Everyday leadership

Last Saturday, my wife, Carol, and I traveled to Ritchie County, W.Va., through some beautiful countryside for another Master Naturalist class.

This one focused on aquatic benthic (bottom dwellers) arthropods and non-arthropods. Arthropods include insects and crayfish. Non-arthropods encompass worms leeches, flat worms, snails, and mussels.

We began with about three hours of slides narrated by our presenter, Craig Mains, where he described and categorized various species of creatures that live among the rocks and sand at the bottom of the many streams in our area. Craig works for West Virginia University’s National Environmental Services as a wastewater expert.

In 1995, Craig and a group of volunteers formed a group called the Friends of Deckers Creek (FODC), which is southeast of Morgantown, W.Va., They decided to test the water quality and health of Deckers Creek and its tributaries. In order to accomplish the test, a tight-mesh seining device (fishing net with floats) was placed on the creek bed and the two poles of the device were held in place by two volunteers. Another volunteer disturbed one-meter square area of the creek bed immediately upstream from the seine. Then the seine was removed from the water and all the benthic specimens were categorized, bottled, and counted.

The health of a stream is determined by several criteria. One criterion is the number of taxa (different classes of arthropods and non-arthropods), second is the number of specific taxa that are highly susceptible to mine drainage and other pollution, and the third is the percentage of the highly susceptible organisms to all the organisms gathered. A high number from these three measurements indicates healthier streams.

After the lecture and question-and-answer period, we gathered at a small stream to attempt our own tests. With the exception of Craig, we were all surprised to see the many species in the stream. There were several larvae of mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies, which are the three highly susceptible species that indicate healthier streams. Several of the caddisfly larvae were encased in small protective pouches made from pieces of sand or leaves. We also found a cranefly larva, a black fly larva, an aquatic worm, a flatworm, and a couple of small crayfish.

This process is a fairly simple and inexpensive way of measuring the health of a stream. The technical expertise involves the ability to identify the various species and the knowledge of how pollution impacts each one. Craig and the FODC members documented their findings on a map, indicating variance of the health of Deckers Creek by color-coding. This information tells us where to place our resources in order to clean this stream.

In a similar manner, leaders need to measure the quality and health of the communication in their organizations and various teams. Even teams with healthy communication structures can deteriorate over time. It takes time and resources to build the communication you want in your work teams and to maintain that quality, the communication must be monitored periodically by the teams themselves or others. The best leaders understand that poor communication can drive away their customers and reduce their revenue and profits.

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.