Leaders often push themselves to maximize job performance

I was a roof bolter in the coal mines for two and one half years. The job entailed drilling an 8-foot hole in the mine top and tightening a bolt with an electric-powered 10-foot by six foot rectangular machine.

It is one of the most dangerous jobs in the coal mine due to the danger of roof falls. In the 1970s and ’80s, the top three jobs where coal miner were killed were mechanics, section foremen, and roof bolters. I worked two of the three jobs. However, roof bolting was the highest paid union classification job along with continuous miner operators and mechanics.

After I won the job bid for a roof-bolter, I had to learn how to perform the job. I started out cautiously and slowly. Soon, my speed picked up. Day after day, I became more competent. I enjoyed roof bolting. I played games and competed with myself as to the number of bolts that I could install. One day, I walked into the dinner hole, where miners stored and ate their lunches, and proclaimed to those miners who happened to be there, “I put 60 bolts in today.” I had beaten my previous record of 50 installed roof bolts.

There were two roof-bolting machines on this section. The other roof-bolter named Dan looked at me sternly. I thought that maybe he didn’t believe me. I looked at him with a grin and continued my brag, “I put 60 bolts in.” Dan humorlessly said, “We don’t put 60 bolts a day in.” I responded, “Yeah, I did.” I was a little puzzled because I knew that Dan was more experienced than I was and certainly could install 60 or more bolts. He repeated, “What I mean is we don’t put 60 bolts a day in.”

I finally understood his message. He was defining for me the maximum amount of work that I should do. I was overproducing in his opinion. If I continued this rate of work, he would also be required to meet my productivity level. In all fairness to him, he also equated too much speed with reduced safety.

I did not argue with Dan about the maximum amount of work that I could accomplish safely. I was certainly interested in my personal safety. However, counting bolts and competing with myself helped the day go by more quickly and made the day’s work fun. I continued to test my skills and made it to 80 bolts one day. Later with a newer roof-bolting machine, I even installed 100 bolts. I quit talking about how many bolts I put in with Dan but continued my game of competing with myself.

Leaders are seldom satisfied with a certain level of work. They are compelled to invent new ways to get the work completed faster with higher quality in a safe way. They constantly push the envelope of their performance. Peer pressure that minimizes their performance is not heeded. Instead, they role model their beliefs and work ethic.

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.