June 01, 2011

Leadership Underground: My Grandfather's Story

Writing about web page http://www.redroom.com/blog/zbthompson/leadership-underground-my-grandfathers-story

[This entry originally appeared on Red Room: http://www.redroom.com/blog/zbthompson/leadership-underground-my-grandfathers-story]

When I think about leadership, I will always remember family stories told to me about my Welsh grandfather. Graham Roach was a miner who worked his way up to be the pit’s safety officer, a job which often involved dealing with painful and disfiguring injuries. People are often aware of mining disasters, but often, they are not so conscious of the accidents that happen regularly, every week even. How, for example, my grandfather watched a slice of stone fall down and cut off the four fingers of a man who had been resting his hand on the seam. The stories of these eponymous accidents and how my grandfather dealt with them, were passed along the family grapevine. My grandfather told my uncle who in turn told my mother who in turn told me.

One famous story tells how my grandfather himself was injured. The night was when a conveyor belt snapped and wrapped itself round the leg of my grandfather and another man.

The first man was screaming: ‘For the love of God, get it off me, boys.’

My grandfather, never one to waste words, simply said: ‘Me too, boys.’

He was always a man of few words, and the story made us all laugh, even though it meant hours of agony for my grandfather. The first man was weeping and wailing and calling out for a doctor. My grandfather simply repeated: ‘Me too.’

On another shift, my grandfather was underground when the mine flooded. Down one tunnel, some of the machinery had been swallowed up by the water. At the end of the tunnel was a long black pool. Taking off his boots, my grandfather readied himself. Now he dived into the water-filled shaft meeting the water’s cold slap. He dived down feeling his way along the side of the shaft in the dark. His hand blundered on something metallic and sharp. He came up with the drill and worked all night in his wet clothes.

It doesn’t surprise me that during World War Two, my grandfather had one of the most dangerous jobs in the airforce as a rear gunner. In the airforce and in his job at the mine, he always seemed to be the one to take on the difficult task, the thing that no one else wanted to do. He is altogether the kind of leader that I admire. Not a showy or conspicuous man, but nevertheless a man who knows how to act in a crisis. A man who doesn’t make a fuss when something goes wrong, but simply waits in silence for help to come. A man who does unpleasant tasks, not relishing them, but knowing that they have to be done and that he must lead by example.

My grandfather: Graham Roach

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