When I was a child, I thought my brother Joe could do anything. As an adult he tried and succeeded with many amazing feats. One of his projects was a mammoth swing that hangs over the head of a deep, forested ravine near the world-famous Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Six-foot wide black wings made of steel form a giant bat-like figure located in the trees about 40 feet above a waterfall. Joe constructed this strange spectacle during the summer of 1990 while on a week's vacation. When we were young, Dad often built rope swings for us to enjoy, but Joe's current plans were much more grandiose.
He selected two tall trees growing out over the edge of the ravine and measured the distance between them. Joe made a list of the required components and drove his 4-wheel drive pickup to a well-drilling supply company in nearby Glasgow and purchased the needed supplies.
He hauled some of these items directly to the construction site, while others were taken to a metal shop in Horse Cave where necessary modifications were made. Joe used a 24-foot extension ladder to climb part way up the trees, and then installed 12-inch lag bolts into each tree in order to climb the additional 15 feet to the attachment area. The oak tree on the left had a substantial fork in which to bolt the left end of the steel pipe. But the black gum tree on the right had no limb at that level, so strap steel with a 6-inch-wide loop at the bottom was bolted to the tree. The right end of the pipe would rest in the loop and allow for lateral pipe movement when the trees swayed in the wind. By himself with the aid of a pick-up truck and block and tackle pulleys, he hoisted the assembled metal into the treetops and climbed the trees to secure both ends. Next a seat and footrest were installed at the bottom of the pendulum and a heavy metal grate to which the rider could dismount the swing was staked to the hillside.
With a week's work and $300 of supplies, Joe had completed his bizarre creation.
Now all the planning and effort had resolved to this moment of his first flight. He threw the release handle forward, setting the monster free. The thrill was immediate! He felt like he was falling into the ravine at extraordinary speed and at the bottom of the arc the swing effortlessly rose up toward the treetops to what felt like an insane height. Then, after a brief hesitation at the peak, he rushed backwards toward the hillside, rising almost back to the launch pad. Wow! His grip on the metal tubing of the swing was white-knuckled. The swing sliced through the air, arcing back and forth about a dozen times. With each cycle the swing slowed until he was able to lightly leap off onto the dismount grate. What a ride! The high-speed bearing made the glide very smooth and his 190 pounds hardly stressed the system.
The mammoth bat has been enjoyed for years by family members and friends. Joe, though not a mechanical engineer, created an over-engineered contraption that gave all who dared the thrill of their lives. Joe has never been afraid of failure with his many endeavors. He planned, experimented, and retrofitted his project usually with success. The best leaders are those who are action oriented. They have a vision, put it on paper, and then make it a reality.
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.