NEWSCLIP-2009-07-07.. Grizzle speech, ‘Keeping the Edge’, full text

Speech – “Keeping the Edge”

David Grizzle, Oklahoma City, OK July 7, 2009

TWO/NAPA Conference

Thank you, Lindy [Ritz] for the kind introduction. I also like it that the rest of you applauded. As a lawyer, I’m used to a much more reserved response. Suspicious silence is not uncommon. Icy stares and snarls under the breath. Or sometimes even the gesture that I know is not a sign of endearment. So applause, however brief, is a splendid change of pace.

Randy asked me to come here today, and I must say that I jumped at the chance. Actually, he said, “You doing anything for Fourth of July this year?” Since he’s a long-time pilot and I’m a product of airline senior management, I figured that giving me a chance to fly out on a holiday weekend was just a form of institutional level setting. Actually, I’m in the process of moving to Washington, so I’m still living in temporary housing and my wife’s away helping out with our new grand-daughter, so this was not a bad time for me at all to be traveling. And I had a sincere interest in meeting you, I’m especially glad to see the Aeronautical Center.

If you have any doubts about your reputation, that ISO 9000 certification of yours gets talked about at headquarters. You should be proud. I know the people back in D.C. sure are proud of what you’ve done and what you do. I knew about you guys long before I came to AGC. A lot of organizations can improve and get to be good once. What the ISO 9000 certification distinguishes you for is that you’ve stayed good for a long time. Consistency is exponentially more difficult than a single episode of improvement. My personal experience with weight loss is a classic demonstration of that principle. You’ve done the hard part. And I applaud you for that.

“The Next Frontier” — I found that to be an appealing topic. If you’ve been following Randy’s public comments, he’s talked about the importance of launching NextGen, and as someone who’s still got the fresh perspective of a newbie, I totally agree with his perspective.

The airlines want to see the next generation of air traffic control so bad they can taste it. The impact on more efficient operations is vast, with a significant shortening of block times, fuel burn and the enhancement to profitability and reduction of adverse environmental effects that these bring. They want to grab onto technology from the ’50s — except they mean 2050. But, for the airlines to do their part to keep up with the move to NextGen, they also are going to have to incur significant capital costs.

They want to know that when they buy into a piece of technology that it’s going to be an integral part of a total, operational system. Times are tight, and the fear on their part of buying an eight-track sound system is very real. If you don’t know what an eight-track is, I’m going to have to ask you to keep your youth to yourself.

What I’m seeing, though, is lots of movement toward NextGen. And not just from the FAA. You see the headstands that are going on in Memphis and in the Gulf. Well, these responses aren’t just for the camera. When we build something that works, the industry says, let’s go. I’m sure that Vicki Cox will give you more of the whys and the wherefores, but from where I’m standing right now, it sure looks like NextGen has the green light — as in all systems go.

Thinking about the Next Frontier got me to thinking about what’s next for us as individuals who operate in a competitive, results-oriented environment. A lot of people are not thinking about the Next Frontier, or if they are thinking about it, it is not with feelings of excited anticipation, but of fear and dread. How one responds is partly personality, but it is even more preparation. How adequately have we prepared ourselves to participate in what the future brings our way?

The next big thing is always being detailed by some management guru who pops out of nowhere, and he always seems to have seven steps or 10 rules to get you where you need to be. Sometimes, his advice only takes a minute a day. And the advice of these gurus always ends up as a New York Times best-selling success.

But I’ll tell you, that’s not my experience. And I’m pretty certain that it’s not yours either. The road to excellence contains far more than seven steps. The 10 rules thing only worked when God wrote ’em on stone tablets. And if you’re a manager in one minute increments, you’re like one of those segments on Sesame Street — nice, short, punchy and really enjoyable — as long as you’re just learning the alphabet.

I’d like to talk today about a different kind of leadership excellence, and again, it goes back to something that Randy said. He’s looking to establish stability in the workforce and promote our culture of dignity and respect. People automatically assume when he speaks of stability that he’s talking only about NATCA or PASS, but there are other unions, and he means those, too. More importantly, he means the entire community of the FAA. As leaders in our respective organizations, we need to foster stability, dignity and respect for all of those under our leadership. I’m talking about 45,000 people here, not just those who are paying union dues, although it very much does include those co-workers as well.

Stability comes from leadership, and make no mistake about this, leadership doesn’t just come from the top. Each of us is a leader in certain contexts, and excellence in leadership only comes about from personal excellence, and it’s something that only you can develop and demonstrate. The disciplines that lead to personal and leadership excellence can only be applied by you, to you.

A big part of this is deciding whether you are going to shape the world or be shaped by it. I got on the elevator at headquarters last Tuesday morning and, as I always do, I said to the people in the elevator, all of whom I had never seen before, “I hope all of you have a great day today.” One man over in the corner looked at me, but spoke to the entire elevator full of people, “What’s he so cheerful about?” I said, “It’s Tuesday.” “That means you’ve got four more days,” he responded grumpily. (He was actually wrong since Friday was a holiday, but I let that pass.) I came back at him with “That’s great. I like every day I’m here.” “You must not work in (and then he named his department),” and then he looked at the button I had pushed and said, “Ninth Floor. You must be a lawyer.” And, as he got off the elevator, I said, “Exactly, come on up and tell me why you’re not expecting to have a good day.” “Fat chance,” was the last thing he said as he got off on his floor.

Now, I fear that this colleague, whom I do not know and may never meet again, went off and did not have a good day. Irrespective of the circumstances he had already faced or was anticipating facing, he was letting himself be shaped by the world rather than looking at his world as a place to be influenced and molded by his own personal and leadership excellence.

It’s easy to get caught up in the machinery, like we’re all on some sort of assembly line. I know that in legal, we read documents in hundred page lots. And, if you keep your nose down and just look at the words on the paper and fail to have the higher and more genuine perspective of what a document means in terms of families getting to their destinations faster and safer and more people having jobs because businesses are more efficient and profitable, then, yeah, life can get dull and the meaning of your life can slowly drip away.

How do you stay sharp, stay engaged? Each of us brings a special skill-set to the workplace, and each of us gets to use it every day. There should be little doubt about the importance of your work. Aviation represents about 5 percent or so of America’s GDP and an even larger percentage of the source of people’s psychic enjoyment from life. And the FAA, the organization you work for, creates the structures and manages the instrumentalities that make aviation the safest form of travel on earth. Not a lot of people get to say that about the organization they work for. You can. I can. And let me tell you, I find that very satisfying. We are public servants doing jobs that matter in an agency that’s an economic and emotional hinge for this nation. I came to the FAA because I wanted to work for a mission-driven organization, whose mission was distinctive and worth getting excited about. I have been very pleased to find that so many of my co-workers are also drawn to this place because of its mission, and their desire to be engaged in a mission that matters.

I bet you anything that the guy I encountered on the elevator was excited about his place in the Agency when he first came here years ago, and somehow, the excitement of changing the world one day at a time just ebbed away.

I’m 55 and it’s been over 30 years since I graduated from law school and started my career. I can tell you that I am still constantly looking for ways to keep myself sharp; to challenge myself and keep myself excited about what I can contribute during each day. That’s one of the reasons I was so pleased when Randy asked me to take this job as Chief Counsel. Moving to Washington was going to be totally disruptive of the life my family and I had built in Houston, but I looked at the FAA and realized that it has the opportunity to change more in the next five years under Randy’s leadership than it has changed in the last 30 or will change in the 30 years afterwards. I also concluded that there’s no better way to keep yourself fresh at my age than to turn your life upside down.

We face a great opportunity at the FAA not because of a lot of deferred items (although we have not exactly been early adopters on technology). Instead, we have the happy confluence of cultural opportunity, political will and technological capability that enables us to build an even larger superstructure on the massive, solid foundation of organizational excellence that has made us the envy of global aviation regulators and airspace managers.

But, from my vantage point of three weeks in this job — so you can take this for what it’s worth — the Agency will only achieve the full promise of the NextGen vision if each of us takes responsibility for our share of the vision. It’s a personal decision that each of us must make. As a matter of fact, only you can make that decision — the choice for excellence, the decision to push a little more even though you don’t feel like it because you’re tired and your boss is a jerk and your kids are a pain and because you didn’t get the promotion you thought you deserved.

It would be easier if the NextGen vision could be realized purely as a procurement process, where equipment and software and a few consultants here and there land on our properties and the processes and procedures of the Agency are magically and instantaneously transformed. There will be some of that, mind you. But the products of a great procurement process will only be a part, and maybe not even half, of what will be required for us to achieve our full potential. You and I and our successors will personally and individually provide the secret sauce of personal professional excellence that will bring the vision to fulfillment in its most complete expression.

Do you remember the extraordinarily ambitious words of President Obama in his Super Tuesday speech of last year, when he said, “We are the ones we have been waiting for?” Well, as I look toward the Next Frontier of the Federal Aviation Administration, I can say confidently that you are the ones we have been waiting for. You, and your colleagues throughout the Agency, are the ones we have been waiting for to take us to — and beyond — the Next Frontier.

And I’m deeply grateful to have the privilege to run with you toward the Next Frontier. It’s an honor to serve with you. Thank you for having me here today.


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