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BEWARE: Your Habitual Behavior Can Kill You

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy

Here’s an idea to keep you more aware of your surroundings.

        Ten years before he would become Prime Minister of Great Britain; ten years before he would lead England to her “finest hour,” ten years before he would virtually preserve our democratic way of life in World War II, Winston Churchill should have been killed.

Winston Churchill (left) takes a walk in London in 1925, six years before his near fatal walk in New York City in 1931

        In a car accident. His fault. By default.

      Churchill committed the most egregious sin of all leaders,  a sin he never forgot, the sin of reacting mindlessly to something he always knew instead of responding to something brand new. As Henry David Thoreau observed “We hear and apprehend only what we already half know.”

        Indeed, think of yourself walking in Churchill’s shoes the next time you take on a new project in a new venue. Become more aware of your new surroundings.  Adapt your behavior accordingly as the cliche goes.

                          “When in Rome do as the Romans do.”

      Churchill’s body was in New York, but his mindset was still in London. And that misplaced mindset could have well changed history and cost  Sir Winston his life. Here’s how it happened.

      Churchill, visiting New York City on December 13, 1931, got out of a cab on Park Avenue and crossed the street between 76th and 77th Avenues. He was hit by a car.

      “I should have been broken like an egg-shell,”  Churchill grimaced while spending seven days in a hospital. But miraculously he was not badly injured. He was more embarrassed than hurt.

       Churchill stepped into the street and looked for on-coming traffic first to his RIGHT.  In England, cars travel in the left lane. So if you are crossing a street in England the nearest cars to a pedestrian would be to the right.

     But in the United States the exact opposite is true. The nearest traffic to you is on your left. Churchill looked to his right and knew instantly that wasn’t right.

 Are You Too Quick to Overlook Rather Than Look Over?

     As a leader, where are you looking as you cross the unfamiliar streets in your organization? Are you too quick to see what you already knew instead of what’s new. Are you too quick to overlook rather than look over your new surroundings? Are you too quick to do what you’ve always done?

       Have you become a creature of habit like the soldiers in World War I who were firing an old artillery gun too slowly. An investigation showed that two soldiers in the cannon crew always delayed the firing. Just before the cannon was to fire, they would step back and become still for a few seconds. They would then hold the horses still. Of course horses were no longer used to pull the cannon in World War I. But the habit was hard to break. Just like crossing the street safely.

Today’s ImproveMINT
Adapt your point of view to a new venue to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.

You might also like these previous Leadership Mints on Strategic Thinking:

Beware of Jumping to Conclusions
Taking the Scum off Your Mind
Narrowing Your Attention Span

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When REPLYing, send TO PeterJeff@charter.net.

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