Last Friday I ran out of gas while driving. I hate to admit, but it was not the first time this has happened. On Thursday the “warning light” started to glow brightly on my dash, along with the calculation of how many miles remained until the tank was on empty. But I am a better of judge of when it is really on empty…. because, as you can guess, I am a better judge of how far I can drive until there is nothing in the tank.
I misjudged. Several detours, unexpected stops, and swift maneuvers found me heading back to my office late in the afternoon with a calculated stop at a gas station in the plan. What I neglected to figure into my navigation was the location of the gas station (on the downside of a rather large hill) and my current situation (on the upside of said rather large hill). Needless to say, it did not quite work out as planned.
As I drifted to the side of the road and switched on the hazard lights, I was extremely thankful for my AAA membership. I dialed the number, and within no time I was connected to an assigned representative named Cynthia. She was perfunctory in her duties until I identified the year (2017), make (Subaru), and model (Legacy) of my vehicle. This information unleashed Cynthia’s observations in the following exchange:
Cynthia: What??? Are you telling me that you are sitting at the side of the road in that beautiful car because you ran out of gas?
Me: Yes, ma’am.
Cynthia: Does it not have a little light on the dashboard that indicates when your tank is low?
Me: Yes, ma’am. It even calculates how many miles are remaining. But I pushed it too far.
Cynthia: You choose to ignore that information and light and just keep going, didn’t you?
Me: Yes, ma’am.
Cynthia: You are just like my husband. What is that all about? He has a very nice car and runs it to empty all the time. Me? I fill my tank when I am at half a tank. Drives my kid’s crazy. “Why do you have to get gas now, Mom?” They ask all the time. I just don’t see there ever being a reason to run out of gas.
Me: So I guess I should not tell you that this has happened to me before?
Cynthia: WHAT??? You have run out of gas before? (Invoking her religious beliefs) What is wrong with you? Have you not learned your lesson?
Me: Please don’t tell my wife.
Cynthia: Oh, trust me. I am marking it right here in the log. And I have your home number. Have you learned your lesson this time?
Me: Yes, ma’am.
Cynthia: I am glad to hear that. Your service man should be there in about thirty minutes.
Cynthia: Yes, Mr. Roth?
Me: Thank you for making my day. Seriously.
Cynthia: (Pause, Laugh). Absolutely, my pleasure. Now don’t do this again.
As I reflected upon this exchange (I had time on my hands sitting on the side of the 378 Wyandotte Hill), it dawned on me as a leader that sometimes I may be running out of gas. What should I do to ensure that does not happen, keeping me from moving on my journey and ultimately reaching my destination?
Keep your tank full- your plan or navigation might change
As a leader, I often persevere and push through, neglecting to fill my own personal tank. What that looks like will depend on the individual. Maybe it’s some family time. Perhaps visits to the gym. Or immersing oneself in learning. The point is I should be doing it before the warning light comes on, as I might not know what the next turn might hold. It might be losing patience in a difficult situation. Forgetting my reason for leading. Or just plain getting tired because of the latest mandate or policy change. But if my tank is full, and if I keep it full, I might be better prepared to make it up that unexpected hill.
Secure your insurance and back-up for support
As a leader, I know I am often guilty of not reaching out to my team or peers. I (mistakenly) think that either they are too busy with their own woes, stresses or struggles or that I may be a bother or nuisance to them. But then I realize they are on my team or are a colleague for a reason. And for me, that is for collaboration and sharing when things are going as expected, and for help and support when they are NOT going as planned. Their expertise and insight might be exactly what I need to be better at leading or getting through a difficult challenge (just like AAA for drivers). And hopefully I do the same for them.
Ensure your sense of humor
I often laugh at myself, making light of the mistakes I make, the things I say or the actions I take. For me, a sense of humor in situations that are potentially stressful help me to cope and maintain a sense of clarity. I am so glad that Cynthia was my AAA representative on that Friday. She helped me to realize the humor in the situation and my own foolish choices. If I had not chosen to accept her comments as making light of the situation to alleviate stress, I would have missed out on a positive interaction with another human being that just plain made me smile.
So as a leader, I ask you:
How do you keep your tank full?
Who is your insurance and back-up for support?
What keeps you moving forward?
How do you ensure you don’t run out of gas?