Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
Highways have long been part of Americana and winding through our history like the Pacific Coast Highway winds along the shore. The iconic history of Route 66 can be found in the 1939 Steinbeck novel, the Grapes of Wrath, the 1965 classic Easy Rider and the hilarious National Lampoon’s Vacation of 1983. When Sammy Hagar was belting out “I can’t drive 55” in his 1984 hit, I’m sure he wasn’t considering the possibility of being referenced in a leadership blog almost 40 years later.
As parents of competitive athletes, we have logged a ton of miles through the years taking our kids to games. This past weekend, we wore out the asphalt on I-44 as our son had three days of games in St. Louis. Driving home on the last day, with the windows down, music playing and everyone in the car closing their eyes, it gave me some alone time to consider that pattern and behavior of the cars on the road and how they engaged each other as we journey down the road together, but separate.
As I was becoming frustrated as a slow-moving truck would continuously pass, slow down and then pass again, I started to think about the pattern and wondered about the motive as well as the impact on others. As so often happens in my mind, I started to think in terms of how this relates to our interactions with others in a team environment. It made me think about the roles people play in work and how they are also moving down a “highway” towards an outcome.
Life is a Highway was a hit single for Tom Cochrane in 1991 and in 2006 skyrocketed up the charts thanks to the animation Cars and the performance by Rascal Flatts. If Life really is a Highway, which driver are you?
The Lead Car
This person is always out front, leading the charge. The know the risk that happens when they put themselves out in front, but they have a good understanding of their surroundings, the optimal speed without crossing over to being reckless. They are fearless and confident, but also measured and in control. They don’t weave in and out of traffic but instead, follow the road, setting the pace with a clear purpose and vision.
They drive along, waiting for the Lead Car to show up. They typically are afraid to take risks and play it safe, cruising along in the right lane. They move into the passing lane, as necessary to move forward, but once passing they move back into the right lane before other cars can misinterpret them as the Lead Car.
Once the Lead Car is sighted by passing on the left, this driver immediately kicks it in gear and signals to everyone that you are heading to the passing lane. What’s interesting about the Follower, is that the exuberance of following the Lead Car can be short lived. They start to have doubts and get uncomfortable at this newer pace. Is the speed too fast? What if I get a ticket? At that moment the Follower has a choice, to stay outside their comfort zone and continue to follow the Lead Car or with a flick of the wrist, dejectedly, they can signal to merge back into the right lane and wait for a new Lead Car that is safer.
The Competition Driver. AKA Ricky Bobby
“If you ain’t first, you’re last.” This is the driver that triggered this post being written. The moment they are passed on the highway, they immediately speed up and pass them back to get out in front. Many times, these drivers seem to be playing a game since once they pass it appears that they forget what they are doing as they move back to the right lane and gradually slow down again, forcing the other car to pass them once again. This endless cycle doesn’t get old for them, but it does for everyone else.
The Road Block
I was going to call this person the Pace Car, but that really is too nice of a term for the most frustrating driver on the road. This driver typically lives in their own world and is completely disconnected from others. Their focus is on themselves and their car and don’t consider the wellbeing of others with whom they are sharing the road.
These drivers can be found flourishing in their natural habitat of the left lane cruising at their own pace, in no hurry, delaying the progress of others. They create frustration and even anger in others as they force people to adjust their paths and move around them to continue their journey. These drivers should not be confused with Distracted Drivers who get lost in thought or conversation. They typically, upon realizing they are being viewed as the RoadBlock, immediately put up a hand in an embarrassed wave and either speed up or merge to allow you to pass.
Many times, these drivers get mislabeled as the Roadblock because their lack of action makes them look like a Roadblock even though it is not their intention. For instance, to satisfy their risk avoidance, they will either set their cruise control at the speed limit or 1mph over. This way they don’t stand out, one way or the other. The problem is that when they get behind a slower vehicle, they attempt to pass while on cruise control. It may take them a mile or two to finally get around the slightly slower person in the right lane. So, while it looks like they are keeping pace, they are actually forming an impenetrable wall, keeping others from their destination.
They also seem to have overzealous blinkers, engaging their turn signal seemingly minutes before slowly & cautiously merging into or out of traffic at a safe speed. The timid like to take time talking about their action before finally taking slow and deliberate yet safe action. They typically do not get into accidents but are often the cause of accidents for others.
Fast & Furious
The name says it all. Just like the movie, they leave a path of destruction in their wake. Other drivers are having to slam on breaks, swerve to avoid accidents and are debating whether or not they need to report them due to the risk to others. They offer moments of stunning highlights, a lot of bad drama, operate in predictable cliches, are rarely worth the price of admission, and if you don't address it quickly, they will be sure to produce sequels.
The Student Driver
Essentially there are two types: “OMG! I can’t believe I’m driving?!” and “OMG! I’m driving!”
The first one doesn’t know what to do and therefore is insecure and afraid. They have one foot on the gas and the other on the break. They may not know where they are supposed to go and because of the lack of confidence, struggle with directions unless it comes from Siri. Chances are, if you see someone stopped at a roundabout, it is them.
The second one thinks they know it all and like to give pointers to others. Chances are they are making a TikTok video while driving. They are confident that they would win the Indianapolis 500 and that old people (those who are 30+ years of age) should not be allowed to have a driver's license.
We are all traveling down the highway of life together. Some highways are more crowded than others, but it’s always important to be aware of the type of driver you are as well as those drivers who are around you. Fostering an environment that creates awareness is a great way to make sure that all drivers reach their destination Beyond Today.
Tom Brown - a husband and a father who is simply trying to make a difference. Using my experience as a Manufacturing Executive to connect leadership from the boardroom to the hardwood to help teams grow and develop to make a difference in the lives of others.