Frozen Half-Way Up a Ladder


The Ocala Jai Alai fronton’s back wall is 60’ from the ground to the eave; the only way to get on the roof was a ladder attached to the wall; and, the Celotex salesman was frozen midway up the ladder.

Our company had been awarded the contract to install the heating, air conditioning, roofing and siding on the fronton. Included in the roofing specifications was the requirement that we furnish a guarantee backed by the roofing materials manufacturer; and that’s how the Celotex salesman ended up on the ladder.

I was on the way to the jobsite when my superintendent informed me about the problem. When I arrived, I found a man on the ladder below with his arms encircling the terrified salesman and my foreman above him threatening to stomp on his fingers if he didn’t start climbing down. Finally, the salesman’s fear of my foreman knocking him off the ladder, overcame his vertigo and he was able to slowly climb down the ladder to the ground.

I had a similar occurrence take place during an inspection of a roof we installed on a large refrigerated warehouse. I was walking the job with the Johns-Manville representative when suddenly he sat down and said he couldn’t move. When I asked him why he couldn’t move, he astonished me when he replied that he had an uncontrollable urge to jump off the roof. After overhearing the comment, my roofing superintendent responded by telling him to approve the job and then go ahead and jump. It took three of us but we finally got him safely on the ground.

We all have our limitations: the Celotex salesman suffered from vertigo, while the guy from Johns-Manville battled a compulsion to jump from high places. Both decided to ignore the conditions that prevented them from performing their job and both created more problems by doing so.

Some inabilities can be overcome: for example, I don’t speak Spanish but I could learn to do so. Others, such as vertigo, compulsions and physical limitations are difficult if not impossible to overcome. Many people viewing their limiting difficulties as weaknesses that they do not want to reveal, undertake and fail at tasks that are beyond their capabilities. Our strengths and limitations are part of and define who we are. Coming to grips with them allows for knowing when to proceed and when to ask for help.

A good leader understands not only his or her strengths and weaknesses but also those of his or her followers. He or she does not place people in positions where failure is almost assured and an effective manager knows his or her limitations, when to ask for help and when to walk away from a task or challenge.

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