by Michael Holland    

I could feel the controls with my left hand on the side of the big leather seat.  Touching each lever made the seat move: I could scoot the seat up, tilt it back a bit, and raise up my legs.  Soon enough I had a full reclining lounge chair which would’ve been great for watching TV but wasn’t so great for driving. But I know the seat has a perfect position for my driving experience: a position that gives me the best view of the road from all angles and the perfect tilt to support my back as I hold the steering wheel. When I drive, this is where I position the seat.

Emerging leaders – you young folks who find yourselves for the first time in charge of the daily activity and motivation of a group of employees – are uncomfortable with the seat from which you’re driving.  It’s big and comfy, sure, but it just doesn’t feel right.  The angels are all wrong; it’s too high for your legs; you feel squished up too close to the steering wheel.  You’re uncomfortable because you’re driving from a seat that’s positioned wrong; a seat that’s nowhere close to your perfect position. You need to learn to watch out for these 3 imperfect driving positions:

  1. Driving Tight – In a car, you drive tight when the seat is too close to the steering wheel. In leadership, you are leading too tightly when you’re all scrunched up, muscles tightened, ready to react to any movement within your team.  Your view is limited from this position, as is your ability to fully extend and use all your muscles and space provided.
  2. Lounging Back – With the seat tilted way back and your toes barely touching the pedals, you are so cocky and comfortable you could fall asleep while leading.  Feeling relaxed is fine, but with no urgency, you lack an ability to focus.  Your team – if you could see them – is wandering around clueless in their lack of productivity.  Or worse, they are working their tails off figuring out how to work around you.
  3. Constantly Changing – As you fly down the highway at full speed you keep adjusting all the controls, moving the seat forward and back, up and then down again. You are leading your team with a full spectrum of movement, and your intensity changes too much. This leaves your employees unsure of which version of the boss they will have in 5 minutes.

Great leaders learn early on from their mistakes in seat positions, but when they did find a great position, they locked it in memory alongside the other seat positions that were fantastic for the current driving conditions.  You must learn and adapt each day to find the perfect positions which will enable you to lead well.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • What do you think about this phrase at the end of this Leadership Learning Moment: “…they locked it in memory alongside the other seat positions that were fantastic for the current driving conditions”? What does it imply? Could there be more than one “perfect seat position” for leadership?
  • Take a moment to think about your own leader. As an employee, do you think they found the perfect position for their leadership? What about yourself as a leader?
  • What are some actionable steps you can take as a leader to tweak your seat position? Try to come up with at least three ways.