Everyday leadership: Effective leaders need to prioritize work problems

Everyday Leadership

Last Saturday morning I awoke with a steady pounding of rain on my roof. I parted the bedroom curtains and viewed a hurried stream of water crossing my front yard and rushing through a culvert under my driveway.

I thought of the Little Hocking River at the base of my back property and the three-inch sheet of ice that had encapsulated it for several days due to the extreme cold weather.

I am a man of habits as are many who have reached three score years like me. One of my habits is to walk down to the river and back three times at least every other day for exercise. If work and accountabilities permit, I walk it every day.

This Saturday, the rain stopped around one o’clock. I piled on my winter walking clothes and headed down the slope. I carried a few pieces of firewood up the hill and then rested at the river’s edge and watched the brown ice. Down stream I observed free flowing water but in front of me and as far up stream as I could see, brown ice covered the river.

I looked closer at the center of the river and noticed brown water flowing under the ice occasionally pushed by thatches of leaves and sticks. I carried another armload of wood up the hill and returned to my chair.

I measured my wooden steps I had constructed at the water’s edge and realized the water had risen almost a foot covering the bottom step. A grinding and crashing sound turned my head up stream where a raft of branches and broken ice gradually plowed the center of the stream. As the collision progressed, a large piece of ice turned perpendicularly and spun in the air like a pinwheel. Other large pieces rose and submerged like the killer whales.

The water kept rising at a noticeable pace. The center of the ice had now been melted by the water flow and the crashing raft up stream moved toward me in slow motion. The half of the river near me was all that was left of the ice cover. Suddenly the 100-foot piece of ice just below my chair and all the rest of the ice started moving away from shore. The slow but quickening movement was a little disorienting. The raft of debris breached the final barrier of ice and shoved everything toward a couple of trees submerged across from one another down stream. The ice was crushed like in a meat grinder. In a matter of 74 minutes, the river overcame the ice and was free to flow.

It would have taken about 10 days of warm weather to melt the ice. However, with a series of factors including increased temperature, an inch of rain, and pressure from a rising Ohio River all combined to shatter the ice in less than an hour and a half. I pondered the event in front of me and realized most work problems are complicated with multiple contributors. Leaders need to prioritize work problems, conduct measurable experiments to isolate and solve problems. If we work on the right problem with the scientific method, processes can be improved and a great deal of money can be saved.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.