I was recently in Chicago and noticed a sign mounted next to a stop light at an intersection. It read, OBEY YOUR SIGNAL. I found it interesting and ironic at the same time. I mean, if a person isn’t willing to obey the traffic signal in the first place, what impact will another sign have demanding that they do so?
Actually, the sign is simply a reminder that there are different signals for each lane, and one needs to pay attention to the signal for the lane you are in. This is both reasonable and safe. The brevity of words on the sign is a necessity that unfortunately lends itself to misinterpretation but within the context of the moment should be clear.
Each of us has a lane that we are meant to drive in. This path leads to our future, our destiny, and our purpose. Along the way, there are indicators and signals that help us navigate and stay true to the course. The trick is to not get misdirected by the signals for the lanes that are next to ours but are not our own. We also tend to get distracted by the cars in the lanes next to us and lose our way.
To obey our signals, we must be self-aware on at least three fronts; personal (physical, emotional, and mental), relational, and organizational.
Our first responsibility is to be healthy and on course personally. Unhealthy leaders cannot lead healthy people and organizations. I won’t belabor the need for physical health here. Leaders must learn to listen to their own body and obey the signals it is giving. There has been plenty of research done and much written about that. However, it has only been recently that we are openly talking about mental and emotional health. Personal health is not a pick-two at a deli. Lack of health in one area negatively impacts the others.
Our current beliefs and behaviors have a significant impact on the culture of our organization or community. Those deeply held beliefs and the resulting behaviors are often being controlled by a range of past experiences (both good and traumatic), many of which we are unaware. Frankly, the tools learned in recovery are invaluable to a leader. The ability and willingness to process the past, create opportunities for increased self-awareness, and generate a present state of gratefulness and surrender have the potential to free us from the manipulation of our own histories.
Leaders must have high relational health. Second in terms of our leadership impact is how we make the people around us feel. While we are responsible for results and holding people accountable, we are also responsible for showing people they are valued and cared for. Words are great, but actions are significantly better. Telling someone you care about them is nice, but remembering their kid’s names or their birthday is better. Saying that the company values them is good, but paying above average wages and giving bonuses and perks when times are favorable is better.
Ultimately, we can only demonstrate that we care if we really do. Our behavior will always expose our true beliefs. If I struggle to care for others, it could be because I don’t understand where I get my personal value (hint: it’s not what you accomplish or acquire). If I am unable or reluctant to praise and encourage others, it could be because I am not truly grateful. As I learn the source of my value and the infinite amount of help I have and continue to get from others, I become more other-oriented and am more able to show that I care.
Finally, leaders must have a clear vision for the community. Vision that is inspiring and achievable. Vision that is unique to the community. This is where finding our lane and staying in it is critical. Don’t pay too much attention to the cars next to you. They may look similar and even be similar, but their course is not your course. Just because they are going or turning or stopping does not mean that is the thing for you. Be confident in your vision and brave enough to let everyone else go their way without influencing you to leave your lane.
When leaders have clear vision and communicate it well, the entire community can see the lane and participate in minor course corrections to keep on track. They are going to make a lot of decisions that you will never even know. Statistically, those decisions will move the community in the right direction more if everyone is clear on the vision. The mission and values are paramount and must not be forgotten, but the vision points out the peak we are all trying to summit.
For leaders, OBEY YOUR SIGNAL means taking care of ourselves so we are fit and able to lead, taking care of others so they can participate in the community, and communicating a clear and compelling vision for where we are going. There is a lot of noise out there. Sometimes the signals are weak or confusing. Sometimes we see another lane that looks appealing or another car that we are envious of, but our role is to stay in our lane and lead everyone to the destination. When we do that, the signals are clear, and obeying them is the Kimray Way.