Like many of you, I spend a lot of time in my car. Sometimes I drive alone and sometimes with a full car, but there is rarely a time when I am just along for the ride. There are times when my wife offers to drive, and there are times when I need to rest. But the truth is, I’d rather be driving. It’s not that I am a great driver, but things just feel right and I find that I even see better with a steering wheel in my hand. I remember purchasing my Honda Odyssey a few years back (and, yes, I love my mini-van). It took me a while to get used to the new console, understand the dashboard, and get the seat broken in just right. But once I did, I was ready to do some proactive driving. And for those unfamiliar with the term, a proactive driver is one who stays alert while driving by actively, watching the ever-changing environment around the vehicle, then acts accordingly.
An organization is like a car. It can go forward, reverse, left, right, and even stall out. And, the leader of the organization is in the driver’s seat. If he or she is a proactive driver, you’ll see them respond to the environment around them by dynamically hitting the accelerator or applying the brakes as necessary. Clearly, an organization is not nearly as responsive as a car, and the bigger it is, the longer it takes to respond. But make no mistake, it is the leader’s responsibility to drive the organization.
I just recently reached the magical 100-day point leading my current team. Though I firmly believe I am in the ultimate driver’s seat, I freely acknowledge that I have some amazing co-pilots, a strong team of navigators, and an amazing group of mechanics who keep the whole thing running. I spent a good portion of the first 100 days playing with the instrument panel, adjusting the seats, and getting to know my way around the proverbial vehicle. I also spent a fair amount of time evaluating the course that was pre-programmed into the GPS by the leader who proceeded me, identifying the obstacles that were in our path, and assessing the team committed to making “amazing” happen. But, that 100 days has come and gone. It’s time for proactive driving!
Though there was a time when it was an implied task for all Commanders to provide their leadership with a Commander’s Assessment after an initial period on the scene, evidently it is no longer commonplace. Being a person who firmly believes that a leader has a responsibility to proactively drive the organization, help identify/remove barriers to progress, and create opportunities for those under his charge, I was incapable of ignoring what I still believe is an implied task. What was once the norm may have evolved into the exception, but it doesn’t make it acceptable. So, on Day #98, I submitted my 100 Day Assessment (note: Day 100 was a Sunday and my leaders have made it abundantly clear that early is authorized). I shared my assessment for three reasons:
- Provide my seniors, peers, and subordinates with an assessment based on personal observations and shared conversations with teammates from many vantage points.
- Clarify across and beyond the team exactly what we are doing internally and where we need help externally
- Turn in my “New Guy Card”
In essence, I did it because a leader can’t drive the organization if he doesn’t know where we are, have an informed vision for where we are going, and openly identify where external organizations can help the team to reach our destination. Besides, a leader has a responsibility to communicate in such a way that makes it clear that he is actually driving and not asleep at the wheel. The biggest lesson I learned since sharing the assessment was how exceptional people thought it was. That is not to say that it was exceptionally good, for it was far from perfect. People viewed it as exceptional because no one else has recently done it (though admittedly two of my mentors did the same while in Command). It is far too clear that many leaders are merely sitting in the driver’s seat, not proactively driving. There is very little steering wheel movement and the cruise control is set, while they do little more than respond to the directions coming from the GPS. Too many of us are overly mired in the now, fighting with our inbox, and concerned more with surviving in favor of thriving. Too few of us are looking over-the-horizon and actively driving our team. Don’t get me wrong, there is so much more to being a proactive driver than sharing a 100 Day Assessment, though it is a responsible start. Proactive drivers are leaders. Proactive drivers are visibly engaged. Proactive drivers are deliberately charting a course. And yes, proactive drivers are creating a meaningful wake. Let’s Drive!
- Are you proactively driving your team?
- Are you asking your seniors to help remove barriers on your team’s behalf?
- Are you inspiring your team to create their own luck?