They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. And that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And that leadership is not a destination . . . but a journey. I’m not exactly sure who “they” are, but regardless of who said what, there’s something moving and memorable about the power of a beautiful, colorful visual image like this one — and a simple, thought-provoking metaphor.
In my leadership workshops, as well as in the NYU graduate course I teach on “Transformational Leadership and Team Building,” we spend almost an hour discussing — and pretty much an entire semester referring back to — the single, powerful metaphor that we refer to as “The Leadership Journey.” “An hour on one simple picture? How can that be?” you might be wondering.
The windshield represents “the future”: Your vision. The road ahead. The road not taken. The unknown just over the horizon. The obstacles yet unseen. The fears yet confronted. The opportunities yet explored. It is the path you have chosen. The choices yet to be made. And the work still to be done.
The rearview mirror represents “the past”: Where you’ve come from, and how you got here. Your successes and your failures. The experiences — and the baggage — you’ve brought with you. Your core values. Your regrets. The competition that may be gaining on you. The people, plans, dreams, or memories you left behind. And it is a constant reminder of the need to pull over periodically and take time, both literally and figuratively, for reflection.
The dashboard represents “the present”: it contains your dials and gauges and metrics. It tells us how we are doing, and how much farther we have yet to go. How fast are we moving, or how slow. And whether or not we have what it takes to make it to our next destination. As the legendary management guru Peter Drucker once famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
And what else? What does the steering wheel symbolize, and the tires, and the engine, and the trunk? Should we continue to stay on this road, or take a different path on a road less traveled? Are we following our intended road map, or is our GPS telling us that we might be speeding forward in the wrong direction?
It seems to be blue skies and clear sailing for miles to come, but are we prepared should we hit a patch of stormy weather, or bumps in the road, or a sudden, unforeseen traffic jam or detour up ahead?
Is the fact that there seem to be no other vehicles in sight a good thing or a bad thing? Are we so far ahead that we’ve left everyone else in the dust… or so far behind that we are out of the race? And where should you be, as a leader: in the driver’s seat, the passenger seat, the backseat . . . or perhaps not in this car at all?
With this many important things to think about, and so many questions yet unanswered, now’s as good a time as any to pull over and reflect on your journey so far — and the destinations you have in mind in the rest of the year and beyond.