I was nervous. I had been given the knowledge that I was a new front-line manager of my team. I had just been promoted to team leader. I felt that I had to come out swinging, after all, this is what leadership was right? I mount my powered industrial truck, turn it on, take off, and then crash. How embarrassing. I had an accident. I dropped materials and fumbled the entire gig. I didn’t just little fumble, I realized that my introductory day as a leader would be putting together a team to pick up a mess that I had just created. I was sure that my boss, who was just happy to promote me, would be taken aback and beating himself over the head for what a silly decision that he had help make in my promotion.
If you find yourself in this position, and you will, although it may not be as immediate as my experience, this is where you get to show your leadership potential. Follow my actions through my first big fumble and walk through the lessons that I learned in order to unlock your leadership potential.
Any time there is an issue that needs addressed during operations, take time to assess the situation. It is important not to allow yourself to act with emotions. Acting emotionally will be clearly apparent to everyone around you and give a visual display of a lack of control of the situation. This is exactly what we do not want as leaders. Instead, allow others to see you collecting information about what is going on. Allow your team to bare witness to you taking in metrics and information so that you can complete the problem-solving process and work on a solution. If others engage you, they are probably trying to help. At this point it is in your best interest to allow them to.
In my case, I had just dumped some valuable product from the forks of my lift. Inside, I was panicked. I knew that I had to come up with a solution and a million thoughts raced through my head. I first thought of how I could cover this up so no one would know, and my boss would not find out. I decided that this wasn’t reasonable, as it happened at a busy intersection inside of the factory. Contingency plan? Yes. I had to come up with a solution to this situation that entailed taking ownership of what had happened as well as repairing the damages and returning the high traffic area back to normal operating conditions.
Any time that we encounter a situation that needs our attention, it is important to first identify the problem. Once we have identified the problem and assessed the situation, we must allow ourselves to think freely in order to sift through potential solutions to find the best solution. In any case, we shouldn’t be spending a large amount of time during a crisis determining what we should do. We must act and sometimes this is where we must engage in an area outside of our comfort zone and take risk. Risk is associated with further possible failure as well as possible success and reward. Adopting a good strategy for assessing risk is essential in order to be able to project the likelihood of countering a catastrophe.
Positioned in a tough situation, I had the availability of a partner and trainer. I admit I sought guidance and learned what to do in this specific situation. As a newly promoted leader of my team, I was not aware of all the tools that I had available to me or the possible strategies to fix the problem that I had created. Sometimes utilizing others, including partners or other team members for their knowledge is one of the most powerful tools that we have. In many cases, even other team members can help us navigate tough situations and find the best solutions when we find ourselves stumped and without direction on what to do.
Often when we find ourselves in a pickle or an operational disaster, the solution is right in front of us and is a matter of some technical know how and relying on others. In almost all situations a team effort is required to bounce back from a disaster or other unfortunate circumstance. If we do not know the action steps to take in order to solve a problem, the important part is that we know how to get them. If we cannot rely on our own knowledge to remedy an issue or situation, we need to be able to find that information from another source. Once we understand the problem that we are facing and how to solve it, we can begin implementation of a solution to that problem.
My partner advised me on the technical aspects of the solution. We needed to involve quality, acquire the materials needed to clean up the mess, and then perform the groundwork in order to do it. Once we had the steps understood we began the work and soon returned the area to normalcy. It involved getting our hands dirty and doing some manual labor, but in the end, all was well, and we continued our night through until the end.
I went home that night feeling a little defeated and overwhelmed. I had questioned whether I had it in me to continue leading the team. After all, I created that disaster and felt that I couldn’t take care of it myself. This is a core lesson that we can all learn in leadership. Regardless of the situation or circumstance, our solution to any problem isn’t in ourselves, it is in the ability of us to lead our team to a solution. Even in appealing for help, which may be difficult in certain circumstances, we are acting as leaders. If we were able to do everything ourselves in all situations, then we wouldn’t need to lead anything, would we?
The Take Away
I had to report this situation to my superior. I had to report everything. This included the root cause, that I had been in a hurry and caused the incident. I also had to report the steps that I had taken to remedy the incident. In the end, this was a display of leadership. Even in difficult circumstances that seem to have a net negative outcome, we can display leadership and learn. The important part of any circumstance is that we learn from the happenings so that we are better equipped to deal with them at a future time. This identical situation has happened many times since this incident, with the difference being that I was not the cause of the accident. One thing that I can assure everyone is that I knew how to respond. Sometimes we attain knowledge by our own misfortunes. It is important that we take away from our own misfortunes the same as we would take away from misfortunes of others. It is equally important that we allow ourselves to be leaders through these events so that we can learn and apply solutions to future events based on the outcomes.
My mentor in this situation is still a dear friend and helps me whenever I come to him. I have had many opportunities to help him as well as both of us have furthered our development as leaders in our organization. This catastrophe turned into an opportunity to build a relationship with a partner that has been long lasting and mutually beneficial. I believe that this is the true take away from any unfortunate event, and if we miss our opportunity to further our relationships with our team, we miss the opportunity to grow as leaders as well as people. I find myself now collecting situations like this as trophies in my history as a leader. I use catastrophes as tools for growing and enabling others to grow while allowing myself to be led as well as lead others to learn new things.