A young, successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar. He was watching for kids darting between parked cars and slowed down when he thought he saw something.
As his car passed, no children appeared. Instead, a brick smashed into the Jag’s side door! He slammed on the brakes and backed the Jag back to the spot where the brick had been thrown.
The angry driver jumped out of the car, grabbed the nearest kid and pushed him up against a parked car shouting, “What was that all about and who are you? Just what the heck are you doing? That’s a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost a lot of money. Why did you do it?”
The young boy was apologetic. “Please, mister…please, I’m sorry but I didn’t know what else to do,” he pleaded. “I threw the brick because no one else would stop.” With tears dripping down his face, the youth pointed to a spot just around a parked car. “It’s my brother,” he said. “He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair and I can’t lift him up.”
Now sobbing, the boy asked the stunned executive, “Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair? He’s hurt and he’s too heavy for me.”
Moved beyond words, the driver tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. He hurriedly lifted the handicapped boy back into the wheelchair, then took out a linen handkerchief and dabbed at the fresh scrapes and cuts. A quick look told him everything was going to be okay. “Thank you and may God bless you,” the grateful child told the stranger. Too shook up for words, the man simply watched the boy push his wheelchair-bound brother down the sidewalk toward their home.
It was a long, slow walk back to the Jaguar. The damage was very noticeable, but the driver never bothered to repair the dented side door. He kept the dent there to remind him of this message: “Don’t go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention!”
GREAT POINT! It’s a point that every leader and every person has to remember.
Do people have to throw a brick at you to get your attention? Do your employees, your coworkers, your customers, or even your spouse or kids feel that way about you? Or do they feel like you’re truly tuned in to their needs and care about those needs?
As one of my Australian colleagues, John Milne, asks, “Have you ever experienced a leader or a manager who was as subtle as a brick? Their communication style is clumsy, tactless, overpowering or negative. They lack the subtlety and finesse needed in delicate, sensitive or complex situations.” Obviously, no one wants to be led by a person such as that.
That’s how I felt last week. Flying out of Chicago on Southwest Airlines, my plane was repeatedly delayed for several hours. We eventually boarded the plane, then sat on the plane for two hours, after which they told us the captain’s hours had expired, the flight was cancelled, and we had to deplane. After calling the Southwest Airlines “help line” and talking to two different agents, I was told a different story, saying it was “weather related” and they couldn’t help me. Their “policy” was to re-book me on another flight two days later, and in the meantime all the expenses and inconvenience were my problem, not theirs.
Their lack of caring was as subtle as a brick. But as I always tell my audiences and coaching clients, “Look for the positive in every situation.” The positive for me was to make sure I never treat anyone like that.
On the other hand, leaders and people with the deft hand of diplomacy communication competence have prevented wars, saved lives and resolved disputes.