She/he asks: What can we learn when things don’t go as expected?


My wife Jennifer, son Jack and I panted and fussed our way over the considerable hills of Oakland on Sunday.  Jen signed us up for a Terraloco run (“crazy earth”)  a 5K unlike any we’d experienced.  About 75 people met in the Leaning Tower Pizzeria in downtown Oakland, and they gave us all a map on a postcard. The start/finish was marked on it.  And then also marked on it were 5 “dogbones,” “segments” as we learned to name them in geometry.  The race was run by completing 3 segments and returning to the start with proof you’d been to them all.  The segments  were not ON single streets, but instead ran diagonally, requiring you to map and run around corners, around numerous bends, etc. to connect the dots.  Nor did the segments connect.  From the end of one segment, you had to map (or wander) your way to another segment of your choice, again, around turns and bends (and hills and hills).

Okay, so if YOU’RE confused, you feel 1/100 of the tension that rose up in and between us, as within minutes we ran blocks past our first segment before we realized we’d missed its start point.  And then after we finished that first segment, I ran us totally in the wrong direction, then recovered only to take another wrong turn. Standing in the middle of an intersection staring at a map, a guy in a car who was lost, looked at us as if to ask directions then said to us, “You’re not from here either are you?”  Uhhhh. NO!

The 5K that should have taken about a half hour, took us almost an hour!!!  And my family was ready to make me walk home. At least three times I’d run “ahead” only to cause us to fall further behind.

At one point (and in the car on the way home) I asked one of the 30 questions on Kouzes & Posner’s Leadership Practices Inventory: What can we learn, since it’s not going – or hasn’t gone — as we expected?”  It was the one smart thing I did all day. There were two takeaways that have real life benefit.

First, it’s key to stop for a second when you finish a segment! It’s so easy to continue in a direction, or take what seems like a natural turn. But the road, the map, the route changes. It’s a new semester, a new quarter, a new client, a new …. you get it.  If you’re starting something new, you might ask the Kouzes/Posner question above, “what can we learn?” especially “when things didn’t go as expected.”  If we’d only taken a minute to ask that, we’d have saved five!

The other lesson that was so clear to me was:  get the right person on the job.  The three of us are all Myers-Briggs “N’s” or iNtuitives, ill-suited for the task. Mapping and following a twisting route requires strong “S” or Sensate skills.  It literally requires street by street steps.  I am learning this same lesson in my teaching, after reading repetitive constructive critiques on my evaluations. I am inviting students to create the step-by-step processes they need (and some really need), pushing them to interrupt me and direct me and challenge me if I’m too conceptual, abstract or open-ended.  Many of them are 100 times better suited to thinking through details than I. I am escaping the terrific trap of thinking that the title of authority somehow means I can (or must) do everything best

To put the two lessons together:  After you have finished a “segment” of work, ask your peeps, “what can we learn from what we’ve just done?” and “who is best suited to lead us forward from here?”  You’ll keep learning and use others’ strengths to

Lead with your best self,


  • Dances With Dirt is run in Hell, MI every fall. I can’t tell you how many times I was lost in that affair. Glad that you’re still running, especially as a family.

  • Glad to read about your family adventure….now, I got a question… What is the next segment for Jennifer? I was shocked and disappointed Thursday to turn on her show and hear her say it was her last night there. She will be missed, but I am sure her next life segment will lead to more new adventures. Taking on a hosting a national TV news show after years in Michigan government leadership, was quite a switch…so please ask her to give us a preview to the next chapter in her public life.

  • Joan,
    Jennifer will be teaching (energy law and public policy) at Berkeley for the time being.
    She’ll stay active in the media and in public policy, I’m sure! I’ll tell her she’s missed.

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