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Lessons in Leadership from a Career at NASA with Donald G. James

The Safety Guru_Donald G. James



Donald G. James, author of the recently released book Manners Will Take You Where Brains and Money Won’t shares great insights from his lengthy career at NASA. From stories of how the Challenger and Columbia incidents shaped his view of leadership and blind spots, to sharing ideas for leaders to reduce these very blind spots and create environments where people are comfortable speaking up, this is an engaging podcast filled with stories and insights on the importance of Psychological Safety.


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. I’m your host Eric Michrowski and today I’m very excited to have with me for great conversation Donald James. He’s the author of a book, Manners Will Take You Where Brains and Money Won’t. He’s incredibly passionate about careers for students and through his 35 years’ worth of experience at NASA, has seen how much NASA can inspire people around the world. But here we’re going to talk about some really interesting insights from his career at NASA.

And Donald, welcome to the show, first of all. And I’d love for you to tell me a little bit about you and your career with NASA and most importantly, the thoughts that you’ve got around the importance of a manor’s linking it back to the book you recently published.

Thank you so much. I’m very excited to be on your program, and I really appreciate the opportunity. I enjoyed a wonderful career at NASA at 35 years, starting right out of graduate school. Interestingly enough, at the very beginning of my career, I didn’t know that I want to stay with NASA. It wasn’t until the 1986 Challenger tragedy that I found my calling in the agency when it had to do with a personal experience, I had with the post Challenger activities that NASA was doing.

I was invited to participate in some of the educational activities that the backup teacher to Christa McAuliffe, as you know, who perished on challenger Barbara Morgan. She was going around the country speaking to teachers and students, and I got to join her on that journey. And it was during that experience that I realized that NASA could inspire so many people. And it was at that time I said, I’m going to make a career at NASA, that I’m going to do my part to inspire the next generation.

So, I’ve had a wonderful career and delighted to talk to you about any and all of it.

Excellent. Well, you touched on the challenger. Obviously, there was also the Columbia incident. How has it shaped your view of leaderships and blind spots? Has your book really talks about the importance of I would call it grounded leadership, but tell me how those incidents shaped your view of leadership, particularly when it comes to safety?

Yes. So, in my definition of manners, I take a very broad view of it. I first want to say that, yes, I think it’s important to develop common courtesies, you know, please and thank you staff and things of that nature. But I view manners much more broadly and deeper than that. I view it as a way we show up in the world, our sense of awareness, how we engage people. And as a leader, I found that it was critically important, particularly when it came to safety matters, to pay attention, to pay attention very closely, because sometimes you can see problems that are right there in the plane view and a lot of it from one of our former astronauts, Jim Weatherby, who showed charts that they were presented earlier after Challenger.

And he showed how if you actually look at certain parts of those charts, you can see red flags that some of the engineers were sharing but didn’t come out right and see it. So, you have to develop a heightened sense of awareness about that.

I think that’s a phenomenal point and so, so critical when it comes to leadership, but most importantly on the safety leadership side, is creating that, as some people call it, psychological safety, the environment where people are comfortable speaking up, but also that you’re aware of some of those potential blind spots. One of the things that really impressed me when we talked initially, it was a lot of your insights around how you can reduce those blind spots, some very tangible ideas.

You mentioned some FBI body language training. I’d love to hear some examples that you’ve got in terms of tactics that have worked with you and your career.

Yeah, so I’ve learned to develop and cultivate a sense of awareness around, for example, body language. We know from research that communication is not just verbal, it’s also our body. And you might be in a situation where you’re talking to somebody about a particular issue and you can tell by how they’re carrying themselves, the degree to which, for example, they’re very concerned about an issue and it could make a life-or-death difference. I had a specific example where a colleague was sharing with me a concern about another colleague who actually had a drinking problem.

And this particular colleague was in a situation where he was around students and also around equipment, equipment that could be dangerous. And I could tell by how she was carrying herself that she was really, really concerned about it. But after speaking, she was being a little bit more measured, probably because she was, you know, dancing on some very sensitive things here. And so that’s the kind of thing, as just one specific example of truly trying to pay attention to the whole range of communications that you get for blind spots.

I’ve learned to try to reward people who point out blind spots that I may have. That seems like a very simple thing. But you find that your people may not want to bring things to your attention because they feel that, you know, as the saying goes, they’re going to the messengers are going to be shot, so to speak. Whereas in my experience, I tried to reward them sometimes publicly by saying sometimes by mentioning their names or not.

You know, I really appreciated that so-and-so presented to my attention that I didn’t understand and appreciate and thank them. Then the staff knows that you value that and they’re quite likely to bring things to your attention that they might not otherwise do.

I think that’s an incredibly important point. I wish more leaders did that because it’s really about demonstrating, setting the stage recognition, incredibly powerful vehicle for that in terms of how you get people to understand that it’s safe to challenge, to raise issues, to see opportunities or look at things differently.

That’s right. That’s right. And NASA, we developed after Challenger a whole separate structure, engineering and safety structure that ran parallel to the program management so that the issues of safety could be brought up a separate chain of command and the issues involved in the program management. And this allowed people to raise issues to a level where somebody can question or stop something that wasn’t necessarily driven by concerns of budget and schedule. And you know very well that budget and schedule is what often drives us to make poor decisions or to operate with blind spots, because what we’re rewarded for is meeting a schedule or making budget.

We’re not necessarily rewarded for avoiding a mistake because it’s awfully hard to know when you’ve actually done that. And yet when you do make a mistake and it’s costly, then it can actually be deadly and people lose their lives and their jobs.

And I think it’s a point that’s incredibly important, a lot of the it’s still the early stages, but a lot of the investigation of what happened behind the 737, Max. And the recent episode speaks to two similar themes. It was about meeting a budget and a meeting, most importantly, a timeline, because it was huge pressure to make sure they would be beat Airbus in launch of a specific upgrade to the aircraft. And that’s where certain things maybe didn’t surface.

That’s right. And I’m particularly sensitive to that because my brother, who’s also my collaborator, is a 737 captain. In fact, he’s flown the 737, Max. So, when this came to light, of course, you know, I peppered him about questions, many of which either couldn’t answer, didn’t know, or you got tired of answering. But for me, it brought home very deeply that a problem that could have been caused by who knows what and where it could have ended up costing somebody that I love very dearly his life.

And fortunately, you know, there were only two catastrophic accidents and now they’re just in the process of retraining their pilots on the new systems, on the max. And so, I have faith that, you know, they’ll get it right. But these problems have deep roots, and it’s important for leaders to have, you know, an imagination as to how problems can actually come about like this or that. You don’t intend doing that. But obviously, a good place to start is looking at pressures on budget and schedule.

And you know that that was a lot of issues with NASA as well.

And when we spoke before, you had a very inspiring quote that had shaped a lot of your thinking around this, and it had to do with essentially when somebody says as a problem, to what degree do I trust that problem? And can you share maybe a little bit about that that quote and some of the thinking behind it?

Well, I’m trying to remember this specific one. Maybe you can help me out here, because I don’t want to, I don’t want to go off on a tangent here. But I do know that, you know, there’s times when if you’re involved in an operation or a system, particularly a complex system, an engineering system, and you’re aware that there is a variable that’s present that probably wasn’t present before. So, if you take the example of Challenger, the variable that was present that really wasn’t present before was the very cold temperatures on launch day.

And so, there was concern about the impact on the system, particularly the O rings that ultimately failed. And so, what I what I took away from that was that if you are aware that there is some type of variable in the mix and you’re had a consequential decision, it behooves you to kind of pay attention and ask, how do I know this is going to going to work just the same? So, you think about the 737, Max. And I just want to be clear.

I am not an expert on that aircraft or systems or the accident or the and neither am I. But I I would I would start with the idea that what’s new is that they had developed some type of a safety system in the plane. And the way they approach the training of that, they felt that it was a simple software thing, that it could it could work just fine and it didn’t work fine. And I’m probably over abusing my knowledge of what actually happened.

But I think the lesson from leaders is and this can be applied in many circumstances, that if you see that something is new in the dynamic, if you do things over and over again and you don’t do something new, even if it’s a software thing, you need to ask yourself, what is the possibility that this can have an unintended consequence and then explore that a little bit and find the naysayers, find the people who are concerned to make sure that you got it right?

Because I’m telling you, when you’re a leader and issues come to your desk, they’re usually not easy. That’s the reason they’re on your desk. President Obama said this. You know, when you when I get a problem, it is a hard problem because of the energy problem. It would have been solved in the Lomi. And that’s just the price you pay as leader. You have to be able to deal with complex and confusing information.

And I think the coach just said that you chaired had to do with somebody in Houston and that the comment had to do that. Sometimes when somebody raises an issue that it may not appear as strong, they may downplay the importance of severity of it. And part of it is to read between the lines.

That’s right. And I’m like, yeah, I’m not remembering this specific example, but the point is, is very well taken. It’s important to triangulate the information you get, you know, and this is hard. For example, if you get an email and you’re not sure if the email is telling you something that you’re not reading, you need to check it out with different, different people. And I always did that, particularly with consequential decisions. I would ask different people in the entire organization what they think about things to make sure that I wasn’t missing something.

And sometimes I did miss some things. So, body language is an example where, you know, you’re in a staff meeting. Sometimes I walk into a room for a staff meeting and I started on my agenda. And I can tell in the meeting that something is wrong because people are being very quiet. They’re all in their iPhones. We call it the iPhone. Crouser, you know, they’re just like their heads are buried down there in your table.

Nobody’s looking at anybody. And I can tell that something is not right. And what I learned as a leader is that if I don’t stop right then and there to try to check out what the issue is, I’m probably going to end up with a problem down the road because people aren’t paying attention or we’re not going to be focused on what we need to do. Then most cases in my example, the consequences were more dangerous. We’re talking about flying astronauts.

Blind spots can be deadly. And I know a lot of astronauts and I know when there were some close calls. And you can’t afford to be wrong when you’re in space because it is unforgiving.

Absolutely, in your book, you mention also you have you have a chapter that speaks to what you call a pink suit. I think it would be great if you shared a little bit more about what that idea.

Yes. So Pink Suits is a metaphor. And I talk about wearing a pink suit and how there’s a pretty good chance I’m not going to go to a store and buy a pink suit. Now, with all due respect to, you know, creative people out there that wear all kinds of different colors. This is not you know; this is not a criticism of the attire. It’s meant to be a metaphor. And the point of the metaphor is to be willing to try on an idea or something, even if you don’t want to.

You feel uncomfortable, you feel strange, and you might be embarrassed. Sometimes trying it on gives you an insight that helps you. Let me give you an example. That’s not an example. There is a story that’s well documented that Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computer, got a great deal of insight into new fonts for Apple in the early days by taking a calligraphy class. And he did it as a fluke. He wasn’t doing engineering any of that kind of nature, but he went on to explain how he appreciated doing something different like that, gave him an appreciation for how he could apply those skills in a different environment.

By the way, just a little fun aside about Steve Jobs, and I like to share with the listeners the reason Steve Jobs got interested in computers is his father took him on a tour at the NASA Ames Research Center where I used to work, and that’s where he saw his first computer and that got him excited. So, if you don’t think you can inspire people by just taking them on a tour or showing them something, think again. You could end up creating the most valuable kind of.

Wow, I didn’t know that story. That’s a that’s a phenomenal story on the on the on the power of the NASA. That’s right.

That’s right.

So, you’ve shared a lot of ideas about increasing how people on your teams get more comfortable speaking up. Do you have any other pearls of wisdom in that regard? Because it’s so, so critical at NASA in that we talked about the 737-max scenario. But in all industries where hazards are present, there’s constantly this theme of I wish I had spoken up or leader saying I wish I had listened.

Yes, it’s fact. You know, NASA is a very technical organization and we’re never going to hire you to be an astronaut because you have good manners. You have to know how to fly the spacecraft. But I can guarantee you, and I know this for a fact, that if you don’t have good manners, you could be stuck on the ground. I know for a fact that there are astronauts who actually went all the way through selection, but somehow mysteriously were never selected to fly.

And I used to think it was only because they weren’t trained for the right mission or any number of cases. Now that I’ve been on the inside, I know there’s one or two cases where the reason that they were not manifested for a flight is that they had something lacking in their manners, skills that the leaders of the organization that puts the crew together decided it wasn’t a good fit. I happen to know that there is one astronaut who did fly and he will never fly again because the crew did not like that person and how they interacted.

And I want to be careful here because I’m not here to out anybody. That’s the point is that manners do matter. But you do have to know how to fly the plane, right? My brother says that, you know, he works as a 737 captain in a very technical field that’s bounded by the laws of physics. But manner set the tone for interactions with the most important resource, and that is his flight crew. And, you know, NASA even did a lot of research on flight crew, crew interactions and provided to the FAA some suggestions about how to change certain protocols.

So, it’s not just the captain is the only one who says this is how we’re going to do it. They’re actually trained now to take in opinions from other people, even dissenting opinions when they’re faced with certain challenges. And this is actually shown to save lives. So that’s my argument, is that manners are a skill set that’s very important to learn. It’s part of a range of skills that are important. It’s just not good enough to be smart if you want to work in a place by NASA.

And I would argue it’s not good enough to be smart to work in a lot of other places. You need to develop these skills. And that’s why I wrote this book, because I wanted to share this with students and early career professionals and I hope there is something inside it that will help them take them, you know, where their brains of money.

What I think is a very important point. They are very familiar with the airline industry. That’s where it started in the safety space. And you’re absolutely correct, the impact of crew resource management, how people can challenge each other, how they speak, the dynamics so, so critical to saving lives. And we’ve seen time and time again where that dynamic was not well balanced, how it cost in several cases, hundreds of people’s lives due to a fatal error.

And what are some of the approaches if when we’ve talked before, you really talked about the importance of those range of skills that are needed to be great leaders, how does one start cultivate that that broader range of skills, not just that the technical skill set?

Well, I suggest that one place to start is and I have a whole chapter on this called Who is on Your Team? It’s Chapter 10 and that’s proactively cultivating a group of people around you that you invite them to really support you around manners and other aspects of you as an individual. And I make a couple of points about this. First of all, I don’t mean team like a sports team where you get together at the same time and you meet when I’m talking about is a set of people from different areas of your life.

And I have a model in the chapter about the different sources that you can find team members. But the key is. What you asked them to do for you, the key is to ask them to please be sincere and honest about what you see, even if you think I don’t want to hear it, which means that you have to be willing to risk your relationship with somebody because they may tell you things that you don’t want to hear. I’ve had a personal example of this that I share in the book that in some circles, in many cases, probably could have gotten my boss fired from what he told me.

And yet I realized after I was upset with what he said to me, I realize he was giving me some wisdom that to this day has helped me greatly. That’s the kind of relationship that I talk about. So, the sources of those relationships are you can be your family members, you could be your friends, it could be your professional networks, it could be professional experts. It could even be your higher power. But it’s important to cultivate those relationships and ask people to mentor you, but not just to be your friend.

You don’t want your friend just to tell you, Eric, you know, you’re great. Don’t worry about anything. You want them to tell you the truth as they see it or to affirm things you think you’re doing right and to call out things when they think you’re doing wrong. And then it’s up to you to decide what you’re going to change in order to do it. So that’s one place you can start as a team. One other quick example in terms of interviewing, because most of us have to interview.

I have a whole chapter on interviewing. And my hypothesis in that chapter is that you’re always interviewing, so just be mindful of that. But I particularly talk about the importance of doing mock interviews and being videotaped, because it’s amazing that when you see yourself on a video, you look you look very different than you look like. It’s sort of like someone showing you a picture of yourself when you’re naked and you’re like, oh, my God, you’re like, that’s horrible.

And yet you look at yourself every day when you get out of the shower. Right. And you don’t think so. It takes an external source to show you a version of you that you don’t see to help you realize maybe I better get in shape or even your body language, how you show up in videos, etc. completely agree. Haven’t done the exercise. As much as I despise the activity, I think it’s a it’s a phenomenal if we’re only important tools.

So, I think these are very good ideas. Thank you. Thank you so much, Donald, for sharing this wisdom, putting a put it together in a book to help young professionals orient themselves from a career, bringing a lot of your learnings from your experience at NASA in terms of how to become a more well-rounded leader. And the book Manners will take your brains and money.

Thank you so much. Absolutely. Thank you so much for coming in and sharing about your experience and your thoughts around you.

Thank you. I appreciate it. It was great.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Fuel your future. come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru, Eric Michrowski.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Donald Gregory James, an executive leader, a manager, a facilitator, a public speaker, a mentor, and author. Donald began his 35-year NASA career as a Presidential Management Intern at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Maryland in 1982. He transferred to NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA in 1984 where he served in a variety of roles of increasing responsibility and complexity, including Public Affairs, Government & Community Relations and Education.

Donald decided to make a career at NASA after the 1986 Challenger tragedy. Asked to support the post-accident speaking tour of back-up Teacher-In-Space Astronaut Barbara Morgan, Donald was so inspired by the overwhelming love and support for America’s space program – and education – that he realized NASA was a special place where he could make a difference. His journey of public service would take him from being an intern to the senior executive service and member of NASA’s senior leadership team.

James served as Ames’ Education Director from 1999 to 2006. In the Fall of 1996, James co-led the record-setting Open House at Ames attracting over a quarter of million visitors in one day. In early 2006, James worked on the Orion crew spacecraft at NASA Johnson Space Center, where he drafted the program’s first project plan. Later that year, James was named Project Manager for NASA’s (successful) bid to host the International Space University’s 2009 Summer Session Program (ISU- SSP), attracting an ISU SSP best 136 students from over 33 nations, involving over 15 corporate and non-profit partners.

In August of 2014, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden selected James to serve as the Agency’s Associate Administrator for Education where he led an enterprise comprised of 75 civil servants, over 250 contractors organized to strengthen NASA and America’s future workforce. Under James’ leadership, NASA learner and educator engagement reached over a million people a year. James retired from NASA on March 31, 2017.

James holds a BA in International Relations from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He was awarded a three-year graduate fellowship from the National Science Foundation to pursue his MA in International Economic Development from the American University in Washington, D.C. James also studied economics and history at Cambridge University, England, and attended Harvard’s Senior Executive Fellows program. He is the recipient of numerous awards and citations for exemplary service. 

James was inspired by the places he’s lived overseas, including Ghana, Thailand, Kenya, and Niger. He’s also traveled to Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Philippines, Spain, Uganda, and the United Kingdom.

His forthcoming book, Manners Will Take You Where Brains and Money Won’t: Lessons from 35 years at NASA and Momma’s Wisdomwill be released February 2nd. Donald and his wife Tanya live in Pleasanton, California. They have two children, 28 and 25.

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Inspiring Safety Leadership and Ownership with Brad Gardner



It’s been over 10 years since Brad Gardner lost his right arm in a workplace accident—an accident that didn’t have to happen. Brad and his wife, Dolores, have dedicated their lives to making workplaces safer in order to prevent tragedies like their own from happening to others. Listen to a truly inspirational story on the importance of safety leadership and ownership from Brad.

Learn about Safety Leadership Commitment:


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams; their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe, yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now. Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. I am Eric Michrowski your host. I’m very excited to have with me Brad Gardner. Brad has dedicated his life to making sure that workplaces are as safe as it can be. This is following a 2003 industrial accident he was part of. But today I want him to share a little bit about some of his lessons about safety. So maybe let’s kick it off. Brad, if you could share a little bit about your background and what got you into this space. OK, I’d love to. Like I said, I’m Brad Gardner. I’m from Idaho is where I’m from, but. I was really young when I got married, I married my high school sweetheart. I needed a job. I didn’t have any money. So, I ended up taking in a little potato processing plant and I hated the job. It was just horrible. I didn’t like anything about it. So, one day I just got fed up. I said, that’s enough. And I joined the Air Force going to the Air Force. But I wanted to do was get into engineering. But they took one look at me and said, no, you’re not an engineer. You’re an air traffic controller. So that’s how I ended up doing. I was an air traffic controller in the Air Force for a total of twenty-two years. Left my first 20 years. I retired in. May of know it wasn’t August of twenty-one, and then when 9/11 hit, I was called back into active duty and had to serve another two years. So, I ended up spending twenty-two years as an air traffic controller. I was heavily involved in 9/11. I was comptroller in New York on 9/11, so I guess I really got stressed out. I mean, I was just burnt out and couldn’t do anything anymore for a while. So, I retired, moved back to Idaho and said, I’m not going to do anything but fish and relax. I found out this too much. It was great for fishing. So, I ended up going back to work. And of all things that most people can’t believe is I ended up going back to work at that same exact potato processing plant that I dated twenty-two years earlier. But, you know, at the time, it was a great job. It was very. I have to think of what you’re able to sit back, relax. Work, I loved it, it was just I really did love the job, it was just manual labor, but it was fantastic. I worked at about six months. And then. That’s when my life changed. Six months later, that’s when everything changed all at once. And on that day in 2000. Three, I went to work that morning, and it was a normal everyday morning, right? And that’s when I had my accident. So, tell me a little bit about your accident and if anybody who wants to know more, you’ve got a website where you talk a little bit more about it. You’ve got some resources. You’ve talked and presented many different places. Website is Brads helping hand dot com. But I’d love to hear a little bit about what happened, but obviously for the purpose of understanding how do we prevent these things from ever happening again. Right. What happened to start today was right off the bat, first thing in the shit that morning, my foreman came in and told me that had a guy call in sick. So, they were guys short and they had to clean some equipment. I told my supervisor, then I saw him and I said, you know, I’ve never done it before, but, you know, show me what to do, tell me what to do. I can do it. I can. And so, I went to a new job that morning and I had to create a big order. This augers about five feet across and about twenty-five foot long, and it was about the third or fourth quarter that I cleaned that morning, building up to that big. And as I was playing in it, I got distracted, I looked away and what I was doing at the time and next thing I knew, my hand was in the yogurt. Oh, my goodness. On the inside the machine. I was in the machine about eight seconds. Oh, my goodness. There was nobody buying me. I was by myself. And I knew as it was pulling the end of the auger through my mind was the only way I was going to live. I had to rip off my arm. Oh, my. And that’s what I did. Changed my life. I have no doubt in. So that’s a that changes everything, and I know when you present to audiences, sometimes you even present with your wife and you talk about kind of the impact on yourself, family and how change. But what were you thinking before that day? How did you frame yourself in safety? What was your perspective? You didn’t really like you had done a lot of different things in your career. What was your perspective on safety before that day? You know, my idea was. I’m good, I’m fast, I can think things through, right? And I didn’t have to worry about shaking because I wasn’t one of those dumb guys. Made a stupid mistake, right? That was my friend. It’s like, oh, give me a job, I can handle it. I’m good. You know, I’m fast. I could multitask like crazy and do some things at one time. That’s what I did as an air traffic controller. Of course, it is a job that does really handle a lot of information. Well, the same time, it’s probably that job. Right? And that job is nothing but safety. I mean, when it boils down to an air traffic controller is nothing but a safety guy. Yes. So, I didn’t. I always thought that second nature to me, I can handle that I don’t have to worry. And that’s really what I thought is I don’t get to worry about that. I mean, I could put my hand in your 50 times and pull it out and it’s not going to do anything. I love that story. I need that one little mistake. And that cop never. So, you know, I mean, it was just a matter of. You know, it’s going to happen to another guy. Other people make mistakes. I don’t. Right. That was my philosophy. I mean, it really was I didn’t realize it at the time. That’s where I was. That’s really what I was doing. And you know, I’ve heard this so many times, it won’t happen to me, the guy where this happened to, he’s not as good as me or something to that effect or I’m lucky that person wasn’t lucky. Or, of course, I’ve done this many times. It’s not going to happen to me. And that’s the sad part, is it can happen to anybody. It takes a split. Many people will say that was really stupid, it was, but I’m not a stupid guy. By no means, but I did it, you know, and I did something stupid, I thought I could get away with it and I could. So, what are some of the lessons? And I think I appreciate that you’ve taken that as a learning and trying to teach others to make a difference in the world. That is phenomenal. What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned and that you share with leaders in terms of making a difference in the workplace? What I did is after my accident, I went back into safety for the same company and worked in safety, and that’s what I started learning safety and start talking to people. I did some research on my accident. You found out, you know, it wasn’t just me. They were mistakes that were made by everybody all the way from the very top owner of the company. What did you do when you come out and talk to the people, it was always talking about production? We got to get to production up. We’ve got to get these things done quicker. He talked about safety. Did the notion like the bottom line, his production? But I would learn, you know, and that’s what I found out. That was a mistake that was made. And I boiled down to I wasn’t properly trained. They’d given me a job I hadn’t done before. There was a whole bunch of mistakes, including near misses, having stand near misses on a machine that never got reported. So, I started looking at it like it’s just not my fault. It’s all these people could have stopped it. I don’t blame them. And. I might have done the same thing. I don’t know, but it’s. I wish everything right now. Somebody would have stepped up and said something. Get involved, you see it, something that looks dangerous. Say something if you’re told to do something and you’re not sure how to do it. Stop them say, hey, what do you mean, what am I supposed to do here? I talk a lot about. Different things where people have made mistakes. Well, a lot of people will blame the foreman that I have a job I hadn’t done. For him, it was my brother. Well. And then he had to take care of me. He had to be the attorney that he had to take me down. He had to go get my arm out of the machine. Oh, my goodness, you won’t see any of that. Of course, I just made a simple mistake, too, but when you add up all these simple mistakes. It’s a huge consequence. And if it would have been me, it would have been somebody else later on. Right. If tell people to say something, get involved, do not let things go by, if you see something, say something. If you feel unsafe, say something. If you see somebody else doing something. It’s not safe or you don’t think looks right. Say something to try to get him in trouble, but you want to make sure that they’re safe. You don’t want to see it happen to somebody else any more than you don’t want to have to be yourself. I can tell you, I experienced. The suffering that I went through is nothing compared to what other people went through. That same day, you know, my coworker’s night, and then you break it down to your family and your wife. My wife actually, when I normally speak, reach out of her diary. Tell us what she saw that day. Tears me up every time I see it. Oh, it hurts so bad. It you know, luckily, I have a wife with I don’t know why this is every bit when I talk, I use dominoes. When I come out and speak at the plants, I use Domino’s as an example. You know, I could take Domino’s and put them up on a table and put names on the Domino’s all the way from the owner of the company to my supervisors, to my brother, to my trainers, to my coworkers and my second to the last. Domino has my name on it. Call it what it took to save my home is one person in that whole line. Including me. They would have stepped up and said something, I would still have my arm today. It is a simple but such a powerful message, say something, it goes down that everybody owns safety. It’s the workers, the leaders as the foreman. Everybody’s got a part to say and has an opportunity. And really that that sense of keep your eyes open. But I love the simplicity of something. Get involved, do something about it. Right. And that’s what I do. I talk to people now all over the world. I’ve spoken to China, Africa, Europe, almost every state in the United States, Mexico. All the same, people are the same everywhere. And when I go out and talk to them, all I want to do is get them to loosen up, get them to think about safety, and that’s what I do. And Medicaid is not. That’s all I do not say, and I loved every minute, which is phenomenal because you’re doing something you’re sharing, imparting some ideas. Can you share maybe some of the key lessons that you have for other workers like you, people that are listening, that are doing work where there could be a risk, could be a hazard. What are some of the things that obviously you talked about? Say something. Are there any other pearls of wisdom that you have that you share with them? If you don’t feel comfortable, stop, right, just think about it. I’ve talked to thousands of men and every one of them say to them up until they stop because they didn’t feel safe. He said, that’s what I want to hear. People are afraid to do it because they think they’re going to get in trouble, they think they’re going to question for it, if that’s the way that job is, you don’t want to work it anyway, right? No, just watch out for each other. You know, that’s a big you know, so it kills me near misses. People don’t want to say they screwed up and they made a mistake. But just step out the tent. Hey, guys, I did this because, you know, if you did it, somebody else, too, right? Work together, everybody has to work together, you can have zero action. Everybody works together, everyone. Be afraid to step up, say something like I said, everybody, the one thing that I want you to get out when they listen to me, just remember the dominoes, you know, and don’t watch them fall. Yes. It’s that simple. And I think when you talk about don’t be afraid to speak up to essentially stop work, I think leaders have a huge part in this because you have to create an environment where people feel safe to stop work, that they don’t feel there’s a ramification that you want to encourage those things as well, because I think that’s a simple action a leader could do to really drive a difference around stopping the work, pausing if you think there’s a hazard. Yeah, and tell your workers. If you have to tell them every day, remember, guys, safety’s number one. And they have been beat up by their actions. Yeah, and that’s too often miss, right, I say safety is number one, but I give you more on productivity. Go faster, right. Right. You can’t do that. You’ve got to. He said, you know, you’ve got to present data, you got to live that right. You’ve got to stop, stop work. Don’t do it. And when they do it, you don’t get them. You don’t get mad at them. You’ll never happen again. I had a guy come up one day, said, I won’t report in here because if I do, it goes on my record. And when it comes time for promotion, it’s points against me. Right now, I want to secure that company and told him that that’s bull crap because they didn’t know he had got out and got that information out. They had a system to do it anonymously online. They had. And the CEO of the company said, if I ever had a foreman come in here and fire somebody because they were a safety thing, you said that guy isn’t going to work for you anymore. But too often, too often, that doesn’t happen, right? I was actually just talking earlier today to somebody who is describing a CEO and a company that whenever somebody would report something is an issue, a topic, rather than say, I want to learn, they would descend and we get angry. And how could this happen? And so, people are learning was I don’t want that experience. So, I’m not going to say something. Right. And that’s what they need to be able to come out and do that every day. Yeah, absolutely. For you, you have to have their trust and the way to get their trust is you’ve got to back up what you say. I completely agree. Any other thoughts you’d like to share? I think your power, your story is so powerful. I love your example of the dominoes in terms of really showing how anybody could have stopped this. Any other pearls of wisdom you care to just share from your experiences. You’ve done so much to try to help organizations, leaders, team members to start thinking about how safety is so critical and something that everybody’s going to. You know. Everybody’s going to have to do their own thing. I don’t think there is a right way to do it; sometimes depends on the different personalities and stuff like that. The. Again, I just I keep going back to that communication, you’ve got to have those communication lines open all the time, regardless of who it is, you can’t be afraid to come up and talk. I’ve never talked to a CEO who said they would. You know, reward somebody for stuff like that, but people don’t know that, right? They just keep communications lines open all the time. And that’s what’s going to stop it. It really is. Communicate whether it’s on either end, whether you’re the listener, the talker, either one. That’s what you have to do. I mean. I just love watching when I get up and speak to people and I’ve got crowds of four or five hundred people out there and I can look down on somebody and they’re looking at me and they got tears running down her cheeks. And I know exactly what you’re going through. You know, I’ve done this. Right. I don’t want to hurt my wife. I don’t want to hurt my kids and that’s what I’m going to do if I continue doing what I’m doing. And that’s really important, I think I always say that to the people, you’ve got to make safety something that you own because you need to start thinking about why is it you keep yourself safe, like it’s really an investment in yourself into the experiences that we’re the people that you want to be around? And that’s the part where I do it for myself whenever I do anything. I’m always trying to think back to why is that so important? What experiences do I want to have, what’s important to me, and make sure that that’s what I’m focused on, what I am about to do something? Yeah, and, you know, I do it all the time, my wife now is it’s just amazing. I guess we literally stuck on the freeway. Where there’s a construction team working and my wife went over and said, what are you doing? You have no more protection or you do not have the potential. And she said, I’m going to call, OK, but you don’t get it done right now. So, what happens when she does that? They do it, but they do it. You know, one day she’s seen a guy working in a trench and all you could see was the top of his head. My wife, when I said, get out of that trench, there’s no showing here. There’s nothing to get out of there. Right. OK, I don’t have to. Oh, don’t leave me alone. I’m fine. I should go get out now or I’m going to start making some phone calls. And within a half-hour, they had Suring done on every bit of the line that they were working on. You know, my wife and I, we saved somebody’s life. Yeah, but that’s such a powerful message is you’re not going to be a bystander, you’re willing to stop, you’re going to say something which is exactly your message. Everybody has a part to say and everybody should be trying to get involved and say something and help others to keep safe. Love it. Well, I know we’re talking here just about a few minutes. My normal presentation with my wife last up to an hour and a half long. We got lots of stories to tell. And we went through a very generous it’s really cool. It’s really low. And that’s phenomenal. And then so if anybody is interested in hearing more, getting more details about the dominos and the presentation and thinks of this, the story can help the organization really shift. Thinking about the importance of safety. Your website, again, is Brads helping hand dot com. Brad, I really appreciate you coming on the safety guru sharing your story. It’s a very tough and difficult story to hear, but a message that’s so important for so many people to listen to. So, thank you and thank you for having me. Excellent. Thanks, Brad. Take care. Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your team’s—fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru Eric Michrowski.

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Brad and his wife, Dolores, are world-renowned safety motivational speakers who share their story in order to prevent tragedies like their own from happening to others. Their delivery is versatile enough to move audiences from laugher, to tears, and finally to solemn reflection. This talented team has inspired hundreds of thousands of industrial workers from all levels of management to look at the importance of safety in a new light and energy—and they can help your team too.

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