December 9, 2021
With the hustle and bustle of today’s world, no matter where you live and work, traffic seems to play a significant role in our lives. I found that city travel and the constant jockeying for position on the interstate was stealing my thoughts. I felt a real need to just get home so I could literally unwind from the drive.
One morning I was facilitating a two-day meeting for a group from out of town and we were discussing ways leaders use reflection as a tool to guide their growth. The activity we were about to engage in included questions that challenged leaders to find space in their daily lives for reflection, not just thinking, but reflection that would lead to actual growth through personal action. I asked the team if they remembered our conversation about Austin traffic which elicited an almost simultaneous groan. It felt like this was the perfect time to throw out some bait and see if they would fish, and they did.
One participant recounted his drive back to his hotel and talked about how he felt as though his nerves were shot as he drove through downtown in the stop and go traffic, something he wasn’t used to, having come from a small town in East Texas. Another described the mental fatigue and anger he felt when drivers left several car-lengths in front of them, slowing traffic. Suddenly I realized I had lost this team to our shared traffic woes and feared the content of the meeting would not actually be covered, but I was wrong. I decided I would conduct an informal experiment and discuss the result the next day.
After the first day’s session was over, with great excitement, I climbed into my truck and prepared to meet the snarl of traffic that would have me on the roadway for more than an hour to travel no more than 35 miles. But I had decided I was going to try something new. I was going to use this space and time for reflection. Now, honestly speaking, this was a challenge because I was alone in the truck, making a conscious decision to talk to myself while my fellow commuters stared at me as though I were crazy. So, in the spirit of solution seeking, I took one for the team and proceeded to have a conversation with Me, Myself, and I. It was in that moment I recognized that I didn’t have to spend every mile in dread as I plodded along the interstate. I could find value in this time while coaching myself for a change. What a novel idea. I couldn’t wait to share this with the team in the morning. But what would I tell them? Would I say that I was driving with one hand on the steering wheel while gesturing wildly at myself and laughing hysterically? Would I recount the entire conversation or just hit the highlights? Because I wanted them to get the full experience, I recounted what has now become a daily ritual for me as I continue to explore the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership. I call this reflection time “Traffic Questions.”
The Traffic Questions have become a time for me to really dig deep into my heart and mind to answer the questions I often don’t have time to ask others because we’re all jetting out of the parking lot at five o’clock to hit the bottleneck at full speed. When the class walked in the next morning, I was standing at the front of the room, grinning, and thinking that this must have been how Nicola Tesla felt when he discovered alternating current, so I opened the class with my story of the Traffic Questions. There are three solid questions that encourage me to examine my daily behaviors. 1. What did I do well today? 2. What did I not do so well today? 3. What will I do better tomorrow? I explained to the class the importance of using the word “do” in each of the questions because I believe that unless we take some action regarding our behaviors, we cannot learn and grow from our misbehaviors.
The course evaluations all mentioned how much they got from the Traffic Questions and ways they intended to use them. Over the years I have added The Leadership Challenge® to my daily ritual by incorporating the behaviors I’m working on into my questions. For example, as I worked on Challenge the Process, specifically behavior #18 Asks, “What can we learn?” when things don’t go as expected, I found myself struggling. I had to reflect on Traffic Question number 2, then relive a difficult conversation I had with my boss and be honest with myself in saying I had not been at my best as a leader in my response to her. I had pushed back on a decision, thinking I was challenging our process when in fact I was not going about it the right way at all. This prompted me to go to her, apologize, and discuss my reaction and reflection.
As a Leadership Development Coach, I encounter leaders who want the quick fix on a short road to development. But one of my clients really wanted to learn how to focus enough to enlist real change in his professional life. I offered him the Traffic Questions as a tool and the transformation was amazing. He came back 90 days later and said the Traffic Questions had not only made him a better leader, but also a better father and husband. He is now part of a Leadership Development Cohort and sharing the Traffic Questions with his cohort members. He also makes the connection back to The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® as he continues to work on his leadership skills. So, if your commute includes slow drivers, drivers who cut you off, drivers who turn on their left blinker and merge right, or even drivers who greet you with challenging hand gestures, let me offer the Traffic Questions as a respite from the madness. Please understand that I still must be mindful of the drivers around me, but talking to myself, about myself, helps me become a better leader every day. Adding the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® to my ritual, helps me to be more mindful of how my behaviors effect other people, especially those I coach.
Vaundee "Coach" Arnold