I watched in astonishment as smoke rose from my finger... then the pain hit.
Up until the incident of the burning finger, it had been an uneventful dog walk. But as I was returning home, within sight of my house, I had to cross a narrow bridge over the River Avon. My two dogs were on their leads, because one of them is scared of other dogs. (For more on the madness of Jazz the Cockapoo refer to:https://www.cool-waters.co.uk/blog/2016/10/3/busy-is-not-the-same-as-effective )
I was walking Jazz the Cockapoo and Grace the Spaniel. As I crossed the narrow bridge two other dogs came towards us. These other dogs were not on leads, in fact they were not with their human. And they were barking. Which set my two dogs off barking as well. Jazz was being scared and a bit aggressive trying to warn the other dogs away. Grace then joined in because, well, why miss out on the chance to have a good bark?
As the other two dogs started to come towards me, Grace and Jazz got more excitable. They pulled on their leads to try to get to the other dogs. Suddenly, the brake on Grace's extender lead released and she darted forward towards the other two dogs. Desperate to stop the dogs from meeting I reached out with my free hand and grabbed the cord of the lead as it unwound from the handset. I grabbed the cord and held tight trying to stop Grace's forward movement. The cord sped through my clenched fist. I watched in astonishment as smoke rose from my finger ... friction burned from the speeding cord. Then it stopped. I recovered Grace and got the dogs back under control, just as the owner of the other dogs arrived on the bridge.
"Don't worry" said the woman, oblivious to the smell of my charred flesh - "they only want to play."
"But mine don't," I retorted. Then the woman gathered up her dogs and ambled away and I made a dash for home. As I reached the front door I looked at the deep gash burned into my finger by the speeding cord, and the pain hit.
As I bandaged my finger in the kitchen, I thought about how I could have handled the situation better. If I had held a lead in each hand, rather than both in one hand, I would have been able to re-engage the brake on the extender lead with my thumb. If I had backed off the bridge when I saw the other dogs approaching the situation would not have escalated into a barking match. There were several things I could have done which would have avoided the smoking finger.
What is the point in having a wound if you don't show it to people? I took great pleasure in telling this story to anyone who would listen over the next few days, and showed off my wound with pride.
Everyone I told the story to, criticised the woman and said that she should keep her dogs under control. In the court of public opinion, the case of the burning finger was definitely 'her fault.'
It's very tempting to blame other people when something goes wrong, isn't it? She should not let her dogs run free, she should train her dogs to return to her when called, and so on.
Last week much of the Internet stopped working when the Amazon Web Services S3 system broke. Many websites and businesses use Amazon S3 for critical parts of their IT. So when Amazon stopped working, they all stoppped working. I read the Post Mortem report issued by Amazon with interest. When a support engineer typed in a command to shut down a few servers, he made a typing error and shut down many more than he intended. A simple human error. A typo. And the Internet stopped.
Whenever there is a major incident in your business, it is good practice to have a review - a post mortem as I call it. A post mortem review is a meeting of all the key people who played a role during the incident. They explain what they did and why and then suggest how they could do things better in the future. This is learning from experience.
Post Mortem meetings do not work well if everyone tries to blame other people for the problem. They do work brilliantly if everyone focuses on their own actions, and how they can behave differently in a similar situation in the future.
When we take responsibility for our own decisions and actions, we put ourselves in a place of control. And when we are in control we are better able to succeed.
Let's use my encounter on the bridge as an example.
If I focus on what the other woman did wrong, several things will happen. I will mentally list all the things she did wrong, I will probably become cross with her. Because of her, my finger got burned! I will then become frustrated because there is nothing I can do about this situation. It's in the past. There is also nothing I can do about how this woman walks her dogs in the future - she may continue to let them run free.
But, if I focus instead on my behaviour, everything changes. You see, I can not change what the other woman does but I can change my behaviour. I can decide to hold the dog leads differently, so I have better control. I can learn from the situation and decide to walk off the bridge if I encounter free-roaming dogs in the future. I can take action, meaning burned fingers are much less likely if I get into a similar situation again.
Now you may be thinking - that's not fair. Why should I have to change when the other person was in the wrong. Well, what is it that you want? Do you want to stop getting your fingers burned or do you want to be right? If I can make a simple change and come out on top next time, why would I not do so?
Things go wrong all the time. In life, in business and when walking dogs. Success comes to those who learn and adapt.
Developing as a leader is a process not a one time event. As John Maxwell says in the Law of Process: Leadership develops daily, not in a day.
A key to that process is the realisation that sometimes we win, and sometimes we learn. On the bridge with the dogs I learned to think about how I hold the dog leads, and that sometimes it's better to make a tactical retreat. Amazon learned that their operator tools are too powerful and need safeguards adding to prevent someone turning the internet off by accident.
What have you learned this week, and how will you adapt your behaviour in the future?