Everyday leadership

On a mid-January day I sit on the bank of the Little Hocking River resting in my chair. The temperature ranges in the mid-30s. Ice edges the river and a nearby tributary is glazed with a thin sheath.

Most days I find myself in this refuge during my daily exercise. My regime includes three trips from my back door to the river, which measures about one mile in total on mildly steep terrain. Sometimes I cut and split rounds of a long dead fallen wild cherry tree at the base of the hill. When I have a pile of split wood, I add three or four pieces of fire wood to my ascent.

Between the trips, I sit for a while and take in the sounds of the valley. Seldom do I not hear a pair of great horned owls gauging their distance from one another with a who-whoah, who, who. A fainter return come from downstream and other times from father upstream. On rarer days a screech owl echoes from across the ridge.

A belted kingfisher gives a startled primeval cry from a barren branch across the river and escapes up the river gliding close to the frigid water. With a crash of wings a great blue heron hidden in a nearby tree top follows the kingfisher to safety. Squirrels cluck in the trees above and a huge sixteen-inch pileated woodpecker joins the chorus intermittent with its hammering of a dead limb infested with an insect supper. Occasionally a minnow pecks the water’s surface to retrieve an unknown snack.

On a day that requires several layers of polypropylene and fleece for me to venture outside, the river bank is full of life. This activity in the middle of winter used to surprise me. I thought birds went south and mammals sought dens of comfort in such weather. I have learned by sitting still in nature even with the temperature in the twenties or thirties much is going on. It is not hidden but it takes some time and intention to see and hear it.

I believe that much also goes on in organizations that leaders may be unaware of. Some of these activities are positive and go unrecognized. Other activities are counterproductive and may occur from poor new employee training or inadequate feedback.

For these reasons I often suggest to leaders that they spend some time in their organizations where the value-added work is done. I am not suggesting surprise visits, although I am not totally opposed to them. It is best to let people know you are coming and come with no agenda but to observe what is working well and what issues people may have. Ask open-ended questions such as “How are things going? What is working well? What if anything hinders you?” You many learn a lot and at the very least you will show your employees that their work is important to the organization.

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

Everyday leadership

From my childhood, I have many fond memories of Mom who is now 92 years old. She was the best mother with a positive and smiling demeanor. When I struggled with homework or some difficult decision, she was the one I sought for counsel. Persistently she reviewed the homework until I had an epiphany and the answers flowed. She always said, “There is a silver lining to every dark cloud.”

As a child, Mom took tap dancing lessons in Jacksonville, Fla., where my grandfather worked in an automobile plant. Sometimes when my younger brother, Jack, and I were dancing and learning our moves in front of the television to “American Bandstand,” Mom would demonstrate the dance of her youth, the Charleston. At 40, she could still kick up her legs. The Tap Charleston was popular when she was 5 to 6 years old and was probably the source of her skill.

The heat of August contained quieter times with Mom, Grandmother, and my sister, Sylvia. We sat in lawn chairs under a big ash tree with bushel baskets of freshly picked white half runner beans spread among us. Kentucky wonders were another bean we grew that required a pyramid of poles to allow the vine to wander. These beans were snapped and dried into what Grandmother called “leatherbritches”. Picking beans was monotonous to me though I carried my fair weight.

Snapping and stringing the beans was more fun. With the ash tree’s gracious shade covering us from above, Grandmother told stories of Tennessee folks or the three female voices broke into song from the Cumberland Plateau. First the stem was broken and strings were quickly stripped the length of the bean and discarded. Then a quick wrist action was used to separate the beans in two or three places. The rhythmic popping of the beans sounded like a small percussive instrument

Next came the inside work as the women folk cooked and bottled the beans. They were left to sit and cool a bit and then capped. Throughout the next hour, periodic popping indicated that a good seal had been achieved on each jar. My job was to carry the finished product downstairs to the cellar and place them behind the few jars left over from the previous year’s crop. You always wanted to use last years’ product first. First in; first out. To be honest, I did not like to eat green beans much in those days, but I loved the process, the stories, and the time with my family.

At the Ray place, there were individual tasks like milking a cow or slopping the pigs and there were team tasks like mastering homework, learning to dance or canning beans. I like the individual tasks. The cows were always grateful for me to relieve their udder pressure and the pigs were perpetually excited about eating. However, the team events were the most fun. With these activities, I always learned how to succeed with a group and how to make a mundane task interesting and enjoyable. Team tasks are always about the relationships.

The best leaders are those who make difficult or boring tasks fun. As a supervisor on difficult days, I told stories, made up and sang songs, or created good-natured contests. Keeping a good attitude and sense of humor along with creativity can help a team enjoy their work. It is worth the effort.

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

Everyday leadership

The popularity of coaching has increased dramatically in the past three decades that I have practiced the process. It has expanded into various forms of life coaching, health and wellness coaching, wealth coaching, executive coaching and many others.

Coaching must be valued by the person being coached (I will use the term coachee) and supported with a strong commitment. The title of my ninth book says it all, “You Can’t Push a Pig into a Truck.” There is no need to try and force a person to gain new skills and create fulfillment and balance in their lives unless he/she sees the need to clarify choices, capitalize on strengths, and make changes.

As I begin a coaching relationship, I usually gather some data on the performance of the coachee by interviewing peers, reports, and the person to whom the coachee reports. I also ask the coachee to read the book, “Now, Discover your Strengths” by Buckingham and Clifton and complete the StrengthsFinder self-report assessment. Also, the coachee is encouraged to read my book, “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success.”

A successful coaching relationship must involve confidentiality, trust, honesty, and openness. Any information shared by the coachee, gathered by interviews or resulting from the StrengthsFinder assessment belongs to the coachee and is shared only by the coachee. Trust, honesty and openness grow with the relationship. However, if any of these three elements seemed blocked over time, the coach must describe what he/she sees and discuss it with the coachee. The coachee must feel safe in the coaching environment.

My objective as a coach is to help the coachees achieve their objectives and build upon their strengths, capabilities, creativity and resourcefulness. The assumption in a coaching relationship is that a successful coachee will find more fulfillment and balance in all aspects of his/her life. Fulfillment occurs when values are clarified to help sort out choices. Balance occurs when we say yes to some responsibilities as we let go of others.

Over the years, I have coached dozens of business owners, plant managers, other organizational leaders including supervisors, and individuals seeking a new path forward. The vast majority of these coachees, but not all, learned new skills or realized exciting futures. I take responsibility for listening to what is said or not said verbally or nonverbally, relying on my intuition as to how the session or relationship is going, and being willing to ask the right questions at the right time. Success is dependent upon how much the coachee wants it and how much they work on their issues. My job is to help hold them accountable for what they want to accomplish.

There are probably times when we all could use the help of a respectful, compassionate, neutral person to help us separate the trees from the forest and to be more objective with our decisions in life. My experience tells me that coaching can be one way of helping us achieve our deepest goals.

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

Everyday leadership

I find January a convenient time to look at my successes and disappointments and gauge the learnings I have gained during the past year. More importantly, I spend some time resetting my vision and creating the right goals for the coming year. It is good to have hope, but it is even more important to plan so that we make the hope a reality. January was named after the Roman god, Janus, who had two faces so it could look into the future and into the past simultaneously.

This ability of Janus’ generally describes the planning process I use. First, I describe the kind of business I had last year by answering the following questions. Was it professionally and personally satisfying. Was it financially successful? Am I offering the right mix of products? Did I exceed the expectations of my clients? Am I attracting or reaching the right clients?

If you feel your work is not satisfying, this may be the year you look around and start the development process to make a transition. I believe it is never too late. My dad started a construction business and nursery after his 70th birthday and realized some level of success. When I worked in the coal mines or at BorgWarner, within six months to a year of beginning work, I created a career path within the business for myself and a plan to gain the skills necessary to accomplish each step in that plan.

If your business did not reach your financial goals, don’t lower the goals, identify what you need to do better, more of, or differently to accomplish those goals next year. I look at the volume in different business sectors I served last year and measure it against previous years. This measurement allows me to identify the type of organizations I need to focus on in 2013.

If you don’t know whether or not you exceeded your clients’ expectations, you need to invent a way to gather that data. There are many data gathering techniques available such as surveys and focus groups. Phone calls to key clients using three or four open-ended questions can also be useful.

Whether we know it or not, each business serves customers of a particular niche. It is important to know where and with whom we are most successful. This understanding helps inform our marketing plans and new product development.

So this year, instead of just watching football, take some time by yourself in a quiet place or with your key leaders away from the workplace and ask yourself some of the key business questions indicated above. Leaders who don’t make this commitment will be driven by inertia or find a once successful business slipping on the variables that matter the most. Happy New Year and may 2013 be your best year ever.

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