Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Drivers and Passengers and Other Leadership Lessons

I recently read a book called “Monday Morning Leadership, 8 Mentoring Sessions You Can’t Afford to Miss”, by David Cottrell.

It was written in 2002, so it’s not a new book, but I had somehow either missed it or don’t remember reading it (a phenomenon those of you under 30 won’t relate to).

It’s one of those easy reads, about 100 pages, which suits my blogger attention span.

It’s a true story about a new manager, Jeff Walters, who’s really struggling. He seeks out advice from a friend of his father, Tony Pearce, a successful entrepreneur and executive coach.

Tony agrees to meet with the Jeff for a series of 8 Monday morning mentoring sessions in order to help him become a better leader.

I really liked the lessons and examples. Here’s an excerpt from the first Monday lesson, about making the transition from individual contributor to leader, and the one I liked the best, called:

Drivers and Passengers
Tony recalls when Jeff was 16, the second day after he got his drivers license, he had an accident, and most of his soccer team was in the car with him. That’s a story that hit home with me.
Tony and Jeff’s father felt that the main reason for the accident was Jeff’s failure to understand the difference in responsibilities between being a driver and being a passenger.

“You see, passengers are free to do a lot of things the driver can’t do. As a driver, your focus needs to be on the road and not on the distractions. As a driver, you no longer have the right to ‘mess around’ – like listening to loud music – even though it seems OK to do that as a passenger.

The same principle applies when you become a leader. You’re no longer just a passenger; you become the driver. Even though your responsibilities increase when you become a manager, you lose some of the rights or freedoms you may have enjoyed in the past.

“For instance,” Tony continued, “if you want to be successful as a leader, you don’t have the right to join employee ‘pity parties’ and talk about upper management. You lose the right to blame others for a problem in your department when you are the manager and leader. You are the person responsible for everything that happens in your department, and that can be pretty hard to swallow.”

Being a leader means you give up being “one of the guys" (or gals).

I’ve seen so many new managers struggle with this transition, of going from “buddy to boss”. As a matter of fact, I’ve seen a lot of experienced managers who have never made the transition.

The “driver vs. passenger” example really drives (sorry) this leadership principle home.

Two of the other lessons I liked were “Escape from Management Land”, about the importance of not letting yourself become out of touch with your people, and “Enter the Learning Zone”, about the importance of reading, listening, and giving back.

Here’s something from the “Learning Zone” lesson to think about:

-Most people don’t read one non-fiction book in a year.
-If you decided to read one book on leadership or management in a month, that would amount to about a half chapter per day, which would take you about 10 minutes.
-During the next year you’d have read 12 books.
-Do you think you’d know more about management and leadership if you read 12 books a year on the subject? When the next job opening at a higher position in your company comes up, would you be better prepared to assume that role?
-In 15 years, you could read 180 books just by reading half a chapter per day.

I’m wondering if an updated version of the lesson would include reading blogs about management or leadership? How about one blog post per day?


Coyote said...

Four of my friends and I joined the Army when we were 18 on the delayed enlistment program allowing us to complete our first year of college before going in. The delay was about two months which meant we had that much "seniority" over our fellow recruits, the chief benefit being we were automatically promoted to PFC two months ahead of everyone else.

It didn't go well. While they gave us the stripe and told us what we must then do, that did not prepare us to lead; a lesson I recalled every time I promoted someone else in my business life.

Along with the benefits of promotion come responsibility and if you accept the former you need to take the latter as well.

Dan McCarthy said...

Bill -
Great story and lesson!

Becky said...

I love the comments that you give concerning the rights managers no longer have after taking on higher positions. My sister just was just recently promoted into a management position with her company. I suggested she read, "The Expert's Edge," by Ken Lizotte to perfect her leadership skills. I am going to suggest that she also read, "Monday Morning Leadership."

Dan McCarthy said...

Becky -
Thanks, I'll take a look at that one.

Anonymous said...

Personally I believe it's possible to maintain a relationship which makes you both a boss and a buddy. Actually most, if not all, of my teams were built on that approach.

My friend (and subordinate at that time) once told me it's all about knowing when it's time to be a friend and when it's time to be a boss. It's a balancing act. Keeping your example - if you drive a car filled with your buddies you don't act as a hired driver. You're a part of the group too. As far as you driver duties allow you to participate in whatever is happening in the car I don't see any problem to join it.

And one word about "pity parties" - one of roles of a manager is to advocate upper management in front of the team. Most of the time manager should defend their bosess. As far as that's ethical of course.

Dan McCarthy said...

Pawel -
I respect your opinion, and I know others who feel the same way. I've also seen it cause problems, some of the the manager may not be aware of (blind spots). But it's a trade-off, right?

Anonymous said...


I don't consider it as a trade-off. I agree that's a narrow path to follow. It's way harder to deliver negative feedback to your friend than to yet another subordinate. It's way harder to keep good personal relationship after tough days at work when you had to use you managerial power to force some unpopular decision.

On the other hand trying to follow that way helps a manager to keep fair level transparency since you'd tell more to you friend than to anonymoyus team-member anyway. It also brings much more satisfaction (at least for me) to manage a team with that approach.

Sure, it takes a specific character to be that kind of manager and you should be aware of blind spots, but that's true for every other way of management too. Personally I couldn't be a sergeant-like manager (I'd be sick in a week) and there are environments where it works fine.