Driver’s education is a necessary step in obtaining one’s license. It teaches you the ins and outs of how to operate a vehicle. In a short period of time, you learn the necessities of performing something that you will do for a long period of time.
This past weekend, I took my fifteen year, eleven month old daughter to a unique driver’s education experience. It’s a program called Drive Strong that is located at Atlanta Motorsports Park in Dawsonville, Georgia. They put soon to be drivers through real world experiences to prepare them for their independence on the road. Ashtyn Ann got to experience twisting, turning, distractions, emergency braking, and even an exercise that mimicked hydroplaning and losing control on ice. It was an extremely worthwhile investment in one of Shannon and I’s most precious resources.
In the world of leadership, wouldn’t it have been great to receive a crash course like this before we got our license to lead? During the parent/driver orientation they shared the overall concepts of what they would be working on with the kids. With three and a half hours to spare while she was in her class, I decided to take a few of the principals the instructors covered and translate them to the principles of leadership. Here are four of them:
Sit at the Right Distance
The instructors said that it is common for young drivers to sit either too far from the wheel or too close to it. Too far from the wheel, the air bag deploys, it deflates too soon, your face hits the steering wheel. Too close to the wheel, the airbag doesn’t fully deploy, it leaves burn marks on your face.
A struggle I have always faced when leading people is where to sit. Sitting too far away from the people we lead can create distance. It leaves us out of touch, disconnected, and we can lose our sense of feel for the organization. Sitting too close doesn’t allow those we lead to make mistakes. The inability to fail can suffocate the people we lead and can negatively impact their growth trajectory.
The best leaders find the right distance to sit. They are not too far, yet not too close. These leaders constantly wrestle with the right distance to be at, but always adjust the seat when they get out of position. Great leaders know where to sit…at the right distance.
The instructors also said that young drivers struggle with, “hood vision.” That is when the driver only sees what is right beyond the hood. One of the principles of defensive driving is being able to see the big picture, one that goes well beyond the hood. If drivers get too locked in on the things right in front of them, they can easily miss things that lie ahead.
I believe that vision is simply the ability to see further. Whether we are beginning our leadership journey or are further down the road, the ability to have vision is critical. When we get Stuck staring at those things in front of the hood of leadership, we miss everything beyond it. Beyond that Vantage Point is everything from the dangers that lie ahead to the beauty of the opportunities in the future. Great leaders have vision.
Get Comfortable Losing Control
Atlanta Motorsports Park has a really cool feature that gives the participant experience in dealing with ice and heavy rain. The feature allows the driver to get more comfortable when losing control of the vehicle. At some point, all drivers will experience hydroplaning and/or icy conditions. You can’t control when it happens, you can only manage it.
Chaos, confusion, and conflict are a natural part of leadership. None of this can be controlled, just managed. The more we drive through the heavy rains and storms of leadership, the more comfortable we feel at the wheel WHEN (not if) the craziness happens.
In the world of cars, heavily worn tires don’t perform well in slick conditions. In leadership, tires with high mileage and wear and tear are best suited to deal with slick conditions. Great leaders get comfortable losing control.
One of the most common trap young drivers fall into is distracted driving. Cell phones, loud music, and passengers in the car are all potential distractions. If we are being honest, they are temptations for any of us. Distracted driving can lead to veering off course and crashing. It also puts innocent people at risk.
No leader leads well distracted. We can all agree that this may be one of the greatest challenges to leadership. There are so many things that come at us in so many directions. Deadlines, people burdens, critics, numbers to be met, projects, you name it, distractions are plenty. When we are distracted, it puts those we lead at risk.
To say that we are immune to distractions or possess some superpower to avoid them would be false. Great leaders have the ability to quickly refocus, minimize distractions, and keep the organization they lead on the road. They establish guardrails that remind them when they are slightly off course. Driving distracted is one of the number one causes of collisions in leadership. Don’t be distracted behind the wheel of your organization.
Whether we just starting our journey or been down the road before, experience is the greatest teacher. At times, I often wonder if we are putting young leaders at a disadvantage by not putting them through a similar leadership program to Driver’s Education. There would be tremendous value in getting a real-world preview into what lies ahead in their journey. Looking in the rear-view mirror, we could have all greatly benefited from such a course.
Wherever we are in this journey of leadership, the key is to always keep moving. Our impact on the lives of others only stops when we hit the brakes. The day we stop reading, listening, and learning is the day we need to hand over the keys and our license to lead should be revoked. Continue to be the Person That People Want to follow, get them to their desired destination.