Leaders seek new information, experiences to deepen creativity

My Uncle Joe, who was my Dad’s youngest brother, was born in 1907, a few months after my Grandfather died of heat exhaustion loading a wagon of logs. He was orphaned at the age of 15 when my Grandmother died of typhoid fever. Extended family members cared for him as he grew up. Shortly after Uncle Joe graduated from high school in 1927, he and a friend decided to hitchhike from Frankfort, Kentucky to California. Their intentions were to matriculate at the University of California in Los Angeles.

They slept on park benches or other convenient places. In Mobile, Alabama, they were almost eaten up by mosquitoes and found an unlocked car for refuge. To get to Mobile, they crossed a three-mile long single trestle railroad bridge by foot after dark. Halfway across they met a train and had to lie down on the tips of the ties to let the train pass 18 inches from their prostrate bodies.

Freight trains were a frequent mode of transportation. In Houston, after a harrowing and exhausting trip, they disembarked and settled for a night’s sleep on a cotton bale. A yard bull (railroad security guard) rousted them at daylight and ran them off. At a water stop in West Texas, Uncle Joe and his friend were in the process of being robbed by the conductor and brakeman when the brakeman asked them where they were from. As a result, Uncle Joe learned that the brakeman and his great Uncle Jim Scott “used to get drunk together every Saturday night.” This relationship saved them from continuing penniless.

The whole trip took 28 days and they spent $25 between them. When they arrived in Los Angeles, they learned the out-of-state tuition at UCLA was beyond their reach. In addition, this was the time of the dust bowl and the town was filled with transients from Oklahoma.

Uncle Joe’s friend got a job as a merchant marine and headed to Japan. Uncle Joe worked for a few weeks as a stenographer and then hitchhiked the long trip back to Kentucky by way of the northern tier states.

When Uncle Joe was in his mid-80s, he sent me a large hand-typed manuscript with these stories and many others. After the above adventure, Uncle Joe headed back to Texas where he and his friend spent a few days in route to California. He began his college career at the University of Texas and continued through his doctorate in economics. He also served as the president of the University of Texas at El Paso for eight years.

For boys of his day, this type of search for adventure and fame was uncommon. Many times during this trip, his physical safety was at risk. However, his view of the world was forever changed by the sights he viewed and the people he met. Like all of us our openness to problem solving is shaped by the many experiences we encounter. The more narrow these experiences, the more limited our leadership may be. The best leaders seek new information and experiences to deepen the creativity and value of their daily problem-solving and decision-making to the organization’s success.

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.

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