Everyday leadership

My grandmother always had sparkling eyes and a broad smile for me. She had high cheekbones and an air of authority. When I visited Grandmother’s apartment, she always offered me Ritz crackers liberally spread with peanut butter served with Coca-Cola as a treat. They always tasted better there than anywhere else.

Grandmother was a storyteller. She had stories about all of us children when we were little and about Mom and family and friends from back home in Pomona, Tenn. One of my favorites was about my mother when she was about 3 years old.

Mom always loved any animal, which was slow enough or foolish enough to let her catch it. It so happened at the time of the story that Grandmother had a brood hen that had just hatched a number of baby chicks. Finally, they were old enough to venture into the yard. Mom was attracted by their activity and fluffiness. While Grandmother’s back was turned, Mom started after one. She caught up with the first chick and held it tightly and lovingly in her little arms occasionally rubbing her cheeks against the soft new feathers. It was so cute. Soon, the delicate little bird ceased all movement and thereby lost my mother’s interest. Quickly, Mom chased down another chick and proceeded to hug it with great affection. The second bird also succumbed. With just seconds having passed, Mom had grabbed her fourth bird when my Grandmother reappeared in the front yard.

Grandmother was horrified at the yard full of dead chicks. In a scolding voice, my Grandmother reprimanded my Mother, “Audrey, what on earth do you think you are doing.” Mom replied, “I’m loving the little fluffs. They are so soft and pretty.”

We, as leaders, can learn much from the stories told by those who came before us. Storytelling can solidify points in our minds in unique and lasting ways.

Sometimes a leader can care for followers in the wrong way to the point of smothering them. People need to breathe, to make mistakes, and to have successes. One of the most difficult things to learn as a leader is when to protect a follower from dangerous experiences and when to let the follower explore. If you hold on too long, the risk taking of the follower will be lessened. If you throw them into difficult situations too quickly, you may cause a failure and lessen future risk taking. Each person is different but if you listen carefully, they will tell you when they are ready to take the next step or new challenge.

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.