That first day I spent as a coal miner is burned into my memory like few others. I arrived at the mine site and sought the man in charge, the shift foreman. The men called him Head and Ears for, as you can imagine, obvious reasons. As soon as I found Head and Ears, he started spitting out my orientation.
Before I knew it, Head and Ears had completed the first portion of my orientation and turned on his heels and started out of the room.
“This way boy, come on, come on,” he hollered with urgency.
I ran to catch up and followed him down the hallway like a puppy dog. He led me to the lamp-man’s cage where all of the caplights not in use were hooked to chargers in preparation for the next shift.
“Give me your belt,” he barked. I took it off and handed it to him. He passed it to the lamp-man and said, “His check number is 386. Name is G. Ray.”
He walked over to a couple of wooden boards painted white. On the boards were a series of round, brass disks hanging on hooks. Waving both hands he noted, “This here’s the in-board and that’s the out-board. Every day when you come to work, you take your check off the outboard and put it on the in-board above your number. When you finish a shift, take the check off the in-board and put it on the out-board. If you forget, you will be called out of the mine to change it. If you go home and don’t take it off the in-board, you will be called back to the mine to change the check. You got that boy.” (I nodded in agreement. He paused for a moment and continued) “This whole set-up is to help us quickly determine who is left in the mine if there is an explosion or fire.”
I followed Head and Ears back to the lamp-man’s bench and picked up my belt and my brass check with the number 386 and G. Ray stamped on it. I noticed that the lampman had riveted a rectangular brass piece stamped with the same information onto my belt.
Curiously I asked, “What’s that for?”
Matter-of-factly Head and Ears explained, “Well, son, if there’s an explosion, people will be able to figure out who you are when they find your body in a couple of months.”
It suddenly dawned on me that this was the fourth time in the short orientation Head and Ears had told me I could die. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t much like the sound of that at all. His severe warnings served their purpose. I determined I was going to avoid becoming a fatality statistic. I grew up a lot in the coming months. I brought to the coal mine a good work ethic developed by working on our farm. However, in this job, I could negatively effect the well-being of hundreds of other men. I believe a good leader has on the top of his/her mind the impact any action may have on every other employee. It may be the most important thing a leader must consider.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of Ray-Com Learning, which helps leaders who want to create an environment where people communicate clearly and choose to commit to organizational goals. To learn more about RayCom Learning or his book “You Can’t Push a Pig into a Truck: Everyday Leadership Lessons,” visit his Web site www.raycomlearning.com. Ray can be reached at 1-740-692-4536 or at rayray@RayComLearning.com.