Lead, follow, or get out of the way

March 1, 2000
Our recent disaster proved the value of leadership, teamwork, and assuring that the nonperformers stay out of the way

At 4:20 a.m. on Saturday morning last January 28, a 36-in. water main under the street outside our office building suddenly ruptured, turning tranquillity into bedlam. With explosive force, a 24-in. hole released a stream of water that hurled rocks and pieces of pavement through 19 of our office windows on the second, third, and fourth floors of the Diamond Building, where Penton occupies eight floors.

After the solid projectiles broke the windows, water poured into the offices for 90 minutes and flowed across the floors until it could find an opening. Much of the water exited the building on the other side from where it entered. This left our offices looking as if each had been sprayed with a garden hose, fully open, for 3 or 4 days. Saturated files and worthless furniture became the norm.

Within a few hours after the water was stopped, those who should lead, led. They contacted companies specializing in disaster recovery, telephone communications, computer sales and rental, and many other services.

Penton editorial staffs rely on computers for writing the words, through all the art functions, to making the negatives that are used for producing the printing plates. Thus, computers are critical to producing each magazine. These computers are the responsibility of Penton’s Publishing Technologies Dept.

If ever there is an organization that turned the drenched remnants of a networked system in one building into an operating computer system in another building faster than anyone thought possible, it is that department. It is a textbook example of leaders accessing the needs, developing a plan, obtaining the resources, and empowering the personnel to use their judgments to get the job done. It shows what can de done — even in unplanned situations — when talented personnel lead, well-trained followers follow, and those who get in the way don’t make the team.

Many others in Penton (facility managers, communications personnel, and Penton Press persons) also performed Herculean efforts to achieve the common objective — enable the transplanted personnel to do their jobs. Equipping about 200 people in new offices in another building can’t be done with magic. It takes talent and organization. They had both, and did a fantastic job.

We extend our thanks to all the Penton teams that made this transition so efficient and timely that we haven’t missed a deadline.

Such events bring out the differences in people. Some rise to inspire others. For example, the president greeted people and answered their questions while maintaining a smile. What a tremendous tension reliever! As always in a large group, some, however, just couldn’t resist becoming obstructionists.

This whole episode clearly illustrates the wisdom of the rule: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Shouldn’t these apply to everyday activities as well as recovering from disasters?

From an engineering standpoint, we haven’t learned why the water-main break produced an explosion rather than the usual slowly developing leak that turns a street into a big pond. The pipe, made of concrete on both sides of a steel tube, was installed in the 1960s. Any ideas?

— Phil Kinglsey

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