On the fourth of July I had an experience that I would rather not have lived through, but it taught me several powerful lessons with multiple implications.
After the fireworks display at a large city park, I was driving my family and my daughter’s friend to our house. There were adult volunteers directing traffic and so I paid attention to them and to the car in front of me. Soon I realized I was stopped directly over a set of railroad tracks. Sarah’s friend said, “This is making me nervous.” I said rather nonchalantly, “If a train comes, we’ll all run out of the car. Our lives are more important than this old mini-van.” In my mind I thought there was no way that the volunteers would have guided us over the railroad tracks if the trains were running at that time. Two minutes later the light turned green, and I moved ahead with traffic. Another minute later Barb turned back and said, “Now there’s a train coming where we were.”
I got very little sleep that night. We were in danger and I didn’t realize it. I did not have a well thought-out plan, and I didn’t proactively respond when I realized we were stopped over the tracks. I spent the night thinking about what I should have done differently.
Here are examples of how this scenario plays out in business.
On a work team
A group of eight people are given an important project. Seven of the eight work very hard and make tremendous progress. The eighth person skips meetings, fails to return calls and emails, and drops the ball on key assignments. However, when the group’s supervisor attends a monthly update meeting, this person always says something that catches the supervisor’s ear as being really insightful, even though the comments are not based at all on the realities of what the group is doing or finding in their efforts. Should anyone in the group speak up and clarify for the supervisor what is happening? They all decide not to. Then this person is promoted to being in charge of an even more important project. Is the company parked over railroad tracks?