Everyday leadership: Leading yourself can be life changing

A lot of experiences culminate to result in one’s understanding of leadership and the leader’s vision of his or her future. Let me tell you one of my coal mine stories describing one such contributing story to my concept of leadership.

This day was similar to many others in the first three years of my nine-year mining career. Halfway through a double shift I volunteered for, I walked into the dinner hole with beads of sweat trailing down both cheeks. This working area with about four and one half feet of height was lower than most. I had torn my shirt on roof bolts twice that day. It would soon be time to buy another shirt to replace the tattered one. The new one wouldn’t last any longer, a couple of months at best. Five steps took me over to the wooden bench supported by concrete blocks. I reached for my round aluminum dinner bucket and set it on the bench as I lowered myself with a slight bounce. The lid of the bucket was fast due to the years of aluminum rubbing against aluminum. The four-inch deep insert in the bucket came out of the bottom attached to the lid. I looked into the bottom and watched my drinking water slosh around for a second. A small clump of white, powderish rockdust dislodged from the roof and landed in the water. Realizing my thirst, I raised it to my lips and drank deeply from the side of the bucket away from the cloud of rockdust. Then, I placed the insert between my knees and twisted off the lid.

Inside was a ham sandwich with mayonnaise on both slices of the bread in a baggy. Underneath the sandwich was a small Tupperware container filled with grapefruit pieces that sat beside two chocolate moon pies, one for me and one for my daughter, Betsy, when I returned home. She was always at the door waiting for her moon pie. I looked at the familiar meal, laid down the lid and placed my black. smudged face in my even blacker hands.

I decided to lie down and rest a minute before my half-hour lunch period was up. I reclined on the bench and turned my face toward the black wall of coal. Quickly, I slipped into a light sleep. As if in a dream, I heard a loud squeak echo in my ear. Startled, I opened my eyes and found myself staring less than three inches from the black beady eyes of a large rat whose front paws rested on the bench and hind legs remained on the mine floor. I rolled in the opposite direction and the rat escaped the dinner hole with equal speed.

I caught my breath and made an oath to myself that I would not spend the rest of my life working in a coal mine. I started taking classes at Ohio University’s Belmont County branch. It took six years to finish my bachelor and master’s degrees and finally get out of the mines. Leadership of one’s self may be the most important type of leadership. It is a plan that begins at one point and succeeds or is revised over time.

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. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.