Winter Driving Lessons for Business Leaders

Driving conditions for much of the Northeast this past Thursday afternoon and evening were downright abysmal.

Weather forecasts had grossly underestimated the amount of snow and sleet that would blanket the region, often at blinding speeds. 🌨

Road crews were slow to respond and were understaffed.

Traffic, naturally, moved at a grinding pace. My commute home, for example, was more than doubled.

I came home exhausted and with leg cramps. After a very late dinner, I headed straight for the couch for some badly needed R+R.

Despite my less-than-ideal commute, there were some lessons from the experience that can inform decision making in more normative business conditions. (I guess having multiple hours of solitude can produce some useful insights.😀)

  1. Listen carefully to the forecast – While in this case, the forecast was somewhat misleading, in most instances knowing what is being predicted can vastly improve decision making. The same is true for the workplace. Before taking action that involves outside conditions, such as market and industry trends, seek to get as much information as possible. Then, use that information to guide your decisions. Sounds simple, right? Well, it isn’t, in part because business data is not presented as neatly as a weather forecast. Successful leaders know how much information they need (HINT: it’s not 100%) and then what to do with it and which traps to avoid when seeking to move forward.

  2. Be fully prepared – Before setting out, I cleaned my car off and made sure that I had more than enough gasoline. I also stocked my car with extra food and took a coat in case I would need to get out of my car. Before making important decisions, sit with your team to consider what the potential implications might be, internally and externally. Take pains to prepare yourself for setbacks and internal pushback.

  3. Manage expectations – When driving in such conditions, expectations must change. Pace and convenience take a back seat to your primary goal of arriving safely. The same applies to your business. Expectations will vary from one situation to the next, but strong leaders recognize that managing them for all of your constituents will make each circumstance easier to navigate.

  4. Stay in your lane – Many drivers make lane switching a common practice. Under normal conditions, it’s as simple as check and go. When visibility and traction are poor the road barely has two cleared lines per lane for your tires, however, switching lanes can be quite treacherous. Businesses that succeed, for the most part, are those that stay in their lanes. They recognize what they’re really good at and what their mission and values direct them to achieve, and they stay focused on doing just that. Switch lanes at your own peril.

  5. Maintain distance – Short stops and skidding are very hard to respond to when on a snowy road. Drivers that recognize this keep a healthy distance between themselves and those in front of them as well as to their sides. Many leaders, particularly introverts. also need distance, in the terms of a quiet place to think and reflect. They have to be able to separate their minds from their emotions to make the right decisions.  

  6. Break as needed – Snow storms can force us to the side of the road at times, whether to ride out the weather or simply stop for a break to refuel and regroup. This can be hard for some people, who just want to keep driving and get to their destination. Leaders who are internally driven can often push too hard. They burn themselves and/or others out, running out of physical or emotional fuel. Make sure to build in enough breaks, including vacation time, to recharge and prepare for any storms that may come your way.