Is leading a company like driving a car?

Posted by Robert Beauchemin on Mar 11, 2008

I was having lunch with a great CEO and we talked about how much tolerance many CEOs have about driving without a clear understanding of their organization overall destination. It made me think about how analogous it is to driving to somewhere. Leading an organization is very much like driving your family somewhere!

CEOs know what road they are on. They know how fast they are going. They know how much fuel they have and how much they need to the next gas station.

They are aware of the traffic around, other drivers competing for space, position, speed, leadership. They see the confusing market signs pointing you to a whole bunch of directions, perhaps not relevant to them, but are they really?

They know their car, what it is capable of, how much it can be pushed, its past performance and how to tweak it to get the most out of the machinery.

But when asked "where are you going", they will talk about the next exit, the next town, or the next stop at the end of the day, but beyond that, they just can't say clearly. Somewhere over there!. Or they will say they are building on their strengths as they go.

Well, this may be fine on a bright sunny day. But when the weather or the road conditions worsen, they become disoriented and focus even more on the next exit. And forget about asking for directions, advice or getting counsel. It feels they are relying on Good Luck.

Knowing the end destination, and having prepared many itineraries, may have allowed the CEO to take a different, less travelled, less damaged, but safer road. And perhaps a faster road!

I would suspect that women in leadership positions, unlike men's driver reputation in real life, are more likely to be OK about asking for directions. Are CEO's more prone to driving off the end of the road than asking for coaching?

Having a clear vision (a view to an Envisioned Future) and a set of stratagems (the several roads you may want or have to take) is simply not an option.