The Ace of Aces

I enjoy rEddie-Rickenbacker-Enduring-Courageeading about people who have accomplished remarkable things.  The biographies of their lives are very interesting to me.  What were their childhoods like?  How did the events come together that led to their success.  What struggles did they overcome and how.  The answers to these questions typically reveal interesting features of their character, strategies and good fortune

I just finished reading about the life and experiences of Eddie Rickenbacker, the WWI fighter pilot nicknamed The Ace of Aces.  It’s a great read, especially if you are into aviation or stories of American heros.  Eddie was from Ohio, raced in the very first Indianapolis 500, commanded 94th Squadron and later owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Eddie operated his own car company.  He did not fight in WWII but was quite active in the administration of the air war in both theaters.  Obviously his experiences included many of the topics that I find engaging.  The Book was: Eddie Rickenbacker,  An American Hero in the Twentieth Century, by W. David Lewis.

It is Eddie’s leadership experiences and methods that I want to comment on in this post.  He took over leadership of the 94th “Hat-in-Ring” squadron.  When Eddie assumed command of the squadron it was performing poorly.  It was recognized by some U.S. Army Air Corps Leaders that Rickenbacker had the right mixture of leadership and technical qualities to change the squadron’s performance.  They were right.  Under his leadership the unit racked up an impressive record in the war and he became the ace of aces with 26 victories.  That record stood until WWII.  Rickenbacker was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1930 for scoring 7 victories in one day in 1918.

But what were these characteristics of Eddie’s  that allowed such success?  I have briefly summarized my view of them below.  I could have written a post on each of them but in an effort to keep this short, I’ll leave it at a summary sentence.  Read the book if you want more!

The Eddie’s leadership characteristics were:

  • Technical Competence – He was a skilled pilot and mechanic forged by self education and years of work in the field.
  • Maturity – Patience to plan activities and carefully assess risk.
  • Team Building – The ability to not only engage the pilots but also bring the ground crews into the team.
  • Hands on Leadership – He shared the work of his team and demonstrated the ability to accomplish the mission.
  • Tremendous Work Ethic – He was known for doing whatever it took to get the job done.

These leadership traits also helped him to become the highly successful Chief Executive Officer of Eastern Airlines during the formative years of the commercial aviation industry in the United States.  He took the airline from an unstable start up to the most dominant and profitable operation in the industry for many years.  In the process he led the advance of the industry into the international service and jet eras.

Rickenbacker was not perfect.  He had a temper, was outspoken to a fault and became egotistical later in life.  But the mixture of these traits created a one of a kind American hero.  The man left a mark that is still visible today in politics and aviation.

The author ends his book with one of my favorite quotes from another great leader I admire: T.R. Roosevelt.  The quote sums up the life and accomplishments of Eddie Rickenbacker.  The quote is:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”


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1000 Tweets Later…

Chets TwitterThis blog post will generate my 1001st tweet.  It seems to me that 1000 tweets is a milestone.  I’ll celebrate it here.  I estimate that each tweet averages about 45 seconds to write.  When you do the math, it turns out that I have spent about half of day (12 hours) of my life generating these short messages.  So the obvious question: to what end?

I have made many new acquaintances, learned a myriad of new things and immersed myself in the current ways of modern culture from these concise quips.  Learning to convey complex thoughts in 140 characters or less has taught me the skill of brevity.  The iOS version of the Twitter App includes a pretty handy analytics feature that shows you what subjects your followers find most interesting. Honestly though, I mostly tweet what I find interesting.

One of the people I have met on Twitter is Pamela Walaski.  She is an EHS Consultant and active member of the ASSE.  She has been active on Twitter since 2008.  I enjoy reading her Tweets.  Pam has done some formal work on studying the value of social media in general, and Twitter in particular, during crisis situations.  The work culminated in the publication of a comprehensive article in the  journal Professional Safety titled:  Social Media: Powerful Tools for SH&E Professionals.  It’s a great article that it well worth your time to read.

What I love most is the river of ideas that flows each hour through the medium.  I focus on EHS, Leadership, Aviation and Industrial topics.  Those I follow post frequently on these subjects.  Literally every day I see something that deepens my understanding of these topics.  I have also noticed that news breaks first on Twitter.  Many times it is a tweet from the scene of the news written in real time.

Finally, as I approach the Back Nine of my career, I recognize the need to stay current with the new ideas and methods.  This is especially true in the area of Technology.  Twitter is a good tool for spotting emerging trends as well.  It also allows me to identify emerging issues that my existing knowledge base can be applied to.

I’ll sum up by saying that I see value in the effort that went into my thousand tweets.  I have enjoyed the conversations it has generated with people from literally all over the world.  I am well informed on the current happenings in the topics of interest to me.  My involvement in the medium enhances my feeling of involvement in the communities I am interested in.

This tweet starts my journey to the next thousand.


Additional resource:  25 Ways To Get The Most Out Of Twitter

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The Beauty of the New Year

Fresh Start (2)The sun rises on a new year.  I can see fifty years old from here…  I have learned many things in my life, some from the career within it.  Time stands still for no one. Meaningful to me here is General George S. Patton’s belief that you are either taking ground or losing it.

Reinvention is a skill I learned early thanks to the ever changing landscape of American Industry.  It is New Years Day that gives us all the chance to invent a new story for ourselves.  The day symbolizes a fresh start with unlimited potential.  I find this time of year to be very important in maintaining my confidence and drive to keep moving onward and upward.  As I sit here today (New Years Day), I am thinking of what I want to be next.

2014 was a year of massive change for my family and I.  There were some pretty dark nights but we made it work out well in the end.  As I reflect on the past 12 months, it does not escape me that I am at the halfway point of my career.  I am proud of what I have done, but I know I have more to do.  I need this time of year to identify what new horizons I will set out for, putting tangible form to the possibilities before me.

I look forward to 2015 as a clean sheet of paper on which I can write one of the greatest periods in my life.  My years of martial arts study have taught me the value of balance. Success is defined by more that monetary rewards.  I was recently reminded of the importance of family, true friends and coworkers.  As I contemplate the “grand plan” for 2015, it will surely include the people that matter to me.

I am not going to bore you with my list of goals.  These are mine to know and achieve.  I wrote this today to remind us both that fresh starts are to be cherished while we still have them.  Let’s both you and I  commit to making the most of this one.

Welcome to 2015.  What story will you invent for yourself this year?



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Guest Blogger: A Word to Millennials…From A Millennial

A guest post by Scott Unruh

millennials-300x167In the EHS profession and manufacturing industries in general, we are starting to see an influx of Millennials entering the workforce. These “Young Pups” (still a nickname of mine today), are joining the ranks of career veterans and are trying desperately to prove why they should be the next CEO. Now that I’ve got some experience under my belt, I can look back on how I got to where I am, and laugh at how I made the same mistake that so many young professionals make: I followed the rules by the book.

Four short years ago, I was that strong, smart, savvy, high-potential intern who had been given the opportunity to break into a big company. I had just gotten a job as a Safety Analyst – and in my opinion – made mind-numbingly awesome metrics reports that I was getting a great reputation for! Life was going great! I had already presented to 100 of the top management in the company and I was going up, up, up! I was even proving my worth to the work force who was on average 30 years older than me. Nothing was going to stop me and I could do no wrong…that is until I stumbled upon the opportunity to be humbled…permanently.

Hungry for success and ready to prove myself, I was constructing some metrics reports one day. They included charts of incidents, near misses, and incompliances reported in audits After compiling the charts I came to the stark realization that one manager far-and-away was having the most issues and was the biggest offender in the bunch…my dad, who also worked for the company. Yikes…

So I went to speak with my dad about it and tell him that I was going to have to put these metrics out there for everyone to see, and that he may be get in trouble. But those were the rules. I had to make people comply with the safety guidelines. I had to blow the whistle and make an example when things weren’t right. I had to prove that I belonged at the top and could report the tough facts.

After showing my dad the metrics and neglecting to ask his take on it, he just grinned and said, “Do what you have to do son.”

When it came time for dad to “pay the piper” for letting his team have so many non-compliances, we happened to be in the same room with his boss and multiple managers…and I had to report the metrics. Talk about uncomfortable! But I had to make sure people were following the rules so it was the right thing to do!

After I reported the metrics to all the managers in the room and basically threw my dad under the bus, he responded, “I’m glad you pointed that out Scott.” The knot in my chest immediately tightened and my pupils grew to the size of coconuts…this can’t be good! He continued, “I didn’t realize my folks were doing so well. They always are adamant about reporting when things don’t go right, but seeing how well they are reporting is great!”

He had just turned the entire interpretation of the metrics around, rightfully – I just hadn’t seen it that way when I put the metrics together. His boss gave him a pat on the back and he became the hero of the meeting; the hero that I had just thrown under the bus. I proceeded to insert my size 13 dress shoe into my mouth and hopped out of that meeting with my tail between my legs, defeated.

However, in this defeat and throughout my career, I have learned some very valuable lessons that I will carry for the rest of my life:

  1. You weren’t hired to be liked – but wow does it make a difference when you are! Being likable AND knowledgeable has been the bread and butter for my success. Don’t be a Compliance Cop, be human!
  2. The reason for telling someone “No” is never, “Because that’s the rules.” I cannot even count how many times I said that in my early career and was shown just how wrong I was.
  3. Don’t be too quick to judge, because a shoe is a lot harder to pull out of your mouth than it is to put it in.
  4. ASK QUESTIONS!!!!! Do not just assume you know what’s going on.
  5. The rules are guidelines with multiple interpretations. Don’t assume your interpretation is the only good one.
  6. Listen twice as much as you speak and take EVERY opportunity to learn and help people. You will be rewarded handsomely in your career.
  7. Old dogs have plenty of tricks, stay on your toes or you will learn them quickly.


About Scott Unruh

Scott UI am a professional intrigued by advances in technology and the dynamic changes that occur in the economy and the world. Currently pursuing my MBA, I aspire to be a leader in my career and in life. I am fueled by interacting with people and influence those around me.  You can reach me at:


Guest Bloggers on

From time to time I find other professionals whom I believe have something important to say.  I like to offer them a forum to make their point and hopefully spark some healthy debate.  It also offers my readers some variety of style and opinion.  I don’t have any formal criteria for selecting Guest Bloggers.  The selection is usually made during a scintillating conversation between me and another person that leads me to think: that would be a great blog post!

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Using the Digital Hawthorne Effect to Improve Safety at Work

inline-i-centrcamera-lense-and-chipI ran across a Fast Company article discussing a new 360 degree action camera that has been invented by former Apple Engineer Paul Alioshin.  What’s new about is is the ease in which it captures events from all angles.  The device is called the Centr.  It is in the same category as the GoPro camera that has received so much attention lately.

The article got me thinking about uses for this technology in the work place.  I think there is a real opportunity here to permanently change employee behavior to be safer.  By instituting constant digital video monitoring in the workplace that creates a digital record of each individuals actions, the processes involved in the Hawthorne Effect will modify employee behavior.  I think we already have a good example of this:  traffic cameras.  Once the presence of the camera is common knowledge to drivers, their behavior changes.  They know that the technology is ever vigilant and a negative outcome (a ticket with fine) is nearly certain.

We have this same opportunity in the workplace.  The use of digital video via a camera like the Centr by employees will create an ongoing Hawthorne Effect.  I envision it would be built into their headwear or otherwise on their person.  Employees should be fully informed of the video record of their behavior both for personal privacy issues and to create the desired recognition that there is a record of their actions.  Employees who are knowledgeable of the safety and environmental rules will conclude that the records creates a certainty that any deviation from those rules will be in the record and they can be held accountable.  A rational employee will determine the risk of easily documented noncompliance far outweighs the potential gain.  Soon, certain and negative consequences are a powerful behavioral motivator (soon, certain and positive is the most powerful).  That is exactly what digital image technology like Centr can be used to deliver.

So does this create a Big Brother atmosphere?  Yes, it does.  Legal controls will need to be put in place.  The unprecedented level of digital observation in public places in place today is already forcing our country (and others) to develop laws on the topic of privacy outside of private residences.  With such reasonable controls in place, I believe the increased safe behavior created by the use of digital imaging like Centr outweighs the privacy concerns in the work environment.


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International EHS Collaboration: A Discussion with Darryl Hill

Darryl HillI had the opportunity recently to talk with Darryl Hill about his upcoming participation in HSE Excellence Europe, May 20-22, Vienna, Austria. You may know Darryl from his work with the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE). His involvement includes a recent tenure as the President of the Society.  Darryl is currently the Executive Director of Global Health & Safety at Johnson Controls, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Johnson Controls (JCI) is a global diversified technology and industrial leader who’s 170,000 employees serve customers in more than 150 countries.

The purpose of my interview with Darryl, and this post, is to share his views as an Executive Leader of EHS on the value of international collaboration. I asked Darryl three questions regarding his participation in the conference.  Below are the questions and Darryl’s responses.

Question 1:  Why did you decide to speak at HSE Excellence Europe?

Darryl’s Response:

I have been involved with this group before in similar conferences in the Middle-East and it was very interesting to get the perspectives of their culture.  I like going [to other countries] to share some of our viewpoints and learn some of theirs.

The learning and sharing of best practices is the main reason.  Before I commit to speak I learn about the theme of the conference and make a determination if I have something to offer.

Question 2:  What do you perceive is the biggest value of working with professionals from other cultures?

 Darryl’s Response:

In the case of Europe I know from some of JCI’s European operations that the professionals there tend to focus more heavily on training and employee behavior and especially on Risk Assessment/Risk Mitigation activities.  I think it is the risk focus that has really driven their improvement.

Another aspect [of the European approach] is the use of Design in of Safety requirements typically included in project specifications and contractor service requirements.  Risk assessment is even included in these agreements.  In the U.S. these activities are hit-or-miss.  I feel like these are the areas where Europe, particularly Western Europe, is ahead of us.  I also see a slow movement towards these concepts in the Middle-East.

It’s always interesting for me to get some of these perspectives and bring some of these thoughts back to the States.

Question 3:  What is the most exciting aspect of your presentation?

Darryl’s Response:

The opportunity to discuss my company’s improvement project to integrate an HSE Maturity Model into the Johnson Controls Manufacturing System.  We have just started the alpha testing but are already seeing some early traction.  I will discuss how we started it, give detail on how it’s integrated with operations and what we are ultimately trying to achieve with this project.

I’ll also discuss the linkage between EHS and Manufacturing Capability and Competitive Advantage.  I’ll build off of the work I did with Kathy Seabrook (ASSE President, 2013-2014) in a 2013 article for Professional Safety: Safety & Sustainability: Understanding the Business Value.

This is what really peaked my interest in this conference.

HSE X EUYou can see by the revealing responses from Darryl, there is a lot to be gained by interacting with our peers around the world.  The diversity of experiences and norms drives innovation for the group as a whole.  Also, because of language barriers, it becomes imperative to distill concepts and strategies down to clear and concise descriptions, driving simplicity, focus and cost reduction in the new ideas.  Finally, organizations that are able to build successful global collaboration capabilities not only gain more knowledge and vision, but have also strengthened their ability to execute projects to exploit this knowledge for increased competitive advantage.

I would like to thank Darryl for sharing his time with me to discuss this topic and to wish him good luck at the HSE Excellence Europe Conference.


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Leadership 101: Increase your Influence with Critical Questions

Boss looking over glassesAs a staff member on the organizational chart, many EHS Pros don’t ask critical questions of line staff at decisive moments.  This is a missed opportunity to be influential during key decision making processes. By not constructively challenging the status-quo our agenda becomes secondary to those of other more assertive leaders.  It is critical that we get better at asking critical questions.

Critical questions are an element in the leadership activity of critical thinking.  A concise definition of critical thinking is:

“Reasonable reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do”.  -Robert H. Ennis

Logical questions are formulated, asked and answered that lead to an economical increase in the multi-faceted understanding of the issue being discussed.  The technique addresses the fact that all human understanding is from a limited viewpoint and unknowns may have a significant affect on the outcome of the issue.   I ran across the credo below and thought it a good description of the assumptions of critical thinking.

A Critical Thinker’s Credo

    • I admit that I see the world from a highly limited viewpoint.
    • Before I offer an argument, I consider the best case against my argument.
    • I take stands.
    • To correct errors (my intent), I must sometimes make them.
    • I justify an argument by whether it meets certain explicit reasonable standards.
    • I distinguish the quality of an argument from both the worth of the person giving the argument and from the merit of the conclusion. 

Source: Indiana University Southeast: critical_thinking_handout_fall_ 02.pdf

There are several steps to using the critical questioning technique effectively.  These are:

Be a good listener.  You have to understand what is being discussed first.  Avoid jumping to conclusions after hearing the first words out of the other person’s mouth. Practice active listening which involves the listener re-stating the speakers key points to confirm to both that the message was understood.

Formulate concise open-ended questions that yield contrasting perspectives on the issue.  Your goal is the develop an adequate understanding of the issues and concepts the speaker is describing.  formulate brief questions on specific points that elicit focuses responses.  You are striving for a back and fourth discussion where knowledge is obtained in packets that your thought process can quick analyze and apply.  The chart below shows that a few general lines of thought can be used to tailor questions to specific elements of the discussion.  Keep a quiet mind while the other person is speaking; focus on their message not your inner dialogue.  Pauses in conversation while you think about what has been said is okay.

Analytic Questions Derived from the Elements of Thought. Source: The Miniature Guide to the Art of Asking Essential Questions.


Thoughtfully consider the answer and ask a follow up questions until you feel you thoroughly understand the issue and feel reasonably confident you can predict the consequences.  Keep in mind the saying that “perfection is the enemy of completion”. You will have to make a judgement call with less than full information most of the time. In business time is money so sparingly ask meaningful questions that further your complete understanding of the issue.

For an interesting discussion on the principles of critical questions, see The Miniature Guide to the Art of Asking Essential Questions, by Elder and Paul.

Early in my career I noticed that the senior leaders in the company I worked for had the knack of asking the right question at the right time.  They had the uncanny ability to cut to the heart of the issue at hand and ask the questions that mattered most in making the right decision.  It frequently derailed me because I was not ready to answer that penetrating question on the fly.  Now that I have years under my belt I understand how they were able to do this; It is experience in making decisions.  They have learned through trial and error where the likely pitfalls are and want to understand the risk around those traps.  They are also gauging the subordinate’s understanding of the situation and confidence in the answer.

To be consistently successful in front of senior leaders, think through these types of questions and rehearse the answers.  It will give you confidence and credibility, both traits the leader needs to see to place his/her faith in your capabilities.


About Leadership 101

In posts with this phrase in the title, I am documenting key skills that experience has taught me are necessary to succeed. These are the principles of leading organizations to EHS success. They are, in most cases, applicable to the other functions of the organization as well. Early to mid-career professionals will increase their level of success by developing the skills and techniques identified in Leadership 101.  For us old dogs, these are reminders of the skills that got us here…

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