Monday, April 29, 2013

Leadership Lesson from a Navigation System

I was returning from an unusually bad day at office. Till this morning I thought, I had everything worked out. The goals were attainable. I had worked every minute aspect of execution plan and I was with my team leading the mission from front. Every deviation was noticed, relevant team members were involved and corrective actions were taken. Then why did this happen?

I was lost deep in my thoughts as I got behind the steering wheel. I had to go one of acquaintance's home for dinner. I didn't know the way so just entered their address in navigation system and went back to my train of thoughts. I was quite happy with the progress so far on the project. We were well on track and ahead of schedule. Today, we delivered a milestone and received positive feedback from the client. Today was supposed to be a team lunch to celebrate a milestone but it turned out to be a grievance sharing meeting. My team felt directionless. They felt everything around was uncertain and I was virtually sitting in a command room and asking them to do certain tasks with no lead time. They failed to see the big picture. Although, I assured them that we were on right course, they were not sure. I failed to empathize with them. Why would you think directionless when you are perfectly on course!

I didn't know the answer as I kept driving. The navigation system was doing its job and asking me to take turns, exits, keep lane and I was just following the orders. As I switched off from my thoughts and started concentrating on the driving, the first thing I noticed was I didn't know where I was headed. I didn't know how from my current location, I would arrive at my destination. I didn't know what the navigation system would order next. And suddenly, I started empathizing with my team. May be navigation system had it all worked out but I didn't know, so I was feeling the same directionlessness when probably I was on right course.

I decided to pull over and take a closer look at the navigation map. I took an overview, looked at my current position and final destination. Looked at which direction I was generally headed and started driving again. It worked like a magic! Now I could anticipate what the next turn might be. I still needed the navigation system commands to stay on course but since I knew the big picture I could understand and appreciate what was happening. The directionlessness had vanished and I was quite sure where I was headed.

Needless to say, I spent next few days showing the big picture to my team and help them anticipate what direction they may have to take. I was still in the command room but now my orders were well understood and well received.

Unless, your team knows and has a buy-in in the big picture they will feel directionless irrespective of where you are headed. Knowing the big picture does not eliminate the need for having a navigation system. It is still required to work out the nitty-gritties, warn us about speed traps and slow moving traffic to enable course correction. But knowing big picture makes the driving experience so much more predictable. This was a great leadership lesson from an inanimate object.

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