Creating Success From Our Messes

When I was a teenager, I enjoyed waterskiing. With some springtime weather and a new driver’s license, I was anxious to get our boat out of winter storage. My father consented and I drove some distance to pick it up so that we could go to the lake later that week.


After getting the boat trailer hitched to the car by the guys at the boat storage place, I headed for the nearest freeway entrance. Half a block before the onramp was a set of railroad tracks. As I crossed the tracks, I heard a funny “clunk” from the back of the car, but thought nothing of it. Just a moment later as I slowed to make a left turn onto the freeway, the boat on the trailer passed by me heading directly for a group of cars waiting at a red light a block away. Sparks flew as the front of the trailer bounced on the pavement. I prepared myself to turn into the boat trailer to prevent it from careening into the cars stopped at the light. Thankfully, the boat continued to veer towards the side of the road, where several cars were parked angularly in front of a store.

Time slowed to a crawl as the boat trailer hit the first parked car — a large sedan. The trailer hit the frame of the sedan just behind the front wheel. It rolled on its side and the trailer stopped. However, with its great momentum, the boat continued, crushing the sedan and then flattening two sports cars parked next to it. The boat then banked off the front wall of the store and came to a stop in an empty parking stall.

There was another empty spot near the boat and I pulled into it. I walk into the store and ask sheepishly if I could use their phone. I called my father at work and told him what happened. His response remains with me to this day. He didn’t curse, he didn’t raise his voice, but instead uttered these remarkable words:

Brett, call me back when you’ve got everything taken care of.

I made calls to the police and the boat storage place. I filled out the necessary paperwork and they hauled the boat, trailer, and cars away. And then, with great caution, I made the long drive home.

Now a dad myself, I am awed by my father’s wise, creator response. His words taught me the value of not just empowering people to do something, but also to clean up their own messes when things don’t go as planned. Often in business, when mistakes are made, the problem is pushed up a level or two and someone else is assigned to fix it. Great leaders, like my father, recognize that wherever possible, empowerment and accountability need to be welded together. Only then can we learn of the success that comes from cleaning up our own messes.

T.S. Elliot said it well: “Success is relative. It is what we can make of the mess we have made of things.”

ActionBrett Pinegar