By Michael Holland

I was tired.  It was late in the afternoon.  The sound and feel of my car running over the rumble strips on the side of the road jerked me completely awake and focused.  I immediately guided my car back into the lane.  My reaction could’ve been a casual drift back into the lane or an over zealous jerk on the wheel that sent my car careening across the road into oncoming traffic or into the guard rail.

For leaders, there are guard rails that reveal the accepted or desired leadership behaviors.  Ultimately those guard rails provide the direct and dramatic feedback regarding the acceptable limits of leadership behavior.  Rumble strips provide the warning that impending dramatic feedback is coming unless the course is corrected.

Now you might think I would recommend that leaders should never be on the rumble strips.  But that’s not the case.  The rumble strips in your life as a leader can be very helpful as they inform you of the edges of leadership behavior that are acceptable just before they are dysfunctional or negatively impactful. The rumble strips help leaders to be aware that they are heading towards a guard rail.  They warn the leader to wake up, concentrate, be aware that continuing to drift at this trajectory will mean hitting the guard rail.

Leaders who hold the wheel so tight driving in the very center of their lane never learn how wide a path they do have for leading well.   The leadership lane is actually quite wide.  But if you only stay directly in the middle without ever finding and feeling the edges with the rumble strips, you’ll miss out on the vastness of your leadership potential.  And you’ll miss out on the opportunities to stretch your leadership behaviors and the gain in “feel” for situations and the latitude that exists.

Wise, experienced leaders know the guard rails of accepted leadership behavior.  They’ve learned them through solid management training and character building leadership opportunities over time.  They’ve leveraged the rumble strips and at times have hit guard rails that left deep learnings.  They’d agree that it’s much better to get the feedback from a rumble strip than from the guard rail.

What are some of the rumble strips you have on your leadership highway?

  • Maybe it’s that employee who’ve you provided the encouragement to give you the look or the comment or the text message about your leadership behavior.
  • Maybe it’s a boss who coaches you up throughout the week
  • Maybe it’s the 360-degree feedback survey you requested
  • Maybe it’s the tension that you feel during a conversation or meeting and have taught yourself to listen for
  • Maybe it’s the one-on-one meetings you diligently have with your employees
  • Maybe it’s that tattered copy of your Everything DiSC map that you keep visible next to your door so you have to see it every time you walk out
  • Maybe it’s the bi-weekly peer coaching meeting you and 3 peers set up to talk through leadership stuff

Leaders leading well will likely hit a guard rail or two along the way.  But they won’t hit the same guard rail time and time again.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • What rumble strips do you have or would you like to have?
  • Do you agree with the concept of rumble strips? Or would you prefer just guard rails?
  • Are there rumble strips your organization provides for leaders?  Are they helpful?
  • As you coach your employees, are you putting up tight guard rails or are you placing – or helping them to place their own – rumble strips down to guide desired behavior?