Leadership Lessons From A Forgotten Suitcase

It isn't difficult to find a leadership lesson in our everyday experiences or mishaps.

A few years ago, I found that you can even learn a leadership lesson from a suitcase! Here is the story of the lesson I learned. I share it with you, with the hope that you too may spend time reflecting on your own leadership lessons that life has to teach.

At the end of a rather busy work week, my husband and I were quickly packing and rushing to head out the door for a four-day mini-vacation. We had a total of 30 minutes to get ourselves organized and off in record time, as we headed to a family reunion.

Eight hours later, we arrived at our destination at 1:00 am.  My husband unpacked our vehicle, then turned to me and said, “Where is your suitcase?”.  To which I quipped, “If it isn’t in the car then it is at the top of the stairs at home.”

We couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. You see our motto when traveling is this:  If we forget anything, we can get it when we get there. But, we hadn’t expected to forget a whole suitcase.

"Above all things, life is about learning – and about using those lessons to become a better employer, better employee, better parent, better sibling, better friend, better neighbour, better steward of our blessings”. Coach John Wooden

It is with the spirit of this John Wooden quote that I humbly laugh at myself and share five leadership lessons drawn from my forgotten suitcase experience.


Lesson #1 – Communication is at the heart of good leadership

If I told my husband “My suitcase is at the top of the stairs, can you please pack it?” instead of assuming he would look for it, this entire situation may have been avoided. 

A good leader clearly communicates their requests and does not make assumptions or leave key actions to chance. Where are the opportunities for you to clarify your assumptions within the team you lead?


Lesson #2 – A good leader checks in with the team to avoid any last minute mishaps. 

Perhaps if I had asked "What have we missed?", we may have thought of my lonely suitcase.

In a course on Planning and Organizing Your Team's Work, I teach that open-ended questions are much more effective than closed-ended ones to explore what your team thinks and needs. When you ask a closed-ended question like, "Did we miss anything?", the reply is usually "No."  When you ask, "What have we missed?", it causes your team to pause and reflect on what the answer could be.  It is much more powerful, as the question assumes you have missed something.


Lesson #3 – Life can be simplified by creating systems and processes

The next time I plan a trip, I will create a checklist of items to take and that list will be the very last thing we check before heading out the door. If we create it once, we can refer to it time and time again. Systems and processes like these can make you and your teams' work lives so much easier.

I know many of my clients find it difficult to find the time to create structures like this, but when they do, they learn that they save time. What is a simple system you can create today that would help minimize the chance of something falling through the cracks?


Lesson #4 - A good leader is resourceful when things go wrong

Once we realized what happened, I immediately identified what we needed to get through the evening.  I asked the hotel to provide some toiletry items and relied on family members for other needed items.  The next morning, we planned our whirlwind shopping trip for other essentials. 

When problems occur within your team, are you a leader they can count on to keep a cool head and problem-solve the immediate issues, and then create a plan going forward?


Lesson #5When things go wrong (as they sometimes will), you have a choice on how you respond to the situation. 

I could easily have chosen to blame my husband or be embarrassed by the situation or let the situation ruin our holiday. Instead, we both took it all in good humour, laughed at ourselves, and created a plan of action.

How can you humanize the challenges that you and the team face when mishaps occur? One suggestion I recommend to clients when they make a mistake is to take the advice of public speaker, Loretta Laroche, put on their clown nose then say "Ta Da!"


The next time you experience a leadership mishap, laugh at yourself for being human, take personal responsibility, and identify the lessons to be learned from your experience.  Your team will thank you for it.

Lisa Holden Rovers, MSc, CPHR, PCC, is the Founder of Workplace Matters. Since 2005, she has been coaching small and mid-sized business leaders to grow their influence and inspire their teams to thrive. With her data-driven coaching and training approach, Lisa helps clients improve collaboration, productivity, and well-being. As a certified leadership and team coach, Lisa utilizes solutions like Everything DiSC® and The Five Behaviors® to help clients leverage their strengths and build high-performing teams.

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