“I would not loan you a dime!” he exclaimed. Your behavior is unacceptable and I am surprised you even have the audacity to come in the bank in the first place. You are in the situation you are in because you failed to take responsibility for your actions. You will just have to figure another way out of the mess you created.”
I sat there stunned. I had come into the bank expecting help. I expected to be granted a loan to pay off the debt I owed. I expected the man would see that I really had no other way out. Yes, it was my fault I owed this debt in the first place. I had made some very unwise decisions that resulted in some harsh consequences, but surely he was going to help. I mean, behind my misguided youth I was a good person. This was the first time I realized that the world judges us by our actions and not our intentions. For me, I never intended to be in this mess, but my actions said otherwise.
I was 19 years old and had caused a minor car accident. I used poor judgment — not just with getting in the accident, but with the decision I made to drive my vehicle without insurance. I knew I was breaking the law, but it seemed like a harmless choice until the day the accident happened. Honestly, aside from getting a ticket for driving without insurance and causing an accident, it still seemed minor. Where it became a big deal was when the other driver’s insurance company decided to sue me for the damages to the vehicle they insured. What I thought at that time in my life was, I’ll get away with this. I was 19 and I didn’t own anything; they were a big insurance company who will surely forget about me. The damage was only $2,500, it’s not like it was tens of thousands.
Well, as you can tell from my story, they did not forget about me. When I refused to pay they garnished my wages and just like that my pay was cut by 25 percent. As I sat in that bank listening to the loan officer tell it to me straight, all I could do was think about how right he was. I had caused this. I had tried to run from it. My current situation was a direct result of my poor choices. I was now faced with a new choice: do I continue to see myself as a victim, or do I grow up and start taking responsibility for my actions?
That event happened a very long time ago. I have learned that I was not that different from many 19-year-olds. When I share this story with parents, many have said to me, “Oh thank God there is still hope for my son.” At that time in my life, it seemed I would never dig myself out of the hole I had made. Looking back it seems like such a small part of my life’s story. What it took was for me to make small, smart choices over time that resulted in a different course for my life. The same holds true today. Small, smart choices over time build to a desired outcome.
As a leader we have to be willing to be honest (like the loan officer in my story) with those around us. When someone on your staff makes a poor decision, confront it. That’s right, confront it — but do it with kindness and concern. Just as making small, smart choices over time leads to great outcomes, the opposite is also true. Making small, poor choices over time leads to negative outcomes.
It is our job as leaders both professionally and personally to call out and guide those who count on us. I counted on the bank to loan me money to get out of that jam when I really should have relied on them for financial guidance. Cultivate, invest and care about those who look to you for leadership and support. It may at times lead to difficult and uncomfortable conversations, but in the end, you will have made a difference in someone’s life. We earn the right to speak into others’ lives by caring about them, modeling the behaviors we expect, being willing to share our own poor choices, and by being willing to have those uncomfortable conversations.