We have all heard of that unlikely individual who rose to leadership unexpectedly. Most of us have within us the ability to lead given the right circumstance and topic.
Here is a story that illustrates my point. While growing up, I was a member of the Malaga Guys 4-H Club. Each year, for my final project I would take my Jersey cow to the Monroe County Fair. One of my grand champion cows was named September Morn. She was of a championship line since her dam placed ninth in the Ohio State Fair. September Morn ranged on our 60-acre farm with a mixed breed cow, mostly Guernsey, named Rose. (We had a series of partly Guernsey cows over the years; all named Rose for our convenience.)
Every morning I would find the two cows in the barnyard patiently waiting to be milked. One summer morning when September Morn was due to calf any day, I arrived at the barnyard to the frantic bellowing of Rose. September Morn was nowhere to be seen. She had never been absent before and Rose's behavior was also unusual. I crossed the fence, and Rose immediately took off in the opposite direction. I followed her almost half a mile to the other side of the farm. There, I found September Morn lying on a hillside that had a gentle slope. She had delivered her calf the night before, and the calf had rolled down the hill. I picked up the calf, and September Morn with some urging, got up and followed me. I carried the calf home and both were fine.
Rose had always been the follower of September Morn from the very beginning. This day, however, she took an important leadership role that may have saved September Morn and her calf's lives. I was reminded from this experience that leadership often arises from unexpected sources. Many times when I was a supervisor in the coal mines, I saw average miners step up to the plate in critical situations and perform unusual leadership functions.
In a fire emergency, some ran in the opposite direction and others grabbed a fire extinguisher and headed toward the fire to fight it. When the roof collapsed, one of our most dangerous common occurrences, most of the miners exerted unheard of strength and effort to support the top. This very human characteristic is important for us to recognize. We need to encourage all employees to express their leadership abilities while giving them opportunities to succeed safely. In both of these types of emergencies, practice runs helped us survive dire situations. If we prepare people adequately, they will surprise us.
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, or call him at (740) 629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.