The Forgotten Employee Is Your Greatest Asset

Did you know the most senior sailor on a nuclear submarine will back up the most junior sailor in an emergency? 

It certainly was a surprise to Jeff Akin, a U.S. submarine veteran and a guest on my podcast, Deep Leadership

When Jeff was a young sailor training to be a helmsman on the USS La Jolla, he heard something he would never forget. The Chief of the Boat, the most senior sailor on the submarine, told him: 

“If it ever goes down and something bad happens to you, the first thing I’ll do is leave my post and take over yours.” 

He said, “A submarine can operate without a Chief of the Boat, but it cannot operate without a helmsman.” 

Jeff realized at that very moment how important his job was. His work was so critical that he would be replaced with the most senior watchstander on the boat if something happened to him. 

On a submarine at sea, every sailor is essential to achieving the mission. Even the most junior sailor. 

This is also true in the business world. Every employee is essential to achieving the mission. 

But, unlike a submarine crew, most company managers don’t see junior employees as vital to their success. 

Consider this. 

Employees in positions like factory workers, customer service representatives, cashiers, and service technicians are mostly taken for granted. 

They are often referred to as “headcount” or labor expense. They are considered replaceable and non-critical. They are the first to be let go or automated and outsourced away. 

Very few companies see these employees for what they really are – critical to achieving the mission. 

In fact, these forgotten employees are your greatest assets. 

They are the ones interfacing directly with customers. They are taking orders, building components, making repairs, shipping products, and collecting cash. 

In short – they are your company’s front line. 

They are adding value to your products, your business, and your customers every day. 

A company can function without a manager, but it cannot operate without front-line workers. 

So, the question is – what are you doing to support these critical employees? Are you showing them the respect they deserve, or are you taking them for granted? 

Stephen R. Covey said it best, “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.” 

Every leader needs to take time to remind front-line employees how mission-critical they are to the business.  

It may be the first time they have ever heard this in their careers. 

As I say often in my books, leadership is a people business. Without our front-line employees, our businesses are dead in the water. 

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