In the dead of night on Feb. 29, the extra day we get every four years (who said we can't create time), a tornado formed and hit Branson, Missouri. It reformed repeatedly with a devastating EF-4 storm slamming into Harrisburg, Illinois.
Here in Ohio, the night was filled with thunder and lightning. I awoke several times throughout the night and finally for good at 7 a.m. to prepare and get ready for a meeting that morning. Off and on, the rain pounded and then cleared to sprinkles. The ditch in my front yard along the road swelled to the point of overwhelming the culvert and claimed the road as its path.
I donned my rainsuit and made my way down the hill to the Little Hocking River. Each ravine was flowing and the rock shelter several hundred feet away rushed, echoing through the valley.
My river chair sat 30 feet from the river's edge but the water was determined to swallow it. I settled in the chair and watched the water rise about three feet in an hour. A stick jammed into the mud at the water's crest was soon overtaken. I removed my chair to a safer distance. Several intermittent springs around me bubbled clear water from some unknown source.
Flotilla after flotilla of leaves and limbs hosted Styrofoam cups, beer cans, green Mountain Dew bottles and even a basketball. Bits and pieces of the unwanted or lost parts of people's lives flowed by. Trees the size of small telephone poles threatened low branches that were now in the middle of the swollen river. It was all on its way down the river to meet the Mississippi River and maybe reach New Orleans. The trash would be the problem of others now. I would pick up the remains on my next canoe ride.
The river performs a flushing mechanism periodically but trash is left in every nook and cranny along the way. The power of the river leaves an impression. It bulls through anything that may be in its way.
Some leaders I knew in the coal mines and in other organizations remind me of inconsistent characteristics of a river. Power was used at times to get things done and then a calmer approach was resumed on most other days. To be honest, I was guilty early in my supervisory career of the same mistake. Research tells us that consistency and predictability are highly valued leadership characteristics by followers. Although urgency and other time issues can result in explosions of power usage, these behaviors are almost always damaging to the long term leader-follower relationship. Employees tend to remember the outbursts more than the behaviors of normal days. Stories of the outburst last much longer than the event itself. The calmer leader has no less power than the emotional one. We cannot redo the past but we can make sure we monitor our emotions, clearly communicate instructions, and hold people accountable.
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.
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