How to turn a careless mistake into an inspiring moment
On a skiing holiday with my family in Vernon BC, I witnessed a truly inspirational act. One I know I will draw upon for years to come.
Snowboarding down a run, I noticed a man on skis yelling and motioning dramatically to a snowboarder stopped on the hill. Between the two a young boy sat dejectedly after an obvious wipeout. I stopped near the skier to see what was going on.
It looked to me like the man getting yelled at was the father of the boy who had wiped out. That turned out to be true. The skier was saying to the father “come here please, come here please.” With time, the father complied and started shuffling up the hill (not super easy with a snowboard) close to the skier and a growing group of people. It seems the young boy had crashed into the skier, who had stopped to rest. The skier’s pole snapped in two as a result of the crash.
The skier wasted no time telling the father that, by alpine code, the person coming down the hill is responsible to stay clear of those below. He also seemed quite upset that the boy had broken his brand-new pole. The father at first looked quite defensive and I thought an argument was about to ensue. I could not have been more wrong.
The father made sure that everyone was OK, asking first the skier and then his son if they had any injuries. He then asked the skier his name and told the skier his. He then lowered his voice (to be out of earshot of the son) and said: “Please play along, Peter. I think we have the makings of a great lesson here.” Peter’s tone and attitude changed noticeably as he went along with the father’s next request and explained the alpine safety code to the boy. It seems he was a former ski instructor and he quickly switched to the teaching role, even consoling the boy (who was on the verge of tears) and assuring him that he was not angry. He just wanted him to understand the rules. The father then asked the boy if he felt he should help pay for the broken pole and the boy responded yes. Peter and the father worked things out and some cash changed hands along with some discussion about money coming out of allowance over time. Peter and his entourage left with some kind words to the father about how well he handled the situation and a comment from a woman in the group about “most people would have just kept on going.”
As I left, I noticed the father and son sitting side by side with the father’s arm around the boy and some talk going on that looked very kind and consoling. I was moved to tears. A situation changed from what could have been a hot-headed debate into a wonderful learning experience for a boy, a reminder that there are good people out there to a skier with a broken pole, and an inspiration to an anonymous guy who just stopped to see what was going on (me).
At The Inclusion System we often say, “every mistake is an opportunity to show what we are made of” and we have some great customer service stories to help make the point. That principle also applies to leadership and parenting. I stumbled across an important example on that ski hill.
Note: I first wrote this blog in 2011 but it was not widely published. I came across it and thought it deserved to see the light of day. This was a truly inspirational leadership experience for me, a reminder that leadership it not just about what we do at work.
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