During the 3.5 hour drive home after recent road trip focused on house hunting, I found myself at the wheel on a long two lane stretch of highway. Though the majority of traffic was heading toward the beach (the opposite direction as us), there were quite a few big trucks sharing the road. Traffic was fairly light, so cruise control was clearly an option. Unfortunately, the inability for many to understand that the left lane was a passing lane and not a riding lane made things a little more challenging than they needed to be. I had the cruise control set for speed limit +4 mph (as a well-trained son of a retired police officer often does), the radio set on my favorite Sirius channel, my son texting his friends in the back, and my bride analyzing our pending housing decision. As I moved into the left lane to pass the truck in front of me, I found myself on the bumper of a driver who was clearly committed to his speed in his lane. With nowhere to go, I was ‘boxed in.’

As I come to grips with the fact that I have entered the last two months of my current job, I am especially mindful of the speed I and many others are maintaining. At the same time, I feel a sense of responsibility to help the team reach certain waypoints before I exit this particular highway. In most cases, I am free to accelerate, coast, and brake as necessary to merge with traffic, push people along, and hold others back when necessary. However, there are many times when I find myself ‘boxed in.’ Don’t get me wrong, as I am not driving alone, rather as part of a growing convoy of leaders passionate about progress, changing the culture, and inspiring others to do their jobs and a little more.

Last week, there were two occasions that especially bothered me. In one instance I was coaching a senior behind the scenes, who was relatively new to our team, and he did not want to hear me. My point to him was that my observations of his efforts to date have made it clear to me that if his seniors had more visibility on his efforts, they would tell him he was moving too slowly, his creativity was lacking, and he was holding others back. Rather than listen to me, his junior, he seems alright with hearing it from his seniors. I don’t look forward to that “I told you so” moment and I won’t say it when that opportunity inevitably comes, but I do look forward to him realizing that he is boxing others in, leading his team down a less than optimal path, and not meeting the expectations many had when he was hired from the outside to help us ‘think differently.’

The other instance was a case of ‘it’s not my job’ that spread too far across my peer group. A simple question asked to the organization who provided a specific service for many years resulted in a virtual and collective shoulder shrug. The service in question was a product delivered every March each year for longer than the 23 years I have been in the Navy. When I asked the question as to the plan for this year (in May mind you), I was reminded that the individual who had been personally providing this service retired last year. Then each member pointed to another organization that they assumed would be doing (or not doing) it. Each was blindly maintaining course and speed within their respective lane, not concerned in the least with who was behind them, who was beside them, nor were they overly interested in joining a convoy (or getting others to join theirs).

I don’t need to be the pace car, nor do I particularly enjoy riding on the bumper of another, and I most certainly don’t like being ‘boxed in.’ But I do appreciate it when a teammate cares enough to give me the high beams so that I either pick up the pace or merge to the right, and I most certainly enjoy driving in formation with partners who know what is going on in each lane, have a shared destination programmed into their GPS, and are willing to re-route when traffic, construction, and accidents dictate.

As you look across the highway of life, consider the following:

  • Who is boxing you in?
  • Are you unintentionally boxing others in?
  • How big and who is in your convoy?