Leadership Autopilot

Michelle Braden, President MSBCoach


It is interesting the lessons we can learn in our day to day activities if we are watching for them.  Last month, I had one of these learning opportunities.

Three years ago I moved to a new city.  It was not until four weeks ago I realized that I don’t know my way around my city very well.  The reason is simple and a little embarrassing.  It is all due to my good friend named Garmin.  For directionally challenged people (such as me), Garmin is a lifesaver; however, it can also create great challenges: mentally checking out while you are driving for one.  You’re driving along and Garmin says, “turn right here,” then “turn left there,” and before you know it... “arriving at destination."  You have no idea where you even are or how you go there, but voila!, Garmin says,  "you have arrived."

I realized what a handicap this once great resource had become.  I still don’t know my way around town after three years.  How is that possible?  Do you have a GPS?  Do you use it?  If you do, you know exactly what I am talking about.  What happens if Garmin can’t find the address, stops working, or can’t receive satellite? Has this ever happened to you: Garmin takes you the wrong way, or a long way, or in circles (usually around the airport)?  Now what do you do?  For me, I have found myself “up a creek” because I have checked out, gone on auto pilot and not learned to “think” for directions on my own.

As I was reflecting on how frustrated I was with myself over this situation, I discovered a parallel between solely relying on Garmin for directions and solely relying on insight from others in leadership, or falling into the trap of doing things “the way they have always been done."  When Garmin has not been updated with new routes or street closings, we find ourselves in a great deal of trouble if we do not know the directions. When we rely on doing things just as they have always been done in our leadership, we find ourselves being misdirected, taking the long way around, or just going in circles. Our people see it to and it is a setback.

Just as I realized that I rely on my Garmin so heavily that I am not thinking for myself or learning directions, so must we be cautious not to rely only on what we read, how others lead, what someone else has to say, and/or their lessons learned.  When we do not develop our own leadership style and rely instead on leadership books, theory education and what others do in their leadership; we may find ourselves following blindly along. We are not thinking for ourselves and are just using others to create our leadership direction.

If we are not aware, we may disengage and we fail to create our own leadership thinking and style.  I call this “leadership autopilot."  My Garmin is a great gift to me; however, I have to guard against letting it become my brain for directions.  In the same way, I encourage you to enjoy the gift of great leadership books, mentors and lessons learned from others, but remember to think for yourself. Be aware of the tendency to go on leadership autopilot, doing things the way they have always been done before.  Appreciate the gift, but personally stay in the game.

Here are six tips to avoid leadership autopilot:

  • Schedule times each week to scan the “big picture” and see what is on the horizon with:
  • projects
  • team members
  • stake holders
  • energy levels
  • quality of work
  • finances
  • customers
  • Etc.
  • Remember, ice can sink a Titanic….
    • Know yourself. This includes your strengths as well as the pitfalls you can fall prey to
    • Lead from your values. Any time you have a difficult decision, consult your top five values list to will keep you on track
    • Think before you speak (or act).  You will be amazed and pleased when you recognize the processing that can take place in a few minutes; however, I encourage you to take longer when you can
    • Be open-minded. Guard against prejudging an idea that is different from yours. Practice saying, “Tell me more about that…” or “So how do you see that working….”
    • Recognize when you are mentally checking out and take the necessary time to identify why. Then do something about it

I am sure you have a few other tips to stay engaged and not allow yourself to go on leadership autopilot.  I invite you to share them so we can learn together.


Twitter feed is not available at the moment.