Lesson From The Underground: Own Your Role

A few years ago I was working with a mining operation in Eastern Tennessee. I have been in underground mines before. They are tough and often dangerous environments.

The individual that was giving me the initial tour was an electrical foreman. He had worked in that mine his entire life. He must have been at least 75, yet he was also very fit and athletic. He taught me an important lesson during the three hours we were together.

Everywhere we went, both underground and on top, he would stop to talk to those we came upon. Not just chit chat. I quickly noticed that he had great rapport and credibility with all of the people in the mine. Some were part of his crew but many were not.

So, when we had a break, I asked him, “You seem to get along pretty well with pretty much everyone we’ve talked to. They seem to respect you. What’s your secret?”

His answer, “Well, not sure I have one. I respect them. They have hard jobs and I respect what they do. Most of all, it’s ownership.”

“Ownership?” I asked. He said, “From the moment I leave home in the morning, I take ownership for my job and for the success of everyone I work with. If you are working in my area, I have a responsibility to you to help you be safe and to help you have a successful day. I ain’t no captain of any boat and I ain’t no pilot of a plane, but it’s the same thing. If you’re down here with me, you’re on my turf and we are going to be safe and we are going to succeed. Respect ain’t something you can require, you gotta earn it. And you gotta give it. It’s all about taking ownership for what matters most. I own the area I work in and I own my role. My role is to help others be safe and succeed.”

Valuable lesson from underground.

In my experience working with supervisors and front-line leaders, when they are struggling, the first place to look is in how well they “own their role.” Are they embracing the role of leader or are they hiding from it?

Here are five key actions to consider in owning your role:

  1. Know Your Business
    Know the organization that you are a part of. Know the business you are in. What value does it provide and to whom? How does it bring in money and how does it use that money? What is the industry like? What technology is most crucial? Who are the real leaders in the organization? How do you best contribute to that business?
  2. Know Yourself
    Do you know what you have going for you? Do you know what it is that will give you the authenticity and credibility you need? Do you know what you stand for – your values? Do you know your strengths? Do you know your working style – what it is like to work with you?
  3. Know Your People
    Know the people you lead. Do you know who they are? Do you know their capabilities? Do you know whether they are succeeding or not – and why? Do you know their satisfaction level in their job? Do you know what they need most from you? Is there good trust between you?
  4. Know What’s Expected
    Different people expect different things. Do you know your stakeholders – those that directly impact or are impacted by you as a leader? Do you know what they need and what they expect? Are you proactive in managing those expectations?
  5. Take Ownership for Your Success
    Like my mining friend, take ownership from the time you leave home until the time you return home. Take ownership for the fact that as a leader your primary job is to help others succeed. That is where your success is found. Take ownership for that. Be accountable to that. Then thrive.

So, whether above ground or below, own your role. Love your role. Your role is extremely valuable to your organization. No one can fill your role like you can. Owning your role is the foundation to your success as a workplace leader.

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