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My Lessons in the Coal Mine

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in Remarkable Leadership with Kevin Eikenberry

This week, I had the incredible opportunity to tour one of the most productive coal mining operations in the United States.coal mineThe 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 are in conversation about how we might help this operation continue to improve the skills, confidence and results of their leaders.

Part of my tour group was Ken the plant manager and he and I talked throughout the 2+ hours we were underground. I asked a lot of questions to understand the culture, challenges and conditions that these leaders lead in. (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 (given the chance) 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 — 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 it’s leadership wanted me to understand what their world is like. Knowing the details and the context is important, and if we get the chance to work with this organization, my effort to understand will be a big reason. 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 specifics of a 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.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

David Newman March 9, 2014 at 11:32 pm

River view is one of the most productive underground room-and-pillar coal mines in the US. Unfortunately, the author grasped little of the organization from the active faces through engineering and mine management. Hopefully there will be follow up articles in which he describes how the activities of the CM operators, roof bolters, and car drivers are coordinated to produce at a high rate.


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