Boomer Journals 8 – DBE: The Art of Balancing Iron Hands With Kindness

The game was Lucky 9. I was not completely hopeless, I had cards to play with: 7 and 3. And nothing else. It’s not much but I had to play nonetheless…

My 7 and 3 cards were introversion and the lack of experience (I had a previous work experience albeit negligible) which consequently added to my already dismal levels of self confidence.

Despite the overwhelming odds, I still consider myself lucky even if I haven’t felt as such right at the moment. And that’s because I was fortunate enough to work a decade ago under the management of our project manager, DBE.

The Alpha Manager

He was fondly known in the company with those initials. He was a skillful white-haired leader of the project site who delivered countless monumental projects to completion in an orderly, honest, and efficient fashion. He knows his psychology so well as he dealt skillfully with everyone in the project site from the laborers up to the project owner.

He was a strongman, highly experienced trouble-shooter, with an unbelievable presence of mind, and a master of “psywarring”. Due to his results oriented work attitude, he was often portrayed as a tough guy and unforgiving such that many that I knew trembled at the mere mention of his initials.

He was good natured during my interview though, far from what I’d learn later so I didn’t see that side of him just yet. But after a few days and weeks, I saw his deadly precision and smoldering passion for the projects that he handles. Slowly, I came to realize that my role under his team was something I didn’t think I was prepared to execute. At some point I told myself uh-oh, this sure is going to be the end of me.

A walk in Jurassic Park

Working under his command wasn’t a walk in the park. Well it may had been albeit, from the punch lines of the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, it was a stroll in Jurassic Park. Site work demands your toughness: physically, mentally, and emotionally. I knew I can survive the physical but I was doubtful of the other two.

Supposed to be, site engineers should be assertive mini project managers in the job site. You should be as shrewd as the owner in making sure that everything in the project from manpower to materials are all in their tiptop shape; and an overseer who makes sure that daily operations run smoothly and have all the edges ironed out. Sleep and rest should be nonexistent entries in your lexicon.

Yep, that’s the way it should be. Or else, how can you deal with subcontractors, your fellow engineers, suppliers, bosses, and owners, site issues, and all that chaos in a daily basis?!

He expected us, me specifically, to be proactive with all the activities. Even if I was nearly paralyzed with fear of falling short of his expectations, I did my best with all honesty . But that didn’t stop him from all his refreshing “pananabon” or reprimands because of my lapses. He didn’t want any half-assed efforts, so I still pushed myself to focus even if I cannot help it sometimes but to dream far beyond the sun of a structural design job which I deemed as a job more suitable to introverts and “unassertive” individuals like myself at the time, and not the pushy site engineer that I need to be.

I cannot just leave because I couldn’t afford not to work so I tried to stay with it and bear with paying my tuition, despite my violent protests to my role. But even so, I still tried to be at my best even if the only motivation I can think of at the time was to evade getting admonished by him.

That’s what the work demanded from us. It’s one hell of a job, but it was a job that has to be done nonetheless.

Choosing to be kind in a rather unkind situation

There was a time when I had to go to one of our dumpsites to check why our dump trucks couldn’t make it back immediately. I stayed there until past noon when I was sure that there will be no more delays in disposing filling materials. When I made it back to the job site, it was already but a few minutes before the resumption of operations in the afternoon.

When they saw me, they all told me that they accidentally forgot all about me and that they weren’t able to set aside my lunch (we pitch in our contributions for our lunch which will be cooked in the makeshift kitchen of our field office). I didn’t give it much thought. No big deal. It happens sometimes and I fully believe it was unintentional so I just went outside and scoured for a place to chow.

A few weeks after that, we’ve had an operations meeting with all the other staff. My attention wasn’t quite in the meeting when the materials engineer who was beside me at that time brought back my attention and I heard just in time DBE talking about being mindful of everyone in the project and further said ayoko yung may magsasabi na ‘ay ayoko dyan, lagi akong nauubusan dyan.’ (I don’t want to hear anyone in my team saying “no one cares about me there.”)

I was surprised. I initially thought my existence in the project team was just an expendable one, but DBE took notice and cared enough to verbalize it. I couldn’t forget those words and the feelings that ensued. The DBE that they dubbed as “terrible” took notice of the lowly site engineer of his team!

Aside from that, I also heard from others how he acknowledged my efforts as evident on how I turned skin and bones due to lack of sleep, the punishment of the harsh heat of the day and the freezing nights that I had to stay in the jobsite. They would tell me napuri ka na ni boss (boss already acknowledged your hard work.) Only a after few years down line would I realize how much those words would mean to me as a professional.

I didn’t think I’d ever be benefitted of such kindness from boss. I was a greenhorn and introverted albeit the demand of the job wouldn’t have any of those as an excuse. But I did receive kindness from the tough man himself. It was very unlikely that it almost seemed surreal but it was real nonetheless.

“Napuri ka na ni boss…”

A heart behind the iron hands

It would’ve been easy for him to play politics, with me at his immediate disposal since I am quiet most of the time. But he did not. He was the first to show me that in order to succeed in the corporate world, you just need to be fair and be kind to everyone while pushing your people to be at their best not just for the company but for themselves as well.

Toxic office politics isn’t a norm under his command. If you fail to do your part, it’s your fault and you’ll get castigated for that. If you do your job well, whoever you are and whatever your disposition is, all is well and he’s expecting you to get better at it.

I sure received a lot of admonitions from him, a lot of them humiliating and a bitter pill to swallow. But what’s strange is beyond all those castigations, I felt that he cared. Not only for my output and role in his team and the company, but for my own personal improvement as well. I’ve met but a few people who have that skill of making you feel valued genuinely even while you’re being castigated because of your lapses.

He may not have seen a competitive me in those moments. In fact, I might have been the least from among his team. But I believe he saw my honest efforts to meet the demands of the job and to improve. And he also acknowledged that I was trying so hard as I consequently pushed myself outside of my wits and limits. The least that he could do was to be kind while still pushing me to be better.

He still demanded our best all throughout the duration that he led the project. It was not a picnic, in fact it had been ugly for a lot of times. And yet despite how unkind the workplace and the activities can get, he chose to deal with kindness towards the greenhorn me. That was something that never left me from the time I was a mere private in the engineering profession up to now that I already earned a lot of scars to boast with.

And while I already learned from a lot people, people who I told myself that I’ll do my very best not to become like them when I get old, I told myself I wanted to become like DBE when the time comes for me to lead my own. DBE’s sincere care for my professional welfare and his desire to pull someone outside of his comfort zone in order to grow and succeed, is what I always wanted to emulate and possess even before my crown turns permanently white.

And his kindness towards me, despite how unkind the circumstances were is something worth paying forward.

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