One crisp, clear morning found me trudging around the local neighborhood on one of my regular runs. While these runs are not pretty to witness, they allow me to start my day fresh, focused and ready to hit the ground running (excuse the pun).
This particular morning started off the same as any other, with the usual internal battle between “This is good for you” and “You should have stayed in bed longer”, occurring in my head. The good angel won and I continued into the run finding my stride as the body warmed up. Things were going well until I noticed a small irritation in my right shoe. It was one of those irritations that were annoying, although not annoying enough to stop and do something about. It wasn’t slowing me down; rather, it was ‘just there.’
Now, I like a good psychological battle as much as the next person: I attempted to ignore it, thinking it would build my ability to deal with discomfort guaranteed on longer runs and also, it wasn’t that bad.
The rest of the run continued uneventfully. Yes, the irritation to my foot was there, but it still wasn’t bad enough to break my stride and do something about it. I was proud that I was able to ignore it and still post a reasonable time. Arriving home, I removed the shoe to inspect the irritated area. It looked like I expected it would: a little, well, irritated! I removed the small piece of stone and that was it. Problem solved. Well, so I thought.
That night, I laid my running gear out ready for that early morning exit from my warm bed. I fell asleep looking forward to the following day’s ‘trot’.
The alarm dragged me from sleep and my internal voice slowed my escape from bed by arguing that “Sleep is an important element of any exercise program”. That voice lost. I swung my legs out of bed, my feet hit the floor and searing pain shot up my right leg and made my legs buckle. I crumbled to the ground. What the?
My foot was swollen and hot. Could it be the impact of that tiny, tiny stone that I had ignored the day before? After medical treatment, I can honestly say yes, it was. That small irritant that seemed so trivial at the time that I ignored it, had now stopped me running for at least a week. Suddenly the ‘what if’ and the ‘I should have’ conversations started. Ultimately, if I had just stopped and removed that small stone and dealt with it at the time, things would have been a lot simpler.
This story may seem unrelated to the hustle and bustle of the CEO world, although if we stop and look a bit deeper, maybe not so much.
Has there been a time when a small issue has arisen and because you are busy or simply couldn’t be bothered, ignored it? And just a short time later that small issue is now much larger, causing you and your organisation a whole lot of pain. Significantly more pain than if you had dealt with it the first time you noticed it?
I have no doubt that we have all been in that situation. I understand that there are times where a rational judgment was made to ignore the small issue. Nothing you can do about that except deal with the issue that has now arisen.
Although there are those times when the decision to ignore the smaller issue, is based on the ‘pain’ associated with having the conversation or doing something about it — this is an internal battle where the easier option was taken.
As senior leaders, this is always a poor decision on two counts: The first is that in most cases the issue is going to get bigger and more complicated and ultimately, you will need to have the conversation. Secondly, you are sending a cultural message to the organisation that ignoring such behaviour is an acceptable strategy. This sort of message could end in disaster.
So the next time there is a small stone in your shoe, stop and do something about it before it becomes more painful than you can imagine.