Bus Driving

Being the manager of a team is like being the driver of a bus.

I can’t begin to take credit for that metaphor. The first time I encountered it was in Jim Collins’ book ‘Good To Great’, which I still recommend to anyone and everyone.

And like Jim, I try to follow the rule of “who” before “what”. Rather than announcing where my bus is going, and hoping I can get people on my bus (“team”) to go with me, and potentially having people on the bus who aren’t interested at all in getting to where I want to go, I focus on the “who”. Looking for the best people for my bus, getting them in the right seats, and at times getting the wrong people off the bus. Letting the right passengers help determine the destination we all want and the direction we’ll take.

But this post isn’t about me going over the Good to Great metaphor, if you want to read more about it then follow the link to the section: Disciplined people: “Who” before “what”

For this post I wanted to expand the metaphor in a different direction.

When driving my bus, like any bus driver, I tend to follow the same route each day. Occasionally there’s a diversion to be taken, every now and then I’ll get an emergency to be navigated around, and of course sometimes I need to pull over to let someone off the bus or a new person on. And there’s no doubt in 20 years that I have had periods of time when I’ve needed to put my foot down, to accelerate the bus to get me and my passengers to where we need to be quickly.

Like any good bus driver, whether the day presents me with my usual routine or a challenging adventure, I keep my focus on the road ahead, pay attention, and drive always alert to as yet unseen potential problems or opportunities.

Driving the bus for a few years, it’s not uncommon to have some of the passengers get a bit bored, and ask if they can drive for awhile. At the outset of my career I would say no. I have a responsibility for the safety of my passengers and I can let no one drive the bus but me.

Over time however I’ve loosened up.

Nowadays I’m OK with letting a few of my more seasoned passengers drive for awhile. Though when and where is of my choosing. If we have a quiet straight road ahead then I let them enjoy themselves at the wheel for awhile. They get the monotony broken for them and feel in charge, in control, trusted, motivated. Roll the window down, let the wind through their hair, enjoy the moment. Though I’m always there by their side keeping a close watch, they seldom notice as their eyes are strictly focussed on the road ahead, they don’t observe my hand on the gear stick and never allowing the bus to go too fast. The options ahead for U-turning, hand break turns, emergency stops, or getting lost completely are all pretty limited in reality.

A casual observer might look and think what a lazy bus driver! He’s not doing anything! Making his passengers do all the work. And how reckless?!

But of course the day will come when one of my passengers will likely need to train to drive the bus full time when I’m not around. Giving them a little experience gives them the confidence to know they can do it if they set their mind to it. And for now, when the road ahead gets rocky (as it inevitably always will) I take the wheel again. When we need to get on the highway fast lane, or get ourselves around obstacles or out of a tricky situation then I take full responsibility for control of the bus.

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