My Brother-in-Law, the Plumber . . .


My sister married a plumber.  He was a very successful plumber, enough so to have an expensive waterskiing boat, several cars and a large house.  But he wasn’t like me.

Here’s the back story.  By the time I met my brother-in-law, I was on the fast track, building a business, flying from coast to coast for meetings, late night conference calls, early morning breakfasts.  I was, at least in my mind, the image of what success looks like.  I did everything fast, after all, business is a 24-7 game and I was playing it hard.

Larry, on the other hand, did everything slow.  He talked slow.  He moved slow. He was meticulous and methodical.  It seemed like it took ages for him to get his point across, especially to someone like me who had a habit of finishing people’s thoughts and sentences for them. To me, he was boring!

Needless to say, I didn’t go out of my way to spend time with my sister and her husband.  Too busy to hang around with “boring people”.

Fast Forward 20 Years:

The toilet in the upstairs bathroom has stopped flushing and after a careful examination Plumber(pulling off the lid and peaking in) I surmised that the flushing value had died of old age and physical abuse.  So off to the hardware store for a new unit.  Actually, it took three trips!  The first unit I bought was too tall for the cistern but I got it right on the second trip.  But then the nut on the underside of the cistern was too large for my little wrench, so a third trip was required.  A little thought popped into my head: “I bet my brother-in-law wouldn’t have wasted so much time!”

Okay, so the process seems pretty straight forward.  Drain the cistern, unscrew the old siphon flushing unit, pop in the new one, tighten the screws, and go back to watching the football game. Now draining a cistern of all the water is not a one shot process.  In fact, it is slow and requires patience and focus.  First to scoop out the remaining water after the last flush, then take a sponge and slowly soak up all the residual water.

Two hours later!

The new unit is in, flushing easily and everything is back to normal.  Except for a small leak where the new unit is bolted to the bottom of the tank. UGGH!

As I sat on the bathroom floor, I had a sudden insight.  I now totally understood why my brother-in-law was so calm, measured and methodical.  You can’t rush plumbing!  It takes a certain type of personality to be a plumber, and he was an excellent plumber. My personality type does not equal plumbing excellence!

After an afternoon of “walking a mile in a plumber’s shoes”, I am humbled!  I used to think people who were different from me were somehow “defective”.  I guess it was me who was the defective one. Judgement and criticism replaced with admiration and appreciation.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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2 Responses to My Brother-in-Law, the Plumber . . .

  1. Good insight John! I saw Mike Rowe on a TedTalk where he talked about all kinds of insights from his TV show, Dirty Jobs. Take a look at others who have been too quick to judge:) It is tough being human!


    • So true, but it beats the alternative. I would appreciate your comments on my new book LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, since you are one of the guys who truly get it and understand culture. I think you will find it takes the concept of culture a step or two further than most. Enjoy Portland and get out there among the Steelhead!


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