This afternoon, driving at the speed limit, I noticed a police car in the next lane. I thought nothing of it, until a few blocks later I noticed the flashing lights behind me. Turns out, I had been driving the car illegally for, get this, seven months. My license tags had expired in May 2007!
There are moments when one has a truly sinking feeling, and this moment could have gone from bad to worse very quickly -- because I had left the insurance renewal papers at home. So, effectively, I was driving without proper license plates, and without proper insurance documentation.
Clearly, one of my weaknesses (see previous posting about Marcus Buckingham's argument to focus on strengths) is attention to detail. Last May, I must have 'assumed' that I had renewed my license properly and blithely just driven the car for more than a half year.
Fortunately, one of my compensating strengths is a solid crisis response attitude. I knew right away to accept responsibility for the problem; the police were doing their job, I had erred, and now the challenge would be to make things right, as quickly as possible.
The police issued $220 in fines. I asked the officer if I could safely drive the car to the motor vehicle licensing office to fix things. The officer, in a stern "police type" response, said: "You are not supposed to be driving this car until it is properly licensed, but I am 'clearing' the area and leaving the scene." I took the message clearly that he wouldn't charge me again if I drove off!
So, I drove straight to the licensing office, only to face another problem. The licensing bureau will not renew the license without insurance documentation, and that material is at home, about two miles away. Somehow, driving home to fetch the documentation did not seem to be a good idea under the circumstances. My wife was away, and I was supposed to pick up my son from winter camp in a couple of hours. So calling taxis and going back and forth to the home to get the paperwork seemed rather a bad answer. The solution: I called my insurance broker. The broker's agent said she could fax temporary insurance paperwork to me. And the licensing bureau clerk gave me the licensing office fax number!
So, as I stood in line waiting for my turn for service, I heard my name called, and received the fax with the paperwork needed to renew things. Problem fixed, in under an hour. I quickly affixed the new sticker on the car, and went off for some vigorous exercise.
These experiences reminded me of principals of attitude and responsibility.
- As the crisis unfolded, I put things into perspective. Outside of the error in driving without proper tags, had I committed a major crime? Not really (the car had proper insurance). I would pay the fine, accept responsibility, and move on.
- Do people have discretion and the ability to develop creative solutions in situations which are all-too-common? Certainly. Insurance brokers can issue temporary paperwork by fax, and at least some motor vehicle licensing offices are reasonable and will give out their fax numbers!
- Should people play their 'roles' in situations? Certainly. If you expect a police traffic officer to be jocular and friendly when he is issuing a ticket, you are living in another world. The best you can do in these situations is to behave courteously and with respect. The officer could have thrown the book at me -- instead he charged me $220.
P.S. A note about branding success: I am not sure 100 per cent if the positive story described above is indeed Jeffrey Gitomer's tale (I read many business books). But he gets credit and recognition here. That is the nature of great branding. If you ingrain a positive and relevant perspective in people around you, you may be able to take credit for good things that possibly have nothing to do with you!