School of Susan

Sometimes crappy stuff happens. Sometimes there is NOTHING you can do about it. People love analogies about trains. Everything from the wheels coming off the train to that big bright light coming straight for you. Here is my train analogy for you, especially if you have a fairly long “up-line” above you at work.

You are happily working away on the track.

You feel a vibration in the track.. you call it in to make sure you won’t be run over. You are reassured that the team up the track has it under control.

You keep working, trusting in your team.

The vibrations are still there but you get used to them and keep going. At some point you glance up and way in the distance you see a train. It’s moving at a pretty good clip, you hesitate, reach out again to the conductor that takes some notes, compliments the work you are doing and encourages you to keep it up.

You keep working, trusting your leadership team.

You start to hear the noise of the oncoming train along with the vibrations on the track. You have a few friends and team members that hear the same noise and mention concerns to you.

You let your team on the local level know that the leadership has your back and is working for the good of the entire railroad and while our small rail station is starting to rattle you trust the leadership team. You might even quote key learning take aways that help the team know that even if the foundation is shaking due to an oncoming train that the senior leadership has our collective backs.

You look up.

You see a bright white light.

You get nailed by the train.

While you recouver, you learn that the signaller who is responsible for making sure the train switches tracks didn’t completely follow through with the switch because a train with more passenger cars was in trouble and needed more attention in that exact moment.

This is what the story looks like from the person working on the line. The key take away for me is that this story sounds different from every other position in it.

The person on the tracks should of shouted louder.

Direct leadership should of paid closer attention to what was being said.

The person driving the train might not of been truly present in the moment.

The switcher might of done the best they could with the resources available.

Chances are good the team in charge of investigation is mandated to put the company as a whole ahead of the individual and isn’t properly equipped to handle an investigation that leaves one person flattened on a track.

If you need to recouver from being hit by a train, it’s okay to be angry, but when the time feels right, step back and let the picture get bigger and bigger to understand why that train managed to get so close that there was no way to stop it.

Learn not only from the mistakes you made, but also the mistakes made by others along the line. Carry those lessons with you to be used at your next stop.

As someone I once admired enjoyed saying (loosely paraphrased) “it’s not how you get into the ditch that matters, it’s how you get out of it that does.”

Next week.. a few tips on getting out of that ditch.