Do you think I’m making a big stretch to suggest that train wrecks, Charlie Sheen and leadership have something in common?
You’re probably thinking only one of those things is not like the other.
I promise I won’t say much about Charlie but I find this fascinating: everyone I talk to says they are tired of hearing about him, but oddly, they keep listening.
That’s human nature. The sensational, especially if it is scandalous, always gets attention. We dread the train wreck, but it is hard to look away.
I liked the move Unstoppable, about a runaway train, for the plot and the acting. But let’s be honest: the possibility of a train wreck grabs our attention. So terrible yet so fascinating.
Whether figurative or literal, train wrecks not only get our attention but they overshadow other most positive and useful news.
The job of leadership is to accept human nature but not surrender to it. You don’t have to worry about bad news getting broadcast within and outside your organization but you must work relentlessly to make sure that good news gets noticed.
Look for lessons hidden within the train wrecks (like how to prevent future wrecks or mitigate the damage of recent wrecks) but don’t let your agenda and positive messaging get pushed to the back burner. Good leadership is about working a little harder to overcome the sensational with the substantive. And good communication is about making the good news as fascinating as the bad news.
In Unstoppable, Denzel Washington played the role of a railroad engineer whose calm demeanor, highly developed skills and clear thinking helped avert a disaster and save the day. Charlie Sheen, in playing himself, seems to relish the upcoming disaster. We can learn from both examples but as leaders we aspire to only the first.