Jim Pynn: The Anatomy of a Leader
by Helen Serebin MBA Operations & Sustainability 2012
Two weeks ago a group of students from the Operations Department had the rare pleasure of touring the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant with Jimmy Pynn, superintendent of the facility. A fellow operations major, Jeremy Larsen, who works at the DEP, arranged the visit, which spanned 2.5 hours.
While I thought the visit would primarily give me insights into the operational aspects of the plant, I learned more about leadership than operations. Coinciding with a course I am currently taking in developing managerial skills, which analyzes leadership attributes, in Jimmy Pynn I got a good look at the behaviors that make a successful leader – and why the Newtown Plant is exemplary in every way, not just in its award-winning architecture (Excellence in Design from the NYC Art Commission).
Jimmy explains in the very beginning that he is just a high school graduate (Brooklyn Tech) and worked way up to his current responsibilities. He then launches into very technical descriptions of the plant’s operations and chides us humorously when we seem to have trouble grasping the complexities. How not to be inspired by this Brooklyn native’s deep knowledge of waste treatment, his evident enjoyment of his work, his humility, and willingness to share? So many senior level executives hold knowledge close to their vest, afraid that sharing their expertise compromises their power. Jimmy is eager for us to understand the importance of the plant, to make us more informed citizens so that we can take part in the municipal discourse about our infrastructure. He empowers us and in the process, enhances his stature.
And everywhere that Jimmy went, there wasn’t an employee he didn’t salute. We encountered engineers and technicians and construction workers and maintenance crews. He knows them all and his greetings communicate respect and comradery. We learned that engineering consulting firms doing work at the plant regularly go beyond the scope of their contracts to accommodate him because of their esteem for his expertise and regard for his abiding concern for facility. That’s something.
At the end of the morning, we felt proud of Newtown, our wastewater treatment plant. That’s what a leader does, he inspires interest and identification to a cause and unifies his team.