Building It By Hand

What a Railroad Can Teach You About Leadership

Building It By Hand

I fondly remember the experience of constructing a rail line with a group of social cast-offs during two summer vacations. And in this concluding segment, I want to share with you a few final thoughts and the leadership lessons that I learned constructing a small rail system by hand.

I learned from the design and implementation of the activity. I learned from observation of the completed project when I visited the area. I learned from hearing the appreciation of tourists who commented on the opportunity to take a steam train ride in this rural community.

The project married a passion for trains (the historical society members provided this) and good old fashion muscle (the youth provided this). It has been said that strong backs created strong tracks on this project. Even today when I observe tourists riding the rails, a sense of accomplishment and pride in the work still results. Little is known about the workers who did this project, but the tourists do not seem to care.

A Change in Perspective and Practice

The experience impacted my perspective on business leadership in profound ways. The activity changed my practice and view of leadership in significant ways. Over time I became a more effective leader as a result of this project.

The most important result of this experience was seeing how attention to detail allows the rail line to remain in operation long after the project was completed. In addition, the response of tourists allowed the historical society to maintain the tracks through tourist donations and purchase of tickets. The steam engine continues to carry passengers safely around the grounds of the historical society allowing some to experience what they knew in the past and a new generation to experience a lost art. The project is still a source of successful promotion of the historical society served by the project.

In the practice of leadership, the challenge remains to lead by using tension to shape a viable business plan. In addition, the practice of constant evaluation and analysis ensures that there is a measurement of results, which provide the assurance of a successful business plan. Finally, establishing markers to hold things in place allows the individual and organization confidence that the track of business is established and successful.

Leadership requires individuals and organizations to maintain focus. This project was no different. From beginning to end, the project of constructing a rail system required constant attention to details. Successful businesses have leaders who motivate others to maintain an attention to details.

It may have been a small construction project, but this was a huge lesson in leadership. Sometimes the best leadership lessons come from unexpected sources.

Who knew you could learn so much about leadership from the construction of a railroad?

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