5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From An Exchange Server Failure

You ever have one of those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days? The kind that destroys your confidence and rattles you to the core?

I did recently. It started with a phone call on a Monday night.

It all happened because my career is in the computer repair field. I fix computers and keep them up and running.

This one Monday night I get a phone call from my boss and he tells me we experienced a power failure but the servers were still up. No big deal. I log into the remote desktop and everything seemed okay.

Tuesday morning I learned something bad had happened. We’re no longer receiving emails. In our business, this is a crisis. So I entered into crisis mode.

I snooped around our servers and didn’t see anything out of place. Next was a call to our technology solutions provider. They’re always there for us in a pinch.

One of their technicians discovered our Exchange server was over it’s storage limit of 75GB. That’s a lot of emails and, surprisingly, it can bring down your email.

Through the process of restoring and getting our Exchange server running again, I learned 5 valuable leadership lessons.

  • Knowing your limits: There are times when we can burst past our limits and excel. But there are times when our limits are there for a reason. They protect us from pain and suffering. They also save us from a lot of unneeded struggle. Had I known about the Exchange server limit, this terrible day never would have happened. In your leadership, know what can and cannot be done. And what your limits are. You’ll be amazed how far you can go even with limits in place.
  • Get away: The first step in fixing the problem was dismounting our Exchange servers. This required us taking our email offline. There was no access. Emails couldn’t come in or go out. There will be times when you need to get away and dismount from your leadership. You’ll need a time of refreshing and renewal. Don’t overlook this. Getting away will help you become a better leader.
  • Reduce your load: The second step in resolving our Exchange server issue was reducing the amount of storage we were using. Our Exchange server crashed because we kept too many emails and attachments. Before we knew it, we were dead in the water. Our load was too heavy. You’ll have to discover how heavy of a load you can carry in your leadership. Sometimes it’s a lot, other times it may be less. Try to reduce the load you’re carrying and keep it at a manageable level. If not, you may come crashing down.
  • Programs fail: The third step in resolving our Exchange server issue was running a derag on the Exchange server. This takes a lot of time depending on your system’s hardware. For us, it took 15 hours. Truth be told, it took almost 30 because our first attempt at defragging failed. Be prepared that the programs you put together as a leader may fail. They may not click with your employees or they might not be presented in the correct way. Even if they fail, it’s not the end. They can be restarted later on.
  • Restoration takes time: Like I said, the defrag process took 15 hours. That’s a lot of time to be without email. But it was required for things to run properly again. When you’re at the point of burnout, you’ll need restoration. That’s why you need to get away. But don’t rush the get away. Take your time. Let time heal the wounds. Be willing to wait it out and not rush it. Rushing it will only make matters worse.

When you begin to feel the weight of leadership weighing you down, remember there are steps you can take to prevent burnout. Use these five steps to help you prevent or recover from it.

Question: How can you apply these leadership lessons to your role as a leader? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Been there. Done that. Not fun.

    • Amen Michael. I hope this experience doesn’t repeat itself any time soon.

  • I’m not very computer smart.  I can’t even imagine dealing with those kinds of problems, but I can relate with technical problems at a lower level and have employed some of the tactics you used.  I like “get away.”

    • These types of problems are frustrating. Especially when they silently happen. Though I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar in your teaching career, even if it’s not technology related.

  • Oh boy, I know when I was in Web Infrastructure and on call all the time we would get these issues with Web Servers and Customers updating code on holidays, weekends and everyday really. My palms started sweating just reading this because I know the crisis mode you speak of. Its a stressful but rewarding job when you can resolve the issue. However, now comes to RCA of what happened.

    Leadership lessons are always learned, missed and corrected in situations like these. Great post and takeaway from your experience.

    • The holidays would have to be the worse to have something like this happen. The stress it brings could kill any holiday spirits.

      Care to share something you’ve learned from a situation like this?

      • Absolutely, when thinks like a crisis on the Job happens there are two questions I was always asked that I implement today in my own business.

        How did it happen?
        What can we do to stop it from happening?

        Once I evaluated and asked myself those questions I came up with solutions to fix it, or be notified to a pre-alert. So I learned to ask questions of myself and others. How can I make this better for the future and improve on our product or service.

  • I think to endure through the challenging seasons of life and leadership requires taking time to nourish and refuel our self’s. A balanced life is essential when it comes to staying on purpose and productive. It’s amazing what we can learn through a crisis:) 

    • Right on Dan. There need to be seasons of rest and backing up to ensure we’re at the top of our games. If we don’t, these types of crises pop up!

      What have you learned from a crisis moment?

  • I think it’s important to know my limits, and it’s also important to know the limits of my team members.  I need to keep them challenged, but there are times when I need to ease their load.

    • Great point Jon. While we need to push people to be better, we also need to realize there are limits that cannot be broken. Doing so kills the motivation of team members.

  • It’s good they gave you on the team, that would have had me running! These are great tips.

    • Haha, trust me… I wanted to run from this. It was a mess. To top it all off, I got sick the first night of the problem and had to call into work the following day. Thankfully my boss is understanding and I was able to do a lot of the work from home. Thank God for remote computer access.

  • I often have to remember to lighten my load by DELEGATING more…I tend to try to do all the heavy blocking for my team – but that just takes away opportunities for them to grow and get visibility.  From a business user perspective, we just can’t figure out why technology (like email) doesn’t just work.  But then….we still use Lotus Notes.

    • It’s funny how we try to take on the world by ourselves when we have a very capable team that’s there to help us. On thing that helps is to remember you’ve formed the team. They should be more than competent to help lighten the load.

  • Great post, Joe!

    Yes…we all need to stretch our limits sometimes, for sure.  But…there’s a time that we need to step back and recharge.

    Thanks for sharing these great tips!

    • You’re welcome Michael. How do you step back and recharge?

      • In a world of noise and distraction, I recharge by turning off my phone (phone + email + Twitter + apps) and step away from my computer.  They are great tools, but they can also suck you into a place of information overload.  There’s a time when that needs to stop (albeit for a short amount of time).

        Another way for me to recharge is to enjoy time with my family.  This past weekend we all went to a college basketball game and had a GREAT time.

        Sometimes ‘rest’ is a great productivity tool.  : – )

  • DS

    It’s amazing what we can learn when we slow down and evaluate what’s taking place.  Great learning’s from your experience.

    The idea of knowing your limits is a good one.  Some times it’s hard to admit that you don’t have the expertise, the time, the ability, etc. to complete a task or a project.  However, it’s super important to turn down some opportunities or tasks so that you can continue to perform at a high level.

    • It is DS. I always like to keep my eyes open in case there’s a lesson to be learned in a non-traditional way. 

  • Pingback: TJ’s Spotlight | BornTwoLead()

  • Such a strong post, Joe! All 5 thoughts are solid. 

    The one that hits me the most is “restoration takes time.” I like to move fast, but in restoration…fast is slow and slow is fast.

    • Restoration is a strange beast, isn’t it Kent? We’re living in a world where it’s right now, right away. But it’s not how the world works. It was built with the thought of rest built in.