CHARACTER IS FIRST IN
“Character arrives before reputation and anything else.” Me.
For many years, I worked part time for an oil company. I pumped gas, delivered fuel oil (pulled the hose) to homes and businesses and drove a tractor trailer. Sometimes I delivered gasoline to service stations or I hauled fuel oil from the corporate terminals in Richmond to our facility.
I didn’t realize that I was recalling character lessons, life lessons, while working there; I just thought I was making a salary. Sometimes by looking back we gain a clearer view of the road ahead and then we share the directions with those who have not started their journey, in their boots.
The oil company was founded and owned by a man who held a full time job in the city. He had people who managed the oil company while he was away and he worked nights and weekends building and growing his oil business.
I took pride in working hard, taking care of the oil trucks and not causing fuel spills on customer’s property. I didn’t make more money for hustling but it made the time go by faster and it gave me self satisfaction to try to be as good as I could be, to make the place where I worked better, even if I was just a part time employee.
One day the company owner called me aside and he told me this story. On a bitter cold winter day he had taken off from his regular job and was in the back room of the oil company performing inventory. He overheard one of his employees giving me my home delivery tickets for the day and saying to me “while you are out, stop by your house and fill the tank, the owner will never know.” I kept listening as the owner told me how impressed and proud he was when I told the other employee that “I signed on to work for the company, not to steal from it.”
The important thing about this story is that even though I barely remembered the incident, it was remembered many years after it occurred. I had established where I stood and what I stood for and character arrived first.
It was a bitter cold day when I parked the tractor trailer at the loading rack of the terminal. I connected to grounding system and the fill pipe. I opened my thermos and poured a bit of coffee into my cup. I went into the load shack and began to load the tanker.
I was leaning on the dead man switch, overlooking the posted terminal rules when the terminal manager entered the shack and asked me if I could read. I assured him that I could read and he proceeded to tell me that I had violated his terminal rules by drinking coffee while loading. He was very angry and threatened to ban me from his terminal for any future failure to obey rules. I apologized and he stormed out.
As fate would have it, several weeks later we were dispatched to the same terminal for a spill. I arrived and spoke with the terminal operations (yard) manager who assured me of his ability to move the spilled fuel into the oil/water separator without further danger. I had come to know the yard manager and I trusted his word and his expert abilities.
As I was removing my gear and preparing to leave the spill incident, the terminal manager approached me. He thanked me for our response and for the low profile management of the incident. He then asked me why I had not told him who I was when we had last talked in the load shack.
My answer to him was simple. I told him that he knew exactly who I was in the load shack; I was the driver who violated his terminal rules. I said goodbye and left the scene.
All of us have character and I write these stories not to glorify mine. I have many faults. The purpose of the story is to say that whether we like it or not, our character is always first in. Our reputation, our skills, our training and our shadow all follow, but our character is first in. The good news is that character development is a long distance haul.
Take pride in all that you do, people remember.
Come to work prepared to make a difference, on every delivery.
You may be just pulling the hose, but pulling it correctly, and not making a mess, will build and grow your company.
Even part timers can make a difference.
Come to know your yard managers and trust them. That’s important.
My life influences and the pieces of my character puzzle differ from yours. Both are of equal value and deserve periodic review.
“There has to be something more than money …” First Deputy Commissioner William Feehan, FDNY
Thanks for reading.
Have a great day – it’s a GREAT day for it.