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
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In previous installments, I have been trying to challenge you to accept and use tension as a tool for establishing best practices. In addition, I have challenged you to use constant evaluation for ensuring the course of business is following the stated business plan. In this installment, I want to challenge and encourage you to recognize markers for ensuring integrity long after the business plan is established.
On the railroad project, the importance of this concept was evidenced in the need to set the rail in small units such that the shape and integrity of the track were established to carry the locomotive and passenger cars over the long haul. The project utilized spikes and spike plates every few feet to ensure the shape of the track was maintained. The project required the crew to think both short-term and long-term when securing the track. An outdoor track will experience a wide variety of weather and use conditions requiring each plate to hold its position and maintain the shape of the track. The same principle impacts effective business leadership.
Leadership requires individual and group markers to be established to ensure individual and organizational integrity long after the work is completed.
Tension created shape and shape allowed the crew to lay a course for the business of providing rides to tourists. A spacing tool ensured that our course was useful to the steam engine used to transport tourists from a loading zone back to the point of origination without disruption and injury. The final aspect of constructing the track reflecting leadership related to how the track was held in the designated shape long after the project was completed. In other words, getting the rail to the desired shape was only one part of the process. After the crew got it to the desired shape, there needed to be a method to hold it in place long after the crew left the premises.
The crew used spikes and spike plates to achieve the desired outcome.
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In the first installment of this series I drew a parallel between the tension needed to flex a straight piece of steel to create an oval train track and the tension necessary to create growth in business professionals and organizations. In the second part of this series I will discuss the importance of constant evaluation and review and compare that to the need for two tracks to be kept parallel and equally spaced to ensure the locomotive and passenger cars remain on track from point-to-point in a rail system.
Parallel tracks warrant that passengers will remain safe from point-to-point in a rail system. To ensure that a track is parallel requires the installers to constantly evaluate and assess the distance between the two rails. In our project, the construction supervisor kept assessing our placement of the rails before allowing us to drive spikes in the rail ties and secure the track in place.
LESSON #2: Leadership requires constant evaluation and review to ensure the desired path carries the organization to the intended outcome.
The foundation that an organization establishes is similar to how we guaranteed the track was laid appropriately to carry the train from a designated starting point to the corresponding end point. The crew was required to certify every rail would safely carry tourists around the historical grounds. In laying the track, the tension and shaping of the rail was only as effective as the care given to ensure the tracks were parallel and equally spaced in relation to each other. The train, without parallel tracks, was sure to derail resulting in broken equipment and lives. The most important tool used in the project evaluated and assessed the distance between the two lines of rails.
The rail enthusiasts we worked with continually evaluated and assessed the distance between the two rails with a simple tool made from a piece of wood cut to ensure that when placed between the two rails the distance from one side to the other was constant and matched the width between the two wheels on the steam engine and the cars that carried passengers. Even the slightest divergence in the space between the rails required action to eliminate the deviation. It was not long into the project before the work crew knew the importance of the spacing tool and the need to measure our achievement in placing the rails on the ties in the appropriate alignment.
In organizational leadership, similar tools are required to ensure that the progress being made is measurable and meeting the desired outcomes. We measured in small increments to ensure that a small deviation did not result in a significant problem. In addition, we all faced the reality that honesty was better then denial in using the information we found using our spacing device. Evaluation and assessment do not always require complicated formulas or tools. Many times a simple device will provide the necessary data to achieve consistent performance. Consistent performance will ensure foundational results. And, foundational results will establish a long-term path to organizational and individual growth and development.
Adaptation to the benefits of tension and constant evaluation of progress ensure business practices guide individuals and organizations toward desired outcomes. Evaluation and assessment also aid the individual and organization in measuring progress toward ensuring the satisfaction of customers and elimination of issues related to defective products and services. The third, and final, lesson in this series will parallel the need to secure the track for the long-term and the importance of implementing a business plan which sets the course for practice and productivity.
My goal is that you will be able to identify tensions and how these opportunities contribute to the success of the established business plan. Additionally, I want you to be able to identify available methods for evaluation and assessment of a business plan to yield desired outcomes. In the final installment of this series, I will identify individual and organizational markers to aid you in securing a successful completion of a business plan long after it is established.
Special Guest Post by David Ruhman
– Please see his short bio below. Reach out to him via email and check out his blog via the links below in his Author Bio. And watch for more posts from Dave in the coming days.
Effective leadership is fashioned through activities, which chisel away excess material revealing the masterpiece within. One summer I learned a lot about leadership working with troubled and troubling teens constructing a rail system for a local historical society in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. What I learned about leadership resulted from specific steps executed in the construction of the track. The project revealed three distinct lessons regarding leadership. The result of the investment made in the project and the people was an increased capacity to exercise effective leadership skills.
This article will detail the first in a series of three lessons learned during the construction of a small-scale, full-sized rail system for a local historical society. In subsequent installments, the second and third lessons will be shared. Each lesson stands alone; however, the three lessons combine to produce a compound effect. Personal application of each lesson is suggested to aid the reader in maximizing the transferability of the applied concept.
Lesson #1: To shape individual leadership skills requires varying amounts of tension.
The first observation on arrival to the site was
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