365 Grateful: Traffic and Leadership

Traffic jamHere I am, traveling home on a Sunday afternoon from Washington DC. The almighty Google is propelling me toward the Beltway. It’s not my favorite place to drive but it’s between me and home, so here I go.

It’s a little uncharacteristic for a Sunday afternoon heading OUT of the city for it to be such stop-and-go, rush-hourish traffic on all four (or is it five?) lanes. Flashing lights clue me in to the wreck up ahead.

Sigh. I will have plenty of time to ponder, and I have plenty of things to ponder, so I allow my brain to begin pondering leadership. See, I just gave up my weekend to voluntarily attend an absolutely refreshing and enlightening three days of learning about leadership like I’ve never learned before. It was fun. And now my mind is wanting to make sense of it all.

Co-Active Leadership approaches its topic from five types or dimensions of leadership. It’s not enough to conquer one dimension or style. True leaders conquer all five. When they do, there’s an awfully graceful dance among and between and with those dimensions. When we move from one to another, it’s fluid and natural. It’s easy. And it’s a powerhouse for leadership.

Stuck in traffic, my mind begins to draw parallels. How about that? I can see the five dimensions in the traffic around me – this dance of traffic.

There! I was called upon to give way to support the drivers in front of me who must merge into my lane because they have nowhere else to go – the road is exceptionally congested and the five lanes are rapidly becoming four, then three. I can choose to stick my nose to the bumper of the car in front so no one can merge in, but I can also choose to be supportive in their journey of frustration. That is the dimension of the Leader Behind. It’s the servant leader, the “coach” who supports and helps another accomplish goals, nicely illustrated.

We inch along and I must now take charge and lead a group of cars behind me because our lane ahead has stopped but there are openings. I lead and they follow, almost as if I’m looking back, beckoning to them: I see the path! I have the vision! Follow me!  And my mind rejoices: it’s a perfect illustration of the Leader in Front, probably the most recognizable dimension of leadership but unlike what most think. It’s not the tired top-down hierarchy. The Leader in Front is the one with clear vision and a from-the-heart charisma that enroll others and leads them forward, all together.

Because I’m pondering, you know, I’m operating on a slower wavelength, a little introspective. Right now I’m wondering what has happened up ahead, and looking for the patterns in this moment that will show me the next lane change, which leads into a brief flirt about wondering what the universe is trying to tell me right now, while … aha! There’s a quick break in traffic. I take it and move a little further along in my journey of roadway leadership. That’s a bit like a Leader in the Field who’s out there attentive to what’s in the air around her, catching hunches and parsing patterns and then being willing to creatively blurt out ideas that may or may not catch fire.

The Leader Beside flirts in when the car next to me, the one next to him, and I stop in tandem to allow some poor, harried driver to merge over three lanes so she can exit. The three of us became lane holders as if from some unspoken connection and partnership, holding the same intention and vision. We are leaders beside one another, we flow and think in unity, and we stopped as one to allow her an escape route. This one is a marvelous and beautiful dance and a true example of co-activity in action.

Finally, there’s just me in my car with my thoughts, thinking about this very topic – traffic – in connection to what I learned this weekend – leadership – and puzzling out how it all fits together within me and my world. What’s it saying to me about how I might be better able to lead in each of these dimensions? How can I blend my values and vision and actions to become the Leader Within – creative, resourceful, and whole. It’s the dimension of authenticity, of knowing and trusting yourself so well you blend it all together all the time; you don’t turn it on or turn it off. It’s something I call the WYSIWYG factor: What You See Is What You Get.

Voila! The clouds have parted and there is suddenly no congestion, no more bumper to bumper. It’s a bit of a miracle how traffic can do that. Today, I think it’s a also a leadership dance, practice for each of the five dimensions of leadership. On my way home from the Co-Active Leadership workshop, I have danced among these five dimensions in the space of the past 15 minutes – three l-o-o-o-o-ong miles.

Rather awesome of the universe to give me traffic – a frustrating situation to be sure – to help me synthesize my learning. I’m oddly grateful for it.

If this topic intrigues you, here’s a link:

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