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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Vivek Vaidya

I, Vivek Vaidya, pledge to be a catalyst for creating a thought forum for bright, intelligent and thinking people. Around us, there are several things that are not the way they should be. If you know how they should be and want to share it with the world, this is... Read more

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