Everyday leadership

On a mid-January day I sit on the bank of the Little Hocking River resting in my chair. The temperature ranges in the mid-30s. Ice edges the river and a nearby tributary is glazed with a thin sheath.

Most days I find myself in this refuge during my daily exercise. My regime includes three trips from my back door to the river, which measures about one mile in total on mildly steep terrain. Sometimes I cut and split rounds of a long dead fallen wild cherry tree at the base of the hill. When I have a pile of split wood, I add three or four pieces of fire wood to my ascent.

Between the trips, I sit for a while and take in the sounds of the valley. Seldom do I not hear a pair of great horned owls gauging their distance from one another with a who-whoah, who, who. A fainter return come from downstream and other times from father upstream. On rarer days a screech owl echoes from across the ridge.

A belted kingfisher gives a startled primeval cry from a barren branch across the river and escapes up the river gliding close to the frigid water. With a crash of wings a great blue heron hidden in a nearby tree top follows the kingfisher to safety. Squirrels cluck in the trees above and a huge sixteen-inch pileated woodpecker joins the chorus intermittent with its hammering of a dead limb infested with an insect supper. Occasionally a minnow pecks the water’s surface to retrieve an unknown snack.

On a day that requires several layers of polypropylene and fleece for me to venture outside, the river bank is full of life. This activity in the middle of winter used to surprise me. I thought birds went south and mammals sought dens of comfort in such weather. I have learned by sitting still in nature even with the temperature in the twenties or thirties much is going on. It is not hidden but it takes some time and intention to see and hear it.

I believe that much also goes on in organizations that leaders may be unaware of. Some of these activities are positive and go unrecognized. Other activities are counterproductive and may occur from poor new employee training or inadequate feedback.

For these reasons I often suggest to leaders that they spend some time in their organizations where the value-added work is done. I am not suggesting surprise visits, although I am not totally opposed to them. It is best to let people know you are coming and come with no agenda but to observe what is working well and what issues people may have. Ask open-ended questions such as “How are things going? What is working well? What if anything hinders you?” You many learn a lot and at the very least you will show your employees that their work is important to the organization.

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.