x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Driving your organisation

The Life: It can be difficult for any senior executive who wants to move with swift speed when the organisation has the rhythm of a slower beat.

In an organisation, going faster is more than a matter of hitting the gas; you need to increase the speed of those around you too. Silvia Razgova / The National
In an organisation, going faster is more than a matter of hitting the gas; you need to increase the speed of those around you too. Silvia Razgova / The National

Fighting traffic on the highway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi reminded me of a recent query from one of my executive-coaching clients who asked: "How can I go faster when my organisation is so slow?"

He was referring to the difficulty many high-achieving leaders have with the misplaced tempo of the workplace. Working faster than everyone else, speedy leaders are frustrated when the people they rely on to deliver results slow them down. Being part of a large organisation, it can be difficult for any senior executive who wants to move with swift speed when the organisation has the rhythm of a slower beat.

Quickly trying to make my way to Dubai from Abu Dhabi, I recognised various driving patterns that mimic work patterns. Unfortunately, the speed that cars travel on the E11 is usually less than the allowed speed limit, creating a reflection of the organisational challenge when the leader wants to go faster than the average pace.

But it is more than a matter of simply hitting the accelerator; the trick is to increase the speed of those around you.

The Slow Driver clogs traffic by driving in the middle of the highway, making everyone else slow down to avoid crashing. Rather than speeding up to the speed limit or moving out of the way, they drag everyone else down. Employees who enjoy a leisurely pace have the same effect on the organisation.

At the other extreme are the fast drivers, of which there are several profiles. Their attempts to go fast usually result in making other drivers slow down as they cause discomfort and sometimes even panic.

The Pushy Driver is the one who obnoxiously pulls right up to the boot of the car in front of them trying to bully the car out of their way. They get so close that the other driver becomes distracted and fearful. When this type of leader comes barrelling through the hallway, employees hide in safety to protect their well-being.

Another dangerous speed profile is the Dizzy Driver, who zips in and out of every lane, narrowly missing the other cars and leaving drivers shaky as they pass them by. When leaders follow this pattern and jump from one idea to another, it likewise leaves their team spinning its wheels.

The one speed pattern that is tolerated on the highway and in organisational life is the driver who politely flashes from a distance, indicating that he is going fast and gives the other drivers a chance to safely get out of the way while maintaining their speed.

The most interesting correlation between speed patterns on the highway and in an organisation is that the driver or leader may go faster than everyone else but they are doing it all alone.

When leaders do this, they abdicate their leadership responsibility and move into the role of an individual performer.

It is a leader's job to raise the tempo of the organisation. Leaders are like the pace car that gets the other cars up to the desired speed.

It is somewhat like a runner who lifts the speed of others. Rather than running off, like the speedy driver, and leaving everyone else behind, a good leader increases the speed of the pack. This way everyone can run faster, including the leader.

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, an adviser and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center