The Leader’s Job
As I preach in my “Train The Trainer” classes, a leader often has to provide encouragement to rookies on the job, letting them know that they can master a task and conquer their fears of failure. I learned that training lesson early in my career, and quite by accident one early morning.
In the mid-1970s, I was the director of food and merchandise at a western theme park in California. Living closest to the park, I was “privileged” to receive all of the night intruder alarm calls. One morning, around 3 a.m., I received a call from the police department dispatcher. There was a burglar alarm going off in the Main Office, indicating a possible break-in. I was to meet the police at the park and provide access into the facility.
As I arrived at the park, two police cars pulled up – two rookie officers. I met them and introduced myself. I unlocked the large wooden front gate and pushed it open. I then stepped aside so the officers could enter, take the lead, and “do their thing.” They just stood there staring at me. I was surprised! Finally, one officer said to me, “You go first!” I said, “What do you mean, I go first? You are the police officers. If we run into trouble, you’ve got the guns! I haven’t got any gun!”
I immediately realized that I would have to coach them on what to do, and provide positive encouragement. I told them that they should go first, and I would be right behind them, providing clear directions as to how to get to the second floor of the Main Office, the source of the alarm. They would not have to find their way alone. Cautiously, they began to slink into the park. I said to myself, if any bad guys were burglarizing the office, at our current snail’s pace, the thieves would be long gone by the time we reached the office.
As we moved through the park, we passed the Ferris wheel. There was a trashcan at the ride. Inside the garbage can, momma possum and her ‘kits’ were having dinner. She heard us approaching. She and her ‘kits’ started to scurry out of the can. The two cops quickly pulled and aimed their revolvers in the possum’s direction. I intervened and explained, “I don’t think she’s going to draw on ya guys!” They re-holstered their guns.
Along the way, I explained the various park walkways, what they might encounter, how many exits any prowlers could use, and our distance from the Main Office. I explained that there was no night watchman scheduled; any person we encountered would be an unwelcome intruder. I wanted them to concentrate on their police duties; I would explain the park layout.
We finally arrived at the courtyard entrance to the Main Office, and slowly approached the office stairs. The second floor office door was protected with a simple contact alarm system. When the door was seated tightly to the doorframe, and remained undisturbed, the alarm remained set. If the contact was broken for any reason, the alarm was triggered and a message was sent to the alarm company, who then would contact the police. We glanced up at the top of the stairs, and saw the door intermittently slamming back and forth against the doorsill.
One cop shined his flashlight toward the office door landing. We observed two big raccoons, and they were (shall we say) “making out.” Their amorous activity against the base of the door was causing the alarm to be triggered, again and again. Once the flashlight hit them, their activity stopped and two sets of glowing eyes gazed down upon us. The raccoons got up, looked our way again, and then scurried down the stairs and into the darkness. Luckily, they did not decide to confront the “flashlight carrying” intruders. My two police bodyguards collectively let out a sigh of relief.
So, it was false alarm, but I learned a valuable lesson about applying positive encouragement when working with trainees, even rookie police officers. I also learned to leave amorous raccoons well enough alone!