As a tribute to the wonderful, vibrant JvB, affectionately known as ‘the Traffic Guy’, I am republishing an article which I wrote in 2013. The article below first appeared on my website on February 27, 2013. It was later adapted and included in my book, ‘GROW: How to turn your stumbling blocks into stepping stones’, published in 2017 and still available on Amazon.
Johann was a legend and his legacy lives on through the thousands that benefitted from his wise counsel, warmth and kindness. An ex-police-officer, he was a man of conviction who inspired people to do what was ethical. He graciously shared his wisdom and knowledge, encouraging people to be the best that they could be. I was privileged to participate in many of his public seminars and take part in his advanced driving courses.
As East Coast Radio’s ‘Traffic Guy’ for more than 30 years, he became well-known throughout the province. He reported and shared information on the state of our roads at regular times during the day. He warned his audience about traffic jams, accidents and road closures, advising of preferable routes. Listeners waited eagerly for his next announcements as he lightened up any situation with his wonderful, wicked sense of humour. Others knew him personally through attending his talks or going on courses where he and his teams promoted safe driving through his driving school. He had a huge impact on the standards of driving in our province and we are extremely grateful for the many ways in which he enriched our lives.
Johan was gentleman and role model. He was a popular man who was dearly loved. He died last week and will be sadly missed – but his legacy lives on. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________
Life is an exciting journey and you can choose to be a passenger or drive your own vehicle. Which is your preferred way of functioning? And if you are in the driver’s seat, how defensively do you function? This is important in any place that you are ‘on the road’. However, in South Africa where the accident rate and hi-jacking rate are unfortunately exceptionally high, we need to pay even more attention to reducing risk.
Recently at one of our Sunday Breakfast Club meetings held at the auspicious Oyster Box Hotel at Umhlanga, we were privileged to have East Coast Radio’s, ‘Trafficguy’, Johann von Bargen as our guest-speaker. Affectionately known as ‘JvB’, he emphasised lessons and showed us practical ways of minimising risk.
By combining his unique experience in the ‘Police Force’ and practical day-to-day knowledge working with traffic and mishaps, using humour he painted vivid ‘word pictures’ and regaled us with stories, each of which had a powerful lesson. His teachings provide excellent metaphors for reducing risks as we travel the journey of life. Let’s look at just a few of those covered:
1. The risk of separation
In discussing ‘anti hi-jacking techniques’, JvB asked us to distinguish between ‘theft’ and ‘hijacking’. Do you know the difference? He explained that technically, ‘hijacking’ is where the thieves separate you from your car’. The next question becomes: what can I do to minimise the risk of this happening to me?
In life, our adaption to others’ expectations often robs us of being our ‘authentic selves’. Our real selves and the ‘person we have become’ are separated. We sometimes no longer feel ‘whole’. So, what can we do to make ourselves more aware of what we are doing and minimise the risk of losing our true identity? ‘Executive Coaching’ can play an effective and important role in ‘getting us back on the road’.
2. Respond rather than react
‘Traffic Guy’ warned us that if we were in the process of being hijacked that we should not ‘fight with the hijackers’. That sounds obvious. These guys have guns and could use them. JvB warned, ‘these guys react to you in the way that you interact with them’.
Isn’t that true in most aspects of our lives? In highly emotional situations, if we can pause, step back and respond (rather than react) we have a far higher chance of getting out of these difficult circumstances. Practice in these techniques is an important part of our ‘executive coaching’ programmes.
3. ‘Think like a hijacker’
JvB asked a simple question: what do hi-jackers really want? Most of us failed that question because our automatic answer was ‘my car’. No, that is not what the hi-jackers really want. Occasionally they may need a ‘getaway car’, but in most cases their goal is ‘money’. They want to get rid of the car as quickly as possible and convert it to cash.
So, what information are we unknowingly providing to hi-jackers? What patterns of behaviour do we perpetuate? For example, do we always leave home at the same time, follow the same route, and arrive at the office at the same time each day? How predictable are we? In doing this we are providing observable information that hi-jackers can quickly and easily use to their advantage.
By consciously breaking patterns we make ourselves less vulnerable (to those with negative intentions). If we want to reduce the risk of being hi-jacked we should consciously be aware of our behaviour and purposely change our patterns.
So, what is it that others really want from us? If we know what they want and how they think, we can adapt our behaviour to reduce the risk of misfortune. How do we consciously ‘tune in’ to their needs and consider the way they are thinking? Understanding and not presuming that others needs are the same as ours goes a long way in reducing risk.
4. Look far ahead and be pro-active
By ‘far ahead’ JvB is not talking about only as far as two cars in front of us. The emphasis is on distance. The further we project our vision, the more likely we are to be able to observe, interpret and take appropriate action. Timing is important.
In addition, I like to help clients to look at peripheral vision. What is happening ahead, behind, to the left to the right, above and below? Again, this metaphor can be used in ‘driving our lives’. For example, ‘above’ and ‘below’ can apply literally or in our families, to different generations. In our work lives, it could refer to levels of management in large organisations. Are we alert to what might be happening? This links to ‘Who moved my cheese’ and the principle, ‘smell the cheese often’. What changes are there. What might be happening?
In coaching we provide simple ‘self-observations’ and ‘practices’ that help to ‘look beyond’ and take appropriate action. What might be happening beyond our ‘normal’ comfort zones? We need to constantly ‘scan the environment so that we can minimize threats and maximise opportunities.
5. Keep moving
Further advice given by JvB was ‘keep moving’. If we are moving, especially at high-crime intersections, we are less of a target than those who are stationery. The statistic that he gave was that by moving (instead of stopping) we have 97% less chance of being hi-jacked. An example that he gave was that if an individual were travelling at 20km per hour, no person ‘on foot’ would be able to hold a gun at their heads. And a large percentage of hi-jackers are on foot.
In addition, easing up slowly to an intersection where the traffic-light is red means that we spend less time in a dangerous area. By looking far ahead and pacing our driving we can arrive at the intersection when the light is green, or even spend less time at the intersection. By proceeding without stopping we reduce our risk enormously.
So, how do we apply this metaphor to ‘driving our lives’? The more we fully understand dangers and the more we consciously modify behaviour to minimize potential risk, the more likely we are to proceed without incidents.
6. Stop at a safe distance
Stopping too late or in a dangerous area can have severe consequences. This may sound like an unnecessary warning? But embroidered with Johann's real-life examples, it is an important lesson.
How often do we, hampered by diverted attention come to a halt too late? And this applies in all aspects of our lives. Focus is important. We need to find the balance and still take the risks necessary for us to grow. Stagnation results if we spend too long in our ‘comfort zones’. Yet we need to be aware and consciously stop before it is too late.
7. Reverse park
This is an interesting lesson. I have found that in countries like Australia, where the risk is much lower than here, people are much more likely to ‘reverse park’ than in this country where we need to do this as a matter of habit. The advantages are enormous and Johann explored the advantages and possible barriers to our doing this.
So, how does this lesson apply in other areas of our lives? If we are facing the right way at the start of a journey, we have a ‘head-start’ on those who need to manoeuvre to get going. Think of the time and effort it takes to first reverse, turn your car and then get going. Always reverse park and you’ll be able to have a clean start in the journeys ahead.
These are just a few of the profound lessons shared by Johann and I’m grateful for the role he plays in making this world a safer place for everyone.
How can you take the ‘lessons in anti-hijacking’ and use these as metaphors for improving the way you cope with challenges in your life?
For further information on Executive Coaching, please contact Brenda Eckstein on +27 82 4993311 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is www.strategy-leadership.com
• Who might the hi-jackers in your life be?
• What do they want from you?
• When and where are they most likely to attack?
• How can you avoid being ambushed by them?
• Which techniques above are most likely to give a safer passage as you journey through life?