Most of us can agree that there is nothing worse on a road trip than an annoying back seat driver who doesn’t know when to shut up and gives you dodgy directions because they are clueless about where the road ahead leads! You know the type… they bark instructions in your ear like “turn left here” as their hand swings in front of your line of sight only to point right! Your trust in them is low and frustration levels are high because they don’t know where they are going yet they seem insistent on telling you where to go!
On the flip side who doesn’t love the comfort of having an exceptional navigator in the back seat on a road trip… they know where they are going or at least know how to read a map and give out clear, accurate and timely directions. Great navigators make your journey less painful and more enjoyable!
Leadership is just the same… Sometime ago I met a CEO who really believed in empowering his staff… He wanted to get out if the way so they could step up and take more ownership… so that they could essentially ‘drive the bus.’ Whilst his intentions were good his strategy was floored… Because he got out of the way and took the back seat way to soon. They had not seen him driving long enough so they didn’t believe he knew the way.
To his senior management team he was coming across as a noisy back seat driver. They had not seen him in the driver’s seat with a clear direction; they didn’t feel that he had demonstrated strong and inspired leadership. This leads to low levels of trust and high levels of frustration from both sides.
Ultimately because they didn’t trust that his directive was accurate they either ignored it or took it begrudgingly with intention to fail and say “I told you so!” What they needed to see was his leadership in action for an extended period of time; they wanted to see him drive the bus before he slipped into the back seat. It’s called leading by example first.
Great leaders must indeed step out of the way and empower their staff to step up, however if they fail to spend time gaining trust and leading by example before taking a back seat they may do much more damage than good.
If you are in a senior leadership role and you want to get out of the way to empower your staff check in with yourself and ask these 3 questions:
1. Have I gone first and shown the way?
2. Do I know the difference between navigation and back seat driving?
3. Have I given them everything they need to understand where I want them to go?
It’s always better to be a leader who empowers people through exceptional navigation rather than noisy back seat driving.