By: Josh Kornberg
Stay in your lane.
Has anyone ever said that to you? I know I’ve heard it more than a few times. You’ve probably have, too, especially if you are a younger professional, trying to make your mark in an organization. We all have things we are good at, and sometimes ambition can push us outside of our comfort zone and into places where we may not operate as effectively. Pushing back and asking people to stay in the “lane” of their job duties as assigned might be appropriate in some instances.
But what would it look like if instead of staying in our lanes, we took a road trip?
Let me tell you a true story to illustrate what I mean.
Back when I was a development officer, I drove with a donor and two others to a meeting in Lexington, Kentucky. When the meeting was over, we all got back in the car and were about to get on the highway when the car’s alternator blew out. In the middle of rush hour. On one of the hottest days of the year.
We all got out of the car and tried to figure out what we should do. We were able to find a towing company to come get the car. However, without a car we had no way to get home (and it was the donor’s car). We tried to get a rideshare, but it would have been way too expensive. We decided to rent a car, and then a colleague and I returned a few days later to get the car once it was fixed. It was one of those moments that you know would make a good story some day.
This traveling nightmare shows what’s possible when we take a road trip together rather than just stay in our lane. Perhaps if we all drove separately, the outcome may have been better and we wouldn’t have all been stranded on the side of the road. Instead, we went together and shared the challenge. We each had a unique role to play: one person called to find a tow company, another arranged for a rental, and the third consoled the donor in the backseat of her car. All of us being in the car meant we all suffered, but we were also able to rely on our individual strengths to collectively solve the problem.
Moving out of your lane may sometimes cause friction or bump up against someone else’s work, but by traveling together in the same lane, you can create a shared purpose and unified vision to help strengthen an organization.
The truth is, to be an effective leader, you have to get out of your lane–and let others get out of their lanes–to take the road trip to your destination together. Successful organizations are made up of successful teams figuring out how to work together. This means they annoy each other. Push each other. Probably get lost a few times. But ultimately, they’ll celebrate reaching the final destination of their road trip. Working together is better than going it alone.
Staying in your lane is the easy approach. But if you want to get to where you are going with a shared vision and shared passion, you’ve got to do it as a road trip. Here are the three things to remember before you get started on that journey:
● Check for gas: Before you form a new team or start a new project–make sure you check in with everyone and see: is the energy right? Is everyone aligned? Does everyone have the same mindset about the work, or the same expectations? If the team isn’t aligned in how it’s thinking or how it’ll work together, you could be setting yourself up for failure before you start. Make sure that the gas tank is full, and the team is ready to go before you start.
● Check for car snacks: Once the team is aligned, the next thing you need to know is if you’re going to be able to sustain yourself for the journey. Do you have all the resources that you are going to need to be successful? What may be missing, or what could be a unique need for your team? Some members may like potato chips on their journey; others may want cookies. Or some may just want an old-fashioned banana! The care of your team is an essential on-going component of a successful journey.
● Check for jumper cables: The reality is that things aren’t going to go smoothly along the way. Something will go wrong (let’s just hope the car doesn’t break down on the highway in a Kentucky summer heat!) Planning for this conflict with your team can ensure that you handle it as smoothly as possible. What’s your emergency kit that you can break out when things get particularly dicey? What other contingency plans should you have in place before you head out on the journey?
Taking these three steps will help you as a leader help set your team up for success. But everyone will have a role to play in the planning, the execution, and the ultimate success of your journey. Sometimes you will be driving, navigating, leading sing-a-longs, buying more snacks, or simply asking if we are there yet. But you will do it all together. And wherever you end up – you are there together.
If you feel like you are sitting too comfortably in your own lane, think about who you can ask to join you on your road trip. You may annoy each other, and maybe get a little lost, but I’d rather be lost and annoyed together than at my destination alone. I think you will feel the same way.