The Accidental Leader: Enjoy your accidents because they can change your life

I once took the wrong job and it changed my life. Actually it was the right job but in the wrong city, but that is almost the same thing.

Ten years ago I was looking to move my family from Vancouver, British Columbia (BC) to Calgary, Alberta so that we could be closer to grandparents, uncles and aunts and other family. Basically we were looking for free babysitting. (For my fantastic readers who live outside of Canada, both cities are on the Western side of Canada, about 1500 Kilometers apart – probably something like 900 miles)

Car in roofI am sure that I applied for a job in Calgary. I interviewed and I ended up getting an offer. When I told my new boss, Karen, about how excited we were to move to Calgary, she stopped me and told me that the job was actually in Edmonton. Edmonton?? Why??

I applied for the right job in the wrong city. No one knows how it happened.

In case you don’t know, Edmonton and Calgary are rival cities in Alberta and are about 350 Kilometers away from each other. That day, I became an Accidental Leader and I knew I needed a map.

I told Karen that it is such a great opportunity that I am excited to move to Edmonton. I lied. I felt sick because we had our minds made up that we wanted to move to Calgary. Then I called my wife. And she cried.

We ended up moving to Edmonton, I was the Family Counsellor and clinical leader of a team of young staff and we were all trying to develop a new way for treating teenagers with drug problems. I loved it and it was the accident that changed my life.

If you find yourself accidentally a leader, I have a few things that worked for me that I will share with you:

    • Forget the Why – No one knows why accidents happen, except Insurance Companies. They think they have the answer. Don’t believe them. I ended up applying for a job in the wrong city. The Why does not matter. All that matters is the other questions… what we do, what we learn, who we become, how we help others, where we go together. Why probably just keeps us stuck.
    • Be a duck – I have to be honest. At first I was a duck: I gave myself time to adjust, I did not expect myself to be the next great leader. I just let it happen. I burned through a lot of photocopy paper, researching other people’s ideas of what I could try. I still have all of that in binders, but I didn’t use any of it. When you have an accident, stop and get your bearings. You are okay and that is what matters.
    • Have a compass – After I took the wrong job, I had to get a compass. My compass was to be creative. I loved making stuff up, so each week I tried something new. If it worked, I kept it and if it failed I dropped it.
    • Think experiments, not failures – For a while, my failed ideas felt like I was a failure. What helped was telling someone that I felt like a fraud (see here for Imposter Syndrome). Fellow leader, I hate to break it to you, you are a fraud. And so am I. Amazon has 141,000 books about leadership (this does not count the hundreds of thousands of leadership books out of print). Even if you read each of these 141,000 books, you still would have to adapt all of that to your circumstances, your team, your objectives and your personality. You know enough right now. Just lead, find someone you can open up to about your own fraud stories, be willing to experiment and don’t take the results personally.
      Being serious won’t get you there any faster.
    • Laugh a lot – I am told that when we laugh we are more open. That makes sense. I know when things feel like an accident, it can be stressful. Why make it harder on yourself by taking things too seriously. Watch comedy, memorize jokes, put up stupid cartoons, wear new hats or crazy socks, exercise, try something new each week where you suck. That is what I tell myself and I am still working on it.
    • Learn about yourself – Accidents are kind of exciting when they happen to someone else. When it happens to you, it is stressful and shocking. When you have an accident your head is swimming. When that stops, be curious because you will discover unexpected parts of yourself, different strengths, sides that you never imagined possible. Try experiments, risk and learn about yourself. You might just be surprised. I am an introvert and a Quiet Leader (see the Quiet Leader Manifesto and prepare to be blown away). What my accident taught me is that I can ‘dial up’ my extroverted sides, my humor, my wit and my charm. Sometimes this gets me out of a jam and sometimes it helps make new friends. I still am the same person but I have more tools now.
    • Buy the book but don’t read it Accidents jar you out of your routine. You will eventually come back to your routine, with new experience and hopefully new knowledge. I love new books so I buy new books all of the time. But they sit on my shelf. I won’t read them until I am ready. Even if everyone else has read the book, I need to be ready. Your books can wait. Let the accident, the lessons and the new experiences be your teacher. This will make you a better reader. And better readers are better leaders.

Last idea I have is just go for it. Why not? Accidents happen and milk gets spilled. Get the dog to lick it up and then get the mop. If you liked this piece, you will enjoy The Downside of Being Grounded.

Keep it real

2 thoughts on “The Accidental Leader: Enjoy your accidents because they can change your life

  1. Amazing article – I must be an accidental leader too! I don’t think I recovered like you – I’m still accidental.


    1. Most of us are leaders by accident. In fact, we fall out of bed, fall in love, fall for advertising and fall on curbs. Falling and accidents are part of life!


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