Good Driver, Bad Passenger?

Do you consider yourself a confident driver, but not reckless? Skilled at night, and smart in treacherous weather conditions? Yet you squirm when you’re not behind the wheel, right? Good driver, bad passenger.

So what does that say about you? About your leadership style?

Need to lead?

Are your driving habits one more sign of how you conduct other areas of your life? Your leadership style, perhaps a preference for control, or something more complex?

I know what I do well (yes, I’m an excellent driver), and I also know when to say “enough” and look for a hand. The same is true in getting from Point A to Point B. That means if I need to turn over the wheel, I’m willing to do so. Professionally that translates to both comfort taking charge, and participating on a team. It’s logical; I’m experienced in both roles, and not bound to a preference.

Now tell me – do you believe that statement?

Nature, nurture, gender, or generation?

Let me be precise: I’m not bound to a preference, as long as what needs to get done is done, and well. (No small qualification.)

So what do you think – does that make me easy to work with, or difficult? Easy to live with, or not so much? Am I a good passenger, going with the flow, even with high standards for anything I undertake? I admit to being a stickler for quality, and that’s been the hallmark of my personal life, my writing life, my corporate life, and my parenting life. Not perfection, but the highest quality possible, given the context.

  • If I’m along for the ride, I perform tasks to the best of my ability, as a team player.
  • When I take on an official leadership role, I step up, and surround myself with the best possible resources.
  • I am comfortable in some leadership roles, and less so in others based on situation and experience.
  • If it’s unofficial leadership, I cultivate the confidence of those around me, and if possible, consensus. And yes, I am attentive to feelings.

Alright. I’ll fess up. I am demanding when it comes to what I deem important. Able to let other things go? The laundry, the dishes, almost anything domestic – no problem. Still, I think about my driving style, and my approach to work, especially when taking the lead is required in an organization. And I wonder. Is my desire for a smooth group dynamic generational, a matter of personality, or influenced by gender?

Do men and women own their leadership differently? Do we acquire it differently – men assuming it, and women easing into it?

My way or the highway: control

What about you? Are you all about taking the wheel? Are you convinced you’re better off if you’re in charge?

In a relationship, there is generally a more dominant partner, along with division of labor that depends on a large dose of practicality.

Temperament, personality, skills, scheduling, and cultural expectations all play a part.

Are struggles for control a factor in your relationships? Fodder for recurring discord? Are you a good driver but a bad passenger, refusing to relinquish the wheel when it might make for a smoother journey? Or are you too often the passenger, longing to slip into the driver’s seat and open it up on the highway?

Teenage drivers

Teaching my teenage sons to drive has been nerve-wracking (of course), but also fascinating. The elder took to it immediately, with the confidence he exhibited in most things. His instincts were excellent. He’s a natural leader, and dislikes being a passenger. His driving style mirrors his take charge approach to most things.

As for my younger son? He’s a superb individual contributor or team player, and he has no issue with the passenger seat. At least, not yet.

Can I draw dramatic conclusions here? Probably not, yet even as we teach our teens to drive, we’re nonetheless observing (and shaping) a breadth of skills that aren’t specifically about driving, but are about getting somewhere.

Yielding the wheel

I admit, my relative comfort as a passenger has a great deal to do with who’s driving, road conditions, distance to travel, and the vehicle. When I’m doing the driving, I’m not at ease in a big car; I am tiny in stature, and prefer a compact and a stick. All practical considerations, and a metaphor for leadership, relationship, and parenting style – as well as the need to be flexible in each.

None of this means I won’t rise to an occasion on the job or elsewhere. We all stretch to accomplish new goals and fill roles we may not anticipate. Isn’t that precisely what the journey is about?

  • Do you know when taking the wheel is the right thing to do?
  • Are your relationships fluid enough to shift from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat?
  • Are you nimble in responding to the need for change?
  • Do you bring your work demeanor into your home life, for better or worse?

There are no absolutes when it comes to taking charge, and that’s my point. With the hectic pace of our daily lives, we don’t realize how we may stifle or develop leadership skills and situational judgment in ourselves, or for that matter, our children. That doesn’t mean we can’t nudge our capacities in new directions, at home or at the office – recognizing change, learning to yield the wheel, or when to step up, speak out, and take it. With confidence.