I have the good fortune to have grown up on a 60-acre farm in southeast Ohio. My brothers and I had a sense of freedom with rolling hills and forests to roam and a huge barn in which to play basketball and build hay forts. Our imagination led us to re-enact Civil War battles and construct log cabins and tree houses with plans designed by my older brother, Joe.
Each part of the farm had its own unique allure. The creek that bisected forest and pasture land was seined to examine minnows, crawdads, and occasionally a leopard or bull frog.
Behind the barn a gentle slope was blanketed with elderberries. Dad in his latter years made jam and wine from these elderberries. But for my two brothers and me, this thicket felt primeval. In the summer we played as Indians and stripped off our clothes and scampering underneath the branches completely hidden from the outer world.
Briars and saplings were chocking a nearby aging orchard so Dad tasked us to clear the brush away from the red and yellow cherry trees. In doing so, we realized we had produced a number of poles. We stripped them and proceeded to construct our first log cabin large enough for all three of us to enter and sit comfortably.
As I grew older, I frequently revisited the orchard to find solitude to think or sulk if I perceived an injustice had been done to me. One spring day, I found myself in my favorite place, our now decaying cabin, thinking about my girlfriend of the day. To celebrate my emotion, I carved GR + BG in the smooth bark of a 20-year old maple. Proud of my artistry, I gathered my younger brother, Jack, and hurried him back to the maple tree. He was duly impressed. I returned to the maple tree regularly and eventually all that remained were indistinguishable scars where once my handiwork proclaimed affection.
On Oct. 20, my wife and I attended a naturalist class at Ash Cave. It is a 90-foot rock shelter where we identified walking ferns and other novel plants. As we headed back to the car, a man appearing to be in his late 30s was noisily carving something into the sandstone bedrock with a knife. There are a lot of carvings dated as early as the 1800s along the outcropping, but a new carving in such a historic, beautiful place was in my opinion offensive graffiti. The new carving at Ash Cave will be there for hundreds of years.
I guess these stories sound like I hold a double standard. The fact is as an adult, I would never today carve anything into sandstone or on a tree. I, now, see the act as a desecration. However, I harbor no ill will toward someone carving letters in a tree on his/her private property. I have no say in that matter.
The acts of a leader can quickly fade or put a permanent mark on an organization. The company's culture is formed by the leader's behavior. Leaders should contemplate the impact of their actions and try to have lasting effects that are positive, not just a lasting scar.
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.