If you have a pet question please ask me on

If you have a dog or a cat that needs exemplary veterinary attention please visit me at Jarrettsville Vet,

And, if you want to find me on Twitter I am @FreePetAdvice.

And if you think that the cable ship sea going life is the life for you, here's some information on it here.

For information on how to become a ships Master visit my journey here.

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