Monthly Archives: January 2015

A Second Chance

Four years ago today, January 15, 2011, I was driving to a basketball tournament in Rice Lake, MN early in the morning, as I’ve done dozens of times.  I was giving a ride to my friend Michelle, her son Chris, and my son Will.  I was driving my 1998 Honda Accord, and the boys were sleeping in the back.  We started out about 6:30 in the morning, and it was snowing pretty hard.  For some reason, our directions took us on a path which was a bit remote, but we made it through until we reached a major highway, which was in much better condition.  As I turned Eastbound on Highway 8, I remember a sense of relief to that point.

Highway 8 is a two lane highway, and Michelle and I were making small talk, probably about our shared relief to no longer be on the back roads.  I remember being in mid-sentence when I heard the first of two loud thuds in succession.  The second thud was something slamming into my car head-on, driving us into the ditch to the right.  At that point, much of it became a blur, but airbags, glass and panic ensued.  I quickly looked around the car, both boys returning with eyes wide in shock.  I yelled, “is everyone OK?” and they nodded.  Like the cliché, I had no idea what had hit us.  I instructed everyone to get out of the car.  Michelle, who is a registered nurse, quickly noticed that my arm was bleeding.  “It’s gotta be broken Omar,” she said.  I winced and tried to pry my door open to get out.

I looked out my broken window and a truck was stopped on the road, and the driver was trying to talk to me.  Soon, all I can remember is getting out of my car, crossing the road, and seeing emergency vehicle after emergency vehicle racing down the road.  All the focus was on whatever had hit me.

Michelle and Chris were separated from me and Will, and in an ambulance someone was taking care of me.  My son just sat there, unable to even speak.  I finally remember a helicopter landing in the field where the other vehicle was in addition to fire trucks, police cars, and many people.

We traveled by ambulance to Amery, WI. where I learned that the driver of the pick-up truck that had crossed the center lane and hit me was killed.  I was beaten up, bloodied, and stitched up, and clearly in shock.

But we walked away.  He didn’t.

It’s taken awhile to get my thoughts around the enormity of this accident.  Both boys are thriving young high school Juniors.  The police said that because they were sleeping, the impact was less, similar to why a drunk driver sometimes inexplicably escapes injury in a crash.

When you walk away from something like this, you can’t help but think you got a second chance.   I got a second chance.

So what have I done with it?

Honestly, not enough.  I wish that I’ve done more.  I wish I had some inspirational change or comeback story to share with you.  I’m humbled that I don’t.

But re-living a major events is healthy.  It gives you a reminder and perspective about the bigger picture.  It makes me want to thank everyone that is a part of my life, who has supported and believed in me.  Even the modest number of followers to this blog.  You don’t know how important it is to me that you read, and care about, things that I have to say. And I hope in some small way its added value. Today, for me, is a day of reflection, and a day to now look forward.  With this humble reminder of what happened on January 15, 2011, it’s time to do something with that second chance.

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I Don’t Know

Those three words instill fear with some people. Part of a leader’s job is to ask questions, sometimes difficult questions. I think we have to be conscious of how we are asking the questions, but I wonder why people don’t just say “I don’t know” when they don’t know the answer.
Many people feel that talking their way through an answer, even if they don’t know the answer, is better than just saying they don’t know the answer.
I disagree. I believe it’s much better, and not a sign of weakness, to just say you don’t know.
I remember my Mom telling me that you don’t have to have a good memory if you always tell the truth. I think Mom was onto something.

We often are coached to be confident. I would argue that confident people can say they don’t know the answer to something. When faced with this situation, ask yourself “why” you would be inclined to “wing it” instead of just saying it. Then keep asking “why?”

Why #1: Why won’t you just say you don’t know?
Answer 1: I’m afraid that I’ll look stupid
Why #2: Why are you afraid that you will look stupid?
Answer 2: Because I think my Boss thinks I should know the answer
Why #3: Why do you think your Boss thinks you should know the answer?
Answer 3: I don’t know.

Bingo. In this example, the core issue might be expectations between you and your Boss. Have a discussion with your Boss about expectations, and level of detail you should have in your role given your scope. Likely this conversation will be enlightening in that your assumptions of what your Boss expects do not actually match what your Boss expects. Having this conversation saves you from losing credibility when you try to “wing it” but inevitably admit to not having a clue.

If we were all much better about being open and honest about this type of thing, then we can be liberated, and not fearful, when responding to a question for which we do not know the answer.

“I don’t know, but I can find out.”

Your 2015 Leadership Wake-Up Call

As we think about how we make authentic leadership impressions  with each other, and the teams we lead, many people I talk to have used the same tools throughout their successful career.  Recently, I was talking to a great leader, my friend John (it’s actually his real name) and was asking him questions about how he goes about connecting with his broader team as President of his company.  John very quickly pointed to some good, solid tools out of his leadership tool belt:

  • Manage by walking around. John makes it a point to know each person’s name, and enjoys the personal connection realized by physically walking the floor
  • Open door policy. He makes it a point of setting aside certain hours where employees can come into his physical office and talk 1:1

As John’s workforce makeup changes from the Baby Boomer now to the Millennial of tomorrow, will those legacy tools be enough?  Will the new workforce be able to relate to John?  In short, can John stay relevant as a leader if he doesn’t modernize his tool kit?

In my role as a reverse mentor, I’ve helped executives like John realized that the tools of yesterday, while valuable, might not scale and be relevant to the workforce of the future.  By now you should have a solid understanding that the workforce of tomorrow has different needs from leadership than the workforce of yesterday.  As a result, leaders must evolve their tools to stay relevant.  That’s the wake-up call.

How to “wake-up” in 2015:

  • Keep what works, with a twist. Ask your team while walking around or during your open door 1:1 meetings about this and what they would suggest you try.
  • Commit to one new and different way to work. Talk about what you are going to try and do differently, and ask for feedback.  For example, “I’m going to start a monthly blog to share with the team.  Let me know what you think and what others are saying about it.”
  • Ask for feedback via a communications survey and personally read all of the responses. This will get you tuned into whether or not your workforce needs are changing in respect to leadership connections.

Recently, I read a blog authored by an executive I have worked with in the past.  He had even tweeted the link to it!  A couple years ago, blogging and tweeting were nowhere in this leader’s vocabulary.  Seeing that leaders are capable of evolving how they engage and inspire their teams was very humbling to me.

He “gets it”.  Do you?