Decisions and the One Lane Bridge


I am absolutely blessed with a great commute. I happen to live, work, and play in the Northern California Sierra foothills. The thirteen miles I travel to work takes me through the rural backroads and with only one traffic light in between home and my destination. I travel due east on my way to work and have the morning sun beaming on my face. The countryside is lined with the aged fences of old family working cattle ranches that are still in existence. The NID, or local irrigation district waterway, winds its way through running back and forth across the road under several one lane bridges. This is spring. It is the time of year that I can count daily each new baby calf and the numerous little kid goats with never ending wonder. There are at least a half-dozen family run boutique wineries that I pass, and many more on the crossroads to my right and my left. For me it is morning, my most enjoyable part of the day. It’s where I do my best innovative and creative thinking, as well as making some pretty darn good decisions. While the landscape may change with the seasons, my humble path remains the same.

So let me ask you a question? Don’t think about it too terribly long, give me your first instinctive gut response. Ready? (Don’t worry, it’s not a math question!) Here goes. When you are driving, and as you come to a one lane bridge, and as a car is approaching from the other direction at the exact same speed and distance as you, do you speed up, or do you slow down and let them proceed first? There are two questions here, and yet there are three possible responses. I can think of three possible responses; and I would venture to say that your personal response speaks volumes to the style in which you make leadership decisions in your professional life as well as your personal health and wellness.

The first response is to speed up. This is almost invariably always my personal response. I drive these roads daily and have had lots of opportunity to know my path, and by nature I tend to take calculated risks. I am also an observer and have watched how most, as in life will hesitate with the decision to stop or go, the same way we sometimes do as leaders. I see them slow down and speed up, unsure of who goes first. While I’ll admit there are times that I have to hit the brakes, typically I find that if I make my intentions clear at the onset, the oncoming car will slow down and/or pulls over. Trust me, I am not rude about it by any stretch, I am an assertive calculated risk taker that also knows when to hit the brakes. On occasion though I admit, my response does require a slam on the brakes.

The second response is to slow down or pull over and let the oncoming car proceed first. There is nothing wrong with this approach as long as you are willing to prolong your arrival in getting where you need to go. In using this approach you also must be clear to those behind you of your intent, so they know to slow down as well. As a leader we must be sure that everyone with us and behind us is clear on our intent. This is a more thoughtful passive way of leadership and has a place which may be of far more significance than the first, dependent on your organization and the current set of goals. There are times to make quick decisions with some element of risk, and then there are times to slow down. This response carries as equal weight as the first of a quick response. Either one will work.

The third response, which I eluded to earlier is the stop and go response. This is the “no commitment” to a decision either way. In leadership and in fitness goals I see this. The passion and intent are there to get to the destination without the investment of a proactive response to the decisions that need to be made along the way. Even the time you initially took in responding to the question says something about your leadership decision making style. Some of you may have even thought about it without a committed response before reading on. Either you though of it as more of a rhetorical question, or you were not ready to commit to a decision at all for fear of making the wrong one. This is the kind of fear based leader that waits to see what the majority will do before committing to a decision.

As trusted leaders we need to become so comfortable in our journey that we can flex and proactively respond as needed in the first two areas. We need to be able to think clearly and make quick decisions that carry calculated risk, and we need to know when to slow down and pull over. We need to become so comfortable with our path that instinctively we know what the oncoming traffic may do. And we need to be so clear about where we are going that even through the change of seasons as the landscape changes, our path always remains the same. How about you? I came up with three possible responses. Did you come up with any others? What was your response and how does it speak to your decision making style?

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