Something that really frustrates me is people who drive slow in the left lane on highways. When I approach these drivers, I wonder whether they are really focused on driving or if they even know “the rules of the road.” I confess that sometimes I make stereotypical assumptions about the kind of driver they are. Whatever the situation, it’s annoying and often creates a dangerous backlog of traffic with impatient drivers.
Eventually, I pass the slow driver (on the right!) and I always glance over at the person. You know what? They always look normal (although, I’m not sure what an abnormal driver looks like). They look like my neighbor or a relative or a coworker — regular folks trying to get somewhere, just like me.
So why does this bother me so much? What do I have against regular folks rolling down the highway a little bit slower than I want to go (and no, I do not have a heavy foot on the gas). I don’t have anything against these people, but I do have an expectation about performance. If you’re going to drive in the left, fast lane, you had better know the responsibility and follow through. Get going or get out of the way!
Leadership is the same way. If you are going to be in a leadership position, you had better know what the responsibility entails and deliver results for your organization, or get out of the way for someone else to do it. Followers and other leaders get frustrated with people who drive slow in the leadership lane. There are expectations about what a leader does and the results that should be delivered. Those expectations are different for each organizational context, but it is the leader’s responsibility to know the rules of the road and drive accordingly.
Most organizations are actually rather ineffective helping leaders understand their leadership rules. For driving, we have to take a class and pass a test. (They covered driving slow in the left in my class — didn’t these other drivers take that class?) There should be a “class” of sorts for leadership in any organization, but that’s rare. So what is a “pre-leader” to do?
While you are still in the right lane, observe others who are in the left, “leadership lane.” What do they do? What does the organization expect of them? What happens when they mess up? What happens when they succeed? How do they act and how does the organization treat them? Take them out for lunch and ask questions: “One day, I hope to be in a position of leadership. What does our organization expect of its leaders?”
If you are already in the leadership lane, but you’re not quite sure what is expected, you have to make a choice. Either change lanes temporarily and do your research about what is expected, or stay there and do your best to speed up while you do your research.
The scary thing is that there are many people driving slow in the leadership lane who don’t even know it (just like drivers on the road). Every leader needs to take a moment and ask other leaders, “Am I doing what is expected of me as a leader or am I going too slow?”
I had a conversation with a colleague today. It was a “Am I driving slow?” conversation. I discovered I am going slow in a couple respects, while in other ways my speed is just fine. So we are creating a plan to get me up to the proper speed in the leadership lane. It was a little uncomfortable to find out I was going slow, but to be honest, I already suspected as much. Getting confirmation can be hard — a little threatening. However, a skilled, respectful colleague can provide the support you need to speed up a bit.
What about you? Are you going slow in the leadership lane? Are you sure? You had better find out!