A few weeks ago, I had the incredible opportunity to tour one of the most productive coal mining operations in the United States. The River View Mine outside of Waverly, KY is also the largest mine of its type in the U.S. – bringing 62,000 tons of coal and rock out of the mine each day. I had the opportunity to go down 400 feet and see how this operation works. The tour happened because we were in conversation about how we might help this operation continue to improve the skills, confidence, and results of their leaders – and next week I go to start that process.
Part of my tour group was Ken, the plant manager (I’m on the right and he is in the middle), and he and I talked throughout the 2+ hours we were underground. I asked lots of questions to understand the culture, the challenges, and the conditions in which these leaders lead. (Ok, I wanted to know a lot about the mining process too!)
It was my first time in a coal mine, and I will remember it for a long time. It was fascinating and fun on many levels, and I know I learned much to provide context and to make the training experiences we create extremely valuable.
I know you don’t expect to learn more about coal mines in this space – you came here for leadership lessons and ideas. Don’t worry, I have several of those from my trip underground.
People are people. Whether working 400 feet underground, piloting or serving passengers 35,000 feet above it, or working in plants or offices on it, people are people. Ken asked me questions about dealing with certain employee situations – situations he framed in a mine context, but that I have heard posed (and played out) in 50 different workplaces and work conditions. The good news is there is far more the same than there is different.
People want to know you understand. I was invited to tour the mine because leadership wanted me to understand what their world is like. Knowing the details and the context is important, and my effort to understand is a big reason we were selected. Even though much is the same, when we take the time to understand the differences, we will be more effective and people appreciate and value that you take that time to recognize the differences.
It’s complex and it is easy. It is complex, because as people, we are complex. And often, we try to make every leadership situation seem like it is completely separate and unique. The most effective leaders can live with this yin and yang of same yet different effectively – both for the perception and feelings they create for others, and the results they create for the organization.
As a leader, you are leading people. As you learn how to apply the unchanging principles to the ever-changing specifics of any given situation, you are moving closer and closer to success. If you have new leaders trying to learn this balance, I’d encourage you to consider our Bud to Boss Workshop for their development.