What I learned from a few accidents and other unfortunate mishaps
Most of all they were 10 leadership lessons (at the bottom of the post) I picked up overcoming some interesting mishaps. Common to every incident were overcoming adversity and having the motivation to carry on no matter what. It was also tough doing the right thing even though at times it would have been so much easier leaving the clean-up to others. Below please find one example that proves that point. See what you think.
Quite a few years ago I was still living in Germany and I wanted to pick up an old motor cycle from a friend. He lived about 4 hours away from home. I had just gotten my car back together from a frame up restoration. A local friend of mine had a special motor cycle trailer I loaned. Strapping my own motor cycle onto it I went on my way.
In hind sight I had had way too little sleep prior to taking off for the long car ride. About an hour and a half I got totally lost. Being overtired and really frustrated was not a good combination. Driving along a 4 lane expressway with no divider, I looked at the map that rested on my passenger seat. Then it happened. I got off the road on the right side and one after the other road side marker hit the car’s front. I overreacted and tore the steering wheel over to the left side. The trailer started fishtailing. Rather than hitting the gas pedal, I hit the brakes and tried steering to the right again to compensate for the trailer moving violently.
It was to no avail. Eventually, there was no travel left in the steering and there I went across four lanes of a busy expressway, through a tree alley just barely missing one. I went down a steep embankment and the front end of the car hit the ground so hard that the car started overturning. Somehow a 20 feet section of pasture 3 hole rail and post fencing was in my way, which was promptly cleared to the ground. The car rolled once and came to rest back on all four tires.
After the initial shock was over I was overcome with anger over how dumb I had been risking my life and all the possessions of significant value I had at the time. Assessing the damage was a sobering task. The car was totaled – just take a look at the photo and you know why. The front end was caved in and the engine fan had whirled around in the cooler core as a result. There was not coolant left in the engine.
Miraculously the loaned trailer had not sustained a scratch even though it had come off the hitch. My motor cycle I could not find anywhere even though I looked for it for 10 minutes. Eventually, I found it on the other side of the road about 150 feet away from where I had taken out the last side marker. I had come off its holding straps and gone into the ditch coming to a rest thanks to yet another tree. The front fork had broken off and the frame and gas tank were a twisted mess.
By this time a solid 20 minutes had passed – and not a single car stopped. I had to make a plan how to get out of this royal mess. First things first: I had to get a cooler in order to get the car back on the road (besides of missing the front windshield it was actually still road worthy). I walked back to the last village I had passed just prior to the accident. There was a small mom and pop gas station were I asked if they would know where I could possible get a cooler for my old Opel. Wouldn’t you know it, but the old fellow tending to the register appeared to have one in his shop.
It was a ragged looking example, but it appeared to be in working shape. The man took the time driving me to my car with cooler and a bucket of water in the back. He claimed that he just had to see the mess I had gotten myself into. He did not stay though. I then proceeded making room in the engine compartment for the cooler replacement. I accomplished that by tying the front of my car to a random tree. I started the engine giving it a couple of good yanks backing up.
Once the cooler was installed and filled with water, I hitched up the trailer and proceeded going up the embankment following an unpaved road connecting the pasture with the expressway. I parked next to my busted up motor cycle. That was the moment when the first car stopped and two helpful young gentlemen got out to help me. If it had not been for them, I would not have been able lifting the cycle back onto the trailer. I thanked them sincerely and tried to get back on my way home.
That is when I noticed that the left rear wheel wobbled much like on the Griswold’s family cruiser in “National Lampoon’s Vacation”. Out the spare wheel came and I had to change the tire right at the site of the accident. After finishing up I stopped at the gas station again dropping off the bucket the attendant had loaned me. I used the opportunity calling home telling my dad what had happened. He offered to pick me up and told me to stay put.
He showed up a little over an hour later and was glad to see me alive and well. One issue remained unresolved though: I had destroyed a bit of fencing and did not want to leave without resolving this. I asked around to whom that pasture belonged. We located that farmer in the village driving right up to his house. You should have seen his perplexed facial expression when I told him what happened whilst looking what was left of my car. I asked him what I owed him for fixing the fence. All he wanted was 25 German Marks which is about 13 Dollars. I gladly paid him that money and went on my way home.
Thankfully, it had gotten dark owing to it being late fall and that meant that dusk came around early. Bad news was that I had to drive with no windshield for over 2 hours in evening rush hour traffic. You should have seen some of the views I got while driving through towns and villages. My family was glad to see me when I made it home. I was devastated however. Bottom line was that everything that I had worked for thus far stood in the driveway totally destroyed.
Of course, I eventually overcame this set back and others. I was fortunate enough surviving this and others unharmed with the exception of a few sprains and bruises here and there. Don’t see the preceding incident as an invitation taking unnecessary risks. I have gotten the stupid stuff out of the way – so don’t follow my lead.
The leader-manager lessons learned (same for entrepreneurs) were many:
- Have goals worthy of pursuing
- Know your limitations
- Overcome adversity
- Be persistent
- Have fierce determination
- Show integrity
- Be grateful
- Be compassionate
- Choose and maintain a great attitude no matter what
- Sleep well and be rested (take care of your body and soul)
Just ponder the challenges that you may have encountered yourself and how they made you a better and more grateful person.