Leadership lesson – Taking a step back so you can run forward

As a habit, I generally have a story on hand to help illustrate my leadership philosophies, some good, some not so good (although that has yet to stop me from using one!). Here is one I have used many, many times to help new leaders understand that sometimes we need to take a step back in order to be able to run forward.

Many moons ago I worked for a car rental company in their management training program. It was one of those companies that will bring a car out to you or give you a ride home when you return your rental. At this particular moment in time, I was the assistant manager of a very large and busy office. On this particular day, the area manager, a helpful but ineffective guy, was stepping in as the manager. I can’t tell you why he decided to do this, but I can tell you it was a mistake.

Around 4pm, he started sending office employees out to deliver vehicles for the end-of-day reservations. Normally, a driver would follow to bring the employee back. This particular day, he decided to worry about that part later. As he sent employee after employee out the door, the phone began to ring with additional requests for cars. Being the business man he was, he sent out additional employees to deliver these cars. Very quickly, he found himself alone in the office with only one driver left. Much to his surprise (but absolutely no one else’s) there was a sudden surge at 5pm of people who were returning cars and now needed rides home.

I mentioned that this guy was ineffective, so you can guess that the ending to this story is not pretty. What he did was send the driver with the first customer, had him come back, take the second customer, come back, and so on. All the employees sat at various locations  (some in people’s driveways!) unable to help in any way. It was well passed normal closing time before everyone was back where they belonged.

Here is the lesson: Sometimes you need to stop and gather your resources (take a step back) so that you can take off running.

Had this manager used his one driver to pick up all the employees and bring them back to the office first, sure, the customers would have sat for a bit, but then in one fell swoop they would have all been taken care of! And the employees might have even gone home on time!

I use this story for training situations, in answer to the statement “we are too busy to train” – it is better to get everyone trained than to leave the difficult stuff to only one person. I have also used the story for project situations – it is better to go back and make sure all the requirements are complete and accurate than to try to fix things as you go later on.

I hope this helps. Happy Tuesday and keep it positive and smile!

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