Two Lessons from a Head-On Collision

I’ll never forget the day I almost died. I mean, who forgets those types of days, right? They tend to change your life, and this day sure changed mine.

I was 23, and to that point I’d not only lived fearlessly but at times a bit recklessly. I worked hard and I played hard, and I saw no reason to change. Then one night I was driving down the road minding my own business when a drunk driver crossed into my lane and hit my car.

I was wearing a seatbelt and suffered from whiplash, but otherwise I walked away remarkably unscathed. To this day, I’m not sure how.

The other driver and his passenger weren’t so fortunate. It was summer, so their windows were down. And they weren’t wearing seat belts. So when our cars collided, the driver flew out of his car and his girlfriend crashed through the windshield. When we got to the hospital, I learned that he would likely be paralyzed for life and that she had multiple broken bones and had nearly died with a blood clot an inch from her heart.

lesson from a collision is that we're not in control

That’s not all I learned: It turned out the driver had a wife. I was there when she showed up at the hospital to find her newly paralyzed husband and his nearly dead girlfriend. As you might imagine, it wasn’t a fun scene to watch. And it had as big an impact on me as the actual crash.

Two realities hit home that day that have served me throughout my career as a leader.

I’m not in control

Many leaders develop a Superman complex because they grow accustomed to getting their way. They say, “jump” and people say, “how high?” But the reality is, none of us are fully in control. So we’re better served embracing that idea and searching for ways to collaborate rather than trying to control people and circumstances.

Don’t lie

I know, I know. We learn that in kindergarten. But many of us forget that lesson with the temptations of life. We fudge a little here and we fib a little there, all in the name of making ourselves look good. Nobody’s getting hurt, right? But we all know that’s not true. I’ve found as a leader there are legitimate times to withhold information, but there’s never a legitimate time to lie. tweet

Ultimately, those two lessons inform the way a transparent leader operates. Living with the understanding that you aren’t in control allows you to lead with humility. Refusing to give into temptation to lie to gain some advantage allows you to lead with honesty and respect for other people. And when you lead that way, you can build the type of trust that makes people want to follow you.

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