Driving as a Metaphor for Life, Career and Leadership


In my 2012 book with Dr. Ana Kazan, ‘Self Leadership – How to Become a More Successful Efficient and Effective Leader from the Inside Out’, we asked are you the Driver or the Passenger of your Life?

Self-leadership, and whether you are the ‘driver’ of your life and career depends on accessing the self-confidence to exercise your autonomy (ownership) over your thinking, feeling, and actions.  Passengers, by contrast, wait to be told what to do for fear of failure or because they lack the self-belief that they can.

I recently heard from one of my executive coaching clients that he would be promoted before he expected.

“How do you feel?” I asked.
“I don’t feel ready”, was the reply.

This is interesting because, in my experience, how ready we are for a new challenge depends on our willingness to get comfortable with the unfamiliar and our belief in our ability to learn.

Learning to Drive - Again

I have recently moved from Singapore to Portugal and bought a new car to get around. Now I have been driving since I was 18, but mostly in the UK, Australia, and Singapore where cars drive on the left. Portugal, being part of Europe is a 'right side of the road' country. In addition, automatic cars are not popular in Portugal and all that was available was a manual option.

I nervously drove out of the car showroom in Lisbon, telling myself, “Stay on the right”. This was only the first of my new driving challenges. The hilly countryside, in the area where I had just moved, has many narrow, twisting roads, complete with blind corners. I found myself working hard, constantly changing gears, and unsure of the closeness of oncoming traffic.

Was I not ready for this challenge, or was it a case of unfamiliarity?
I shared this story with my coachee and asked him whether he was not ready, or just unfamiliar with certain aspects of the new role.

Adrian, not his real name, said that he was ready to do the work, but was unfamiliar with members of the leadership team outside of his region and department. Now the coaching questions are revealed,

“What do you need to do to get familiar with the leadership team?”
“What do you need to learn to feel comfortable?”

I often find myself saying that stress is inversely proportional to the perception of control. The more control we perceive we have, the less we feel stressed.

“The less stressed we feel, the more we are driving.”

As I practiced shifting gears in my new car and became more familiar with the Portuguese roads, my stress reduced, and I began to enjoy the stunning views and the thrill of driving.

Choosing Life and Career

As you read this, you might reflect on experiences in your life, where you didn’t feel ready, but embraced the learning and unfamiliarity, and got to experience the feeling of satisfaction from conquering the challenge.

If you still feel stuck, then it’s time to increase your self-awareness by asking and answering the following questions:

  • What’s important to me?
  • What am I good at?
  • What’s my intention?
  • What can I control?
  • What’s my next step?

I often hear people complain that their circumstances prevent the choice to step up and be the driver. Dr. Viktor Frankl has shown us that this is not the case. Frankl was interned in a Nazi death camp and completely lost his physical freedom, but realized that whatever was done to him, he still had the power to choose what he thought and felt about his situation. Frankl survived and went on to become the founder of logotherapy; he expresses his thinking thus,

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Frankl’s book, ‘Man’s Search for Freedom’ was influential on my early work in self-leadership, and still impacts how I live and work today.

Leadership and the Self-Driven Culture

Perhaps you are a manager or leader and want to develop the autonomy of your people, to get them to drive, rather than passively follow, how would you go about this?

A Senior Private Banker shared with me that when he got a new boss, he asked him whether he liked his people to speak up with ideas or just follow instructions. The boss said that he “definitely wanted new ideas”, but when this Private Banker did speak up, he was shot down. After two more attempts at speaking up, he drew the conclusion that autonomy was not appreciated.

Whether employees are encouraged to exercise autonomy is driven by the organization’s culture and their manager’s leadership style. This is the space I love to work in. Helping clients to develop leaders and self-leaders. This is no longer just as nice to have, it’s a must-have.

McKinsey & Company's survey of 18,000 people in 15 countries about the Future of Work, not surprisingly spotlights the need for Digital Skills. But it also highlights that Self-leadership, Cognitive and Interpersonal Skills are essential.

My own work and research confirm these findings, and I'm excited to share that my psychometric test to assess self-leadership is now available.

In Summary

To develop autonomy, and to become the driver of your life and career, it is important to remember that as humans we can be powerful.  We cannot fly or shoot fire from our eyes like Superman but can Think/Feel, and Do. We have the power of the Head, Heart, and Hand. As Steven Covey talks about in his ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,’ we have the power to be proactive. When we Do and Say, we have the power to choose ‘How’ we do it or ‘How’ we Say it. When we do these things intentionally, we make a real difference.





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