Leadership Road Debris

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Leadership Road Debris - JT PedersenToday, I found myself off in the weeds, having allowed myself to be distracted by a link in an article.  It happens.  The link proved more interesting than the referring article itself.

And, then it happened.  I realized I’d completely unbalanced myself, lost focus, and run off the road a ways.  The real question then becomes, can I get back on track, or have I harmed my original efforts?

This thought came to me as I reflected on an article by the late Lawrence Grodsky1.  A motorcycle safety instructor, he addressed a group riding concern I’ve had for years: Pointing at road debris as you pass by (e.g. with your foot), presumably to help those following you.  It is uncanny how yet another motorcycling activity can relate to leadership…

If you have been riding for a while you’ve almost assuredly taken your foot off the peg to point at a piece of hamburger or other debris as you pass by.  Perhaps you used your hand instead.  Other approaches include flashing brake lights or a blinker.  The general intent is to make those following you aware of a potential hazard.  In most cases, I have come to the view that, not only is it wasted effort, it can be downright dangerous.

One of the points Mr. Grodsky pointed out is that if each of us is doing our job, scanning ahead as much as 12 seconds, you’ve already seen the road debris before the person in front of you points it out. With rare exception this is almost always the case for me. My personal approach is to let the rider in front of me float back and forth in my peripheral view while I’m actually looking well ahead of him or her. If I haven’t seen something in their way, I’ll almost certainly notice it when they steer around the obstruction.

Of course, Lawrence generously suggests when we’re riding in groups we’re seconds apart and all looking ahead 12 seconds. I’d venture to guess that in most group rides we’re rarely more than 2 seconds behind the rider ‘in front’ and rarely can even see 12 seconds ahead (maybe in Nevada, but in SE Ohio?). In such scenarios, groups being more compressed the more aggressive we’re riding. We’re really placing a lot of trust in the person ahead of us to keep their machine under control.

For instance, while I am scanning as far ahead as possible, only a portion of my attention is focused on whether, ‘…Bob will make the curve.’ You simply assume he has the skills to do so. This is also part of why so many of us ride in the same group event after event: we’ve learned how our partners ride, to trust them, allowing us to enjoy ‘our’ ride that much more.

In most cases I’ve observed, the act of ‘pointing’ at some passing debris served to increase rather than decrease the hazard it represented. The problem is that taking a hand off the handlebar, a foot off the peg, only serves to destabilize the rider even if only momentarily.

There have been a few cases over the years where I was clearly concerned more about the person in front of me than any hazard the hamburger represented. In one case, we were in a spirited group ride, doing maybe 8/10, going around a curve. Naturally, the debris was near the apex. The leading rider, while leaned over ~40 degrees, used his left leg to point at debris on the right side of his machine. The act very clearly destabilized his entire machine nearly causing a loss of control.

Where’s the tie to the business world?  At some point in time, if you haven’t already, you’re going to be part of a high-performing team.  Things will be clicking along.  And, then, Wham! Something comes at you and/or your team from nowhere.  It can be as simple as a business process or procedural rule that no one anticipated, or running out of paper clips.  Yes, some road debris will command your attention.  But most road debris amounts to nothing more than distraction.  Don’t let such ancillary things cause a well-performing team to lose focus, to be distracted or derailed. 

If you allow your organization to become disproportionately concerned about ‘ancillary’ items, what might the effect be on your efforts? What experiences have you had?

(1) Grodsky, Lawrence. “Stayin’ safe: Make Space, Not War!) Rider December 2004: Vol 31: 12

(photo credit: Rita Mezzela)