Back 20 years or so ago I sat in a dull green room attending my first and only traffic school. I was part of an unmotivated group comprised of fifteen people with one- too- many traffic tickets and a very upbeat traffic cop. He was our teacher.
We had just finished viewing a video of the largest traffic accident in the history of America , a 196 car chain reaction pile-up on a freeway in Lansing , Michigan . Our positive policeman asked this pointed question, “So what was the cause of this accident?” The room was silent. He answered, “A nice driver came to a stop to let another car on to the highway.” Building momentum toward a certain crescendo, he continued, “So, what one rule of the road did this guy ignore? What is the one question we have learned to ask ourselves before we make a decision on the road?” He did a dramatic 180 degree spin and pointed his finger at a big, white sign with handwritten red letters, which read:
Will what I’m about to do promote the smooth flow of traffic?
Thankfully that day is over, but the question on that sign still holds on to me. Over time I have discovered that the premise found in this one question can help us make better leadership decisions in time of stress even when we are not on a highway.
In a public meeting, a young project manager, who was representing his company, got caught red- handed in a mistake. He was embarrassed and rightly so. But instead of owning up and apologizing, he started explaining how the client had contributed to the error. The smooth flow of the meeting stopped. A relationship destroying pile up was on the brink. Then the president of project manager’s company took control of the situation. She stood and said “We are so sorry. This was completely our mistake”, and maneuvered the meeting out of an impending crash.
What one rule of relationships did the president know that this project manager ignored? What one question did he need to ask himself before he responded in a situation like this? I imagine him walking into work the next morning, just missing the president as she exited his office – a red marker in her hand. On his office wall he sees the one question. It is written in bold, letters on a big, white sign:
Will what I’m about to do promote a long term relationship with this client?
Other possible signs for success:
Will what I’m about to do promote: the smooth flow of information; the customer feeling that they are being served; the growth of this person; the seamless execution of this project; the closing of this deal; the values of this organization; a climate of love and respect to each individual in our family; the truth about me?
Working Journal Entry: What signs for success might encourage and direct you and the people in your corner of the world as you travel the roads of your leadership and life?