Defensive Living and Leading

Doesn’t anyone use turn signals anymore?

That was the thought running through my mind after two recent near collisions with other cars making sudden turns or darting recklessly between lanes. It sometimes seems that people have forgotten our roads are community spaces meant to be safely shared with others. Doing so requires giving some advance notice to our driving colleagues about what we plan on doing before we get actually do it.

Flash back to your days of driver's education and you may remember being extensively schooled in defensive driving. I can still recall the acronym SMOG as the precursor to changing lanes: Signal, Mirror, Over the Shoulder, Go. It seems like a quaint and forgotten custom nowadays that you might actually signal your intention first, check the mirror for traffic behind you, look over your shoulder to scout for cars that may be in your mirror's blindspot, and then proceed if it is safe to do so. While it may seem cumbersome, doing this often helps you avoid causing an accident.

Given our fast-paced world, our information overload, and people's greater attention to their own needs rather than those of the community, I'm thinking we might benefit from having a defensive living mindset for life overall and a defensive following mindset as a member of a team or organization. If cutting people off on the road inspires road rage, similar behavior with colleagues at work or in volunteer settings can only inspire real rage as well.
  1. Fostering respectful relationships that acknowledge both work and volunteer organizations are community spaces can flow from adopting a modified version of the SMOG principle. When going about our paid or volunteer work we would be wise to: 
  2. Signal to all interested parties and stakeholders what our intentions are and/or when we want to introduce a significant change.
  3. Check in the mirror to see if there are any lessons from the past that we should draw on to inform the efforts we are about to initiate.
  4. Look over the shoulder to cast a wider net in terms of identifying how our actions might affect others and their efforts.
  5. Go forward when we feel we’ve done appropriate due diligence. Acting in this defensive manner might reduced the likelihood of others finding us offensive.
Many avoidable sources of conflict in organizations result from individuals or departments simply "changing lanes" without any advance notice to others or any real awareness of how their actions are going to effect others. Human nature being what it is, the more stressed the conditions or the greater a hurry individuals are in, the more likely they are to focus their attention on self-interests as opposed to shared or community interests.

We certainly don't want to turn leadership into being the traffic cop who often only elicits safe driving behavior so long as drivers are within visible range of the squad car pulled off alongside the road. Leaders would be wise, however, to have some equivalent of the radar gun at play in their organizations, some mechanism that generates real-time feedback as to the speed at which others are operating and how much it is exceeding defined limits for the community's safety.

And all communities and work groups need some succinct, mutually understood rules of the road to guide their efforts in the efforts and workspace they share with others. Creating relationships grounded in genuine commitment among all involved and to the "rules of the road" often can allow for feedback between and among peers as the primary enforcement system for any violations.

Initial violations of an organization’s or community's shared principles might send you back for a bit more driver's ed to school you in the organization's culture and expectations for individuals who want to be a part of it. Consistent lack of regard for the rules of the road should result in one’s license being revoked and your ability to "drive" in the organization being ended.

Driving is a privilege, not a right ... as is being a member of a team or community. Our individual choices and behaviors at work and when volunteering need to demonstrate that we are concerned about the safety of others and that we value sharing the road with them.

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