“I need to go faster,” said one of my coaching clients, visibly irritated. “OK,” I said, “but there’s not much we can do about the traffic. It’s just that time of day.”
It was almost six o’clock on a Thursday evening and the highway was at a standstill. “No, no, you misunderstand me,” he replied, adding “We can sit here all evening for all I care.”
That’s when he explained: he wasn’t talking about the bumper-to-bumper traffic. What was frustrating the chief executive was the pace of work at his company. He was a high-achieving leader with drive and ambition, and he liked to get things done. The trouble was those around him lacked the same urgency. The way he saw it, the very people he had hired to help the company grow apace were in fact acting as a drag.
Every time he made a decision, launched an initiative, or delegated a task, his team would take days, weeks or even months to get into gear. Confiding to me, he admitted he was starting to reach the conclusion that it would be quicker to do everything himself.
As he spoke, I gazed out of the window at the sea of stationary vehicles ahead of us, then turned to face him. “If a leader races out ahead of the pack, he ends up alone,” I cautioned. I sympathised with everything he said, but the truth is, it wasn’t his team’s fault that the company was slow — it was his.
Strong leaders do not act as individuals, they are consummate team players, responsible for rallying their troops. If they want to increase their own speed, they do so by increasing the speed of the whole organisation, not by striding ahead and leaving their people behind.
Just as importantly, as the gridlocked traffic reminded me, strong leaders realise that success is not always synonymous with speed. That day, as the clock struck six on Shaikh Zayed Road, a Nissan Sunny had shared the pavement with Ferrari Portofino, a Toyota Corolla with a Rolls-Royce Phantom.
The jam had not discriminated between make, model or engine size. As rush hour ground the city to a halt, the only vehicles cruising calmly along the roads had been roadside assistance vans and cumbersome highway maintenance trucks.
In business, it isn’t about having the fastest vehicle on the road, it’s about having the right vehicle — the one that best suits your environment. Of course, speed is important, and every member of your team should pull his or her weight, but instead of obsessing over the pace of work at your organisation, focus first and foremost on developing a climate that is conducive to success.
Then, without even realising it, speed will follow.
But there’s a missing ingredient here, and that’s destination. Speed without direction is an accident just waiting to happen. If you push your team to work faster without clarifying what or where they are aiming for, then you and your company are on course for a collision.
What is the use in driving fast if your team doesn’t know where it’s headed — or for that matter, how to get there? Whatever the shape and size of your company, it is vital to spell out exactly where you want to go and how to get there.
Sure, you can’t plan for every pothole, or every twist and turn in the road, but can you chart your course and do your best to keep your team on track? Absolutely.
By knowing the road, the environment and how your vehicle handles, you can also avoid many of the bumps along the way: the bureaucracy, risk aversion, protectionism, overcontrol, and even the competition that can put the brakes on business.
So, next time you’re frustrated by the tempo of your team, don’t be tempted to leave them in the dust. Instead, take a look at yourself in the rear-view mirror and become the pacecar for your team.
Tommy Weir is CEO of EMLC Leadership Ai Lab and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.