I read an article a few days ago comparing leadership to driving. As I read the article it began to make some sense. In leadership you start out with a need, a purpose, or a mission. Well in driving you also need purpose or mission. You need to go to the store, work, or to visit friends. Sometimes you’ve got to catch a flight or be at an appointment right on time. If you pull out of your driveway with no sense of purpose, odds are you’re going to get lost and frustrated on your drive.
Leading your team is no different. When you take on the mantle of leadership, you need to understand your purpose for doing so. Are you there to improve a broken team? To take a group of high performers to the next level? Do you need to grow the business? Stabilize it? Sell it? Are you leading a downsizing? If you’re not clear on your purpose as a leader, you’ll be just as frustrated as you would be driving around town not knowing where you’re going.
Second, your vehicle must be prepared to drive. You need gas, air in your tires, wiper fluid, and all your mechanical and electrical systems need to be in working order.
Are you personally prepared to lead? Are you taking care of yourself physically? Mentally? Do you have all the resources your team needs to be successful (budget, time, tools, etc.)? Your job as a leader is to ensure your team is ready to tackle the challenges it faces each day.
So what kind of driver (leader) are you?
There are all kinds of drivers out there. Which one do you most closely resemble as a leader?
The shortsighted rusher: You know this guy – the one who zooms past you only to get held up by cars that were clearly slowed up in his lane. And then another opening appears, he zooms off, and again you cruise past him at the same speed you were doing before.
Do you lead like this? Chasing after the nearest opportunity to improve but not seeing the bigger picture of where things are headed? It feels like you make a lot of progress at times but you never seem to get ahead. If this is you, try some patience and take a longer view of things. Observe what’s going on around you and try to thing two, three, or four moves ahead so you don’t burn so much energy and get so little reward.
The overconfident (reckless) speeder: ZOOM! This guy blows by you like you’re standing still. He cuts across three lanes at a time cutting through traffic with apparent ease and nerves of steel. He’s getting where he’s going and he’s doing it fast. No one is going to catch him – except the cops. He doesn’t see the chaos he leaving behind until it’s too late.
Leaders like this guy push themselves and their teams at an incredible pace. They never seem to let up. Invariably though, they anger others around them because they’re taking so many risks or just making other people look bad because it’s all about them. At some point, the team will crash or the authorities (senior management) will pull this guy over and fix his behavior. If you’re pushing too fast and getting feedback that you’re too selfish or focused on your own advancement, take your foot off the accelerator.
The slow and steady: This guy is the “perfect” driver. Obeys all posted signs. Never goes above the speed limit. He actually resents others who break the rules and sometimes even tries to enforce the rules on his own (like doing 65 MPH in the left lane so faster cars can’t break the speed limit). Sure, he’ll get there eventually but it’s uninspiring and somewhat stifling.
Do you always follow the rules? Do you tell on others when they break the rules? Are you more focused on the rules than the results? If so, you might want to check your team’s morale. I’d venture to guess they’re not having much fun and might be looking for another ride. I’m not saying to break the rules – just question them. Sure there are ones that must be obeyed but others are more guidelines than anything else and part of a leader’s job is to take risks.
The road rager: Screaming and obscene gestures are a way of life for this guy. No matter what anyone around him does, it’s wrong and it gets him bent out of shape. He screams and curses and cuts off other people without regard for their safety (let alone their feelings).
If people aren’t hanging out with you and if the staff cowers in fear when you walk down the hall, you might be the office equivalent of the road rager. People aren’t following you – they’re complying out of fear. If you find you yell (at all), get red-faced with anger, and that people generally shy away from you, you might consider some anger management strategies because in today’s workplace, road rage leadership is rarely tolerated for long.
So do any of these driver types resemble your leadership style? Be honest with yourself and ask how you can improve your driving (leadership) style so you get to your destination quickly, safely, and do so in a way that everyone enjoys the ride.