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.
As a lifelong learner, I enjoy all types of training. Whether it’s listening to audiobooks while on the treadmill, attending webinars on leadership or attending in-person training on personal development, I love to expand my perspective and experiences. I had spent years giving presentations at group and company meetings on all sorts of topics. I was very comfortable with the mic, and I was effective in allowing my personality and passion for the topic to create an entertainment that would hold their attention while keeping people laughing and engaged. So, when I was approached by HR to provide training to new employees on Change Management and Strategic Planning, I jumped at the chance.
While making the move to be on the stage from sitting in the audience was an easy adjustment for me, I quickly realized that there was a big difference between receiving training class and giving training. I eagerly began to put together the presentation slides knowing that I could share my passion and energy with the audience. After my first session, it became apparent that being an entertaining presenter was not the same as being a good trainer.
Making a class enjoyable is a key point of training so that the participants are receptive to the content and message. But when I sought feedback from the attendees on my training, all the feedback was focused on my delivery and not the content. Basically, my content was forgettable, but they enjoyed hearing what I had to say. The HR Director at the time, provided some suggestions on including activities that would help reinforce the message of the training. She also pointed out that I was essentially providing a lecture or motivational talk but failed to establish a dialogue that helped attendees connect and would maximize the impact of the time we were spending together.
Recognizing that if I needed to bring value to those in the training, I needed to put into practice what I enjoyed about learning and make changes to my slides, my content, and my approach. I implemented small group discussions, on stage demonstrations and used flip charts to gather input from the audience. The very next classes I taught, I received excellent feedback on the surveys making my classes the highest rated classes over the next couple of years.
Recently, my perspective on training changed once again. While I was still out in front, on the stage, what changed was who was sitting in the seats. I was approached by an outside organization to provide leadership training to a group of managers based upon my blog series, the 3 Pillars of Impact. I was honored and excited about the opportunity to share my experiences and perspective with people outside of my organization. It was another opportunity to make an impact on others which is why I started this blog initially.
I began the process of taking my three-part blog series, The 3 Pillars of Impact, and converting them into three distinct training modules: The Courage to Challenge, Expect Excellence & Empower Others. Fortunately, I was able to utilize an outline I had previously put together to support a video series on this blog that I had made for my work. As I began to flesh out the content, it dawned on me that I had lost my biggest advantage to my previous training - these people don’t know who I am.
My prior experience was in providing required training for work. It was a targeted audience and was at a company that I had grown up in with so many relatable stories that I could tell providing connections to the past. I was an Executive with years of service in the company which automatically provided some credibility on why they should listen and participate in my training.
My examples will now need to be explained to others who have no history. Some of these examples I wouldn't be able to use because they are deemed confidential. I had known that my view as a trainee was different from that as a trainer, but it took me a little longer to realize how different a view it would be moving again to an outside trainer. Each change in perspective puts me down a different path with a different set of questions. A different set of answers. My topics and approaches needed to pull the audience together. To align their perspectives, but also highlight the differences. Creating an environment of sharing between a diverse group of managers regarding age and experience but also with familiarity with each other and their roles in the larger organization.
We know changing perspective is always valuable for growth and understanding. Many times, the perspectives change when we change roles. But sometimes, the perspectives can change while performing the same role. These changes can be triggered when the environment changes or maybe because you have learned a little more than before. Because the leader you are today will always be different from the leader you will be, Beyond Today.
I recently was part of a wedding for a young man that I coached around 13 years ago. I was honored by their request for me to perform the wedding ceremony as the officiant. An interesting thing happened as the bride began to walk down the aisle. For the first time during a wedding, I was drawn to the parents of the groom. I watched as they would both turn and look at the beautiful bride as she made her way down the aisle towards her future husband. They would then glance at their handsome son, who was oblivious to all that was around him as he was locked onto his approaching bride.
The faces of the groom’s parents, filled with joy and emotion, moved back and forth between the bride and their son.
This wasn’t the first wedding ceremony that I had attended as I just turned 53 years old. I had been part of many weddings as a young man, before and after my own wedding. Then the next phase of weddings came along as the kids you coached, and your kids’ friends came to the age of getting married.
This also wasn’t the first I had performed as an officiant. My experience with weddings has gone from watching, to being part of the wedding party to being the one performing the wedding.
Until this moment, I had always viewed the wedding from the perspective of the bride and groom. It was their day! I could relate to this having gone through it, albeit almost 30 years ago.
It was a new perspective for me. You saw the pride they had in their son. You saw the excitement in anticipation of gaining a daughter. You could see that they were soaking in every moment of the evening. As I reflect, I’m sure their minds were bouncing between what was happening around them and then into the future of what life has in store for the newlyweds and the family as a whole.
I am a sentimental man. At every wedding that I have performed as an officiant, I had to fight back emotions as I watched the groom, fighting back their own emotions, as they witnessed their future walking towards them in stunning beauty, step by step. I know this because that is my memory of seeing my bride way back when.
I don’t know what changed my perspective at this specific wedding. I had performed weddings for couples that are my son's age before, and even within the last year. But this time, my perspective changed. My appreciation for this major life event changed. My understanding of the degrees of impact of such an event on multiple lives changed.
This wedding served as a great reminder about how perspectives can change depending upon where you are sitting. The view as a wedding guest is different than being part of the wedding party. The perspective is different when you are a groomsman versus when you are the groom. And the perspective is different when you are the officiant performing the service. What I learned at this recent wedding, is even when you are still at the front, your perspective can change when you are open to being changed. When you are open to grow in mind and spirit. When you are open to expanding your perspective Beyond Today.
In my last post, Time to Clean the House, I tried to relate the childhood struggles of cleaning your room with some of the adult challenges you may face at work dealing with a messy situation or a difficult project. In this next post, I reflect back on the childhood trauma associated with being the youngest of five kids and trying to find ways to work with my brothers and sisters to get the job done.
If you were fortunate like me, you grew up in a large family. With 5 of us kids and me being the youngest, the older ones were constantly looking for ways to complete their chores, but with the least amount of effort on their part. In my 53-year-old mind, I remember myself as being the victim to my older siblings' cunning and more worldly approach to getting things done. Plus, I was the baby of the family and widely known as the sweetest of the Brown kids. So, I’m pretty sure I never pulled these stunts myself.
Below are some of the approaches that I remember my siblings taking to help with chores when I was a kid. Do any of these sound familiar to you?
I was convinced for many years that my middle brother was a magician for his uncanny ability to walk into a room and in what seemed like a manner of minutes, would walk out with a clean room. What seemed to be a monumental task of cleaning a room that would take me the better part of a day, he always seemed to knock out in a manner of minutes without a sweat. Of course, only a 5-year-old could fall for his tricks as my mom would walk in, open the closet door and quickly step away as balls and stuffed animals came tumbling down. She would move the bean bag to reveal a pile of matchbox cars. Shoving things under the bed or into the closet may at first glance give the appearance of a clean room, but the experienced manager, in this case our mom, knows to open the closet door and look under the bed when inspecting. The Magician doesn’t address the clutter, they just hide it.
They like to spend more time talking about what they did then they actually spent cleaning their room or doing the chore. But they want everyone to know what they did and how arduous the task that they somehow, through the grace of God and their own perseverance, was able to overcome. Many times, the Martyr may be related to the Team Player. But related by marriage, like a cousin Eddie. They willingly help you do the chores and may or may not talk about it while it is happening, but afterwards, they go into full Martyrdom mode!
While I do remember the Banker making an appearance once or twice during my youth, they would typically barter for my labor by offering up one of their treasures of such value that only big brothers can accurately describe. My more recent experience with this was watching my oldest son constantly “hire” his siblings to perform tasks throughout their childhood. What started as simple chores, turned into hauling hay, building fence and numerous other jobs with promised riches. But what I witnessed was the transformation of the Banker to the Wealthy Nigerian Uncle scam!
“But Mom… have you seen Bob’s Room?!” Honestly, not sure which sibling did this the most, because I’m sure we were all guilty of it at some point. But when Mom came to you about your room, your first reaction was to pull out the deflect and distract strategy in hopes that she would walk down the hall and transfer her wrath from your direction to that of your slovenly brother. Even the most experienced parent can fall victim to this trickster as they know just how to play on the emotions and push the right buttons.
Typically, this is the oldest child. They take the leadership role because hey, it’s not their first rodeo. They will typically call a family meeting and lay out their detailed plan showing how an organized and aligned approach will achieve the goal of a clean house. Further, to guarantee participation, they will show that by allowing people to use their strengths, they can get all of the chores done faster and more efficiently giving everyone more time for something fun. If necessary, The Strategist has been known to provide donuts or other extra benefits to coax them to action. The Strategist is a master of keeping their hands clean and callus free.
The Team Player
The classic, “many hands make lite work” person who always seems willing to lend a hand to get things done. They seem to make the chore run smoother and it always takes less time than it would have done alone. The best part is that the Team Player always seems to make the work fun. Now, you need to be careful, because sometimes what at first seems to be a Team Player, is actually someone in disguise. A regular Scooby Doo villain if you will.
The Ghost starts out as the Team Player and get you to agree that the two of you should work together to clean both of your rooms. Making it easier to get done and it will be more fun to work together. Somehow, they always start in their own room first. They work hard and provide direction to you as you work and show great appreciation for your help. Then, it’s time to move to your room and BAM! The Team Player transforms into The Ghost and is gone! Their room is now clean. Their goal is accomplished. They really have no reason to continue to help clean your room. You are left frustrated, tired, and facing your own room to clean - alone.
Not to be confused with The Team Player, the Helper volunteers to help with the best of intentions, but typically becomes a distraction and not much of a helper. They tend to look through everything in the room, get distracted and start playing around. Sometimes they morph into Scope Creep and spend their time re-sorting or expanding the scope from cleaning the room, to reorganizing or even going as far as renovating the room!
Ultimately, when things need to get done, taking ownership of the outcome is a great starting point. It takes ownership of all family members to create and maintain an environment that is free of clutter, organized and optimizes harmony in a living space. It is this same ownership in that family unit that translates to work teams and their ability to clean their room for the greater good. For work teams to be effective, time needs to be spent to make sure it is a strong team, with clarified roles and responsibilities, that are willing to work together for a common goal that can keep your room clean Beyond Today.
Do you remember as a kid how you agonized over cleaning your room? Typically, you would spend more time whining and trying to avoid doing it then it would actually take you to clean it. As adults, it often seems the same dread you felt as a kid when facing the chore of cleaning your room, returns to you when you are dealing with challenges at work that require change and improvement.
Cleaning is not necessarily the same as organizing. If the vision for the outcome is unclear, you can spend time vacuuming, dusting, and throwing away the old candy wrappers to the point where your room is shining. But you still have piles of clothes on top of your dresser instead of in your dresser. You may have taken every display item off your shelf and wiped them down but put them right back where they were.
Many times, cleaning a room doesn’t reduce the content, it just rearranges the clutter. It’s new piles of the same stuff. Having an aligned vision that is well communicated between both parties can really help make sure that your time is spent working on things that add value.
Under/Overestimate the Size and Scope
Typically, when you are a kid, you see cleaning your room as possibly the largest obstacle ever faced by mankind. NASA might have sent a man to the moon, but I would like to see how they would go about cleaning up this mess. It’s going to take me… let’s all say it together… FOREVER!
But quickly, as we get into it, we realize it isn’t as big a deal as we thought. We remove the dirty clothes and take out the trash. Wow, it starts to look better already. Pick up our toys and put them back into the toy box or on the shelf and you realize you are almost done.
But there were other times, much rarer, when we thought to ourselves this won’t take long and I will meet my friends at the park and will be playing that game before you know it. Then you realize that you haven’t cleaned or organized your room in a very, very long time. Sorting through the stacks that represented the best of your life for the last few years. You question whether you can both clean AND organize your room in time for you to still make the game. Do you have to change the scope and ask forgiveness or take your chances and suffer the consequences. You start to regret not taking the time to clean your room all those times your parents reminded you that it needed to be done but you were just “too busy.”
Bogged Down by the Clutter
It is like staring down a driveway in winter with snow drifting up onto the car and it is still snowing outside. Where do you begin? How can you even show progress? As the feeling of being overwhelmed hits an anxiety level, you start to break things down logically and you create piles. Typically, you start with what needs to go. In today’s world, we now consider what goes into the trash and what needs to be recycled. Interestingly enough, this concept is true for projects, reports, ideas and also people. It sounds much colder when you talk about people, but it comes down to if they are not performing or are a distraction, then how do you provide guidance, training, or refocus to help them be successful.
Your next pile is stuff you want to keep. Now this is tricky because as a kid, you always kept cool stuff. Things that meant something to you at the time. But you must consider if they are of real value or just a distraction. Is it something that needs to be displayed on a shelf and shared with others? Is it something that you want to hang onto because it will be valuable someday or that it something you want to share with others in the future, so that one goes into storage.
Then you have stuff you don’t know what to do with and you either keep it, or you leave it in a pile and hope someone else can decide. That stuff may go into a garage sale or to good will. It may get passed down to your sibling or you give it to your best friend because they always liked to play it.
The challenge is to not be distracted by the clutter. It’s easy to let yourself reminisce on the memories and experience the feelings associated with all you have collected. That personal connection can often cloud your judgment and cause you to hold onto items that you should be removing from your room. You justify why it’s important and why you must keep it. You commit to playing with that toy more, but the next time you have to clean your room. There it is again. Taking up space. Still cluttering your room.
As adults, our life comes down to how we clean our rooms. Do we have aligned vision and purpose with those we work with and share our lives with? Do we take the time to understand the challenges before us so that we can properly work to overcome and improve? Do we have plans to prepare for the future state and minimize the challenges that we are facing and prevent a mountain of clutter piling up and instead of digging out, we are sorting through? Minimizing the clutter in our work, our life, and our minds is beneficial to keeping our own house clean 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.