Leading from the Passenger Seat
Leading from the passenger seat is not for the faint of heart. Let your team get in the driver’s seat, hold on, and enjoy the ride.
A while ago, I received one of the best gifts a car lover could ever get: a full day of driving and instruction on a famous racecourse in my own car. Not only would I learn how to master the turns and straights as a racing driver, but I would also learn how my car handled at the extremes, which would make me a better and safer driver. I started with a 7 a.m. meeting with my private “co-pilot,” a professional racing instructor and high-speed trainer for law enforcement agencies. This is a synopsis of what I learned about leadership from one day with a brave man sitting in my passenger seat.
Decide on a Leadership Style
After exchanging pleasantries and having my car inspected for track safety, I was ready to hit the driver’s seat. Instead, we hit the classroom. I quickly noted the leadership method applied at this course: Tell, Show, Do, Review (do again, review, do again, review). We sat at a table for an hour with notebooks and pencils as the chief instructor went over the racetrack in detail, five times. Before we left the room, I knew more about the turns, straights, and surface than I thought possible. Then came the real fun.
Inspire Confidence in Your Team
We got into groups of three students, and each group jumped into an old, everyday SUV with an instructor who took us on a “tour” at ludicrous speeds around the track. After I caught my breath, I asked why we did that in an SUV and not a vehicle better suited for a racecourse. His answer was fantastic. He told us that not only did we experience the course first hand, but we also learned that the person is the most important part of the job; the vehicle is just a tool to get the job done. It was meant to build confidence that no matter what we drove, we could do it quickly and safely.
We then went back to the classroom for another 30 minutes of track review. Before we even got behind the wheel, we were prepared for what was to come and given the confidence necessary to know we could complete the task.
Provide a Safe Learning Environment
One of the first things my instructor said as we got into my car was, “Remember, this is a safe place to make mistakes. There is no traffic to hit, no people, no obstacles.” The course provided grass and gravel runoff areas for safety; if I messed up, I had room to stop. Knowing I was in a place where I would not pay dearly for mistakes made me comfortable to push the envelope and test my skills. I also knew that with the instructor in the passenger seat, he would provide immediate feedback when necessary. He didn’t try to drive the car. His willingness to trust me with his well-being inspired confidence and displayed trust in my ability to do the job and that he truly believed this was a safe place to learn.
Provide Tips & Tricks
As I put on my helmet and started the car, my instructor showed me tricks on how I could get my normal seatbelt to fit and function like a racing harness and how I could position myself to shift gears faster. He told me it was OK not to have the tools to be a pro on my first day. After a few turns, he was teaching me how to use my hands to take corners more effectively. For example, when turning right, I should pull the wheel down with my right hand, never push it up with my left. Pulling uses stronger muscles in your arms so you won’t get tired as quickly. I learned to use my natural strengths to my advantage.
My favorite trick he taught me may seem strange. I learned that the windshield wipers on my car started to shake around 130 mph. Although speed is not important in learning, it is important in braking. If you go too fast into a corner, you’ll slide off the track. Knowing that my wipers could be used to estimate my speed for preparing for a corner allowed me to focus less on the speedometer at those key times and keep my eyes on the track longer. I was able to limit distractions and focus on the task ahead.
Learn From Other’s Actions
During our breaks, we would walk to viewing areas at different spots on the track where I wanted to improve. We would watch the more experienced drivers and he would point out the things they were doing in those spots to be successful — brake later, hit the apex, be in the correct gear. I was able to learn by watching others excel at my problem areas.
By the end of the day, I had absorbed so much that I was allowed to drive the track without my instructor and had moved from the beginner to the intermediate racing group. Was it because I was a good learner, or because he was a good leader?
Leading from the passenger seat is not for the faint of heart. There is a lot of risk involved, but the payoff is worth it. You can inspire confidence, allow for faster learning, and build trust with your teams while being right there to support them and guide them through any trouble spots. Let your team get in the driver’s seat, hold on, and enjoy the ride.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anthony Berticelli is the director of education at PSA Security Network.