How Leaders Can Solve Traffic Jams in Business

traffic jam

If you’re traveling (or just trying to get from one end of the town to the other) for the holidays, I wish you godspeed. People are crazy out there! Rushing around making sure to pick up a Uncle Martin’s favorite cranberry sauce, texting their wife while driving, “Where am I picking up the kids?,” speeding down the interstate to catch a flight or that must-have Black Friday special, the iRobot Roomba 614 vacuum on sale for $199 (regularly $299). It’s the most wonderful time of year, right? It can be, if you keep yourself, your family, and your team focused. But it can also be disastrous for your business if you let procrastination, distractions, temptations, and overall lack of focus and clarity get in the way.

Here’s where you come in. I want you to think of yourself as a traffic director. And what you are directing is people and their energy.  You’ve got to be clear on the destination (the goal or result) and then get to work by focusing yourself and your team on the daily activities or a specific project that will get you there. Along the way, you’ll be keeping an eye on the traffic patterns, anticipating traffic jams, removing roadblocks, and keeping the flow of traffic, well, flowing. You’ll have to reset the course when needed, find different roads, maybe even build a bridge. You need to do whatever is necessary to keep your employees and team members moving in the right direction, with their full energy and full focus so they can reach their destination. And then do it again and again. You will need to do this shifting and course-correcting and focusing throughout your day to ensure the end goal is reached. That is your job as a leader.

Sounds a lot like micro-managing, doesn’t it? But let me clarify. Micro-managing only occurs when the desired outcome is not being met, repeatedly. When you’ve gone several days with your sales team not hitting their targets or your marketing division failing to deliver on a project, you’ve got to realize there is a traffic jam and get in there and see what’s up. There is something preventing you or your team from getting shit done. It will feel a lot like micro-managing at the time, but as a leader, you have to know when to jump into the street and start managing the traffic and inspect (sometimes closely) what you expect until the flow of traffic is restored.

Just a quick note: If you are being micro-managed all the time, it might be a good time to look at your role, your contributions, your passion, your results, and evaluate whether or not the position you’re in is the right fit for you. Are you the chronic micro-manager? Then maybe it’s time to evaluate your team. If they are continually missing their goals and you constantly have to be jumping back in, then there is a disconnect. Might be the classic case of right people, wrong bus. Or could simply be the wrong people. Evaluate and move forward. 

So, the fastest way to remove roadblocks for your team is by identifying them (what can sometimes feel like micro-managing) and then asking really great, disruptive questions. You don’t need (or want) to go in there dictating all the answers, because how will your team ever learn to drive themselves? Asking great questions will lead to self-discovery and the ability for your employee to see the roadblock or pothole next time and turn the wheel in time to avoid impact.

I give my leadership team a heads-up that they’re going to feel the pressure and feel micro-managed when their goals aren’t being met. Once we are back on track (which can be as simple as a quick conversation or reviewing the numbers and bringing those numbers to the attention of the group or a few individuals), I will go back to decentralized management. Don’t be shy about it! Let your leaders know what to expect and they, in turn, can employ this strategy with their team.

Our job as leaders is to continually monitor the traffic and let our team members know when we see a traffic jam and getting so good at identifying these roadblocks that we can remove them before they are even set up. But if you do run into a roadblock or traffic jam, you better be ready to quickly bring awareness, focus, and clarity so that your team can move forward and execute! That is your job on a daily basis. That is your job as a leader.

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