Leadership Lessons from Drivers

red light runnerNebraska is the 7th state from which I have had a driver’s license. Each place has had different driving styles: Seattle (highly caffeinated), Tennessee (rural), Los Angeles (aggressive), Chicago (competitive).

It took some time for me to acclimate to the Omaha driving habits. Many times my wife would remark on some driving maneuver by saying, “Mark, you are not in California any more. You don’t need to drive like that.” I like to think of myself now as a thoroughly seasoned Nebraska driver, but there are still several things about Omaha driving styles that irritate me. I would like to offer three of these that I think could give us lessons for leadership. What can we learn about church leadership from analyzing poor driving practices?

First, you don’t need to slow to a near stop to make a turn. Many times I have been in a lane that inexplicably slowed to 5 mph. Why? Often this is explained by a person who apparently believes his or her car cannot execute a right hand turn into a parking lot or side street without nearly stopping. Maybe they have a full coffee mug on the dashboard?

Leadership is never a straight road into infinity. It requires course corrections, turns. But organizations are like living organisms. They cannot stop, paralyzed, while leaders figure out new strategies. Momentum lost is difficult to regain, so it is better to slow a little, execute the turn, then step on the gas. Don’t be oblivious to a whole lane full of cars/followers behind you who are bewildered by your inaction.

Second, if someone wants into your lane, let them in. The biggest single difference between Omaha and Los Angeles drivers is the difficulty of changing lanes on a crowed freeway. In LA, even under very crowded situations, if you signal, other drivers make space for you to join their lane. In Omaha, more often than not, a signal causes a car in the other lane to speed up and block you for some reason I do not understand.

As leaders, we often block others who want to come into our lane, especially if they want to be in front of us. Why? Shouldn’t we want them to join us? Are we threatened by other leaders on our turf? Church leaders, when others want to join you, let then in!

Third, running red lights causes accidents. There is an intersection about 2 miles from my house that is one of the busiest in the Omaha metro. About once a month there is an accident there caused by someone speeding up to get through a light that has already turned red. Some of these accidents have caused fatalities. I know I have gone through yellow lights (maybe even orange) and observed one, two, even three cars follow me on what is obviously a red for them. Many times I have stopped for a yellow light and been honked at by the car behind me. I have seen several letters to the editor of the Omaha newspaper commenting on the seriousness of this common but dangerous practice, but there seems to be no effort to enforce the law in this area.

Leaders, sometimes we need to stop for red lights. We need to recognize when our chosen course is ineffective or putting our church in peril. I know this seems to go against my first point, but this is not just a course correction. Sometimes leaders need to leave a toxic situation. Sometimes staff members need to be fired. Sometimes programs need to be discontinued. And in most of these case, the red light is pretty obvious.

You learn a lot about people by observing how they drive. Let’s be excellent drivers and excellent leaders!

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College