I just had a disturbing phone call with my brother. Not disturbing because we had an argument or disagreement, although we’ve had plenty over the past six decades. For all of our fights, and there were plenty complete with holes in the walls when one of us dodge a punch, we are very close. No this was disturbing because he fell eight feet off of a ladder. Fortunately, he wasn’t too badly hurt. It could have been much worse.
The question for me isn’t “what was he doing on the ladder to begin with?” He works installing blinds and window treatments. The real question is what lesson can be learned from this? After all, this is the quintessential question of leadership. With every evolution, successful or otherwise, we should celebrate our successes and honor our mistakes by evaluating them, understanding them, and ultimately improving our processes so we don’t repeat them. I allude to this in my August 2016 Blog post, Complacency Kills in Battle and in Business! Is Your Company Complacent?
Let’s look at what lessons we can learn from my brother’s mishap. He was installing blinds in a home he had not visited before (someone else had measured the windows) and he was told he needed a 24’ ladder. When he got there, he realized the 24’ ladder was too tall. He didn’t have another ladder so he proceeded with the ladder he had. Since the ladder was too tall it was at a shallow angle and slipped out from under him.
Some might think the underlying cause of the accident is not having the right ladder. While I get that, I disagree. Even with the wrong ladder, the accident could have been avoided if he had the right mindset. My brother is a go-getter, like many of your team members. He didn’t want to disappoint his customers or himself so he moved forward with the project in spite of having the wrong tool. Now he’s bruised, the job wasn’t finished, and he had to reschedule the rest of the work he had to do for another day. The problem wasn’t the tool it was the mindset.
Fighter pilots suffer the same problem, an overriding drive to accomplish the mission. While this can be a positive trait and should be looked for when hiring or promoting people in your team, it can also be problematic. How often do you talk about go/no go criteria? Do you work with your team and come up with scenarios to avoid and understand how to avoid them? In a case like this, I would look at the safety protocols for ladders and have a policy prohibiting exceeding them. Yes, it would have meant a second trip but I guarantee my brother would feel better and so would all the clients who were inconvenienced.
What are your go/no-go criteria? Feel free to share them in the comments.