When I was a roof bolter in the coal mine, I developed a feel for the levers on the roof bolting machine I ran.
As I advanced the drill steel through the mine roof, I could sense the change in texture of the top from soft limestone to the hardest copper rock. The drill steel would jump when the top was cracked. It would proceed smoothly through solid limestone and it sometimes took five minutes and a couple of drill bits to get through a copper rock. After a while, I could tell by the feel of the drilling process how dangerous the top was. When the drill steel jumped, I knew that there was a danger of the top falling on other miners or on me.
I have found that there are many other times in life when the feel for the task that I am performing is critical to accomplishing it successfully. When I am in front of a training session, my success at helping the group accomplish its objectives is enhanced or limited by my feel for the group. Most times we get in a groove together. My stories and humor are relevant and appropriate. Other times, I walk away wondering why my favorite story didn't receive the usual acknowledgment.
Good leaders also have a feel for leadership. Sometimes we call these leaders charismatic. Charismatic leaders seem to naturally know how to connect with their followers. While some say charismatic leaders cannot be developed, I suggest the key factor is connecting with the followers.
If a leader wants to connect with someone or a group of people, that leader first has to care about that person or people. Second, the leader must be aware of how people are responding to him or her. If the leader is not in concert with the followers then it is important to experiment with different approaches.
When I first started roof bolting, I did not have the feel for it. It took months of practice before that feel started developing. Even after that feel was commonplace, I still had to maintain an awareness of my environment. Complacency could result in my injury or death or that of others around me. Similarly, even good leaders must be aware of the effectiveness of their communication and the morale of their followers.
Although some of us naturally have the feel for leadership, most of us must work at it and be adaptable. Any leader who has led for any amount of time realizes that the same successful behaviors with one group will surprisingly fail with another group. Leadership may be an art but it also takes work. Most of us who work at it can become better leaders. This effort is a responsibility of leadership.
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.