One of my many embarrassing moments was a good number of years ago when I was travelling from London to Paris on business.
Eurostar is the train that connects the UK to mainland Europe through the tunnel under the English Channel. Previously you could only travel by plane or ship; now you can go straight from London to other major European cities in the comfort and ease of the train, relatively hassle-free. And I was travelling not long after the Eurostar had just started.
I was catching a very early morning train so that I could make my 10.30 client meeting in Paris. It seemed like any other train journey, except that security was a bit tighter. With coffee and croissant in hand I heard the call for the train departing for Gare de Nord, Paris. I dutifully followed the crowd as I went through the security checks and into the station proper.
People were filtering on to the train, as I was checking the ticket for my particular carriage, carriage B. I boarded the train and my carriage was surprisingly empty. In fact, there was only one other person in the carriage. I checked my ticket for my reserved seat, number B35. I moved down the carriage, still juggling coffee and croissant, and realised that the only other person in the carriage was sitting in B35, my seat. I decided that was not a problem, I would just take one of the unreserved seats.
As I was putting the coffee and croissant down on the table, I thought “No, I’m going to sit in B35”. I turned around, went down the carriage and explained to the gentleman that he was actually sitting in my reserved seat.
He politely explained that he was in the right seat and asked me what my seat number was. “B35” I said. He replied that his reserved seat was B35.
I was beginning to think that there had been some ticketing mistake, as it was fairly early days into Eurostar operations. When he asked to look at my ticket, I duly showed it to him.
Still hanging on to my coffee and croissant, I saw him raise his finger and point across the platform.
“You are right, you do have B35, but this train is going to Brussels. That train over the platform is the Paris train!”
I very quickly apologised, rushed out of the wrong train and onto right train. No sooner had I put my coffee and croissant down on the table next to seat B35, than I saw the Brussels train leave.
It was a very narrow escape as I would have ended up in Brussels, Belgium, and not Paris, France, totally unaware and with no prospect of rectifying my mistake. I suffered a small embarrassment, but it could have been much bigger if I had ended up at the wrong destination. How impressed my clients would have been!
I was starting out from the right place, but I was on the wrong track and about to go in the wrong direction and therefore arrive at the wrong destination.
For whatever reason, we can all end up heading in a direction we hadn’t intended or just be plain lost. In this case it was my lack of attention. Once the light dawns we have to act decisively otherwise we suffer the consequences. We have to re-orientate ourselves and get back on the right route.
Our chosen destination determines our direction. If you flip it over, our direction determines our destination.
Clarity of direction is essential if you are to gain the confidence and commitment of others. You have to choose it, talk it and walk it.
This article is an excerpt from my upcoming book – “Leaders’ Map”. It would be great to get your feedback, so please do share your comments here or on Twitter or LinkedIn.
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