But there is within all of these organisations hidden wealth that is not; in many cases at least, being realised because the management style of many of the industry's leaders does not create an environment that unlocks its potential.
Just like many mining engineering students before and since, the syllabus for my degree included lectures under the heading "Management". I recall this broad banner encompassing lectures on such topics as economics, project planning and management, law, industrial relations and occupational health and safety.
You will note that nowhere amongst that group of subjects was the topic of "leadership". Whilst I have no doubt that this was reflective of the times, it is perhaps an indictment of the education system of the time that no one considered this subject to be important enough to warrant lectures on this topic.
The only source of insight into leadership, that we as students encountered, was provided informally via discussions with various lecturers and the staff at the test mine, on their experiences in management roles.
When I tell you that a large proportion of the mining engineers who comprised the mining department had worked in Africa, it would not be surprising to learn that their preferred leadership style was very "colonial" in outlook, harking back to the days when a white skin gave you authority and power.
I do recall having a slightly more enlightened discussion with one of the staff at the School of Mines test mine. This gentleman had worked overseas for Crown Agents when it was a UK public statutory corporation, overseen by the British Ministry of Overseas Development. He had managed a quarry for them in the West Indies.
I remember him explaining to us one day, that if we wanted to get buy-in to a particular idea, concept or change of work practice from our employees that we needed to find a way to engage with them and make them feel as if it was their idea. He suggested to us that if we had a new idea that we wished to implement then we should wander around the site talking to various employees; in particular those who would be directly affected, float the idea with them and then get them to come back to us with their thoughts. He expressed the view that in this way they would believe that it was their idea in the first place and would therefore be committed to its implementation.
You will gather from this description that it was still a case of the boss telling the employee how they were to do their job by the least there was some recognition that management needed to engage with the employees.
Personally I believe that it was naive to think that the employees would not weigh up for themselves whether the new method was an improvement on the old way or not, but that they might either decided that it was actually an improvement or the fact that management was talking with them was in itself an improvement.
Whilst mining degrees still include units on Mine Management, I must confess to not knowing exactly what this entails. I can only hope that it now includes something on leadership.
As I mentioned in my post a couple of weeks ago, the industry, unfortunately, still has a high proportion of alpha male types, for whom "my way or the highway” is a popular theme tune. They mistakenly believe that this shows them to be a strong leader who is clear in their purpose and therefore someone who deserves to be followed.
The truth is very different to their perception of strength. People follow them because to do otherwise could be considered a "career limiting" act, so people do as they are told but in many cases only half-heartedly and in the worst cases may look for an opportunity to move somewhere else as soon as possible.
Such leaders will never get the best out of their people no matter how vociferous they are in indicating where they are heading and how they will get there. They are, at their core, diminishers and their leadership style will always lead to their teams underperforming.
In boom times this under performance probably goes unnoticed, commodity prices are high and everyone is making good profits, companies are scrambling to attract and retain employees and employee turnover in the industry as a whole is high.
However, in more normal times and especially in bad times the deficiencies of this management style become stark. Output is lower than comparable operations, costs higher and turnover still high relative to peers.
Contrast this with the manager who engages with his employees, listens to their ideas and suggestions and facilitates their implementation, where appropriate.
Here I am not talking about the proverbial suggestion box. I mean real engagement, holding open discussions without the threat; real or implied, that anything negative that is said might be career limiting. But most importantly just listening to what your employees think about the business and the way in which it operates, the good, the bad and the ugly.
This is not to say such employee proposals or criticisms should go unchallenged. Part of the role of the leader is to challenge those ideas, to test them to ensure that the perceived or proffered benefits of a new method or approach are real and will benefit of the business. Where criticism of the business is raised, again it needs to be tested, those conversations normally run along the lines of, “you say that we never XYZ…..when was the last time……?”.
Not only should the leader test these employee orginated new ideas, it is their role to encourage others to do likewise and to build on the idea so that if it passes this testing stage and is implemented, that it is the best implementation of the concept that could possibly be achieved because everyone has had input into the execution of the change.
This approach ensures not only that the idea will improve outcomes for the business but as importantly, that those involved in the business are committed to it because it is in fact their idea and are therefore determined to prove that it is a better method than that which it replaced.
So to an extent the former Crown Agents, Quarry Manager was indeed correct. Engagement with the workforce is the key to unlocking this wealth within the business. But it is the power of people working together to implement their plan rather than one imposed on them.
Perhaps we would have more productive mines if a greater number of managers did less talking and more listening to their workforce.