As I was driving on the highway, one of the principles of leadership became apparent to me. Leaders must have vision. It is not exactly the same type of vision when driving a car, but the application of what we are doing is the same, or at least should be.
I was traveling in the middle of a three-lane interstate proceeding to pass a tractor-trailer when I noticed the big rig turn on its left turn signal. Knowing that his intent was not to move into my lane, and also being aware that we could not share this lane, I glanced to the left, signaled, and changed lanes. This is the action I took, but there was much more involved in the decision I made. That is when I realized that driving is much like being a leader.
As I stated previously, leaders must have a vision. Leaders see before others see, and leaders see more than others see. Up ahead on the highway was a flatbed wrecker truck loading a stalled car. The truck was aware of this, and when I saw the turn signal, I scanned the highway ahead to see why the truck wanted to move over. After contemplating this series of events, there are three principles that every leader can glean from my experience.
Visionary leadership requires anticipation. Leaders need to scan the road well ahead for any obstacles that may require a change in course. Staying in your lane and holding onto your position may be dangerous. Sometimes the consequences affect us personally, but very often, the consequences affect others. A true leader is a servant first and as such will make decisions that are others-focused.
A defensive driver is watching the actions of vehicles one-half mile or more ahead of them. Drivers must anticipate what other drivers may do as the roadway changes, as cars merge in, as accidents occur, and many other events that may happen. Leaders also anticipate possible events as they observe business events. Anticipation provides the driver with additional time for a prepared response, as opposed to simply reacting when the situation occurs.
When reporters asked Captain Sully, the pilot of US Airway flight 1549, when he made the decision to land the plane in the Hudson River, he told them that the decision was actually made many years ago in his training. He anticipated the worst and was prepared when it happened. Because of his leadership, everyone on that flight survived.
Observation is the act of watching the actions and responses of others in order to make informed choices. As the third child in my family, I mastered the art of observation. When my older brother got into trouble, I learned quickly what I could and could not do. If my sister disobeyed our parents, I learned the consequences that would follow. As a result, I was not necessarily a perfect kid, as my siblings will attest, but I was better informed.
On the highway, a driver uses the power of observation to sense dangers that can be avoided. If a driver sees a bunch of cars hitting the brakes ahead on the road, the response should be to slow down. If a driver swerves to avoid a pothole, we learn by their action to avoid this hazard. In my case, I noticed that the tractor-trailer was signaling to switch lanes, and I came to realize that he could see the hazard ahead in the road. Leaders don’t see everything. But, if a leader is observing the actions of other leaders, they will see more than they would on their own.
Anticipation and observation are nothing if they are not followed by action. A long time ago I learned that a person can either react or they can respond. Reacting was sort of like trying to win at a game of whack-a-mole. I am always half a second behind. The result is that I don’t accomplish my task well. The alternative is to respond. Responsive decision-making requires thought. It is the product of anticipating the future, using the information from observation, and making an informed decision.
In the analogy I began with on the highway, my failure to act would have prevented the tractor-trailer from changing lanes. This would have created a more dangerous situation for the roadside emergency worker, and may have resulted in an accident or even a fatality. The truck may have even chosen to merge anyway, in which case I would have collided with the truck.
How many accidents could be avoided on our highways if drivers just used these three leadership tools? How many companies would remain solvent if the industry leaders used these tools to make decisions? Being a leader is not a position, being a leader is a behavior. In fact, you don’t even need a title to be a leader.
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