Thursday, January 13, 2011

Archimedes and Us

Archimedes said, "Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I will move the earth." He was setting forth an important principle of physics that has held up for centuries. The lever, along with  the inclined plane, made possible the building of the Pyramids. Today you make use of the principle of the lever when you use pliers to get a grip on a stubborn bolt or employ a long screwdriver to loosen a rusted screw. But recently I've been thinking that there's another part of Archimedes' statement that bears consideration. He really was asking for three things: a tool for the job, a firm footing, and to be left alone to do the work set out for him. And isn't that what we all need to get through our days?

I served for almost three years in the US Air Force, and I did a lot of growing up in those years. I was drafted out of my specialty training, given a uniform and a set of captain's bars, and sent overseas where I very quickly rose through the heirarchy of the Air Force Hospital where I served (by other doctors rotating back home) to become Deputy Hospital Commander, along with my day-to-day medical duties. And I very quickly learned a lesson. Trust the people who work under you. Make sure they have clear marching orders. Be certain they have the tools to do their job. Then don't get in their way. Most of the time--not all, unfortunately--but most of the time they won't disappoint you.

To this day I hold to the principle that responsibility must carry with it the authority to perform the task at hand. Micro-management by someone looking over your shoulder doesn't help. Or, as my colleague, Dr. Ken Kuykendall, used to say when someone was back-seat-driving his surgical technique: "I can't go any faster, but I sure can get more nervous." That applies in almost any job you can imagine.

The next time you use the principle of the lever to accomplish a task, think about what Archimedes said and how it applies to your life. Maybe you need to give someone a longer lever or more space to operate. Maybe you need to ask for a better place to stand yourself. Whatever the application, I hope you find this little bit of advice helpful.




5 comments:

Anne Mateer said...

I've really found this to be true with my teenagers. They want to do things themselves and I need to give them the tools, the information and the space to learn to accomplish those things before they are out in the world all on their own!

Carol J. Garvin said...

That's an interesting bit of information, Richard, and it has many applications. In our church committees I've found it pays to give competent people a job with adequate instructions, and then let them do it without interference. Not only does the task get done, but the person doing it benefits by a sense of achievement. It's wonderful to see the glow of someone whose self-confidence has been boosted by your trust in them and their success.

Jillian Kent said...

I really enjoyed these words today, Doc. Especially, "Maybe you need to give someone a longer lever or more space to operate. Maybe you need to ask for a better place to stand yourself."

I find this a constant challenge with my child who has mental health challenges and learning disability. Always looking for that balance.

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks to all of you for your comments. I'm glad this wasn't just me, crying out to be given the tools to do my job and then left alone to do it--something I've encountered a lot in my life. Apparently it's a pretty universal situation.
Blessings, all.

Anne Mateer said...

I've really found this to be true with my teenagers. They want to do things themselves and I need to give them the tools, the information and the space to learn to accomplish those things before they are out in the world all on their own!