Everyday leadership: Leaders aren’t afraid of ideas of their workers

I remember a particular midnight shift when I was a roof bolter in a coal mine in 1976. We had arrived uneventfully on the section like most every day. I walked up to my machine and prepared for the day’s work. As I surveyed the area where the previous shift’s crew left my roof bolter, I had an idea. The more I thought about it, the more excited I became. Finally, I saw the light of my foreman, Carl, coming in my direction.

I flagged Carl down with my caplight by moving it in a circle in his direction and he stepped toward my machine. I started describing my idea, which involved the process for using my machine in the mining cycle for the day. Carl’s face looked expressionless as he quietly listened to me while leaning on my machine with one hand. Then, Carl turned his head away from me and then back making solid eye contact. “You know, Glenn, you’ve got one boss and you’re looking at him.” With that comment, he grinned, stepped away from the machine and continued on his way.

Initially, was a little surprised by the comment and found myself dwelling on it. As the day went on, I became progressively disturbed and insulted by the whole incident. What was he trying to tell me, I asked myself? It was clear that he didn’t care about nor want any opinions or ideas from me. Did he think that I was too stupid to actually have a good idea?

Now, Carl was not a bad boss. Most people seemed to respect his knowledge and supervisory ability. However, he liked to run the show. Many supervisors of that day were taught to control their men in a similar manner.

The fact was that I felt devalued by his leadership style. A couple of years later, I realized that my suggestion was not the right thing to do for the long-term progress of the production section. If Carl had just taken the time to explain why my suggestions would not work, I probably would have understood.

There are a number of research projects, which indicate that the highest quality solutions result from those with a greater diversity of ideas. These creative outcomes occur because we all contribute ideas from unique fields of experience. Therefore we have more options available during problem solving.

When I became a supervisor, I remembered how I felt with Carl’s leadership style and those of other supervisors. I vowed to myself to not repeat his mistakes. I encouraged input from my staff and tried to use the input as much as possible. Good leaders are not afraid of the ideas and opinions of their workers. They value these ideas and opinions and are more successful as a direct result.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.