Flat Tire Leadership: No Fail Missions

by Stephen T. Messenger

March 30, 2021

Once I saw it, I only had three seconds to decide before it was too late.  I was driving home on the highway when I noticed a car up ahead on the shoulder with a blown-out tire.  My mind flooded with excuses not to help: They probably already called AAA, or he can change his own tire. 

But I pushed those excuses to the back of my mind and violently pulled onto the shoulder, having to back up about 200 feet.  Instead of a middle-aged guy, there were three women: a daughter, her mother, and grandmother. They were returning from the hospital, still two hours from home, and desperately needing help.  After changing the tire, I threw the flat in my truck and led them to a repair shop.  Crisis averted.

Leaders across the Nation have to make these split-second decisions every day in three critical areas I call no-fail missions: sexual harassment prevention, equal opportunity, and suicide awareness.  In the first, there are some disgusting predators out there who are going to test you.  They’ll make inappropriate comments and see what you’ll allow now in the hopes of going further next time.  In the second, those with discriminatory mindsets will also try to see what you’ll accept in the way of jokes or derogatory remarks.  The last is less of a test and more of a potential cry for help.  In all the three no-fail missions, leaders only have seconds to decide what to say before the moment is in the rearview mirror.

Before a situation like this even happens, you must already know how you’ll respond—decisively and with resolve.  Before I even see a car on the side of the road, I’ve mentally trained myself to stop immediately—I call it flat tire leadership.  This mindset removes all debate and excuses.  Similarly, when encountering a no-fail mission, leaders must default to immediate intervention.  It’s hard at times, but imperative.

Sexual Harassment Prevention.  There are some terrible people out there that want to prey on others.  They begin by seeing what you’ll tolerate.  An offhanded comment.  A Sexual innuendo.  An improper touch.  Stamp this out immediately.  If you allow the little things, larger things will appear.  You must have zero tolerance for the slightest hint of impropriety along with aggressively destroying anything larger you find.  Others are watching for your response.

Equal Opportunity.  It is 2021.  The fact we still have to talk about this is unbelievable.  But we do.  When leaders get a whiff of discriminatory behavior, they must immediately confront it.  They see it through intolerant jokes, comments, or glances, and it indicates a precursor to discrimination in the workplace.  When you hear a comment, snuff it out.  You have seconds to decide whether you will let it go or respond.  Take action.  Then ask yourself how much more you must dig into this behavior.

Suicide Awareness.  There are people hurting out there in your workplace.  They are sad and depressed and waiting for you to ask how they’re doing.  When you talk to someone who may need help, lovingly confront them.  When I sense potential signs, I’ve gotten unapologetic about directly asking, “Have you thought about committing suicide?”  Care about the mental health of your followers.  Asking shows you are willing to stand alongside of them in their crisis.

This has been mainly about leadership in work situations, but it also applies to other areas of your life.  Keep your eyes and ears open.  How can you safely intervene to prevent harassment, discrimination, or suicide wherever you see it?  Others need your leadership.

Conversations move at 70 miles per hour sometimes, and when you see something, you have mere seconds to decide how to respond.  One moment you’re enjoying a pleasant back and forth and the next you have to react to an unacceptable comment or reply to someone seeking emotional help.  Your job is to violently pull off the highway, back up 200 feet to the last comment, and unapologetically intervene.   

In my short time at Target Corporation, the culture bombarded me with the phrase, “If you see it, you own it.”   What a great lesson in all areas of our lives, not just for no-fail missions.  Intervention can be uncomfortable at times, especially when it’s so easy to ignore the hazard lights flashing in your face and go about your life.  But these three no-fail missions are simply an area our Nation cannot afford to drive by.  You have seconds to react before that comment is in your rearview.  Resolve in advance to intervene.

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