Learning How To Drive

As I was driving around town the other day, I noticed a car trying to make a left-hand turn across oncoming traffic. It struck me (the idea, not the car) that the driver had to develop good judgement in order to time the turn just right to avoid a collision.

Not sure where the synapse collision happened in my head, but it made me think of the judgement a leader must develop, and just how long it takes to develop “good judgement”.

Think about when you learned to drive… there was some classroom or online instruction, practical application behind the wheel, and probably more than one very stressful episode with a parent or older sibling trying to enlighten you on the finer points to vehicle manipulation.  You then took a test and got your license.  Even with this certification, it doesn’t mean that you learned everything there was to know about driving, or that you would consistently apply what you do know (turn signals, anyone?).

In many ways, the judgement you need to be successful as a leader is similar to that of driving a car – and it takes just as long (if not longer) to develop even a remedial level of “good judgement”.  You need to know the hazards, the capabilities of your resources, and what your overall role is in the process.

Also like driving, good judgement in leadership comes from experience.  And experience takes time.  No matter where you are on your leadership journey, it is your previous experiences that determine how you judge future situations.  When it comes to developing other leaders, we have to remember that teaching the tasks of what to do is only part of the equation… we also have to give them the opportunity to gain experience, make some mistakes, and develop good judgement.

Here are some lessons we can take from drivers ed…

  • Vary the teaching method: give some theory, allow time for practical application, and provide feedback the progress
  • Allow mistakes (to a point): In the special drivers ed car, the instructor has an emergency brake, but other than that the student is in control.  Allow your leaders to take the wheel, so-to-speak, but be there to assist if they really get into a jam.
  • Give it time: drivers need to practice parallel parking, much like leaders need practice providing feedback to their teams.
  • There will be tears: learning to drive and developing leadership skills are life-changing processes, both with their share of bumps along the way. Know that these will make you stronger.

Please lead, and drive, carefully.

Thanks for reading!


About the author: Matt’s first car was a 1977 Buick LaSabre.  Her name was “Bessie”.

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