It was a beautiful day with feelings of fall in the air as I slipped my canoe into the chilly water. Last Thursday at nine-thirty in the morning, the crisp air suggested a sweatshirt. The days of T-shirt and shorts were numbered. With urgent strokes, I pushed my vessel down the green water occasionally startling a school of crappie minnows all jumping at once to escape a perceived danger. There was danger present. Occasionally, a large bass breached the water in an attempt to make breakfast of one or more of the school members.
I slid around a bend in the river and noticed a sizable bird on a rock halfway up the bank. I retrieved my binoculars from my backpack and located the bird, a cooper's hawk. It swooped about twenty feet onto a log in order to collect a snake sunning itself. The snake was not an easy prey because the hawk fluttered out of striking distance and regained it perch three times before fleeing empty-taloned.
Later in the day, I watched as a caterpillar efficiently moved across a shallow stream by arching its back repeatedly while kicking its many legs. At one point it swam into the flow of the stream and was pushed downstream. It righted itself and continued in its original direction to the same point on the other side of the stream.
These observations of coping mechanism are not that uncommon. Each situation was different with varied threats but the commonality was that the animals had a process of surviving the danger.
The minnows stayed together and found safety in numbers. Predators have a hard time distinguishing individuals in the mass. A few are captured but the majority survives. Coordinated effort is important in times of crisis. When I worked at BorgWarner, periodic drills were held for fires and explosions. Every one at the plant knew their role and had practiced it.
The hawk attacked a snake that was a little too large and put itself at risk instead. In this case, the hawk gave up and sought safer food. Sometimes we as leaders take on more that we can handle. There is no shame in realizing that is the case and making a change in our course of action. Leaders who plow ahead when the change of success is small can miss more doable opportunities.
The caterpillar used similar movements that it would climbing a tree even in the very different water environment. However, its persistence and focus eventually enabled it to successfully make it to the other side.
Coordinated effort, an honest evaluation of the possibilities of success and making course corrections, and persistence and focus are all characteristics that create positive outcomes in times of crisis. Good leaders ask themselves: "Are we ready for known crises?" "Are we flexible enough to change course when failure is looming?" and "Are we persistent and focused when the environment is unknown?"
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.