03 December 2009

The Snowy Trip

It was a cold and wintery morning when I was headed home from school. The semester had just ended and I was excited to be done. That morning I had woken up twice, once to take a roommate to the bus stop so he could fly home and the second time was my time to go home. Between the two waking up times several inches had fallen, but we headed out anyway. The going was slow and one of the mountain passes was closed for an hour, but we got out of the mountains safely. The storm we had been driving in front of finally caught up to us as night set in.

The winds were blowing hard and the snow was pouring down and the trucks were going very slow. During the trip I was stuck behind three trucks in a row (caravan style). I was tired and it was getting late. I decided that I could pass the trucks and go at least a little bit faster than the trucks so I made the daring move into the left lane. The car was immediately hit by a blast of wind and snow. I couldn’t see anything and had to slow down more than I was already going. Not being able to pass the trucks I moved back into right lane, behind the trucks. Not wanting to go so slow I again tried to pass the trucks and was again met with a blast of snow and wind and again retreated behind the trucks. I then realized that the trucks were blocking me from the harsh winds and snow. Because of this shielding I couldn’t see, didn’t see, the true intensity of the storm.

This experience has been played out many time, not on the road but in relation to our leaders. Let me illustrate:

I have a friend who was recently promoted to be the manager of her department, replacing her previous boss. Before she got the new position she and I had talked about the slowness of progress that her managers made. After she got the new position we talked about how hard it was to lead the department in excellence. To fit with the story, she had been stuck behind the trucks and was waiting for an opportunity to pass them. She finally got her chance and realized that it was hard to lead in the face of the storm. Now her subordinates have a similar frustration that she had with the slowness of progress. (To prevent insubordination she shares with her subordinates the constraints of the process and allows them to try to pass up the organization and thus help bring innovation and change. This allows frustrated people to try their ideas; if they succeed then the organization becomes more efficient, if they fail then at least they better understand the difficulty of weathering the storm.)

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