Risks leaders take should be calculated

Coal miners played a number of games in their idle time while underground. Riding the conveyor belts was one some miners played. After I had been in the mines for a few months, I heard a number of stories about belt riding from different miners. However, I had never seen it done.

One day I asked Dan, with whom I had played high school football and who was an experienced belt installer, to show me how to ride a belt. Dan grinned at me and without any verbal instructions, proceeded to jump onto the nearby belt in the direction of its movement. After a couple of seconds, he jumped off on the other side a few feet down the belt and signaled me to come toward him by moving his caplight in a circle. Carefully, I copied Dan’s technique. As I leaped onto the moving belt, I fell on my stomach, jarring my hardhat and light onto the belt. I quickly gathered my hat and light and sprang to my hands and feet and then jumped off the belt. I was enthralled with my new skill. My face was all smiles but my stomach was twirling.

Later, I returned the favor by showing another new miner the belt riding trick. I described the process and then demonstrated it as Dan did. I told him to wait ’till I returned to see if he had any questions before he tried, but as soon as I jumped off the belt, he jumped on. Unfortunately, the miner who jumped on the belt bounced directly off on the other side onto his head. He wasn’t hurt, only very scared. Later, I perfected belt riding to the point that I could ride up onto overcasts built over the track or intake air course or return air course and swing off by way of the chains that supported the belt. This event was almost as much fun as an amusement park ride. I repeated my belt riding for several weeks until the thrill subsided.

Belt riding was fun but not the best idea. One’s caplight could fall off (as mine did the first time) and get caught around one of the belt rollers, jerking you off the belt. I was never hurt with my short lived belt riding but I did take a risk. Even so, within a few months, the thrill of belt riding wore off and I never participated in this behavior again.

Good leaders take risks at times. However, the risks they take are not just for the sake of a thrill. Getting away with illicit behaviors doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. The risks leaders take should be calculated and make significant improvements in organizational processes or profits. Some of us took more risks when we were young and then learned how to control our urges. Unfortunately, some leaders try to eliminate all risks. That approach can strangle an organization when the need for creative solutions to unexpected problems is greater than ever.

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