As I do fairly significant amounts of driving for my day job, my least favorite times of the year are the winter months. Snow, sleet, and ice are words I despise as I head out on trips that take up to 7 or 8 hours - with good road conditions.
Unfortunately, I don’t have too many options when the weather is bad because my schedule is often set over a year in advance. So good weather or not, I still have to make it to my destination.
My Worst Travel Experience
I recently had the worst travel experience I have ever faced. About two hours into my drive I started experiencing rain which quickly turned to sleet and ice - which was eventually topped off with snow. My 5 hour drive took me nine hours to complete and I passed over thirty cars in the ditch.
Fortunately, I made it safe to my destination but I saw two cars spin out and nearly run into me. This experience really got me to thinking - in fact, I was thinking most of the drive as I didn’t want any distractions on my car stereo - I realized that navigating bad wether is fairly similar to navigating leadership.
Leadership Lessons From Bad Weather
The following lessons have be learned from driving on hazardous road conditions:
One of the most important factors in making it safely to your destination is to plan ahead. For my travels, I have two weather apps which I stalk before I travel. They don’t always give me all of the details, but I have often been able to leave earlier or later to avoid the worst weather of the day. In leadership, planning ahead is vital to leading an organization safely through paths like change and growth.
Create a Margin
I have a bad habit of filling my calendar so full that I can’t afford to take an unplanned day off. Sometimes of the year, it would be months before I could reschedule certain events - which is not an acceptable timeframe for what I do. The problem with this approach is that the winter months bring several days of bad weather that cannot be controlled. If I haven’t put “margin” (intentional days with nothing planned) into my calendar, a bad storm will cause fairly significant amounts of stress.
Stay Slow & Steady
One of the keys to driving in hazardous conditions is to know your limits. I have seen many drivers push their limits too far and end up in a ditch. The way to avoid this is to keep slow and steady in what is working for you. If 35 miles an hour is all that is comfortable, then that the speed that should be kept. In leadership, leaders often burn out when they bite off more than they can chew.
Watch Out For Others
The thing I hate the most about driving in hazardous road conditions is that I can only control the vehicle I am in. I have seen trucks jackknife because they were going so fast in pouring rain that they couldn’t see a turn in the highway coming and lost control. In leadership, we can only navigate our companies. Regulatory changes, competition, and economy spikes are out of our control. All we can do is to keep an eye open so that we see them coming and get as far out of the way as we can.
Don’t Make Your Own Tracks
When you venture into a snow covered lane that no one has driven down before, the drive becomes a very difficult and stressful process. Not only is the road slippery, but it is often extremely difficult to even see where the road to drive on is. But once someone else has made their way through the road and made tracks to follow, the process of driving down the road becomes much easier. As leaders, we often forget that we don’t have to re-invent the wheel - we can look for established paths to take our organizations down that will be much quicker and more cost efficient than trying to pave the path ourselves.
Know When to Quit
The final leadership lesson that can be learned from driving in hazardous road conditions is to know when it is time to quit. In my recent 9 hour trip through hazardous road conditions, I got to a point where I just felt that I needed to pull over for a bit. I wasn’t sure why I wanted to pull over, but I followed my instincts and stopped for a meal. When I finally stopped, I realized how stressed I actually was. I was able to calm my body and when I went back out on the roads just a half an our later, they were considerably better. Knowing when to take a break, or even quit, is a challenging task for any leader. But knowing when it is time to throw in the towel can prevent greater problems that result from pushing on too long.
A Question For You
What leadership lessons did I miss?