mmmmmmman epiphany in Leadership Training ClassmmmWx4 Grab Bag
how personal revelation eased the drama and heartburn of the Costco Food Court

I've always figured that in primitive societal conditions, such as those found in your typical railroad training class, it is best to keep things down-to-earth...and by all means save the lofty ideas and 'creative' teaching methods for a more receptive crowd, say, the boys minding the local sanitary landfill. My employer, Amtrak, thinks otherwise. The company requires us to attend what we colloquially refer to as 'finishing school', mid-career training scientifically designed to make its passenger conductors and engineers (and rarely: managers) more acceptable in polite society.

An ongoing problem in railroading, not only on Amtrak, is that - no matter how warm, sensitive and well-mannered a person may be when hiring out, a few weeks of understudy in the typical railroad environment inevitably produces a candidate in heavy need of remedial social education, maybe even remedial incarceration. Amtrak's traditional educational approach - probably inspired by the same brainchildren that designed a sleeping car featuring a toilet as a bed stand - was direct: pointing out the undesirability of cussing, farting and spitting in front of customers, using a wide array of cutting-edge educational tools: Power Point programs, role-playing and constructing situational analysis matrices using Tinker Toys.

(Freight railroaders: You can stop giggling now. By now, your upper managers have been thoroughly mesmerized by the the recent craze book, The No Asshole Rule, and have directed your human resources department to develop high-minded, inspirational remedial course material that will employ pioneering educational methods intended to advance railroad society squarely into the early 20th Century; courses like: No Boxcar Left Behind; Yardmasters are People Too; Take a Trainmaster to Tea; The "C" in Conductor Stands for Charming; etc. Enjoy!)

Amtrak's latest brainchild - probably inspired by the same geniuses that designed a sleeping car featuring a toilet as a bed stand - towards the social edification of its employee masses is "leadership training". Here, one learns to take charge of situations, particularly in the case of emergencies such as paper cuts and passengers accidentally locked inside restrooms. The unsaid understanding amongst students (particularly the senior employees) is that, in the case of a REAL emergency, a 22 year-old manager will radio them with unequivocal micro-instructions, as read from the emergency instructions manual.


Role-playing: a fundamental part of a quality leadership training program.
At any rate, so there I was in leadership training, pondering why a guy who had spent the last 15 years running an engine alone in the cab would need a course in directing others. Suddenly, my peaceful ruminations were rudely interrupted by a hand thrusting a paper at me. The instructions on the page read something like, Think of an incident in your daily personal life where you employed leadership to resolve a situation.

Some of my classmates (the future assistant trainmaster wannabies) leapt into the exercise with relish, eager to boast of their innate leadership abilities in times of crisis, but frankly, I was stumped. Heck, my wife called the shots at home, and I realized that in most aspects of life I was a follower, and the more happy for it. Railroading had finally

drained me of any lingering proactive spirit at about the same time that Barack Obama and Donald Trump first duked it out as Kenyan kindergartners. Fortunately, at the last second, I experienced an epiphany of sorts, stemming from my only recent moment of self-initiative.

The exercise read roughly thus:

Describe the situation:
A: The family and I were at the Costco Food Court, and nobody could decide between the chicken wrap and the Polish dog.

How did you employ leadership?
A: I finally told them: We're getting the Polish dogs; they're cheaper, dammit!

How did your leadership resolve the situation?
A.
We shoulda had the chicken.

Yep, as epiphanies go, it wasn't much, but it surely eased the drama and heartburn during subsequent trips to the Food Court. Some months later, I ran into my instructor, who related that my answer had made a splash in the company training officer circuit. I suppose that this is my only legacy to railroading.

Postscript: I wrote the above during the waning days of my career, and now, five years later, I've discovered it misplaced in a virtual folder marked Wx4 Sure-Fire Solutions for World Peace. Yes, I was a bit overly-critical of management, but hey, they've had those same five years to straighten out the wrinkles. I am sure that they have done so in fine fashion.

- E.O.