Everyday leadership

My Grandmother had a story she liked to tell about me, which happened when I was probably 3 or 4 years old. I had a brown felt hat that my Dad had discarded and I wore it everywhere. I had a big head even then because the hat didn’t swallow me up. I was also fairly gregarious even as a child. My next door neighbor, Billy, was my frequent playmate. One day I put on my old hat and proceeded across our yard, through the hedge, and over to Billy’s. In a few moments, I ran back into our yard screaming with blood pouring down the side of my face. For some reason, Billy swung a lead pipe, which connected with my skull.

Mom gently sat me down with a very concerned look on her face and began patting my head with a cloth in order to find the wound beneath all that blood. Soon, she found a gash so deep it actually dented my skull. She skillfully treated the wound and in a matter of moments I grabbed my felt hat, placed it gently on my injured head and started back toward Billy’s house.

Mom asked me, “Glenn, where are you going?”

I responded, “Over to Billy’s to play.”

Mom exclaimed, “After what that boy did to you?”

“But Mama,” I protested, “He’s my friend.”

“Well, that friend is going to kill you,” Mom replied.

Grandmother told that story many times while I was growing up. In later years, I came to interpret this story in a different light. I called Billy a friend but his behaviors denied the label. Sometimes we trust people and our trust is misplaced. As a result of this event and others in life, I have begun to judge people based upon their behaviors, not what I expect and want them to be. I still tend to trust people unless they prove untrustworthy.

Leaders are truly judged by their behaviors. Some followers tend to trust leaders unless they are proven otherwise. Others have a consistent mistrust of leaders and only trust when the leader’s actions warrant it. Leadership is not given to an employee by the organization. Leadership is attributed to a person by the followers of the group. If the followers trust the leader’s experience and good intentions toward them, they will follow that leader. The title of leader will not convince followers to accomplish the leader’s agenda. Leaders must be honest, open, and link their requests of followers to the objectives of the organization and the needs of the followers.

Sometimes we have to get hit in the head to understand the character of another person. Today, when I rub my head and feel the crease in my skull, I remember to judge people by what they do – not who they or others say they are.

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.