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Leadership Lessons from the Passenger Seat That Drive Success

I have a new 16-year-old in the house. No, we didn’t adopt a new child or decide to foster again, but our oldest recently turned 16. The age where you are eligible to begin driving in our community.

This milestone has brought a significant change in our daily routine. I now spend a lot more time in the passenger seat and not in the driver seat. My driver instinct still causes my foot to hit the imaginary brake long before my son is hitting the actual brake. But the whole experience has been a good leadership reminder that often the best leadership we can bring is to sit in the passenger seat and coach.

The Parallel: Driving and Leadership

Part of our state’s laws for new drivers include an hours requirement for daytime and night time driving. We log the time my son drives in both daytime and nighttime hours. And as I am logging hours in the passenger seat, I have reflected on how the practice requirement is so critical to building good driving practices among new drivers.

This has also caused me to ponder why we don’t have similar practices for new managers or new leaders that are leading other leaders. The reality is, effective learning programs require practice and hands-on learning opportunities, but that is rarely the case with corporate learning programs.

Key Takeaways: Leadership Lessons from the Passenger Seat

  • Practice Makes You Better: Just like driving, leadership requires hands-on practice.
  • Accessible Coaching: Making coaching available at all levels, not just the C-suite.
  • Ongoing Support: The importance of regular coaching, not just one-off sessions.

The Pitfalls of Traditional Management Training

In our current approach to training new managers, there’s a significant gap between theory and practice. We often find ourselves in a classroom setting, bombarding these new leaders with information, much of which revolves around procedural tasks like filling out forms, processing role changes, or submitting job requisitions. The real essence of leadership and management – the human element, the decision-making, the team dynamics – is often left for them to figure out on their own, in the real world.

Drawing a parallel to driving, imagine if we taught new drivers in a similar fashion. Picture a teenager, freshly handed their learner’s permit, being given a manual to read and then immediately sent out to navigate the roads without any practical, hands-on guidance. The result? Increased chances of them veering off course, causing minor accidents, or worse, endangering themselves and others. This analogy starkly highlights the shortcomings of our traditional approach to developing new managers.”

coaching new leaders

Active Coaching: A Key to Effective Learning

In the passenger seat, I’ve realized the immense value of active coaching. It’s not just about being present; it’s about guiding, instructing, and anticipating challenges. As my son and I embark on our driving practice, I find myself constantly engaged in coaching him. I talk him through various scenarios, from anticipating potential hazards on the road to mastering lane changes and understanding the importance of checking mirrors and blind spots.

This hands-on approach, where I share insights from my nearly three decades of driving experience, is filled with teachable moments. It’s these real-time, practical lessons that genuinely resonate and stick. This method of learning – where guidance is immediate and relevant – can be mirrored in the corporate world, especially in leadership development. Just as I guide my son through the complexities of driving, leaders can benefit from similar, ongoing coaching to navigate the complexities of managing teams and making impactful decisions.

As I watch my son navigate the roads for the first time, his hands cautiously gripping the steering wheel, I can’t help but draw parallels to the journey of a new leader. Each turn and decision he makes, each moment of uncertainty followed by a burst of confidence, mirrors the path of leadership development. Just like him, new leaders often start with a mix of excitement and apprehension, unsure of the uncharted paths ahead but eager to explore.

In much the same way that driving requires understanding the road, its rules, and the vehicle, leadership demands an awareness of team dynamics, organizational culture, and personal management style. Both journeys are about finding the right balance between control and trust, guidance and autonomy.

Key Takeaways: Steering Toward Success

  • Embrace A Journey of Discovery: Just as a new driver cautiously navigates the roads, new leaders embark on a journey of discovery, balancing excitement and apprehension.
  • Understand the Terrain: Leadership, like driving, requires understanding the environment – be it the road or organizational dynamics.
  • Balance of Control and Trust: Finding the right balance between control and trust is crucial in both driving and leading, as is the balance between guidance and autonomy.

Bridging the Coaching Gap in Corporate Learning

In reflecting on my driving lessons with my son, I’ve noticed a stark contrast in how we approach coaching in the corporate world. There’s a significant gap in the investment in coaching for managers, leaders, and individual contributors. Often, coaching is seen as a privilege reserved for the more experienced tiers of an organization, like the C-suite and their direct reports. This leaves a vast majority without the crucial support they need to thrive.

Recognizing this disparity, it’s clear that building a culture of coaching is essential. This means reserving coaching for the top echelons and democratizing it across all levels. We can create a more inclusive and supportive environment by training managers and leaders to be effective coaches for their teams. Furthermore, equipping our people with the right tools to either coach or be coached is vital.

This is where Cloverleaf steps in, pioneering an innovative solution to this challenge. Our automated, AI-powered coaching platform seamlessly integrates into the daily tools employees use. This approach makes coaching accessible and practical, providing the necessary support for front-line and new managers to excel in their roles. Deploying such a solution across an organization can transform the corporate learning and development landscape, making coaching a universal resource for success.

Navigating Leadership: The Power of Ongoing Coaching

In many organizations, the current approach to coaching lacks a sustained strategy. Monthly coaching sessions, while beneficial, are not sufficient to build the necessary skills and confidence employees need for their development. Imagine the scenario with my son: if I only joined him in the passenger seat once a month, leaving him to navigate the complexities of driving alone most of the time. The result would likely be a less confident, less competent driver, and a higher risk of accidents.

This analogy extends to the workplace. Infrequent coaching fails to provide the ongoing support and guidance employees need to excel in their roles. The key lesson for learning and development and talent management leaders is the importance of more hands-on, on-the-job development approaches. Coaching should be a continuous journey of growth and learning, not just an occasional check-in.

For leaders, this means sometimes stepping back from the driver’s seat and moving into the passenger seat. It’s about developing your coaching skills to effectively guide and nurture your team members, helping them steer their own path to success. As I assist my son in achieving his full driver’s license, I’m reminded of the transformative power of continuous, supportive coaching. It’s a reminder that our role as leaders is not just to direct but to empower and develop our people, fostering a culture of continuous learning and growth.

Darrin Murriner

Darrin Murriner

Darrin Murriner is the co-founder and CEO of Cloverleaf.me - a technology platform that brings automated team coaching to the entire enterprise through real-time, customized coaching in the tools employees use daily (calendar, email & Slack / Teams). The result is better collaboration, improved employee relationships, and a more engaged workforce. Before starting Cloverleaf, Darrin had a 15-year corporate career that spanned Munich Re, Arthur Andersen, and Fifth Third Bank. Darrin is also the author of Corporate Bravery, a book focused on helping leaders avoid fear-based decision-making.