What Five Old Ladies Teach Us About Leadership

leadership (1)

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. – Peter Drucker

Sitting on the side of the highway waiting to catch speeding drivers, a State Trooper sees a car puttering along at 22 m.p.h. He thinks to himself, “This driver is just as dangerous as a speeder!”

So he turns on his lights and pulls the driver over. Approaching the car, he notices that there are five old ladies — two in the front seat and three in the back, wide eyed and white as ghosts. The driver, obviously confused, says to him, “Officer, I don’t understand, I was doing exactly the speed limit! What seems to be the problem?”

“Ma’am,” the officer replies, “you weren’t speeding, but you should know that driving slower than the speed limit can also be a danger to other drivers.” “Slower than the speed limit? No sir, I was doing the speed limit exactly … twenty-two miles an hour!” the old woman says a bit proudly.

The State Trooper, trying to contain a chuckle explains to her that 22 was the route number, not the speed limit. A bit embarrassed, the woman grinned and thanked the officer for pointing out her error. “But before I let you go, Ma’am, I have to ask… Is everyone in this car OK? These women seem awfully shaken and they haven’t muttered a single peep this whole time,” the officer asks.

“Oh, they’ll be all right in a minute, officer. We just got off Route 119.”

The old lady driving the car had her fellow passengers terrified. She had mistaken the route number for the speed limit. Your actions as leader have an impact on those around you. You can lead and inspire your people in magnificent ways or you can scare them to death. Here are three things we can learn from the story.

Leaders set the pace

Mary Kay Ash said, “The speed of the leader is the speed of the gang.” She’s right. You set the pace as the leader. Getting everyone on the same page is important but getting everyone up to speed is critical. If the leader perceives that the people are going too slow then he or she will get frustrated. If the people sense that the leader is going too fast then they will get frustrated. See what’s wrong with this picture?   As a leader it’s important to find the right speed so that everyone can succeed.

Leaders chart the course

Knowing where you are going is important. As the leader you set the course by clearly articulating the vision and by everyone understanding their mission in making it come together. Roy Disney wisely observed, “When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.” Chart the course, communicate the vision, and never confuse the route number with the speed limit.

Leaders can make adjustments

Once pulled over, the old lady realized the error of her way. As a leader it’s important not to let your pride or ego get in the way of making adjustments when necessary. Your plans may look great on paper with your team is solidly behind you, but when circumstances on the ground change you must be prepared to make adjustments when needed. It was William Arthur Ward who said, “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” As a leader it’s important that you know how to adjust the sails.

Closing questions for your consideration

  1. Have you set the right tempo for everyone in your organization to follow? Are your team members up to speed as they should be? If not, why? How soon can they?
  2. Is the vision and mission of your organization clear to everyone system-wide? How often is it being communicated? Does everyone know how their specific role contributes to the vision and mission being fulfilled?
  3. Are there any adjustments in your organization that need to be made? What about blind spots and who can help you identify them?


© 2014 Doug Dickerson




About dougdickerson

I am Certified Leadership Trainer, author, columnist, and speaker. Husband to Alicia, father to Katelyn and Kara, and "Pop" to terrific grandson Tyson. I am an avid photographer, love the outdoors, and like to travel. I'm passionate about sharing my leadership insights and helping people reach their full potential.
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