Leadership in a ‘Road Closed’ sign?

You might not expect the process of moving from one house to another to bring an epiphany about leadership, but that’s exactly what happened to me.

In 2013, we purchased a house that is right across the street from my old one. Logistically, it was a really interesting challenge. How much should we box up, or not box up? Should we even rent a moving truck? It is right across the street.

We decided to cart our belongings to our new house, but traffic concerned us. As a solution, we requested – and received – a permit from the city to close down a section of the street and reroute cars. On the day of the move, we put up two “road closed” signs, facing opposite directions. Further up the street, we placed detour signs to clarify the new/temporary route; I thought this would be enough to deter traffic. It wasn’t.

road closed

While we were moving, several cars drove around the signs. This happened many, many times.  As one vehicle slowly approached the “road closed” sign I stopped the car politely to talk with the people inside. I explained we’d blocked the road off for a few hours so we could move our stuff across the street. They nodded and the driver turned his car around to look for another route.

Then it occurred to me the only reason people weren’t paying attention to the traffic signs is because they didn’t understand why they were there. They didn’t see a gaping hole in the road or any construction workers, so they thought “there’s no apparent danger… no need to obey this sign.  I think I’ll just drive around it”.

As leaders, what can we learn from this experience?

Don’t jump straight to the execution without taking time to explain the big picture. Help the people you lead to feel connected to the reasons for the execution. Once the motorists I talked to understood what I was trying to do, they participated in the solution by finding an alternate route and helped us to move safely.

My move taught me three valuable lessons about leadership:

  1. Execution is essential, but even more important is gaining support from those around you. Even with my best efforts to think through the execution and logistics of my moving day, I didn’t have support from the local motorists. As a leader, you can’t make any strategic moves without the support of your employees.
  2. Explain the reasons behind your execution. Like the motorists who didn’t understand the reasons for my signs, employees won’t just blindly obey instructions.
  3. Create a personal connection. It only took me a second to personally reach out to one motorist, but when I did his willingness to help was almost immediate. We can’t get too busy in the tasks of daily work to miss out on important connections with those we lead.

Strong leadership is essential to make any organization run smoothly.

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