“Zero Visibility Possible” – Road sign in New Mexico
Have you ever seen this road sign, or one like it? It’s a road sign from a state highway in New Mexico, one of several that alert drivers in that state to the dangers that occur when a severe dust storm occurs. Scary when you think about it – driving conditions so poor that there is literally zero visibility.
This is a driver’s worst nightmare – and gives cause to the term ‘driving blind’. No idea what lies ahead, and perhaps even more fear of what may come up from behind. Just the thought sends goose bumps up my back.
For grins, I ‘Googled’ what to do when driving in a dust storm. As you would guess, advice all points to one logical approach: pull over, stop the car, and wait it out. The storm will eventually pass. Or at least you hope so, right?
Organizations and leadership can often mirror this. To a large extent, leaders control the ‘weather’ in the organizations they lead. They can lead it to sunny days, when things are bright and all is going well. They can lead it to rainy days, when the organization is ‘flooded’ with problems. They can even lead it to days when the ‘winds of change’ are blowing wildly.
And sometimes they can lead it straight in to wind storms where the dust flies wildly and the organization is completely blind to the road ahead. In other words, their actions can lead to conditions where zero visibility is possible.
Change happens. It’s unavoidable. And those changes can be significant; even disruptive. They can create such a swirl that the very essence of those changes drives confusion, frustration, disappointment, anxiety, and eventually disruption.
Now, imagine your team members as drivers. Each has been asked to move down a path, to follow a road, to reach a destination. For the most part, they focus on that road ahead and put their energies on keeping the momentum moving forward and the tires ‘between the lanes’.
But when a dust storm appears those team members lose visibility on the road ahead. And do you know what they do? They pull the car to the side of the road. They stop what they are doing. They become distracted by the storm around them and paralyzed from moving forward.
So it’s best you recognize this fact and work to minimize the length of the storm and get your drivers back on the road. It is your job to figuratively ‘clear the weather’ and provide clarity on the road ahead. Here are a few thoughts on how to make that happen.
• Set a clear vision – Good leaders know that a clear vision and direction is invaluable to building a sustainable organization. Your organization needs to know their destination and their route to get there. The more clarity they have around it, the less they become distracted.
• Create ‘fertile ground’ – The very nature of a dust storm is created because the earth around it is barren. With no vegetation to hold it down, and little rain to keep it set, the dust swirls with the wind. An organization is much like that soil and vegetation. If it’s not fertile; if it’s not nourished, it wilts and the soil turns to dust. It becomes separated, disbursed, and easily disturbed by the slightest change. As a leader you must invest in your team. You must invest in their well-being; in their development; and in their growth.
• Earn their respect – A leader that develops the trust and respect of an organization gains tolerance when change occurs. Their team trusts his/her judgment, and remains confident that all their needs (collectively and individually) have been considered. Earn their respect through your own actions.
• Communicate, communicate, communicate – There is no replacement for good communication. Communicate early and communicate often. Often leaders covet information as if it is somehow privileged, creating the very situation where zero visibility is possible. Do the opposite. Create a culture where information is a shared asset, leveraged to build trust within the team. Transparency trumps in this situation.