It’s amazing to me how leaders still can’t see the forest for the trees, or in this case, the lug nuts for the tire.

Last November, my family and I were planning a trip to Arkansas to visit my wife’s sister and her family. This was to become the start of an annual Thanksgiving trip for us. Things have changed a bit since our last trip four years earlier.

Since then, we brought twin boys into the world, expanding our family to seven members. The six-passenger Envoy we took the last time wasn’t going to cut it. Our other option was an aging minivan that had made the trip several years earlier.

A Bit Scary

Being prudent parents (with great leadership skills), we took the van in for a pre-trip inspection to give us reassurance it would survive the trip safely. We were a bit surprised when the mechanic told us there was “no way” we were taking this vehicle on a 2,000 mile trip. He then gave us a list of items to fix totaling over $2,000.

One of these items had to do with the front suspension. He noted that it was beginning to rust and told us if it rusted through could cause the front tire to break free and push right into the driver’s lap.

That sounded a bit scary and dramatic to us. Being low on funds and not really wanting to sink too much into an aging vehicle, we delayed the repairs. But his description stuck in our minds.

That Knocking Sound

Fast-forward seven months and our old van is still running well. It has issues, but I’m not walking around with a tire in my lap. Feeling good that we made the right choice about the repairs and confident in our vehicle, we drove it up to a cottage about 90 minutes from home.

Halfway there, I started to feel a slight shake in the steering wheel. It was nothing major, but I could feel it. A few miles later, we began to hear a knocking sound seemingly coming from the engine.


I’ve been through this before. When we first bought the vehicle, it had that little shake.  All I had to do was pump the tires up to the right level. So we pulled over at the next gas station ready to fill the tires up. But none of them seemed low.

As I got back into the van, my wife and I had the same thought at the same time: it’s that tire about to burst through the frame and into my lap.

We coaxed the vehicle home as the sound got louder, and the shaking picked up. We’ll have to take it back into the shop. But let’s take one last trip with it to a baseball game about 30 miles away. Just to be safe, I stopped at the local gas station and filled the tires up a bit just to be sure. I checked them all over one more time just to feel comfortable.

Can We Make It?

On the way home, at 10 pm with 5 kids in the van, the knocking became really loud and now there seemed to be a grinding noise. Do we pull it over and tow it? Can we make it just 20 more miles home? We decided to have a family member follow us home while we limped it through back roads into our garage at 15 miles an hour.

With every turn of the tire, I waited for something to snap and feel that front tire on me. The only times my hands released a tight grip on the steering wheel was to wipe the sweat from my forehead. “I guess that mechanic was right” we thought. We should have had it fixed a while ago. Now it’s time.

Something is Seriously Wrong

That Monday, with my wife following behind me, I began driving the van to the shop. Within a few blocks, my wife called my cell phone and told me the front tire looked like it was about to fall off. We stopped in the middle of the street and called the tow truck. Something must be seriously wrong with this thing.

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I got out of the van and noticed the tire was pointed straight forward, but was on an angle jutting out at the top. It looked like one more rotation and that tire was coming off. I tried to look into the wheel well to see what was broke and how bad it was, but couldn’t see anything unusual.


As soon the tow truck driver lifted the front end and wiggled the tire, it became obvious what the problem was. He put his hands on the wheel and shook it.

That’s when the fifth lug nut fell off.  “Well that’s the problem, you’ve only got one lug nut left,” he noted. Sure enough, all the mechanic had to do was replace the lug nuts and tighten them. We were back on the road.

In Retrospect

I can’t count the number of times that I looked at that tire and never saw the obvious issue. Twice, my face was right in front of the problem as I filled the tire with air, but I never saw it. My mind was so tainted by the mechanic’s diagnosis seven months earlier that I literally could not see the lug nuts for the tire.

In his great work Smart Talk for Achieving Your Potential: 5 Steps to Get You from Here to There, Lou Tice refers to this as a scotoma or blind spot. How many times are you looking for those darn keys that are lost only to find them right in the open and you swear you just looked there? You keep telling yourself they are lost, so your brain creates a blind spot to ensure you prove yourself correct.

As leaders, we are affected by our own history and experiences. We refer to these as bias or prejudice. It simply means that none of us have all the answers and can see all the angles of every situation. We need help from our team.

Here are five necessary leadership skills to ensure your team won’t be calling you a lug nut:

1. Bring in Different Thinkers

People who think differently than you or have a different point-of-view will help you see risks and benefits that you can’t see yourself.

This is obvious and yet so few do it, because they fear the inevitable confrontation or don’t want their egos challenged. Get comfortable with this by focusing on the greater good.

2. Think From the Opposite Side

This works great for golf; look at the fairway from the green back to the tee. You’ll gain a new perspective for the next time you play that hole.

As a leader, look at it from the employee or customer view. See why it is important to them, rather than just its importance to you or your team.

3. Close Your Eyes

Stop seeing only what’s in front of you right now. Picture the ideal state in your mind. Picture it vividly. Ask others to describe the picture to you from their point of view. Now open your eyes and notice what is different from the ideal.

4. Step Back and Away

Get away from the event completely for a short time. During this time, immerse your physical body in something completely different and refresh your thinking process.

Mow the lawn, chop some wood, go for a walk/run; all of these will keep your body busy and allow your mind to think freely.

5. Feel It

Stop looking, stop talking, stop listening, and just feel the emotion of your current state. Too often, we use our senses to lead and forget that all of those we are leading have feelings also.

Our senses were given to us as a gift to be a better leader, but emotions are why we lead.

How Can Leaders Step Back?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Chris Elliot
Chris is a practicing Servant Leader with more than 20 years experience helping organizations implement change. In his new book Thought Shredder, he outlines the process that helped him become an authentic leader.