There are the moving motivational posters…. the softly lit cheese puff or cheez doodle  (“Be the head cheese”) or an amazing sunset…( Don’t let the sun go down on yooz)”. My contribution to future emotive posters? A syringe filled with antibiotics.

I was new on the job in a fish food plant that made pellets for the salmon farms in Southern Chile.   In my attempt to get accepted by the new client, I saw our plant manager put a pellet in his mouth, bite it into two pieces, and look inside. Whatever he was looking for it exuded confidence, knowledge and fish meal breath.  I decided to show up strong, and in front of a front line crew I was coaching, reached into a barrel, and pulled put a pellet and bit down. This not only gave me the limelight, but the entire crew busted out in laughter.

“Gringo What are barrels for?  I hadn’t paid attention  to the safety initiation, but then I remembered. “Um rejected material”?  That would be a yes, compadre. ” “Why was it rejected? ” I asked nervously. “Staph infection”.    I bust out laughing. Mortified, humbled, but enjoying the absurdity of the moment.

My response to my unhappy meal, and the crews reaction, has served me well over the years.  A few insights gleaned:

  • Laughing at your mistakes makes you human, and creates trust .  If you handle it with grace, it adds to the folklore of the common shared experience at work.   We may remember great leaders and performance, but we are also as apt to remember the goof ball moments…”remember when Ed accidentally showed the vacation photo of him in his Batman speedo swim trunks”?   Always good to part of the company legends, in a good fun way.
  • Being dumb also allows you to listen better, without your inner uber leader trying to prove how much you know by getting ready with your response. Communicating is not tennis. Unless your name is Serena.
  • Asking the  stupid questions actually gets you on to creative thinking that everyone else has dismissed.  Why are we doing this? Is this the path we need to be on?
  • Being “dumb” and not knowing it all is non threatening, and I have used it in building relationships without generating defense mechanisms, where necessary.
  • Some of my best mentors told me, “how you show up is how you show up”.  Ill leave it up  to you as to what that means for you, without showing you up.
  • If you don’t know how to fall on your sword where appropriate, leading may be difficult.  Recognizing your errors and having accountability keeps you authentic.  A colleague if mine once made a significant accounting error, but because she was transparent and didn’t try to hide it, it served her well in the eyes of the company. It as an art form to do this well. As my large intestine will tell you, if it only had the guts.

For those if you at home keeping score, I never did get an infection.

I’ve decided to change my motivational poster to something more appropriate. It features a close up of the fish food pellet, with the caption” Always bite off more than you can chew.”  And if you do, remember to be in the moment.

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