Leadership insights from Amtraking to NYC late, with a sudden stop... and smoke

Spending over 200,000 miles annually teaching executives helps me get tuned into systems that most would not be aware of. It's not normal, I agree, but can be entertaining at times. Especially when you're already arriving an hour late, your hotel got overbooked, and you're staying downtown NYC about a half hour farther away from tomorrow's meeting, and it's now 12:19am. 

Here are a couple clues when there that it's going to get worse:

1) The engine change over in DC caused a 30 minuted departure delay from DC.

2) Enroute, the cafe attendant admits that the engine was, um, not up to par upon departure. The explains the 15 minute delay in departure from Baltimore. 

3) While approaching Newark, about 15 minutes from Manhattan you feel a sudden lurching stop, quickly followed by a smell of smoke, and one of the conductors hanging in the cafe car yelling "Shit!" (I prefer the cafe car because I can spread work out on a table, makes me think I'm doing something useful with my life).

These are what we road warriors call "clues". Clues are helpful. They alert us to a problem, and allow us to adjust our expectations accordingly. Like I now know I will get 5 hours sleep tonight. 

But what "clues" occur around you in your company that you might be ignoring? Were there delays? Unexpected lurches? Someone yelling "shit!"? We've heard that many times employees know there's a problem well ahead of the final collision, but fail to inform the CEO, or the CEO fails to listen.

What can you do tomorrow to listen for these clues? 

What can you do to make it safer for someone to expose them?

I'm going to lose sleep tonight. But if you can detect clues earlier, you may not have to.