Experience informs us how to act in a specific event

The culture of coal mining was fraught with conflict, man against a hostile environment, union against company, and even supervisor against supervisor. Unfortunately, one of these conflicts happened when my boss and I exchanged angry words after he had embarrassed me in front of all my peers. A few days later, my boss decided to teach me a lesson. He paid a half hour overtime to each of five miners for a nasty task.

Toward the end of a shift, I drove to a production section to pick up a few men and ferry them out of the mine. Earlier, I had set my dinner bucket on the front end of a supply car. On my return to the section, I noticed my bucket was moved to the opposite end of the supply car. Although I thought this was strange, I stepped upon the car to retrieve my bucket. Immediately, four miners grabbed me, one on each arm and leg.

They proceeded to take down my bib overalls and taunt me with a bucket of freshly mixed red chalk paint. While noting the identity of each of the assailants, I admonished them to stop. Since they were paid to perform this task, they felt safe to proceed. They ignored my advice and began to perform their artistry on my face. Working their way down my chest, they finished by pouring the remainder on my head. Then, they released me and I proceeded to drive them to the elevator. Boy was I mad!

Once outside, I marched into the foreman’s office to fill out my required firebossing paperwork. Was I ever a sight! The superintendent burst into laughter when he saw me and asked, “What happened to you?”

“What the heck do you think happened to me?” I replied.

“Did you see who did it?” he asked.

“Of course,” I replied. That was my second mistake. Each of the conspirators was given a written warning, which was a serious step toward discharge.

While the men were pouring the red paint on me, during the ride out, and in the foreman’s office, I became increasingly angry. This situation ballooned out of my control very quickly. I was never a fan of horseplay at work because although it sometimes reduced stress, it often damaged relationships. Due to the fact that disciplinary action was taken, most of the men on my shift held a severe grudge against me, giving me the silent treatment. In this specific situation, I later concluded that I would have been much further ahead if I had gone directly to the showers and washed off the paint prior to completing the fireboss books. In reality, nothing but my ego was hurt. My boss later was fired when the superintendent found out that he was behind the incident. My troubles, however, were just beginning. For months, my life was a living hell.

I learned a painful lesson here. It is important to know when to accept even a crudely demonstrated joke. I gained nothing by making a big deal out of this event. Leadership decisions are sometimes made in a moment but impact us for a long time. Experience informs us how to act in a specific event and tells the best leaders that rash actions may have long-lasting consequences.

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, www.raycomlearning.com or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.