Be Proficient in the Basics

Pat Ross

Two years ago, our Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Operations Officer invited me to present with them at one of our biggest, and most dedicated funders and partner’s headquarters. As the junior teammate, I was flattered and pumped for this opportunity. As an ambitious Marine turned MBA turned humanitarian, I felt this was an opportunity for me to make a name for myself within our company and within our industry. I set high expectations for myself and my preparations began immediately.

I was given the opportunity to present to this company’s partner’s CEO, a retired general. I rehearsed and refined my presentation for days, asking for proofreads, triple checking my slides, and asking for feedback from my peers. My preparations extended to reading every article I could find on the company, I even picked out my outfits with some level of wishful GQ. If I remember correctly, I even polished my shoes.

The presentation day arrived, my of the travel coordination was to pick up the rental car and make sure we were on time at the right locations. We arrived and I picked up our airport rental car.
Directions and destination at the ready, I was our driver for the next 24 hrs. The presentation went as planned. We had a thoughtful and detailed discussion about my findings and the related opportunities and received a well done. I felt like I had ‘earned my Team Rubicon grey shirt” that day. Everyone has a role and today my role was to share the impact of what we do in the field and how that positively impacts the well-being of each volunteer. We were de-briefing on the hurried drive to the airport because our CEO had to hop an earlier flight. Suddenly, the car goes silent.

Yes, the actual car went silent because the fuel was empty. Then the occupants of the car went silent, in disbelief, shock, and genuine confusion. The silence lasted about one second before the jokes began about how “in 2017, an adult who was a logistician by trade, in a car with a gas gauge that alerts the driver audibly and visually that it was low on fuel, actually runs out of fuel.” It seems impossible given the controls in place, but I assure you, it happened. 
There are plenty of lessons to be learned from this folly but the simplest is probably the most important. Be proficient in the basics
This lesson can be applied in a multitude of arenas for the disaster responder, the humanitarian, or the knowledge worker supporting those in the field.


Basics: Know your team. I remember when I hit the field with our teams in the Midwest (Go Buckeyes). Our leaders made it a deliberate point to make time to connect and introduce everyone so we could work more safely and cheerfully. Just the simple act of pausing before heading into a massive pile of work and endless work orders to learn someone’s name so they know they are valued as an individual but also so you can yell a specific warning if anything starts going sideways.
Basics: Understand skills and limitations. When the call goes out and the entire standing army of volunteers is mobilized, the Operations Center in Dallas becomes the clearinghouse for assigning people to work. We observed this during every major operation when we’d pull in teammates to help with mobilization and logistics. By taking a pause to ensure people are qualified to do the task at hand, we set the conditions for success. If they are not qualified, where can they provide value? There is always really hard work to be done, we just have to prioritize assigning the right person to the right role.
Basics: Set expectations upfront. Ensuring teammates are prepared before heading out. I remember when our VP of Operations would brief each teammate before they set off on an operation. He was clear with his expectations. This upfront investment laid the foundation for high impact contributions. 
As I reflect on my small contributions to being part of building the best disaster response organization in the world – a monumental, complex, and dynamic goal — it is a lesson I hope I can remember. Be proficient in the basics, especially when driving your executives to their next flight.


In reading gauges,
– Pat 
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