A leader should respect the traditions and cultures of the past
In May of, 2004, my brother Jack and I and our wives visited our childhood home. It had been almost twenty years since we had been there together. In 1962, when Mom and Dad took teaching jobs at Beallsville, they purchased this 60 acre farm just north of the little Ohio town of Malaga to keep their three boys busy.
As we pulled into the gravel driveway, memories flooded us. The large, white, two-story house looked much the way it did four decades ago. The three forty-foot blue spruce trees were long gone from the yard but the expansive porch spanning the front of the house looked much the same. All around the house were a variety of fruit trees that Dad had planted in his latter years.
We walked through the milkhouse, the huge red barn, and the greenhouse. Some deterioration had occurred but it had a familiar feel. We even walked down to the small pond that we had built in the early 60s. It was now merely a swamp. A couple of the buildings behind the red barn had been torn down and removed. In their place was a rolling, green field.
The farm house held a set of stairs that greeted you when you walked in the front door. A wonderful curved banister framed the stairs and wound around the landing at the top. When our family moved in, there was much work to be done. We quickly found out that the farmhouse was infested with fleas due to a number of cats that the previous owners had kept. To get rid of them, we sanded and varnished all of the oak floors. Next we spent a summer steaming off a dozen layers of paint from the front porch before painting. A similar process removed a half-inch of wallpaper from the living room and stairway. We ended up papering every room in the house at least three times
My most recent memories of the house were in 1986 after Dad died. I went through every room and every drawer to retrieve any family memories that might remain. For thirteen weekends in a row, my children, Betsy and Elijah, and I spent our time together sorting keepsakes and disposing of trash. I felt closure from the activity of those three months.
As Jack and I walked around the property, I pointed to where the roof caught on fire, where I led my 4-H cows up and down the drive way every morning and every night, where we jumped from the loft onto feather beds, and where we played basketball with all the neighborhood children. This place was where the culture of the Ray family was created and our family traditions were repeated. We have changed and the property has changed but little bits of us are still there- a name in concrete and an old red milking stool.
What does all of this say about leading and about leadership? I think it says that a leader should respect the traditions and culture of the past when taking on a new position. When introducing new efficiencies and new skills, value that which has been achieved and the skills previously demonstrated. If you can find a way to respect the past while introducing the future, you will realize a greater commitment and motivation of all employees.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the President of RayCom Learning, which focuses on leadership, team development, and organizational communication processes. To learn more about RayCom Learning, visit his website, raycomlearning.com.