I was driven to the office this morning, not something that happens very often. I’m not a nervous passenger so, within reason, I don’t feel the need to offer advice to the person driving.
Not everyone feels the same way.
I regularly have a passenger when I’m driving who constantly comments on my speed, distance to the car in front, lane selection, gear selection and many other elements as well. It’s probably best for my wellbeing that I don’t name them!
However, it made me think about leadership because all good leaders need to know when to drive, when to be a passenger and, importantly, how to behave as a passenger.
What I mean by that is there are times that, as a leader, you need to be in control of a situation. This could mean you behave in a very directive manner and implement some of the actions personally. You’re literally driving the situation.
There will be other times when you let your team drive and you become the passenger, trusting them to make the decisions needed and implementing those decisions to achieve the objective.
When you do, don’t make the mistake of being the passenger who tries to drive from the other seat.
As a passenger in a car, the view is very different. You see the road and the behaviour of other road users from a different perspective. The speed of the car often seems higher when you haven’t got your hands on the wheel.
If you trust someone enough to be their passenger, then you need to trust that they’re going to make the right decisions while they’re driving. Let them decide the route, the speed, the lane and all the countless other variables our brains process when undertaking such a complex task.
If you start offering advice or instructions, unless they request them, you’re going to undermine their confidence and create tension. That’s not going to end well, especially if the driver is a family member.
In leadership situations it’s less obvious who’s driving and who’s the passenger, unless you have specific seats for that in your workplace, which would be a bit weird! So as the leader, you need to make it clear what the roles are in each situation.
If you decide that someone else is going to be doing the task, make sure you agree with them what your level of involvement will be and then STICK TO IT.
If they’re happy to get on with the task, and you’re happy to let them, agree when you’ll next review it and don’t keep chipping in with advice in between.
Leaders sometimes need to drive, sometimes need to be a silent passenger and sometimes need to be a passenger who offers advice and encouragement. The key to success is knowing which to be in each situation, and then agreeing it with the others involved.
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