I’m a sucker for great song lyrics. A clever or poignant turn of phrase set to music can stick with you for a lifetime. Here are some of my all-time favorites:
- How many roads must a man walk down / Before you call him a man? (Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ In the Wind”);
- There are places I'll remember / All my life, though some have changed. (John Lennon, “In My Life”);
- Then I fumbled through my closet for my clothes / And found my cleanest dirty shirt. (Kris Kristofferson, “Sunday Morning Coming Down”);
- People talking without speaking / People hearing without listening. (Paul Simon, “The Sound of Silence”).
And, of course, the greatest lyrics ever written:
- Freedom's just another word for nothin’ left to lose / Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it's free. (Kris Kristofferson, “Me and Bobby McGee”).
I recently heard a newer song on the radio with a refrain I couldn’t get out of my head. It went, “It’s only half past the point of no return.” (The song is “Glitter in the Air” by Pink.)
I kept thinking about that line all day. It brought to mind the words of writer Pearl Buck: “Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied.” And I reflected that it is the decisions made at these crucial moments—at half past the point of no return—that define us as people and organizations.
Jack Canfield’s book The Success Principles discusses what he calls a “magic formula” (although there's really no magic about it):
E + R = O
(Event + Response = Outcome)
To change the sum (outcome), we must change a variable. The event is often beyond our control. But we can control our response to an event. So it is that response that determines the outcome.
Lawyers have long recognized that cases are built around a central turning point. This is the key moment when one of the parties could have chosen to do the right thing—but didn’t (or did).
A central turning point is when the driver saw the light turn yellow, but decided to hit the gas rather than the brake. Or when the University President and head football coach could have reported allegations of child sexual abuse to law enforcement authorities, but instead swept it under the rug.
How will you and your organization respond when faced with a central turning point? What will you do when an employee accuses the company president of sexual harassment? When you learn that your top salesman, who is keeping the division afloat, has engaged in unlawful or unethical conduct? When you learn, after the fact, when responding to an unemployment claim or EEOC charge, that your manager lied about the reason for firing an employee?
Calling your lawyer is a good first step. Make sure you have all the key facts; if not, work with your lawyer to conduct a privileged investigation. Then identify the necessary decision makers and get them together with the lawyer. When deciding how to respond, make sure everyone understands the concept that “from this point forward, we will be judged by what we do now.”
In other words, what’s done is done, and you need to make the best decision looking forward. If a poor decision was made in the past, don’t compound it by making another bad decision, such as trying to cover it up. As Richard Nixon, Martha Stewart, and Penn State all learned the hard way, it’s the cover up, not the crime, that can get you in the worst trouble. Remember, it’s your response to critical events that will define you and determine the ultimate outcome.