Everyday leadership

My Grandmother had a story she liked to tell about me, which happened when I was probably 3 or 4 years old. I had a brown felt hat that my Dad had discarded and I wore it everywhere. I had a big head even then because the hat didn’t swallow me up. I was also fairly gregarious even as a child. My next door neighbor, Billy, was my frequent playmate. One day I put on my old hat and proceeded across our yard, through the hedge, and over to Billy’s. In a few moments, I ran back into our yard screaming with blood pouring down the side of my face. For some reason, Billy swung a lead pipe, which connected with my skull.

Mom gently sat me down with a very concerned look on her face and began patting my head with a cloth in order to find the wound beneath all that blood. Soon, she found a gash so deep it actually dented my skull. She skillfully treated the wound and in a matter of moments I grabbed my felt hat, placed it gently on my injured head and started back toward Billy’s house.

Mom asked me, “Glenn, where are you going?”

I responded, “Over to Billy’s to play.”

Mom exclaimed, “After what that boy did to you?”

“But Mama,” I protested, “He’s my friend.”

“Well, that friend is going to kill you,” Mom replied.

Grandmother told that story many times while I was growing up. In later years, I came to interpret this story in a different light. I called Billy a friend but his behaviors denied the label. Sometimes we trust people and our trust is misplaced. As a result of this event and others in life, I have begun to judge people based upon their behaviors, not what I expect and want them to be. I still tend to trust people unless they prove untrustworthy.

Leaders are truly judged by their behaviors. Some followers tend to trust leaders unless they are proven otherwise. Others have a consistent mistrust of leaders and only trust when the leader’s actions warrant it. Leadership is not given to an employee by the organization. Leadership is attributed to a person by the followers of the group. If the followers trust the leader’s experience and good intentions toward them, they will follow that leader. The title of leader will not convince followers to accomplish the leader’s agenda. Leaders must be honest, open, and link their requests of followers to the objectives of the organization and the needs of the followers.

Sometimes we have to get hit in the head to understand the character of another person. Today, when I rub my head and feel the crease in my skull, I remember to judge people by what they do – not who they or others say they are.

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

Last Saturday, my wife, Carol, and I traveled to Ritchie County, W.Va., through some beautiful countryside for another Master Naturalist class.

This one focused on aquatic benthic (bottom dwellers) arthropods and non-arthropods. Arthropods include insects and crayfish. Non-arthropods encompass worms leeches, flat worms, snails, and mussels.

We began with about three hours of slides narrated by our presenter, Craig Mains, where he described and categorized various species of creatures that live among the rocks and sand at the bottom of the many streams in our area. Craig works for West Virginia University’s National Environmental Services as a wastewater expert.

In 1995, Craig and a group of volunteers formed a group called the Friends of Deckers Creek (FODC), which is southeast of Morgantown, W.Va., They decided to test the water quality and health of Deckers Creek and its tributaries. In order to accomplish the test, a tight-mesh seining device (fishing net with floats) was placed on the creek bed and the two poles of the device were held in place by two volunteers. Another volunteer disturbed one-meter square area of the creek bed immediately upstream from the seine. Then the seine was removed from the water and all the benthic specimens were categorized, bottled, and counted.

The health of a stream is determined by several criteria. One criterion is the number of taxa (different classes of arthropods and non-arthropods), second is the number of specific taxa that are highly susceptible to mine drainage and other pollution, and the third is the percentage of the highly susceptible organisms to all the organisms gathered. A high number from these three measurements indicates healthier streams.

After the lecture and question-and-answer period, we gathered at a small stream to attempt our own tests. With the exception of Craig, we were all surprised to see the many species in the stream. There were several larvae of mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies, which are the three highly susceptible species that indicate healthier streams. Several of the caddisfly larvae were encased in small protective pouches made from pieces of sand or leaves. We also found a cranefly larva, a black fly larva, an aquatic worm, a flatworm, and a couple of small crayfish.

This process is a fairly simple and inexpensive way of measuring the health of a stream. The technical expertise involves the ability to identify the various species and the knowledge of how pollution impacts each one. Craig and the FODC members documented their findings on a map, indicating variance of the health of Deckers Creek by color-coding. This information tells us where to place our resources in order to clean this stream.

In a similar manner, leaders need to measure the quality and health of the communication in their organizations and various teams. Even teams with healthy communication structures can deteriorate over time. It takes time and resources to build the communication you want in your work teams and to maintain that quality, the communication must be monitored periodically by the teams themselves or others. The best leaders understand that poor communication can drive away their customers and reduce their revenue and profits.

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 am by nature a somewhat spontaneous person in terms of my communication. Although I value spontaneity and honesty in communication, I have found that it can hurt others and me. Therefore, I have learned to be more deliberate in certain situations.

In my career, I have often found myself mediating difficult relationships. I see people who are intensely committed to different positions thwart those positions by how they communicate.

Why do people upset one another with their communication? Sometimes the communication used is more intense or sharp than needed in order to emphasize a point. Some people believe that if they don’t speak with a high level of emotion, others will not pay attention to their messages. Others speak with hidden or overt personal attacks to demonstrate their power or intelligence, or to create fear. Still others just don’t think about what they are saying before they say it. In these latter cases, there appears to be a direct conduit between their brains and their mouths. I actually knew a person one time who believed that if she didn’t say immediately what occurred in her mind that she was lying. This level of spontaneity is unnecessary and can be counter productive. For example, if you think I am ugly, you don’t need to tell me. Regardless of the feedback, I will probably be ugly tomorrow also. I can do little about that feedback. Some communication is only hurtful. The best leaders avoid this type of communication.

Especially in sensitive or stressed relationships, it is important to consider a new process of communicating. When a thought comes to you that you feel urged to share, do a couple of other things. First, ask yourself, what is my objective or purpose in this particular communication event? You may find the answer is that your objective is not that important or valuable to you. When you come to that conclusion, it may be useful to say nothing at all. If your objective is important to you, then state it in clear terms. Second, do not personally evaluate the other person or his/her position. Attacks on others only minimize or nullify your point.

Also, be aware of how you deliver the message. When I am trying to help resolve an interpersonal conflict, I usually, talk to both parties separately first. Then, I sit down with both parties and facilitate a discussion of their expectations of each other and what they are individually willing to do. As a conflict escalates, the facts of the event are usually described but the tone of the voice, the look on the face, and the body position are not described. These behaviors are often the greater part of why the communication turned into conflict and are important to discuss.

Remember, we are all responsible for our own communication. In stressful relationships, it is important to be deliberate about what we say and how we say it. It takes concentration to improve our communication. If you find yourself in a lot of interpersonal conflicts, think about the part you contribute to them. I have never been in a conflict where 100 percent of the fault belonged to the other person. I always own some part of it if not the larger part. Since that fact is true, there are things I can do to improve the situation.

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.