Listen to the Podcast Version (19 min) – Much more exciting ; -) https://media.blubrry.com/thediscipledleader/content.blubrry.com/thediscipledleader/Snowpocalypse_v2.mp3
January 29, 2014 – First journal entry of the new year. I am thankful and full of joy this morning. I survived Atlanta’s “Snowpocalypse” yesterday. Here’s my story…
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for the Atlanta Metro area on Monday, January 27. It forecasted one to two inches of snow the next day. Nothing freaks Atlantans out more than a good snowstorm. It can cripple the city. Why? The “city in a forest” has deep tree coverage and rolling hills. The above-ground powerlines become vulnerable to falling trees weighed down by snow; power can be lost for days. No one knows how to cope with the inclement weather. At the threat of snow, we all panic and rush to buy a loaf of bread, milk, and alcohol to endure the event, like it’s the end of the world.
And, no one knows how to drive in wintery conditions – some would argue that Atlantans don’t know how to drive at all. Our city is infamous for its horrendous traffic; it can take hours to get anywhere. The Atlanta Metro area has four major Interstates, I-75, I-85, I-20, and I-285, which accommodate dense traffic volume. It also has miles and miles of two-lane, narrow, curvy roads that extend throughout the city. Since the Atlanta Metro area is comprised of multiple outlying suburbs, most people commute to work accessing the interstates through the zigzagging artery roads.
Now, add winter weather to the commuting mix. When snow falls and roads become icy, travel conditions quickly deteriorate. The city government didn’t have enough snowplows to clear significant thoroughfares, neglected to salt the streets before the first snowflake, or encourage residents to stay off the roads. Leadership was absent and didn’t take the forecast seriously. As a matter of fact, the governor and mayor were attending a luncheon where the mayor was honored as the Associated Press’s “Georgian of the Year.” The mayor overconfidently tweeted, “Atlanta, we are ready for the snow.” We weren’t.
I was overconfident too. I grew up in Colorado and really didn’t understand all of the fuss. I learned how to drive in all kinds of winter conditions; I wasn’t worried if a little snow fell. While confident that the imminent storm was no personal threat, I sent a note to my team telling them to keep an eye on the weather and leave early if needed.
I drove to work as usual on Tuesday, an 18-mile, 60-minute commute. I attended meetings most of the morning with my last one scheduled at Noon. During the final meeting, I looked out the 16th-floor conference room window and saw huge snowflakes. The wind was picking up, and the storm intensified into what would ultimately become whiteout conditions. I looked down at the streets below and noticed that the intersections around the building were already jammed with traffic. My friend Paula called and encouraged me to leave the office. She warned me that any delay might mean I’d not make it home. I thought to myself, “Yeah, right. I’m from Colorado. I can handle this. Y’all panic. I got this.” I decided to ignore Paula’s advice, finish the meeting, and leave immediately afterward.
My Noon meeting unexpectedly lasted until 1:45 pm . . . The weather conditions deteriorated even more, and traffic was snarled. From my vantage point on the 16th floor, I could see red tail lights for miles. I gathered my belongings to begin my trek home. I raced down to the parking garage and noticed a long line of cars waiting to exit. I asked the security guard what was going on, and he told me that drivers on the street weren’t allowing cars to exit the garage. Traffic was at a standstill, gridlocked. Then came the bad news. . . It would take 90 minutes just to get out of the garage and onto the side street.
“How long has the parking garage been backed up?” I asked.
“About 45 minutes,” he said.
Ugh. If I’d ended the meeting at 1:00 pm and gotten in my car, I might have avoided the mess.
“Do you know why the traffic is so bad?” I asked.
The security guard said, “All of the businesses and schools closed at the same time. Everyone is trying to get home or pick up their kids.”
So, let me get this straight. A massive snowstorm and everyone downtown or in school were released at the same time? Are you kidding me? No wonder there was so much congestion. I turned around, returned to my office, and thought that if I waited a little longer, the traffic would dissipate. Boy, was I wrong.
I sat in my office for the next three hours, trying to decide whether to spend the night in the office or risk driving home. I decided to drive home and left at 4:45 pm. It was almost dark. Surely the traffic would have cleared out by now.
I decided to get on I-75 because it was the path most traveled and thought that it would be most clear vs. the side streets. It took an hour to go one mile. One of the smartest things I did before going any further was to fill up my Toyota Camry’s gas tank. The full tank gave me confidence that I wouldn’t run out of gas as I made my way home. I packed water, a turkey sandwich, and vegetables. I also had an empty cup in case I needed to relieve myself. I knew it was going to take an ample supply of patience and prayer to make it home safely.
And it did. My journey home took 12 hours to drive 18 miles. I experienced complete standstill traffic in many spots and extremely icy conditions on hills. Driving was like playing “Frogger,” an old video game where the object was to cross a river avoiding traps, hazards, and enemies. I literally dodged stalled, wrecked or abandoned cars working my way up I-75. Conditions were especially adverse at Moore’s Mill and West Paces Ferry exits. Many cars and trucks couldn’t gain traction. It was difficult to start after a complete stop going uphill on ice. I almost got stuck outside of Moore’s Mill switching lanes, and my tires wouldn’t grip initially. Adrenaline kicked in. My heart started beating rapidly as I shifted gears and worked to advance my car. Thankfully, I quickly gained control and moved forward. Because of my traction issues, I made the hard choice not to aid other travelers. I watched people with good intentions get out of their vehicle to push another car or truck out of harm’s way only to become immobilized themselves. I know that sounds cold, but I knew that if I stopped to help someone, I’d risk being stuck as well. My mission was to get home.
After traveling 10 miles in 11 hours, I began to cross the Chattahoochee bridge into Cobb County. Traffic thinned. It was like making it through the gauntlet with a few lone survivors and one last test. The scene ahead of me looked like the end of the world with more stalled cars in the middle of the road. Dimly flashing hazard lights everywhere indicated a vehicle that was abandoned; drivers gave up, got out, and started walking. The ice grew thicker as the pavement disappeared. No traction was possible. All I could do was downshift to keep control of my speed and keep moving. If I stopped, I knew I may not get started again and need to abandon my car. Thankfully, I made it over the bridge, exited on Delk Road, and slowly crawled home. Unlike the city of Atlanta, Cobb County cleared and salted the roads. It took only 30 minutes to travel from the exit to my house.
Snowpocalypse was worse than you can imagine. . . See for yourself. Watch the CNN report, “Storm Paralyzes Atlanta, Causes Chaos”: https://youtu.be/Uwc2pidiJKo
After the taxing ride, I arrived home at 4:30 am. This was all caused by schools and businesses all releasing their folks at the same time and during the start of the storm, no salt on the roads, and a lack of city government leadership. But I take personal responsibility for making a series of terrible decisions that led to my delay. I exercised awful judgment. Should I have left at Noon and heeded Paula’s advice? Yes, but I ignored her call to action. Should I have left after the meeting at 1:45 pm and endured the parking garage delay? Yes, but I was impatient and further delayed. Should I have stayed the night at the AOC? Maybe, but I was overconfident that the ride home would be troublefree because I was an experienced winter condition driver. I take personal responsibility for these inept decisions. Not once did I pause to anticipate conditions or circumstances, let alone pray about what I should do.
In spite of all my bad judgment, I am very thankful that I made it home and for those that prayed for my safety. It was a great exercise in patience, prayer, and trusting the Lord as I worked my way home. A great analogy for life. And this is just my story. There are countless others. I think about kids on school buses stuck on the road trying to get home. I remember all of the folks who wrecked or abandoned their cars. . . Or, people spending the night in places like Home Depot because they couldn’t go any further.
As a side note, I did make one sound decision that night. Remember the cup I mentioned? I used it and learned that having an empty cup comes in handy in these types of situations if you know what I mean 😉
Have you ever experienced a set of circumstances like I did? Have you made one wrong decision that led to another, and the outcome wasn’t what you planned? If so, know that you can weather the challenges you face, learn to make better decisions, and experience positive results by applying the below principles:
Exercise Good Judgment — Make the right decisions using good judgment. What is judgment? It’s “the ability to combine personal qualities with relevant knowledge and experience to form opinions and make decisions. It is what enables a sound choice in the absence of clear-cut, relevant data, or an obvious path.” It’s the ability to anticipate, see parallels and patterns in data or circumstances that lead to positive decisions or outcomes. To develop good judgment, you’ll need to become a good listener, seek diverse thoughts, and gain experience making decisions. The choices you make build upon each other, they compound over time. They also have a ripple effect, impacting those around you – your family, friends, company, community, school, and place of worship. Decision-making is so vital that I want to focus your attention on the simple process for a moment.
Did you know “various internet sources estimate that an adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day [in contrast a child makes about 3,000]? This number may sound absurd, but in fact, we make 226 decisions each day on just food alone, according to researchers at Cornell University. As your level of responsibility increases, so does the smorgasbord of choices you are faced with:
what to eat
what to wear
what to purchase
what we believe
what jobs and career choices we will pursue
how we vote
who to spend our time with
who we will date and marry
what we say and how we say it
whether or not we would like to have children
what we will name our children
who our children spend their time with
what they will eat, etc.”
The more complex the decision, the more thinking you’ll need to do. When faced with an important decision to make or problem to solve, I recommend following the below steps:
#1 Define the decision to be made – This may be the hardest part. Write down the decision to be made or a problem to be solved. Why is it important to make or solve? What if you don’t decide or solve the problem? What if you delay? Is what you articulated the actual decision that needs to be made? How do you need to refine it? How will a sound decision benefit you and others?
#2 Identify alternatives – Brainstorm multiple options, gather information, and engage those who need to be involved in decision making or problem-solving. List the pros and cons of each alternative and predict possible outcomes. Ask questions like Which option will produce the greatest results at the lowest cost? How difficult will each choice be to implement? And, are the alternatives congruent to your or your key stakeholder’s values?
#3 Choose the best alternative – Evaluate each option and choose the one that will produce the highest return or good. Understand the risks you are taking, be able to explain how you made the decision, and move forward. A sage once told me, “a wise man makes a decision and doesn’t look back.”
#4 Implement your choice – Develop a plan, secure the resources, gain support, and put your decision into action. Monitor its progress. Not all decisions result in positive outcomes. Some decisions are plain wrong. You’ll make mistakes. If you fall off the horse, get back on. Have the courage to make changes when needed. On the flip side, some of your decisions will be sound and will produce positive results.
#5 Reflect on your choice and outcomes – Post decision and implementation, take time to think about what happened. What worked? What didn’t work? What can I do differently next time? How can I apply what I learned? As Peter Drucker said: “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”
Developing good judgment requires experience, reflection, and applied learning. If you follow the above decision-making process consistently, over-time, you will make more and more decisions that produce positive outcomes. You’ll see patterns and parallels that you didn’t see before. You’ll develop the ability to anticipate results and synthesize information at a whole new level. And, you’ll make a positive difference in the world around you.
Be Tenacious – When I got in my car and started home, I realized that I made a series of bad decisions and didn’t exercise sound judgment. But I realized that I still needed to get home. I had to make sound decisions that would enable my safe return. Even though I made mistakes, I didn’t let them stop me. Thankfully, I didn’t give up and stayed with it. When you’ve made a wrong decision or experience a negative outcome, don’t give up. Learn from your mistakes. Find the inner resolve, dogged persistence, and single-mindedness to keep moving forward. Meet your objective, complete the play, or finish the race. I am reminded of the following illustration about reaching the finish line in spite of adversity:
Hours behind the runner in front of him, the last marathoner finally entered the Olympic stadium. By that time, the drama of the day’s events was almost over, and most of the spectators had gone home. This athlete’s story, however, was still playing out.
Limping into the arena, the Tanzanian runner grimaced with every step, his knee bleeding and bandaged from an earlier fall. His ragged appearance immediately caught the attention of the remaining crowd, who cheered him on to the finish line.
Why did he stay in the race? What made him endure his injuries to the end? When asked these questions later, he replied, “My country did not send me 7,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 7,000 miles to finish it.”
Like the Tanzanian runner, set your mind to reach the finish line. Don’t let a few bad decisions or mistakes get in the way. Learn from them, make better decisions, and you’ll eventually experience positive results.
Pray – I’ve heard people say that the only thing they can do is pray. For the believer, praying is the first and most important thing you can do. Seek God for his protection, guidance, and wisdom. Ask him what to do, wait on him, and he will show you. Regarding my Snowpocalypse experience, I was way too confident in my winter condition driving experience. I took things into my own hands and experienced an unfortunate set of circumstances. But when I got on the road, I quickly surmised that it was going to take more than my driving skill and experience to get home. I turned to God and asked for his help. I had multiple conversations with him along the way. Time to think and reflect. I also prayed for stranded passengers as I passed them. Looking back, I am absolutely convinced that the Lord protected me and enabled me to arrive home safely.
Snowpocalypse was a paralyzing weather event in the Atlanta Metro area. But the great thing about the city government is that people learned from their mistakes. The next time snow and ice were forecasted the city went into action mode. They announced school closures early, pre-treated the roads with over 3,000 lbs. of de-icing materials, and encouraged everyone to stay off the roads. Residents followed the leadership’s direction, and Atlantans avoided the problems incurred during Snowpocalypse. Personally, I learned the need to make the right decisions, how to endure adverse conditions and the power of prayer. If you learn to exercise good judgment, are tenacious in challenging circumstances, and don’t give up and pray, you will experience positive results.
 The Washington Post, Four lessons Georgia learned about snowstorms, February 13, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/four-lessons-georgia-learned-about-snowstorms/2014/02/13/db1b2b5a-94cd-11e3-83b9-1f024193bb84_story.html
 Harvard Business Review, “The Elements of Good Judgment,” Sir Andrew Likierman, https://hbr.org/2020/01/the-elements-of-good-judgment
 Roberts Wesleyan College, Leading Edge Journal, 35,000 Decisions: The Great Choices of Strategic Leaders, https://go.roberts.edu/leadingedge/the-great-choices-of-strategic-leaders
 Swindoll, Charles R. Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes. Nashville, TN, Thomas Nelson, 1998, p. 210.
Don’t hire him. . .. He’s not a good fit. . .. If you do, it will be a mistake. . ..
I heard this from a couple of key leaders after I called seeking their advice.
He has the right experience and transferable skills. . .. With a little coaching, he’ll be great. . ..
This is what a trusted peer who highly recommended Steve told me.
A different set of opinions.
I didn’t have much time to decide. I was under the gun to hire an associate to work with our business partners. I needed to recruit, interview and fill the open position within two weeks or I’d lose the headcount. If I lost the headcount, the work and relationship management would fall on my plate.
I moved swiftly and selfishly to hire Steve. Why? I saw potential, or so I told myself. I heard what I wanted to hear from the positive advice I received and ignored the other. Acting out of arrogance, I believed that I could single-handedly develop Steve’s analytical, relationship building and leadership skills.
Fast forward one year. . ..
Developing Steve took a lot of time and energy. Even though I had 10 other team members and was accountable for 18 markets, I spent 80% of my time with him and his specific market.
I didn’t want Steve to fail. I saw his success as my responsibility since I decided against other’s counsel. I wanted to prove that I could help Steve reach his potential.
While Steve was hired into a harsh work environment and we believed he could breakthrough, he never gained traction with his assigned business partners or market. The business partners demanded more than Steve could deliver. When Steve stumbled, I had to compensate.
Over time, his business partners rejected him because of a perceived lack of credibility. Steve was no longer invited to meetings or trade rides, lost his ability to influence or add value.
I’d shared the business partners’ feedback with Steve along the way. Trying to support Steve, I continually spent time helping him solve problems and discuss his concerns. I always encouraged him. And, I was always genuine with him.
We built a plan to improve his performance and connection with the business partner. But Steve didn’t follow through on the plan. He’d lost heart.
I finally came to the realization that I couldn’t develop Steve as I thought. His skill set and motivational fit weren’t right for the role.
I made a mistake. . .. A change needed to happen for Steve’s benefit, for my team, for my company, for our business partners, and for the company. . .. And, for me.
I had another decision to make. . .. Do I place Steve on a formal Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) and exit him from the company?. . ..
After consulting with my leadership and human resources, we elected to place Steve on a PIP. It was a tough decision but the right one.
Then, I prayed for Steve. . .. I prayed that he’d be able to improve his performance or that God would provide for him if the PIP didn’t conclude with positive results. I also prayed for wisdom and a sensitive heart as I revealed the tough news to him.
I reached out to Steve to share our decision. As you can imagine, he wasn’t happy.
Steve said, “NO ONE else faced the challenging work environment and difficult business partners as I have.”
He demanded that I delay the PIP. . ..
I couldn’t. . .. I wouldn’t. . .. We’d put plans in place before, but he hadn’t acted on them. I listed a number of other performance-related issues and said no.
Frustrated, he said, “This is the first job I’ve had where if I didn’t get along with people, I could still do well at my job. I feel like such a failure.”
Steve was furious at first and then began to breakdown.
I was moved by Steve’s emotions. . .. I’d come to like Steve very much and knew he tried very hard. I wanted to encourage him amid another tough circumstance yet be real with him like I’d always been.
I told him, “Speaking from my heart, you are still valued and need to separate what is happening from who you are…It is up to you now to improve…90% don’t make it through the process, but others experience a career transformation.”
To make a long story short, Steve didn’t make it successfully through the PIP process and was about to be let go.
Then, something happened. . ..
A role opened up in another part of the company that better suited Steve’s skill set and was the perfect motivational fit. Typically, an associate wasn’t eligible to interview for other roles while under a PIP. Because of the right job fit, my leadership, HR partner and I extended grace to Steve and approved his interview. Showing dignity for Steve, we agreed that sometimes people are in the wrong role and wanted to do the right thing for him.
And guess what? . . .. He got the job!
What did I learn from my experience with Steve?
- Be an Unselective Listener: Even though I sought wise counsel from others, I selectively listened to what they said. I pieced together what I wanted to hear and rationalized my decision. Admittedly, I had my own agenda, was stubborn and acted out of arrogance. The Bible says, “Fools are headstrong and do what they like; wise people take advice.” (Proverbs 12:15 – The Message). If I’d listened early on, Steve and I wouldn’t have suffered through the tough circumstances. My advice: When seeking counsel, objectively listen to others and don’t filter your thoughts with pre-determined bias.
- Show Dignity and Respect for Others: During challenging circumstances with Steve, I always tried to encourage him, help him feel valued and be genuine with him. The Bible says, “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. . .. (Matthew 7:12 – The Message). Helping Steve navigate through the circumstances, I always demonstrated respect and dignity for him. I remained professional. That’s the way I’d want to be treated. Wouldn’t about you?
- Pray Always: I didn’t pray about my decision to hire Steve and moved without consulting God. It became a mess. But I did pray amid the mess and God was faithful. He helped Steve and provided a new opportunity. For Believers, we need to lift EVERYTHING in prayer, and it should become a lifestyle for us. The Bible says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 ESV). Take every moment and opportunity to pray. Make it a continual conversation with God and a way of life. If you do, God will guide you, your decisions and your circumstances.
If you listen unselectively, show dignity and respect for others and pray always, you’ll become savvy decision maker and leader.
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My team and I were invited to a strategic business partner’s corporate headquarters to think about what’s possible and innovate. I viewed the trip as an excellent opportunity to retreat, bond as a team and shape our future.
I approached my manager, Kevin, about the opportunity. He hesitated and then said, “Most trips like these end up being boondoggles. Do you think you’re going to accomplish anything?”
“Yes, I do. I’m confident that we’ll come back with fresh ideas and take our business to the next level”, I replied.
Kevin said, “I have my doubts. I tell you what, put together an agenda with specific objectives and I’ll take a look. If I agree with your proposal, I’ll okay the trip.”
“Great and thanks. I’ll come back to you shortly”, I said.
Over the next few days, I collaborated with my team and our business partner to develop a very specific agenda and desired outcome. Then, I shared it with Kevin. A chronic micromanager, he asked us to make multiple changes to the plan. Once the topics were aligned with Kevin’s feedback, he begrudgingly agreed to let us go.
My team jumped into action and made the necessary coverage arrangements to ensure we could break away with limited distractions. We activated our email out of office messages notifying internal customers that we were out for a short time and provided backup contact information.
The next day, we loaded the van and headed to our destination. My team was beaming with excitement and anticipation. They’d been on trips like this before and understood the potential our retreat held. As we drove, we connected on both personal and professional levels. We talked optimistically about how we could advance our vision of being industry leaders and indispensable partners.
When we arrived, we were escorted into our business partner’s innovation lab where all of the futuristic designs inspired us. Next, we moved into a creative thinking lab to begin formulating ideas and developing plans.
Then, the first email hit… And another… And another. A series of 10 or more emails from Kevin appeared on our iPhones within 30 minutes. He was following up on projects, providing feedback and checking in… Just to let us know he was there.
His last email’s subject line read, TURN OFF YOUR OUT OF OFFICE MESSAGE.
In the body of the email, Kevin wrote that having our out of office message turned on sent the wrong message to leadership and internal customers. It was our job to be accessible at all times regardless of what we were doing or who was covering for us.
I thought to myself, “Ugh. Really? If that isn’t micromanagement, I don’t know what is.”
I looked around the room and saw discouragement, frustration, and anger on my team’s faces. Some became distracted and anxious. Everyone began to disengage from the creative thinking discussion mentally.
At a break, I gathered my team to ask their thoughts about the emails. They shared with me that they went to great lengths to ensure our time away would be productive and distraction free. They wondered if it was a mistake to take the trip. Kevin’s micromanagement tendencies surfaced, and the team felt disenfranchised.
I understood their concerns. I asked the team to return to the meeting and told them that I’d gently respond to Kevin’s emails. I asked them to not make a mountain out of a molehill and turn off the out of office messages. Lastly, I asked them to stay focused on the purpose of our meeting and ignore distractions.
The good news is that the team returned to the meeting and developed a visionary plan. Also, I ran interference by answering Kevin’s emails and asking the team to turn off the out of office messages. By engaging Kevin on behalf of the team, I was able to assuage his need to feel in control. We didn’t hear from him again during our trip.
Micromanagers can be burdensome. I know from personal experience. Here’s what I learned:
- Remember Who You’re Working For– If you keep your eyes on God and embrace the fact that you’re ultimately working for him, you’ll maintain a positive attitude regardless the circumstance. The Bible says, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” (Colossians 3:23 NLT)
- Submission Is Key– It’s easy to work for a great boss. The hard part is working for and submitting to a bad boss…. But when you do, God is pleased. The Bible says, “You who are servants, be good servants to your masters—not just to good masters, but also to bad ones. What counts is that you put up with it for God’s sake when you’re treated badly for no good reason. There’s no particular virtue in accepting punishment that you well deserve. But if you’re treated badly for good behavior and continue in spite of it to be a good servant, that is what counts with God. (1 Peter 2:18–20 – The Message)
- Bite Your Tongue– I disciplined myself to communicate in a positive way and to not show irritation if I became frustrated. The Bible says, “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” (Proverbs 15:1 – NLT)
In spite of desperate circumstances, I grew leaps and bounds during the three years I worked with Kevin. I learned to cope with his management style in the short term. Eventually, I realized that Kevin’s style and mine weren’t compatible, the intense micromanagement I experienced wasn’t sustainable, and I decided to move into another role.
I challenge you to apply the above principles, and if you do, you’ll manage through a micromanager.> Read More
I’m a disciple of Christ and an executive at a Fortune 500 Company. In my blog, The Discipled Leader, I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work.
As a certified coach, speaker, and trainer with the John Maxwell Team, I help others grow their relationship with Christ, develop their leadership skills, and understand how they can make a positive difference in today’s chaotic world.
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