Ask the NAEM Board: What is one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?

Mark Cates

Many years ago, I learned that the first step to get out of a hole is to stop digging.  This simple saying has become one of the most applied lessons in my life whether raising kids, running operations or managing a global environmental function.

It seems the first response of most people, young and old, is to defer responsibility for problems and make excuses.  My typical reaction when observing this behavior is to let it run a bit for entertainment purposes followed quickly by, “are you finished?”  or “just stop!”

While it seems more comfortable to those closest to the action to defer blame, it never fixes the problem.  When I sit with a plant manager who has a few environmental issues, they attempt to blame everything from the weather to lack of knowledge.  Those conversations quickly turn to what’s the problem’s root cause, what is needed to correct – money, people, or technology- and then do you need any help?

It’s not painful to fix the situations and get out of the hole when you stop digging with focus on the truth!



About NAEM Staff

The National Association for Environmental Management (NAEM), is a non-profit professional association that empowers corporate leaders to advance environmental stewardship, create safe and healthy workplaces, and promote global sustainability. As the largest network for environmental, health and safety (EHS), and sustainability decision-makers, we provide peer-led educational conferences and an active network for sharing solutions to today’s corporate EHS and sustainability management challenges. Visit NAEM online at

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