Uncle Louis was not my uncle. To me, he was Mr. Louis, but my boss called him Uncle and that counts.
Mr. Louis was old school oilifield. He was rough and tougher than shoe leather.
He said he started working in the oilfield when he was fifteen or sixteen. You could do that back then. When I met him, he was near seventy and still working offshore.
He had a million stories to tell. He could manage people and get the job done. He could teach me something I was told. They sent me to work with him.
My boss wanted me to learn something. I did.
We had thirty-six men on an offshore drilling rig, about an hour’s helicopter flight south of New Orleans. They had no leadership, they had a bad attitude. They were costing the company money and its reputation. People got hurt and no one seemed to care.
They sent Mr. Louis out there to fix it. They told me to watch. I was barely twenty-five at the time.
He and I laughed and joked on the way out there.
When he got off the helicopter, he was a different man. Mad at everyone. Snarled from sunrise to late at night. Barked orders left and right. He took a nap every afternoon, between one and two. Then stayed up past midnight, prowling around, getting to know the workers. He corrected their wrongs. He was up eating breakfast with the crew at five am. Every day. He told me I would see the difference by the week’s end.
The first three days, two men quit. Several others said they wouldn’t come back. It didn’t make a bit of difference to Mr. Louis. He didn’t change at all.
We worked seven days offshore, then home for seven days. On the morning we were headed home, Mr. Louis pulled a list of names our of his pocket. The helicopter was about a half hour away.
“Mike, I got to go find a man and get on to him. Set him straight about some things. I’ll be right back.” He got up, with the list in hand and headed out the door. Ten minutes later he returned. Job done.
“Mr. Louis, what happened?” I was still trying to learn something new.
He said “Mike, I made it a point to talk to each and every one of this rig, I wanted to catch them doing something and correct them. I had overlooked one man.”
His language was offshore salty, full of expletives. After all, he was an oilfield man.
“Why? I asked.
“Because he needed to know I cared about him and the job he was doing.”
Within a month, the rig was the cleanest and safest rig we had. It stayed that way as long as Uncle Louis was on board.
The men just needed to know someone cared.
Some days, we all need to know someone cares about what we do.
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