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.

Potholes and Roses

PotholeAt the risk to totally dating myself, Lynn Anderson once had a hit song with the lyric, “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.” That could be the anthem for many a leader. We come into organizations thinking that, once we get everything “in place”, there will be far more roses and sunshine that anything else. And then, reality sets in. Leaders are less important when the roses are in bloom. It’s when your organization hits the potholes that a leader’s skills really shine. Really!

Potholes — those unexpected jolts that are at times impossible to avoid — are a shock to the system. Your staff members look to the person whose hand is on the wheel (that would be you, the leader) to keep them on course and moving forward. How you deal with the potholes determines whether you and your staff will have the time and energy to plant roses, or if you will merely bounce from one jolting experience to another. The potholes are where leadership happens.

Max DePree says that a place of realized potential (that would be the roses) offers the gift of challenging work (Yep, potholes). It is the process — the at times painful, messy and uncertain tasks — of working through the tough stuff that makes you a better leader. I think we often have it backwards . . . assuming that one first has to be a great leader to get out of tough spots. Instead, it is the act of finding your way out of the potholes that allows you, in Max DePree’s words, to realize your potential. And that is where the roses are.

So what does that mean for you? Well, for starters, if you find yourself in the midst of a pothole, take heart. As long as you keep striving toward your mission, you are on the way to realizing your potential. (I know it doesn’t feel like it in the midst of the guck, but trust me on this one.) Also, quit expecting leadership to be easy, or to think you should “have all the answers.” Yes, over time, some things will become easier, but then the questions just get harder.

It is when you celebrate the leadership journey, working hard for a mission in which you truly believe, that the roses start to appear. And those roses are all the more beautiful because of the struggle you went through to find them. Down the road, there will be more potholes . . . which simply means you are continuing to move forward.

Lynn Anderson had it right. Leaders are not promised a rose garden. But the roses they do find, just on the other side of the potholes, are the sweetest roses of all.

The Mountain Path

Path In Mountains

Sooner or later in your leadership journey, you are going to run into some mountains. They might be in the form of government agencies, regulating bodies, or other large bureaucracies placed in your path. Regardless of the mountain’s form, your followers are going to look to you to see how to respond. Basically, you have three options.

 You can try to avoid the mountains all together. While this at first might seem like the best path, this tactic will certainly add days and miles to your journey, sometimes taking you so far off course that you lose sight of your original destination. The path may be easier, yes, but where is it going to take you?

 You can try to go through the mountain. You’ll have lots of company on this one. So many leaders have convinced themselves that if they just push hard enough, often enough, they will be able to break through to the other side. News flash … Mountains are designed to stand firm. So no matter how many times you bang your head against the mountain, or curse it, or try to chip away at it, the progress is going to be slow and measured in inches. If your ultimate goal is to move mountains, perhaps this is a noble effort and more power to you. Unfortunately, in far too many cases, leaders make the mountain the obstacle that keeps them from reaching their destination. It’s the mountain’s fault.

 The third option is to forge a path along the mountain. Sure it takes effort. The trail will likely have twists and turns that seem to make no sense. That’s the way with mountains. So are you going to try to change the mountain, or are you going to get to your destination on the other side? And believe it or not, there may even be people you thought were headed to the same destination as you who will stand at the base of the mountain and call you fool-hardy. Who will tell you to be reasonable and come back down to help them chip away at the mountain. Forge on. If you see a way to get to the other side, to your real goal, take it. There is more than one way to conquer a mountain. More often than not, what looks like the “logical” or most popular way may not make the most sense for you and your organization. So be a leader. Work with what the mountain gives you if that’s what will get you to the other side, to your ultimate destination.

 It’s up to you. Avoid the mountains, try to go through them, or travel along side them. Pick your path, and maybe I’ll see you on the other side.