Just before the afternoon rush at the busiest metro station in Mexico City, five of us began our journey back to the ILI conference. When the train arrived, we were pushed into the car by a mob of commuters, nearly separating me from our group. We traveled like packed sardines until the next station, where several passengers exited. As the train started moving again, I reached for my back pocket and realized my wallet was gone, and with it, all my cash, credit cards, and personal documents.



The incident on the metro cost me a few extra days in the country and countless hours on the phone cancelling credit cards and trying to get new travel documents. Because obstacles can come at us just as swiftly and quietly as the thief that stole my wallet, I took away some "street-smarts" and leadership lessons in the process.


There were thousands on the train that day. I was chosen because I was the perfect victim — distracted by the sudden rush and risk of being separated from my group. Doesn’t this happen all too often in leadership? Something distracts us for just a moment, and suddenly obstacles come between us and God’s vision. It can happen fast, but we're better off when we prepare ourselves in advance. This week, I learned (the hard way) three practices that will help avoid, or at least minimize, the damage of sudden obstacles.

  1. Plan Ahead. For our group, this would have meant anticipating rush hour and leaving long before the crowds grew. In leadership, we must always anticipate possible problems and create alternative routes, making sure we always have a plan “B.”

  2. Create a Routine (and stick with it). When walking in crowded places, I always move my wallet to a front pocket. It only took forgetting to observe this routine one time for things to go wrong. That is why written policies, procedures, and systems are important, especially as a leadership team grows.

  3. Always be on Guard. I was pick-pocketed because I got distracted for a few seconds as the crowd pushed us into the train. In leadership, sudden obstacles can come at moments of relaxation, often after the completion of a successful project. This is when we need to focus on our defense. Remember, good sports teams not only score the most but also focus on their defense.

I learned from my mistakes, and hopefully this will never happen to me again. Better yet, I hope the three lessons I learned from this incident will help you avoid surprising obstacles in your leadership.

Are you prepared for sudden obstacles?