A Leadership Lesson from a Lousy Alarm

Interior of room at Millennium Biltmore Hotel
My room at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles was recently the site of a self-inflicted alarm clock error, but an error that taught me a useful lesson!

In the past month I’ve spoken or performed in California three times. First in San Francisco, then in Sacramento, then in Los Angeles earlier this week. I had a performance in downtown LA on Monday night, but I had to be back in Atlanta early Tuesday afternoon in order to host/MC a big corporate event at Six Flags on Tuesday night. The result of this was that I needed to take the first flight out of Los Angeles on Tuesday morning.

The Monday night performance went great, and I hustled back to my hotel with an eye toward getting to bed as quickly as possible. As I got ready for bed, I used voice commands to set my alarm for 3:00 AM… so I could be at the airport by 4:00 AM for my 6:15 AM flight. Off to sleep I went!

When the alarm went off I quickly got up, showered, dressed, packed, and headed downstairs. The concierge called me a cab and off to the airport I went. While sitting in the back seat, I checked my phone to get my boarding pass and to see which terminal I needed… and at that moment, I saw the time.

It was only 12:45 AM!

Apparently my voice command to set the alarm had gone to my tablet — which was still on Eastern time. I got up 3 hours earlier than I had planned! I had no viable choice but to go on to the airport, where I found a nice carpeted corner in the check-in area where I could doze until they started checking folks in at 4:00 AM.

It’s funny now, but I assure you… it wasn’t funny in the cab! Through that minor pain, though, came a lesson I’ll take to heart: no more setting alarms via voice command for me! I’ll always check the time on multiple devices when I get up, too. But in the long run, I guess it’s better to be 3 hours early for check-in than 3 minutes late after the boarding door closes. It could certainly have been much worse. This was a relatively pain-free lesson.

Competence Requires Context

A useful insight I gained from this experience is this: it wasn’t my tablet’s fault that I got up early. The tablet was the picture of competence. It set off the programmed alarm completely correctly; it was “telling the truth” based on all the information that it had. The error in execution was mine, because I failed to provide the overall context needed in order to execute the task correctly.

How often do we try to communicate without setting context? As a speakers, leaders, managers, communicators… are we fully considering the context into which we are sharing information?

There are multiple examples of brands who published perfectly true content on their Twitter accounts, for example, but due to a tragedy or some other noteworthy event, the tone of the message turned out to be completely inappropriate.

A failure to consider context can transform a perfectly accurate statement into a major misstep.