CEOs are an extraordinarily self-sufficient lot. Smart, strongly opinioned and driven, possessed even, they’ve built success upon success and earned the corner office. Others turn to them for answers and they usually have them. They occupy the driver’s seat in the company bus, and we all look to them to pilot us to our chosen destination. In fact, we’ve boarded this bus because they’re promising a trip we’re excited to take.
That’s all well and good, but if you’re the CEO and you’re driving the bus, are you just going around the block? Are you taking this trip to a place you’ve been a hundred times? Probably not. You’re going some place new and different, a place you’ve never been before. Is the route all laid out comfortably, interstates all the way? Probably not. You’re going to go down a lot of back roads, maybe off road, four-wheel drive territory, bushwhacking through some jungle maybe. No GPS, no Siri whispering in your ear about this one.
Imagine Travis Kalanick in 2009 with the idea you could organize the world’s working class car owners to give other people rides during their off hours, simply by promising them easy money and giving them an app for their smartphone. Sounds simple only in retrospect.
You can’t take a trip to a new destination without wondering ‘how the hell am I going to get from here to there? ’You gotta get out the topographical maps, the ‘topos,’ don’t you?
True, some CEO jobs are to take us to the same destination we’ve always had, but get us there on time and make the trip more enjoyable. …’These past few road years have been awful. The scenery has been dreary, the bus broke down, we got lost and had to backtrack countless times, and you know, those kids in the back are starting to get on everyone’s nerves! A new driver who’s been there, done that? I’m down with that!’
Imagine the folks working at Blackberry hearing that proposition. (Well, they probably won’t believe it, but they’d want to!)
But let’s go back to that trip to a new destination and the wonder about it, that ‘how the hell am I going to …?’ Don’t you think your trip guide has that question somewhere inside that handsome head with the confident look on it? Don’t you hope that’s the case, at least before he or she revs up the engine and goes racing down the road? Absolutely.
If you’re the CEO, you answer this question just fine most of the time, but inevitably there are times where the answer is ‘I’m not sure.’ What do you do then? Do you turn around to everybody on the bus and share your wonder?
‘It’s time for sharing. Let’s start with Johnny the CEO.’
‘I’m wondering how the hell we’re going to get from here to there!’
‘Thank you for sharing Johnny. Now it’s your turn Susie …’
Not so much.
Yes, for sure you’ve got to wonder ‘how the hell am I going to …?’ – but you’ve also got to act. You can’t just sit there contemplating your navel. More than that, you’ve got to lead. Whatever it is you choose to do as leader, it will be judged by the acts of your followers.
But you can’t lead by wondering around unsure where to go, and you can’t just rev up the engine and fire down the track with no thought as to where you’re going.
A good coach is good with wonder. In fact, a good coach is a professional at wondering about this and that, figuring out the options, and driving to conclusion. You ought to be able to count on that from him or her.
Effective CEOs recognize that moment when they need to wonder a bit about what action to take, and they make sure they’ve got someone positioned to wonder with them.
Whatever image you have of your leadership role, there’s a coach who’s a usual part of it.
- Quarterback of the football team? Run the two-minute drill and know you’ve got halftime coming up to re-set the game plan with the offensive coordinator.
- Actor in a long-running play? Invite a fellow thespian to the next performance for some new ideas about how to keep it fresh.
Driver of the bus? Pull into a rest stop, tell everybody to take five, and huddle with ‘the guy who’s good with maps.’
Every team on a long journey to an uncertain destination needs someone who’s ‘good with maps’. If you don’t have one, better not get lost!
Comments? I’d like to hear your thoughts. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org