The movie starts at 7:20, I conveyed to my wife. It was 6 p.m., the kids were secure with my mother-in-law, and we had an hour to kill, and so we decided to grab a cup of coffee to just relax. There is something just grown up about sipping coffee and having a discussion without interruption when your normal days consist of caring for young kids. The movie house was only five minutes from the coffee shop, and, not being much into the opening commercials that come before movies, we were in no rush to get to the theater.
When we did arrive at 7:05, I noticed that I had misread the times on my phone and the movie wasn’t slated to start till 8:30. Hmm… it was 7:05 and we now had a choice: wait over an hour, choose another movie or rush the 20 minutes over to another theater to see the movie that would start at 7:35. We choose to rush over to the second theater; about 4 miles into the journey, as we rounded a curve we saw cars at a complete stop in middle of the road. There were only two cars between me and the obstacle in the road. I looked up and there was a man lying in the middle of the road. It was evident he was in distress, but at the time, I had no idea what was wrong. It seemed like minutes, but in reality, it was only seconds that I sat there, realizing that no one was getting out of their cars.
Instinctually, I put the truck in park, told my wife to call 911, and I ran to access the situation. The man was not breathing. He had no outwardly visible signs of trauma, but I noticed that his shoes and belongings were strewn across the road. At that time I saw a piece of a vehicle side mirror and assumed he had been hit by a car. I yelled at him, “Hey buddy, you okay?” no response. I checked his pulse and could feel a thready one. I shook him and immediately he gasped for breath. About that time, rescue came on scene and I stepped back to let them do their job. A witness came up to me and said she had seen the entire thing. The man had walked out into traffic and the SUV that hit him did not stop. As I moved back to the side of the road where a crowd had formed, a man said to me, “What is he, a drunken vagrant?”
I could not believe my ears. This man just asked me in a tone of voice that clearly carried disgust. “What did it matter?” I asked him. Did that mean his life was any less important? I left the scene that night and my wife and I ended up going back to the first theater to see the 8:30 movie. The hit and run event was emotional and the movie we choose (Unbroken) was emotionally exhausting as well.
Why do I tell this story? What does this have to do with culture or leadership? I am not sure. Sometimes lessons are just about being present, reflecting on the tapestry of life and how each experience we have shapes us. My real life experiences shape me into the husband, father, son, employee, employer that I am. I often say to my staff and colleagues that we cannot fully separate our personal and professional lives. It is impossible; what happens to me and how I carry myself is reflective of who I am — when I am with my family and in my profession. That is why organizations that foster strong relationships between their senior leaders right through to the front line staff achieve better outcomes.
We have all heard the saying, “Families that pray together stay together.” Whether you believe that or not, or choose to substitute the word pray for play, the bottom line is when we create opportunities to experience life outside of the four walls of the office with each other and let our personal experiences mingle with our professional ones, we become richer. There are companies that specialize in creating real life experiences to build better leaders and stronger teams. Some involve team obstacles courses to build trust and others are solo endeavors testing the resilience of the individual, such as outdoor mountain treks or high rope walks. All are focused on pushing the human experience to broaden the way we think, and taking that back into our families and workplace allowing us to see things with an expanded lens.
So I guess in the end, I do know how telling the story of the man who has struck by an SUV ties to leadership. That experience reminded me that life is fragile, and that in any given moment, our lives can change. As a leader, I need to really care about those I lead. I need to be there for them when a project is due or a deadline is near and when personal tragedies strike in their lives. A leader who knows and cares about those he works with leaves a legacy. I want to be remembered as a great leader not because I rallied a team to achieve a great goal (which is a requirement of a productive leader), but because I inspired them to care about each other. Those are the stories I want to hear at the end of my career.