Everyday leadership: Experiencing a person’s culture can be educational, too

Ten years ago for Christmas, my wife and I went north to Ft. Frances, Ontario, to visit her brother, Bill, and his family. It really looked like Christmas with the accumulation of several powdery snowfalls. One night we were treated to a show of the northern lights. They filled one quarter of the sky and at times appeared to dance across the horizon. Later we had the novel experience of ice fishing. Jeremy, my niece’s boyfriend, led this fishing expedition.

I was well dressed in polypropylene long johns and socks topped off with a down jacket. It was a bright sun-shiny day with the temperature in the high 20s. Our first stop was the bait shop where we picked up about three dozen minnows. We drove about 20 miles to Merantz Bay on Rainy Lake. We pulled off the paved road and made our way over the snow-covered back roads through the large spruce, fir, and aspens. In the shadows, the pines still held the hoarfrost on their branches like icing on a cake.

Shortly, the expansive lake was in view. The snow-covered surface was as white as the salt flats of New Mexico. The lake was plowed across the middle where about 20 ice huts set. Forty people stood in groups talking in an animated way or simply looking in their fishing holes.

As we drove off the shore and onto the ice, I felt a bit uneasy. We parked our van between two ice huts and Jeremy immediately hoisted the ice auger out of the back of his truck. He proceeded to start the engine of the auger with a pull cord. I steadied the four and one half-foot auger as Jeremy pulled five or six more times and the motor began to roar. He positioned the auger between his truck and our van and the auger began to whirl. In a matter of 30 seconds, the auger ground through about 20 inches of ice. He continued by drilling six more holes, which were arranged in a box shape. The results looked like the holes of a prairie dog village.

A truck drove by us and the ice popped like the beating of a base drum. Jeremy placed a fish finder, in each hole. In the most promising hole lines were placed. In a matter of minutes, we pulled out a 2-foot pike and three crappie and a walleye followed.

I stayed toasty until the sun went down. Beautiful colors of purple and red bathed the surrounding forest and lake. This gathering of nature lovers and sportsmen is a cultural event across Canada and the Northern United States. I felt privileged to be a part of this experience.

If you want to understand people, it is important to live a piece of their culture. This understanding is important for new leaders who have relocated for a job. When leaders seek to experience the culture of their employees, they gain understanding that will help them earn respect.

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.