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 save the lofty ideas and 'creative' teaching methods for a more receptive crowd, say perhaps the boys tending the local sanitary landfill. My employer, Amtrak, thinks otherwise. The company requires us to attend what we underlings colloquially refer to as 'finishing school', mid-career training scientifically designed to make 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 a typical railroad environment inevitably produces a candidate in dire need of remedial social education... maybe remedial clinical 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. It pointed 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 construction of situational analysis matrices using Tinker Toys.

(Freight railroaders: You can stop giggling now. By now, your upper managers have been thoroughly mesmerized by a recent craze book, The No Asshole Rule, and have directed your human resources department to develop high-minded and inspirational remedial course materials that will employ pioneering educational methods intended to advance railroad society squarely into the early 20th Century with 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 aimed towards the social edification of its employee masses is "leadership training". There 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 doorstop doubling as the Emergency Procedures Manual. It is a surreal experience to endure a lengthy class segment on the emergency chain of command, only to find out that your pre-designated responsibility in a dire situation is limited to nodding yes-sir to some kid with zits, AND THEN in an homage to cross-purposes, undergo follow-up training intended to make one a pro-active commander of men and women.


Role-playing: a fundamental part of any 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. Quite 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 display 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 inclinations at about the same time that Barack Obama and Donald Trump first duked it out during recess at their Kenyan kindergarten. Fortunately, I experienced an epiphany of sorts at the last second. I HAD displayed a brief, uncharacteristic moment self-initiative recently, after all!

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, dammit! They're cheaper!

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 suspect that this may be my only legacy to railroading.

- E.O.