It was the summer before my sophomore year in high school. From the time I was 12 years old, I pushed my lawnmower around town mowing yards during the day. Now I was 15 years old, had just bought a car, and took a job at a full service gas station/garage. I would go to an early morning football workout, work at the station 5-8 hours per day, and play baseball at night. I loved working out and playing ball, but I hated working at that gas station. Now when I say I hated it, please know I was still very thankful to have that job. Without that job, there would be no gas money for the car, no money for repairs, no money for anything. My mom was doing all she could do just to provide for my brother and me. We didn’t have extra money for a second car. So I thanked God every day for that job even though I couldn’t wait for the workday to end.
You see, pumping gas, checking oil, and cleaning windshields was fine. Washing and waxing cars by hand was challenging at times, but ok. What was nerve racking was raising a car on a lift to change oil and/or rotate tires. With little or no training, using that lift to raise a car 7 feet in the air was gut-wrenching to say the least. Having to re-wash/re-wax a car due to water spots was not much fun. Being left alone at the station on Sundays while the owner and other workers took off to go to smoke pot (stash stored behind the oil cans on the second shelf) was not something that I felt very comfortable with either. I wanted to do well and there were just a lot of things that I wasn’t comfortable with at that time. Training was limited. When it was busy, the pressure was intense. When it was slow, I had to find something to do or get sent home (I really needed the hours). There were obstacles every day in that job. While thankful for the income, I dreaded going there.
At 15 years old, I was just surviving each day. I saw obstacles as just something to get through. For 2 ½ months of a summer job, that was doable. If we approach work like that as an adult, life can be miserable. We aren’t just working for 2 ½ months during the summer.
When we start to view obstacles as opportunities, work takes on an entirely different meaning. Leading and influencing others becomes the primary focus during challenging times. The bigger the challenge, the more opportunity we have to be influential and/or impactful. You see, the tougher the situation and challenge, the more likely people are to be receptive to leadership – the more likely people are to follow someone who cares, someone who has direction, and someone who can provide a pathway to success. Tough, challenging times are when leaders make a difference!
If you are facing obstacles today, and if you are like me, you are facing your share of them, please know that you are not alone. Obstacles may be internal to your operation. Obstacles may be market/customer driven. Obstacles may be something coming down from the corporate level. Obstacles come from many different directions.
Take a step back and consider these obstacles as opportunities – Opportunities to impact people – Opportunities to lead by example – Opportunities to make a difference in someone else every day.
Take the opportunity to:
Simplify what you are trying to do. Everyone should clearly understand what we are trying to achieve. Eliminate complexity.
Narrow the focus. Refine what you are going to put emphasis on. You are going to have to make choices.
Prioritize actions that will be most impactful to your team.
Integrate everything we do to align with key focus areas noted above.
Execute at a high level. Be great at what you decided in the first three items above!
As a leader, don’t let obstacles discourage you today. Rather, see them as opportunities to achieve something even greater with your people.
Don’t just survive the day, but make it something worthwhile in the midst of the challenge.