Think Fast

vector-man-walking-down-stairsWhen I was in high school, my mom worked at a department store in the downtown area of the small town in which we lived. The store was open until 9:00 pm on Fridays and since we lived just a block and a half from the store, I would show up in her department about 15 minutes before closing so I could walk her home. After she closed out her register and turned in her money bag, we would get her coat and purse from the employee lounge and begin a leisurely walk home talking about what we each had done that day. decision making

One Friday, when we arrived at our house, I immediately noticed that none of the lights that I had left on when I left the house were lit. As I unlocked the door and looked inside, there was not a single light on anywhere. I told mom to take my arm and I would walk her to the kitchen and get the flashlight from the junk drawer so I could see if I could solve this mystery. We carefully made our way through the living room. I helped mom find the one-step down into the dining room and we were heading for the kitchen when I heard the door at the top of the stairs open. Light from the bedroom lit the stairway. The creak of the steps told me someone was inching their way down the steps.

Instinctively, I moved my mom so that she was standing behind me. I whispered to her, “Be ready to run for the door when I yell run.” I mentally prepared myself for what I was about to face. I could see the legs of two people coming down the steps and just as the faces were about to appear, I yelled at the top of my lungs, “Freeze!”

There will be times in your life when you face a situation where you must use your very best judgment to act quickly to resolve a problem. Judgment is your ability to think about things clearly, calmly, and in an orderly fashion so that you can make good decisions. When these situations arise, common sense will be your best friend. Let me demonstrate by sharing my thoughts in the above scenario:

  • Think clearly. When I realized that there was someone else in the house, I knew that I had to protect my mom and give her the opportunity to get out the front door. We lived next door to a bar so I knew she could have help to come to my aid in a very short time. Therefore, whatever I was going to do, it had to ensure she was able to get to safety and assistance.
  • Think calmly. I reasoned that I had the advantage in this situation because of two important facts. First, I lived here so I knew the entire layout of the house and could move safely past obstacles in the dark – a stranger did not have this knowledge. Second, I could see the people coming down the steps but they could not see me so they had no idea where I was or if I had a weapon.
  • Think in an orderly fashion. My plan was simple. If I could scare them with my first yell, I could block the stairway long enough for mom to get to the bar and summon help. I was willing to accept the consequences of this action because I knew my mom would be safe. Therefore, now I was ready to act. I would wait until they were about to be able to see us before I would put my plan into action so that the element of surprise was on my side.


With that one word, the two strangers let out screams of panic and fell on the stairs. I yelled run and was bounding up the steps when I realized the frightened “strangers” were my two brothers. “What are you two trying to pull?” I yelled.

“Nothing,” my older brother said as he struggled to get to his feet. “We came home and none of the lights downstairs would come on. We went upstairs and the lights worked. We got scared and locked the bedroom door. When we heard voices downstairs, we figured we better check it out before you and mom got home.” Now he was mad, “Why did you have to yell like that?”

Now I was laughing (mostly out of a sense of relief), “Did it ever occur to you to check the fuse box since the lights were only out downstairs?”

Luckily, my mom stopped at the front door when she heard my brother’s voice so we did not have the bar crowd rushing to the rescue. I retrieved the flashlight from the junk drawer and went to the basement. I changed a couple of fuses and lights were restored (Yes, it was an older house that still had the old-fashioned screw-in fuses, and it did not take a very big power surge to get a couple of them to blow). I remember thinking as I was walking up the basement steps, “Lord, please let him marry a girl who is a good ‘handyman’ around the house.”

If you are going to be an exceptional leader, develop sound judgment so that you learn to approach the daily problems that arise in a clear, calm, orderly manner. That way, when faced with an emergency, you will be equipped to handle the situation in a way that instills confidence in your team.

Originally published by Bizcatalyst360

Len Bernat

Len Bernat

Len Bernat is a leader groomed by 20 years of molding and shaping by some of the finest leaders in the United States Marine Corps. Their guidance helped Len realize his full potential as he moved from an enlisted Marine to becoming an Officer of Marines. Len became known for being the leader who could turn any lackluster organization into a strong, functional unit. The secret to his success was his focus on creating leaders who were trained to know all aspects of their responsibilities and then providing them the support they needed to be their very best while being held accountable for results. His ability to quickly ascertain how each individual could be motivated allowed Len to be creative in his leadership approach so that the end result was a team whose focus was on team success and not individual accolades and whose loyalty to the mission carried them through even under extreme conditions. Today, he carries the lessons learned into his civilian position at Jackson County, Georgia. As a member of the Governmental Procurement Association of Georgia and its 2011 Purchasing Officer of the Year, Len is sought out for guidance in matters of leadership and procurement law and policy.

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