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by Trevor Lee

The reality is that the people in an office who make the most noise tend to get the most attention. This is normal, but it’s not good.

Last week our van started squealing. It was really annoying and impossible to ignore. In fact, it consumed my attention so much that my son was halfway through a story before I even realized he was talking to me. I tried to pay attention, but the squealing relentlessly drew my attention away from what he was saying.

I had a choice. I could try to ignore the noise and go on with life as usual–hoping the van didn’t completely break down–or I could address it. Ignoring it would have consequences. First, there was clearly something wrong, and ignoring it would eventually lead to big problems. Sure, I could put off taking the van to the shop, but I would be risking bigger, and more expensive problems. The second problem with ignoring it was that I couldn’t really ignore it. Sure, I’d kind of get used to it, but until it was fixed it would always be pulling my attention away from more important things whenever I was driving. The other problem with trying to ignore it was that it would bother me even when I wasn’t driving. I’d be in a meeting or wake up at night and think about what I should do–how long I had until it really blew up. It might not cause me huge amounts of anxiety, but it would still be there, distracting me, even when I wasn’t in the van.

These same dynamics are in play when there is a “squeaky wheel” in the office.

Most of my leadership journey has been marked by mistakes. Shaped by failures, not victories. I have gotten more wrong than I have right and I’ve got the scars to prove it. I’ve stubbed my toes on problems that could have been avoided with some combination of maturity and humility that doesn’t always come naturally to me. I’ve run a business into the ground. I’ve lost great employees because of failures in my leadership. I’ve missed out on significant opportunities because I was focused on the wrong things. If this were a list of things great leaders NEVER do I could write you a novel. Maybe someday.

Thankfully, I’ve been afforded second, third, and fourth chances. Undeserved to be sure, but I’ve done what I can to take advantage of them.