Business strategy: See how the others do it

In October of 1982, I had an opportunity to assist with some archaeological field work in the Missouri Ozark Mountains. We spent long days walking ridges and systematically digging shovel tests in search of archaeological sites.

As we finished one project area, we moved to another town to start another survey. One of the most memorable places we stayed was Viburnum, MO.

At the end of one workday, my fellow crew members and I were enjoying a pre-dinner drink at the bar of the hotel where we were staying. I turned around and realized that a stranger had claimed the bar stool beside me. We proceeded to engage in small talk. I found out that he was the superintendent of a local lead mine. Enthusiastically, I shared my history as a coal miner. Surprisingly, he invited us to take a tour of his lead mine. I was eager to experience this new venue and convinced my brother and two other guys to go with me.

The next day after work, we met at the hotel and piled into the superintendent’s truck for the short trip to the lead mine. There the four of us slipped into an open wire cage elevator packed like sardines chest to back. The elevator started dropping 1,400 feet slowly at first and then faster. I watched the stone of the irregular shaft wall passed in front of my eyes. In a few minutes we found ourselves in a huge underground man-made cavern. I was amazed with the sheer scope and size of this mine. The roof was around 100 feet high and the tunnels stretched 60 feet from side to side. In the distance, I could see a huge ore truck with tires over eight feet high rumble across an entry.

These sights changed added to my perception of mining. I was used to equipment that was four to five feet in height. Mining tunnels in my experience were from five to eight feet high. Naturally, my coal mining work defined my perception of the concept of mining.

Many leaders have similar perceptual limitations. They know only what they have experienced. This is not a criticism. It is a description of why we as individual leaders look at our work the way we do. I frequently suggest that leaders visit other plants and other industries, especially those that have implemented innovative processes or techniques.

I have toured a great number of plants in the 30-some years that I have served as an internal and external consultant. I find that many times an idea for one client will come as a result of an observation or success I have seen in another plant. Leaders who have taken my advice and have visited creative work places have consistently reported learning valuable techniques or systems. If you’re thinking you don’t have time to make a plant visit, you should reconsider. That time will be a shrewd investment if it helps shake your status quo so you can achieve a quantum leap in organizational performance.

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 website raycomlearning.com or call him at 1-740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.

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