Cruise Control

bigstock-Cruise Control.jpgFor those of you who spend a lot of time on the road, you know that cruise control is a great asset . . . sometimes. When you are driving long distances on a relatively flat stretch of road, you want to stay within clearly identified boundaries (i.e. speed limits), and you are willing to give up the control of having your foot on the gas pedal at all times, then the cruise control is an absolutely wonderful device. If, however, you are on very hilly terrain, making lots of starts and stops, or have widely fluctuating parameters, then using the cruise control is not such a good idea.

You also have to know when to use the cruise control on your leadership journey. For routine tasks — those long trips on flat ground with predictable conditions — by all means, put it on cruise. That may mean giving up a bit of control by delegating the job to someone (or something) else, or at the very least minimizing the time and energy you devote to the task. This can be hard for new leaders and perfectionists, and it’s certainly not required, but cruise control is one way a leader can lighten the load a bit.

At the other end of the spectrum is the leader who uses cruise control too much, and as an excuse for not paying attention. Have you ever been driving with the cruise on and suddenly realized you weren’t exactly sure where you were on the way to your destination or were caught off guard by something in front of you because you weren’t really focused on the road ahead? Your mind wandered a bit because, well, you had the cruise on . . .

For leaders, over-reliance on the cruise control may mean there is less attention to trends coming down the pike or the conditions of the road ahead. It can mean missing the landmarks that serve as guideposts to ensure you are still on the right path or feeling a bit invincible because the ride appears to be going so smoothly. Using the cruise control simply makes it easier to miss “the little things” that really aren’t so little in the long run.

The key is to know when to use the cruise, and when to manually manage the gas pedal. As with most of leadership, there are no hard and fast rules. It takes experience, individual judgment, and an awareness of the conditions around you to know if it is okay to cruise, or if you need to keep your foot on the gas. Cruise or control, manage or delegate . . . you’re in the driver’s seat. Lead on.

Taking the Long View

As of this week, my husband and I officially survived the teenage years when our youngest son turned 20. Making it through the teens (twice!) requires that a parent take the long view. The journey is sure to be scattered with a number of “are you kidding me?!?” days and weeks. For that reason, it is never wise to judge parenting skills by looking at a single day in time . . . parenting is all about the long view.

Hmmm . . . not really all that different from leading. Any time a leader tries to implement a major change initiative or new strategic effort, the process is likely to look a lot like an amplified version of the teenage years. For example . . .

Boundaries will be tested. I’m assuming I don’t need to explain all the ways a teen will do this, and it’s really not all that different with staff . . . You make decisions from where you are standing, which might be quite different from your staff/teen’s perspective. Yes, you may have at one time been exactly where they are, but your staff/teen is not likely to acknowledge that when you are setting a boundary that feels ridiculous to them. Some will follow out of respect; some will defiantly dance right up to the edge of, and occasionally over, the line; and others will smile sweetly while they quietly act like the line ever existed.

Your IQ will drop . . . some times considerably. You just don’t get it. You are being short-sighted. You are not being realistic. Sentiments such as these (and a host of other less kind versions) are usually a result running into the boundaries mentioned above. It is easier to question the leader/parent’s intelligence than to consider there might be a legitimate reason for the action that is in direct contrast with what the individual wants to do/knows how to do/thinks is right.

The goal is to feel in control. For a lot of people, change — even what may seem like minor change to you — makes them anxious and out of control. That feels bad. And so they find ways to take control over something, anything . . . the color of their hair, whether they share critical information with others, reverting back to a strategy that worked in the past . . . you get the picture.

The point here is not to make leading, or parenting, sound like a constant battle. It’s not. But it also rarely goes exactly according to plan, and if you expect it to you will be in a fairly constant state of frustration. What to do?

Take a deep breath. Cut yourself, and everyone else, some slack. Realize that there will be “are you kidding me?!?” days and weeks, but you can influence how quickly they pass. Find ways to acknowledge how your staff is feeling, and help them find their footing. Be a broken record in clearly communicating the end goal, and also be willing to take a slightly different path to get there. Make enough deposits along the way to be given the benefit of the doubt, even when your idea stretches people in uncomfortable ways.

Taking the long view may be difficult in our hurry-up/right now/instant gratification world, but trust me . . . the results are worth the wait.