I’m sitting with my morning coffee and catching up with my reading and responding to comments on my recent blog post “Wasteland of Riches“. It has caused me to do a little self examination with respect to my recent writings and what examples I might have in my recent past that would shed light on whether I’m actually “walking the walk”. It’s become important to me as I don’t want to be hypocritical and don’t want to just “talk the talk”.
One particular story keeps coming back to me, and yet I hesitate to tell it. In moments I understand why … and I can link this hesitancy back to a few recent writings and how they manifest in me. First it is going to require a bunch of personal vulnerability to put this into words. Second, I can see that a portion of the story is driven by FEAR (in this case a large dose of Finding Excuses And Reasons). But most of all I can now see that this is a story of finding riches in the wastelands. Given all that it feels like this situation may provide some context to what living (and leading) essentially can bring to my life.
So … here we go … vulnerability and FEAR be damned …
I was driving home on a beautiful fall Friday. Sunny, sunroof open, driving our fun sports sedan and, admittedly, driving with enjoyment more in mind than my place amongst other vehicles. I was in a fabulous mood … the week had been better than most, and I was
heading home to my favourite part of the week … Friday dinner with my wife Kendra is something that we hold sacred between us. At one point I made an accelerating lane change and as my eyes touched on my side mirror I noticed another vehicle about three cars back do the same thing. That vehicle ended up right on my back bumper and I reacted by braking to send the “back off” message. To cut to the heart of the story, after a number of rather ill advised moves by both of us we had a minor accident.
So we stopped our vehicles and headed into the wastelands of FEAR, accusing each other of all kinds of invented thoughts and transgressions. This was heading down the proverbial rathole when the gift of possibility appeared.
I stuck out my hand and said “my name is Ian”. After a pause from the other driver who wasn’t expecting this change in tactic he shook my hand and said “my name is Ron.” I didn’t let his hand go, but said “Ron, could we do each other a favour here? Could we both just admit to each other we were driving like idiots?” When Ron didn’t respond to this right away, I interpreted this as a fear that I might use that statement as an admission of guilt. So I said “Ron I was driving like an idiot”. And Ron responded … “Ian I was driving like an idiot”.
So think of the possibilities now when only seconds before we were heading towards recriminations, ongoing disgust, or worse. Up to that point a peaceful resolution to our previous irresponsibility was a possibility i wasn’t counting on.
But here’s the true riches in this situation. Both Ron and I sensed something in each other that went beyond the anger and fear. About two weeks later we ended up meeting for coffee. Not to discuss this incident, but to get to know one another better. We did touch on our incident, but only as a reference point to our own beliefs and goals. At the end of that conversation, Ron said something that was the seed for something bigger. He told me that he really enjoyed the conversation because we talked about things that weren’t really safe for guys to talk about at work.
At our next meeting (where we did settle up for the minor damage to our vehicles) I thanked Ron for his idea at our previous get together … to which he responded “what idea?” The idea was this: to form a group of thoughtful, high achieving males, to discuss essential behaviours and essential leadership. And to provide each of us an outlet to have those discussions that are difficult to have in the office.
There are now four of us, and we meet each month to discuss ideas and challenges, to provide a sounding board for each other and to explore new ways of engaging as leaders. It is an amazing outcome from where we started, and I think a strong illustration of finding riches in a wasteland.
I’d love to hear from others on this topic. What situations have you encountered that looked bleak at first blush and yet when approached with “what’s possible here?” in mind yielded surprising results? How have you used this approach as a leader or seen other leaders “look for the riches” instead of “lamenting the wasteland”?