Your Driving Habits Offer Clues
A version of this article was first published in June 2012, was reposted five years ago due to its popularity and has been updated as I head to Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland on a two-week speaking tour where I will concentrate on driving on the proper side of the road.
People all over the world are hitting the road.
In the U.S., auto club AAA estimates America’s Memorial Day weekend recorded the second-highest number of travelers since 2005, and the most travelling by car—more than 37.6 million people—ever.
I travel a lot and I drive a lot. I’ve spoken on five continents, and I believe the way people drive speaks volumes about their leadership and communication style.
Common Courtesy is Uncommon
Maybe I’m more of a curmudgeon or perhaps I’m paying closer attention.
People are becoming less courteous drivers.
One clue: drivers are using their turn indicators less than ever. Turn indicators might as well be options on the cars of some drivers.
Has this happened to you? You’re stopped in a turn lane waiting for an oncoming car to pass only to have the car turn without signaling. Gee, you think, I could’ve made my turn if I’d known the person in the other car was going to slow down and turn.
Offenders cross every demographic. A person driving a Mercedes is just as likely to not signal as a driver in a truck. According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, one in four drivers fails to use a signal when turning.
It’s even worse for younger drivers. Drivers 18 to 24 say they don’t use their turn indicators. Perhaps doing so interferes with talking and texting while driving.
From where I sit, it’s not just a safety issue or a matter of courtesy. It’s also a leadership and communication issue.
What’s Your Story?
Because I provide executive coaching and leadership development, I think about how behaviors in one area of a person’s life (driving a car, for instance) might show up in another place (like leading a team at work).
So I believe blinkers tell a story about a person. How a person uses—or doesn’t use—the turn indicators on their car may provide insight into how that person behaves in their place of work. Here are a few scenarios:
- Always uses a blinker – This driver is probably a pretty good leader and communicator at work. The driver is aware that he or she is not the only one on the road. At work, the leader may be in the driver’s seat, but he or she is aware of the significance of those around them.
- Uses a blinker only when the driver wants help from other drivers – On the road, it’s all about them. I usually don’t use my blinker, but right now I want you to know that I need to get into that lane ahead of you. And if you don’t let me in, I’m going to force my way in anyway. At work, this person may show up as a bully or an inconsistent leader and communicator who generally keeps people in the dark except when he needs something. Courtesy is not part of his DNA—it’s just a technique to be exploited.
- Uses a blinker when the move is already apparent – This person crosses one or two lanes of traffic, comes to a stop at the traffic light and then signals. Yeah, we already figured out you’re going to turn. At work, this person adds little new information to any discussion or initiative, and may chime in with a blinding glimpse of the obvious.
- Keeps the blinker on even when not turning – Well-intentioned but not aware. This behavior, however, keeps people on their toes…at least for a while. At work, they’re either uncertain or out of touch when it comes to leadership and communication.
- Never uses a blinker – Are they oblivious or rude? They don’t know and they don’t care. At work, their individual skill will take them only so far. It’s hard to follow someone who doesn’t communicate where they’re going. This individual struggles with leadership and communication in the office.
Accountability is a hot topic for the leaders I work with, and leadership and communication plays a huge role in driving accountability.
In my book—Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture (McGraw-Hill)—my research of more than 6,000 executives worldwide indicated a whopping 69% say they can do a better job when it comes to leading and communicating.
Clarity Creates Confidence
A leader who fails to communicate expectations has him or herself to blame for lack of accountability.
Clarity creates confidence. Ambiguity and confusion cause chaos.
So while few solutions are ever as simple as one, two, three, consider these steps for driving accountability in your organization:
- Be clear about what you want…and what you don’t want. As crucial as it is to know what you want for yourself, your team and your organization, be just as clear about what you don’t want. You can waste lots of time chasing shiny objects that are off strategy or that are not priorities.
- Tell a story. Most people prefer an engaging story to a stack of statistics. Help your team understand the purpose behind the plan, the definition of success, the role each plays and why it matters to them. Give your team something to aspire to achieve.
- Use different forms of communication. Some people need to see information, some need to hear it, some need to experience it. Some want just the facts, others may need information dished up with humor. Vary the style of leadership and communication, but not the substance.
- Repeat often. Just because you say something once doesn’t mean people heard you. Tell your story again and again. And again. And be consistent. Just when you’re sick of saying something is about the time your team is starting to get it.
- Track progress. Winners love to be measured. Losers don’t. Tracking performance is another form of leadership and communication, and it’s a scorecard that empowers—not punishes—people.
- Be authentic. When you lead and communicate, find the style that fits you. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. People see through fakes. “Be yourself,” said Oscar Wilde. “Everyone else is already taken.”
- Celebrate victories. Whether they’re small or large successes, communicate milestones, applaud individual and team accomplishments and bask—at least for a little bit—in the fulfillment of a job well done.
Container Store founder Kip Tindell says, “Communication and leadership are the same thing.”
What story does your blinker tell?
How can you improve upon your leadership and communication skills?
How are you doing at driving accountability in your organization?