Good leaders know how to treat people, expect the same from others

The Christmas, my sister Sylvia was 14 she received a blue box about 18 inches long by one foot high. It was a record player and became a valuable family item. That and a small plastic transistor radio were our source of music along with the car radio when we got the chance. I once ran the battery down in the car and was forbidden to use it for music again. Sylvia was very generous with her record player and my younger brother Jack and I used it frequently.

We had three kinds of records. There were 78 LPs (long playing). We weren’t that fond of them because they contained music from the 1940s. One 78 was a letter Dad had dictated to Mom before they were married. We also had some 33 LPs. Sylvia had one by Richard Chamberlain who was also a television star of a weekly show called Dr. Kildare. Sylvia swooned when he appeared on our black and white television and chastised us boys should we dare to talk during the show.

Jack and I took the record player up to our room and played 45s of the Jackson Five, Sly and the Family Stone, and the Rolling Stones over and over again. We gathered quite a collection over the years. We practiced for dances and critiqued each other ‘s moves to the latest popular tune.

One of the 33s was of interest to me because the first song was Big John, a tune about a coal miner sung by the artist Jimmy Dean. This record had a divot out of one side, which made it difficult to hear the whole song. I had to lift the record player arm with a small needle on one end and drop it just after the divot to hear as much of the song I could.

The song made me cry many times. It was about a huge, rough coal miner who didn’t say much but who in his early life had killed a man in a fight. One day when the mine collapsed, Big John grabbed a timber and momentarily held the top up long enough for twenty men to escape. Big John was the only man killed because of his selflessness. Years later when a miner myself, I realized the nature of Big John was much like that of many miners I knew. When an accident happened, everybody looked out for themselves and everyone else.

Somehow as a result of that song and many of my later experiences, I came to believe we do have a responsibility to others at work and in our neighborhoods. We have a responsibility to talk to people in a respectful way, to help others when they get in a bind, to teach people things they want or need to know, and to help people do their tasks safely. Good leaders understand this, role-model this, and expect others to do the same.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s book Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons, visit his Web site Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.