Taken from LEAN FORWARD INTO YOUR LIFE, Conari Press, 2007, Mary Anne Radmacher
From early in my childhood I heard my father recount a story which typified his management and leadership style. The building in which he was a graveyard-shift foreman had sheet metal for a roof. It was a good thing in the hot summer, somehow serving to help cool the building. In the winter, however, it was a liability. The snow piled and worked to invert the sheet metal, causing serious concern about a roof collapse. The roof had to be cleared of its snow. It was a dangerous job. Climbing a ladder to a warehouse roof in a snow storm to shovel snow off sheet metal wasn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. But it was necessary for everyone’s safety that four people subject themselves to this danger. All were grateful that Oregon was not long subjected to seasonal snow storms.
In advance of the effort my father did two things. He placed enough equipment and outdoor gear for four people in the corner by the door. Then, when it was time he left his desk, went to the corner, and started suiting up. He assured me, each time he told me the story, that he was willing to go on the roof and get the job done alone. Although he never had to do the job by himself. He was always joined by three other men. Each time, it was a different group, but by the time my dad was suited up and put his hand to one of the four snow shovels, there were three men in line behind, read to grab the other shovels.
When I was older he elaborated on the story just a little. He explained to me why he would never accept offered promotions into management, off the production-facility floor.
“In a suit, you tell four men that they have to climb on the roof and put themselves at risk for the greater good. On the production floor, you climb on the roof for the greater good, putting yourself at risk, and there are people who follow. Not because you told them to, but because you led the way.”
In the first couple of years of operating myown business, I kept a shovel in the corner of the space in which I worked to remind me of the kind of leader I wanted to be.