Having God Moments

I had a nice long chat a week or so ago with someone I respect a lot. He has been a mentor, coach, friend, brother, for as long as I can remember. He told me two very interesting stories about experiences he has had in the country in which he stays and runs a business in.

One of his drivers drove a truck of his business in town. At one stage he had to reverse, and instead of having his co-driver get out to check the traffic, or to stop the traffic, he just put the truck into reverse and drove backwards. The end result? He drove into a car whose driver obviously was not expecting this to happen.

What then happened was that the owner of the car had the police take the truck into “custody,” as a sort of guarantee that the damages to the car would be fixed. Louw first went to the panel beater and learnt that the damage to the car was in the vicinity of US$3000, of which he had to pay 60% upfront. Having done that, he went back to the police to get his truck as he needed it for deliveries and logistics. There he got told that he had to pay the whole amount before he could get his truck back. He subsequently went back and paid the full amount.

All of this did not take place in one morning. Also, it happened the Monday. The truck was effectively out of circulation on the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday! It was the busiest time of the week. Both his production processes and his clients were furious as they were waiting either for raw materials or for products!

By Thursday afternoon he was livid! Can you imagine the rigmarole he had to go through to learn all of this the hard way! This in a city like Lagos!
So he did what we all would do. He got all the drivers and their supervisor together for a talk. And we all know what that talk was going to be about and what it was going to be like! Especially after the actual direct cost and the waste of time and waste of production and the irate customers! He was relishing the idea of venting his pent-up frustration and irritation on the employees who had caused all of this. It was not as if there were not policies and instructions to this regard. To the contrary!

Looking at the assembled people, he noticed something he had never bothered to notice before. He could see them dumbing down, developing shutters over their eyes. The more he looked, the more he saw people leaving their bodies. Empty eyes were staring back at him – there was nobody home! Any ranting and raving from his part would only satisfy his rage and frustration – it would have no effect on the people in front of him. They had long learned to protect themselves against this kind of abuse.

As he told me, “Johan, I had what I call a God moment. I realised that I had to change myself before I could change them. I realised that here was a teaching moment. I also realised that the bigger the stuff-up you are presented with, the bigger the teaching opportunity!” So instead of ranting and raving, being a boss, Louw became a teacher, a mentor, and a coach. He asked them “what can we learn from this? What can we do to prevent similar accidents from happening?”

This totally took them by surprise. They had been used to experiences of ranting and raving their whole life. They were conditioned to this by their teachers, their supervisors, their managers. They were conditioned to this by even their parents and their governments. And they responded to this conditioning by dumbing down, by developing a worldview that they actually do not matter, what they do and think do not matter. The end result of this is that when you hire one of these people, you get their body. Not their mind, not their soul. You get short-changed! In a really big way.

He saw them slowly returning to their bodies. The shock of a change in action made them sit up and take notice. Here was someone who was acting out of sync with what they had been used to their whole lives! They actually started listening and made suggestions. They were realising that what they do and say and do not do or do not say, matters!

The end result of this change of response on his side was that the offending driver sent him an sms to apologise for his actions, the first time that had ever happened!

The second story was about something similar. The company has a policy that motorcycle drivers were compelled to carry helmets, something which was frequently ignored in the city at large. One of his young drivers took a company motorcycle, and being conditioned to wear a helmet, he took one as well. Driving with his friends, none of whom wore their helmets, they were involved in an accident. Except for his driver, all the rest were killed in the accident.

When Louw spoke to the driver, he could see him go through the dumbing down to protect him from the anticipated ranting and raving. He pre-empted this by asking the young man, “Why do you think God saved you and took the others?” The young man stopped his usual protection activities and started listening, startled by the change in response. Another God moment.

I am by no means propagating that we all start ignoring the wrongful actions of our employees. There are always consequences. What I am propagating is that we deal with these moments in a way that our employees and our companies benefit from this. To ignore the action would be wrong. It would teach them that one can get away with wrong actions, which would be detrimental to them and to the company. And as everything we do and say matters, we need to be focused on what it is we deal with, and how we deal with it.

We learn from Chris Argyris and Peter Senge about learning organizations. An organization where we learn formally and informally. Where we learn from others and from ourselves. Where we learn from our mistakes and our successes. Where we are allowed to make mistakes, without fear of severe retribution. Without fear of ranting and raving. But with the knowledge and understanding that we need to learn from our mistakes, less we repeat them. That would be the true crime in this story!

This is the journey that Louw had put his organization on, knowingly or unknowingly. This is where he started teaching them that what they do and say, or do not do and say, matters! This is where he started growing and developing himself that his people matter, and that he had to help them realise it. He had to become the change he wanted to see. Ghandi told us this decades ago.

However, most of us never actually make this part of our lives. In such cases, we are to blame for the stuff-ups of our employees. We are hiring their bodies and forgetting they actually have minds as well. We forget that if we can get their minds and their souls, we can get their bodies far more effectively! We forget that we want our people to think for themselves, and that we need to treat them in a specific way to bring this about. Treating them as cannon fodder, makes them act as cannon fodder.

What a waste!

Bottom line? Your people matters. You need to constantly look for God moments, moments to teach, coach, and mentor. In your life and in your business. That’s what you are really getting paid to do as a manager of people! Are you earning your pay! If not, it is high time you start. As the saying goes, the best time to have planted a tree is 50 years ago. In the absence of that, the next best time is now!

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2 Responses

  1. Hein Kotze says:

    Ja Johan, jammer ek lees nou eers die inset van jou. Steeds, dis so belangrik om reg met jou mense te werk en mooi met julle te praat. Dis nie net wat jy se, en/of jy hulle voor ander verneder nie, dis hoe ne waar jy dit se wat tel. Ek het altyd vir die ouers na afloop van n tienerkamp gese, moenie op jou tiener skree nie, want om jou humeur te verloor of om hulle uit te trap is dieselfde as om n vark te probeer leer sing. 1. Dit werk nie. 2. Dit maak die vark niks. 3. Dit laat nou stupid lyk.
    Lekker nuwe jaar!

  2. Edith Kennedy says:

    So true! It’s so easy to lose your patience and vent your anger on those that are not supposed to answer back. Those managers that yell at their workers are just trying to exercise their power because they know that their staff won’t challenge them. But to step out of that rank and see your staff as part and parcel of the success of your business is a brave step. It takes courage to change your approach to management. You’ve given us something to strive towards. Thank you for my own God moment.