Five Leadership Lessons Learned From Sitting in Traffic

I know you’ve sat stopped in traffic, and likely, you have even complained about sitting there. It happens. For some, it’s an every day occurrence, for others, it only happens occasionally. Either way, there are great leadership lessons to be learned – if you choose to look for them.

1. Recognize “the flow” of your team. Your team’s energy will ebb and flow just like traffic. Some days they are flying through the fast lane, while other days they are cruising in the middle. Then there are those occasional days everyone struggles like an 18-wheeler going uphill in the slow lane.

If they are in the slow lane and you have fast lane expectations, there is going to be frustration on your part. They will feel overhwhelmed, and soon you will all have to pull over to fix the flat tire. As a leader, if you recognize where your team is, both individually and collectively, you can purposefully meet them in their flow, and then lead them safely to the destination. Sometimes, you do need to slow down to go fast.

2. Perform preventative maintenance. If we don’t take care of our vehicles, there will come a day when we will find ourselves on the side of the freeway thumbing for a ride. The same is true about taking care of our team members (both at work and at home).

If you just expect things to run smoothly without putting in some effort, you may find yourself with a position to fill or scrambling to repair a relationship. It’s much harder to fix a relationship then repair a car.

3. Keep your tank full. If you’ve ever run out of gas in your car, you know what a hassle it is and how much it slows you down. When YOU run dry the results are much worse. It not only slows you down, you have nothing available to give to your team members.

The first person to do preventative maintenance on is you. Do things that fill up your tank with energy. For ideas check out this article on self-care (Leadership Tip #5: Self-Care Will Make You a Better Leader).

4. Check your gauges. When you’re stuck in traffic do you start to run a little hot? Do you wonder why people can’t learn to drive? If you are like me, you might even instruct them that the gas pedal is the one on the right. If your temperature starts to rise in the car, in a meeting or at home, ask yourself if the story you are telling yourself in that moment is benefitting you. If it’s not, write a new story that DOES benefit you.

The people involved in a collision didn’t get out of bed focused on ruining your day. Neither did the people in the meeting. When we change our perspective and look at the situation from another point of view, we can lower the tension quickly, and potentially, even enjoy the experience. As for me, now I laugh out loud when I catch myself having one of those “the gas pedal is on the right” conversations. Soon everything feels lighter, and I get back in the flow.

5. Take a different route. If I am headed to a particular destination, I will use traffic apps to help me find the quickest route. I like it when traffic is heavy on the freeway because then it will take me off on an adventure. I get to see new things and learn a different route for the next time.

If we always take the same road, we will rarely experience anything new. Change your drive and see what you notice. Change your meetings at work and see what new ideas are generated. Change your routine when you get home and see what kind of new memories you can create.

While you probably “knew” these leadership lessons, take stock of how many you are practicing each day. Leading is a choice. What are you willing to do today to be a better leader? There is a life and leadership lesson in every experience if you are willing to look for it.