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Every day I get into my car, a leader. I get out my iPhone, attach it to the hands-free gadget on my air vent, pull up GPS through my Waze app and tell it where I want to go. This simple act I do on a daily basis is essentially a perfect act of leadership: I have clearly communicated a destination and delegated the details of how we get there to my—ahem—assistant, and off we go.
Since I’m no longer thinking about how to get to my next meeting, I have time for some deep thoughts. Sometimes, I admit, my thoughts go to how much I want to stop at Starbucks or whether or not I turned off the flat iron, but today as I drove through (or rather sat in) Atlanta traffic, I realized Waze had a few lessons to teach me about leadership.
1. Set the destination, then allow others to take a leadership role.
Once I tell Waze where I want to go, I become the follower. I essentially abdicate my role as leader and allow Waze to take over and do the leading. In other words, as a leader, I’ve defined our goal (get us to the destination of the next meeting) and the tools we have to get it done (the car and a driver). From there, Waze (who we’ll now affectionately call Wazey) can use the skills and talents I hired her for to get us there.
In the real world, it may not be that simple, but the idea of clearly communicating your desired destination for your project or your organization to your team is a seemingly obvious first step that often gets skipped when we develop things like mission statements and company values credos.
Imagine if I told Wazey I wanted to get to our destination by skipping highways and tolls while still being as efficient as possible, but neglected to provide the destination. The result is clear: We’d just sit there.
So ask yourself this: Is your organization spinning its wheels without truly moving forward?
2. Hire people who are smarter than you, then trust them to do the job.
How many times has your GPS set a route for you that you chose to ignore. And of the times you chose to ignore your GPS, how many times did you actually get there faster? Not often if your experience is like mine. I admit, I often think I know better than Wazey, so I choose to go left when she says right. And once and awhile, my way and hers are only off by a minute or so. But more often than not, when I take the reigns back from Wazey, I end up trailing traffic caused by a three-car pileup or the baseball game I forgot about.
Alas, Wazey is very forgiving when I do these things and does her best to roll with my changes and get us to our next destination despite my interruptions. Your actual employees probably aren’t as easy to override. Wazey doesn’t have feelings (yet), and she also doesn’t have the ability to look for another job where she might feel more valued and where she can truly contribute.
Of course it is important for a leader to be able to course correct, but that can be done without taking over and making unilateral decisions. Consider asking questions so you understand why your staff has chosen the path they’ve chosen. If a course correction is needed, asking more questions will allow the team to see it for themselves without needing you to take over.
I have found through my own career, which is centered around talking, that the most important thing I can do in my work and life is listen. And my relationship with Wazey underlines that truth: I can give Wazey all of the critical instructions and tools to get her to our destination, but if I don’t listen to her, we will never get there.
Have you ever set your GPS, started to drive and then realized you’ve tuned out and missed a turn?
Leadership, like communication, is a two-way street. If all you do is talk, you will surely miss the highway onramp to success that your team is trying to tell you about. And even worse, you may miss the caution and stop signs that will help your business avert disaster.
I know what you’re thinking: “I listen. I know what my people think and what they need.” But do you really? It is possible to accidentally set Wazey to “mute” with a couple accidental taps on the screen. You think you’re hearing all she has to say, but she’s holding back. Be sure you haven’t muted your team on the important issues by making them feel they can’t trust your response or by ignoring their warning cries so many times that they’ve stopped communicating with you.
One Last Thing
The key to being successful in all three of the lessons above is to be self-aware as a leader—to know that you cannot become a better leader if you think you’ve got nothing else to learn. To lead your team, you must first lead yourself by looking inward and asking yourself difficult questions, and by looking outward for leadership lessons wherever you may find them. Reflect on who you are to your team and take feedback and knowledge anywhere you can get it—even if it’s from the simplest things like Wazey.