Driving down a San Diego freeway with my brother, we were in his wife’s bright red Mustang convertible with the top down. He’d just picked me up from the airport and over the noise of the air whistling by us at 80 mph we were catching up on lives, careers and kids.
Coming around a curve we spotted a highway patrol motorcycle cop with a radar gun. (There are no 80 mph freeways in San Diego like there are here in Utah.) Before the cop even got his bike started, my brother was slowing down and moving toward the inside lanes to pull over to the shoulder.
To our surprise the motorcycle cop passed us on the left and turning around made a “follow me” motion with his hand. Then HE sped up. We were almost back to our original speed as we tried to keep up with him. I joked that it might be best to take one of the exits that were whipping by us. We were actually headed in the same direction as my brother’s house, not that we would run from a cop. . . not when he could see us anyway.
Finally, the motorcycle pulled behind a black SUV and flipped on his lights. The SUV pulled over at the next exit and parked on the shoulder. There we were, the three us lined up: SUV with what looked like a young mother at the wheel, next, the cop’s Harley Davidson with its flashing red and blue lights and then the red sportscar with the two middle-aged guys.
The policeman came back to our car first. Taking off his shiny sunglasses he asked, “Ever heard of that show ‘Let’s make a deal’?”
“Yeah, but you don’t look like Monty Hall,” my brother responded with a smile.
“Here’s the deal. I’m going to go write that woman a ticket, and I’m going to give you a warning. But, if I give you the warning first she’s going to be all upset. So, if you’ll sit here patiently while I write her ticket, I’ll let you off with a warning. How’s that deal sound”
“Ah. . .OK!”
Sure enough, he walked up to the lead car and after an animated conversation he handed the woman a ticket and she drove off.
We still weren’t sure we were going to get off scott free in this. (Well, HE was driving so I wasn’t worried anyway.) The policeman returned to our car and said, “Do you know why I’m not giving you a ticket? Because you didn’t make me chase you. You were going to pull over. You knew that you’d done wrong. That woman was right next to you on the freeway and she kept going. She made me chase her down. By the way, had you tried to turn off, I would have ignored her and gone after you. . .and it wouldn’t have been a small ticket. Have a nice day.”
I was dumbfounded. A cop sees two cars speeding. He gives the SUV-driving soccer mom a ticket and let’s the two middle-aged white guys in the candy-apple red convertible off with a warning? Even after thinking on it for several weeks, I still couldn’t figure out why.
Fast forward a few months and I’m driving through Lehi, a small town in Utah about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City. I’ve picked up a member of my team and we’re headed to pick up another member who lives nearby. While driving down Frontage Road, next to the freeway, my friend says, “That’s a cop up there.”
“What’s the speed limit on this road?”
I’d thought it was forty. I immediately slowed down, but if we could see him, he easily would have gotten us on radar. As we got closer I could see that there was a patrolman sitting in the car. I pulled in front of his car and stopped.
My friend gave me a strange look, like “Do you WANT to get a ticket?”
The policeman got out of his (still parked) car as I rolled down my window.
“Do you know how fast you were going?”
“No, Officer Boss honestly I don’t, but it was certainly higher than 25.” (His name really was “Officer Boss” it was on his name tag.)
“I clocked you going 49.”
“Well, I thought the speed limit was 40 so I guess I was speeding even by my estimate.”
After asking us about who we were and where we going, he went back to his car to run my license. My friend, belatedly told me about the number of people who drive too fast on this road. After a few minutes Officer Boss was back at my window.
“I’ll bet if I give you a warning, you’ll NEVER go 49 on this road again.”
“Officer Boss, if you give me a warning, I’ll never go FORTY on this road again!”
“Have a nice day.”
And I finally figured it out. I figured out why my brother didn’t get a ticket for doing 80 on a San Diego freeway and I figured out why I didn’t get a ticket for going nearly DOUBLE the speed limit on a residential street in Utah. It’s all about exceeding expectations.
Those officers were used to dealing with people who forced the police to chase them down. Forced the police to prove, maybe in court that they had been speeding. Basically, most people made the police really work hard. We didn’t. My brother knew he was speeding. I knew I was speeding. By being willing to own up to our mistakes we exceeded the officers’ expectations. We made their job EASY. And in return, they made our lives easy.
In business it’s important to own up to the fact that you’ve made a mistake. Owning your mistakes will achieve three important things:
1. You’ll be able to learn from them in a way that you can’t if you’re trying to find someone to pin them on.
2. You’ll surprise those around you. NO ONE owns their mistakes! Are you kidding?
3. When the time comes that your team is falsely accused of making a mistake, people will believe you when you explain that your team didn’t screw up.
When you own your mistakes you build credibility. None of us want to make mistakes, but we all know we all will. When it happens, own it. Learn from it. And then move on.
Oh, and watch your speed on Frontage Road in Lehi.