Good leaders think before they speak

Through five years as a coal mine supervisor, I had a couple of conflicts with my bosses. The first time came from an infraction of “standard leave,” a state in which the section was to be left for the next shift. Standard leave was mandated by top management and included a number of conditions. All the section equipment had to be serviced, charged and ready to mine coal and the feeder, where coal was loaded onto the conveyor belt, had to be clean. Even if a supervisor had to shut down production, the above conditions had to be left. My infraction was three shovels of coal at the feeder.

The next day at the end of my shift, the mine foreman, Paul, the supervisor of my boss, called me into his office. I followed him and sat facing him with my back against the metal wall of the building. He informed me that due to the three shovels of coal at the feeder I would have to come to work on Saturday and write a report as to why the coal was left and my plan of action to prevent the occurrence again. I felt my infraction was petty and of no real value to me or the company. So, I was a bit miffed and being a hard-headed guy, I let my mouth get away from me.

I looked at Paul across his desk and said, “If you want me here, I’ll be here but I expect you to pay me for my time.” Paul exclaimed, his voice raising, “We’re not going to pay you for screwing up. I’m going to ask you one more time. Are you going to be here Saturday?” I could feel the warmth from my flushed face as I replied, “Are you going to pay me for it?”

He jumped up, grabbed a stapler on his desk, and hurled it at me narrowly missing my head and ricocheting off the wall with a loud bang. I stood up and started out of the room. Before I reached the door, I turned to Paul and said, “You’re the boss. If you want me here Saturday, I’ll be here, but I’ll be looking for a job Monday.”

My crew was often top production and in those days, certified supervisors were in high demand. Both Paul and I knew I could go three miles down the road and get a job at will. I walked into the shower room and started to undress. Paul appeared and informed me, “You don’t have to come in Saturday. We’re doing away with standard leave.” Nothing more was ever said of the issue.

Even though I got my way, I damaged my relationship with Paul. A lot of other factors and people fed into this conflict but there was a significant lesson to be learned. I was incensed with my perception of fairness but I needed to be in control of my emotions and communication. Rather than taunting Paul I could have clearly stated my position and done what was asked of me. I always had the opportunity to quit should I wish to. The threat was unnecessary.

Good leaders think before they speak. They don’t let emotions get the best of them even though they feel righteous. The best leaders are calm and deliberate with their communication.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his Web site, or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.