Ever been in a tight spot at work? Over your head? Out of your league? I sure have.
Terrible thoughts start to take over:
- I’ve lost all credibility.
- My career is toast.
- I’m going to hear about this.
- This is my last shot.
If we could yell, “HELP!” we would. But would anyone throw us a rope?
“Hey, Boss, I’m over here.”
If we’re lucky, we work around leaders who are willing to step forward when we’re in a pinch. They may be our immediate boss, someone higher up, an esteemed colleague, or a customer with clout.
We may get ourselves into situations like:
- Being unable to handle a Q&A
- Over-committing company resources
- Irritating a customer
- Making a faux pas with a bigwig
- Overstepping our authority
We don’t do these things on purpose. They are mistakes, oversights, and gaffs that we’ve gotten ourselves into but can’t get out of.
Our leaders are our hope. We need them to make things right again, so we can stay on the right track.
To help, our leaders can:
- Insert themselves into the situation
- Redirect discussion and facilitate agreement/collaboration
- Defer actions and clarify expectations
- Pull rank and impose direction
- Take the fall for us (Ouch!)
Good leaders are teachers with a kick!
We get ourselves into fixes for lots of reasons: poor preparation, immaturity, impatience, and short-sightedness. The leader who rescues us shows compassion, empathy, understanding, and fairness. We deserve that the first time.
The leader who lets us squirm knows that until we truly “feel” the consequences of our goofs, we won’t grasp their importance and our need make changes.
Smart leaders have a tolerance for our missteps but not a penchant for them. When we learn, we’ll get points. When we don’t, we’ll feel it!
1.) I was scheduled to meet with the COO along with my boss. I wasn’t feeling well that day and told my boss I felt a bit off.
At the meeting, I opened my mouth to speak and out come these sounds: “Tha thea, tha thea.” My boss looked at me, stunned.
He quickly interrupted whatever I was trying to say to give me a moment to regroup. He turned the conversation back to me. I said: “Tha thea, tha thea.” I sounded like the cartoon character, Porky Pig, whose famously stuttered line was: “That’s all, folks!” (Right then, his words seemed to summarize my career!)
My boss jumped in again. The COO swallowed a laugh. Miraculously, I recovered.
On the way back to the office, my boss said to me, “What the hell happened to you in there!” What happened was that he rescued me!
2.) Rachel, a very smart, spunky woman, ran the field service dispatching department for me. It was a very tough job and she was its first woman supervisor.
I attended her initial storm debriefing meeting, involving the line supervisors from the field, Rachel, and her staff. There were lots of pent up issues in the room. Rachel focused on defending her people while the rest were gunning for her.
She wasn’t a great listener. The meeting rose to a higher and higher pitch. She lacked the experience to hold her own on her own. I let her squirm just enough to realize the situation but not enough to undermine her credibility with her staff.
Then I started to participate in the dialogue, got agreement for changes on both sides, and committed to ongoing improvement. Rachel got the picture.
Letting someone get skewered at work or anywhere else when they are giving it their best shot is heartless. No one is made better when that happens.
Being business fit includes taking the lead whether you have the position authority or not. When you know how to bail someone out of a tight spot, just do it. The loyalty and learning that result are worth your effort!
Do you have an experience where you were rescued or left squirming? How did it work out? What did you learn?