3 Things Riding Shotgun Can Teach You About Supportive Leadership

Before you’re old enough to drive there is one coveted privilege associated with riding in a car.

Do you have any idea what it is?

Tell a group of teens that you’re taking them anywhere and before their hands hit the car (or van) door some will usually scream out, “Shotgun!”

Yep that’s the coveted spot. A seat to yourself make you feel more important than those sharing the bench in the back. Even as adults if we have a choice we prefer the front passenger seat instead of staring at headrests.

We call shotgun because of the privilege and sometimes we overlook the responsibility that comes with sitting in the seat.

On a recent family road trip it was my wife’s turn to drive. She’s a pretty good driver and I am quite secure in my manhood so I had no problem with her taking the wheel. The truth is I have a small problem. When my wife drives I struggle with knowing that I’m not in control.

In this position I have two options. I can support my wife as she drives  or I can undermine and second guess them the entire way. Just so you know early in our marriage I was really good at option two.

During my last stint riding shotgun I was hit with some parallels between the front passenger seat and other supportive leadership roles (leading from the second or third chair).

My job is to keep the driver focused.

The main job of the driver is to get the vehicle to a specific destination. Several things fight for a driver’s attention. One of the things I remind my wife (she reminds me) is that the phone can wait. The road demands more attention that our digital screen. I not always happy to receive the reminder (neither is she) but the second chair needs to help the driver focus on what’s important. When you’re in a supportive leadership role part of your responsibilities included helping the primary leader remain focused on the mission and objectives of an organization. There are scores of things fighting for a leaders attention. Reminders to stay on track are necessary. The ability to help filter distractions is imperative.

My job is to help keep the driver equipped.

I was tempted to write comfortable but it didn’t seem to fit well. While my wife was driving she wanted different things. Water, gum, candy, temperature changes, music changes – some of the very same things I want when I’m driving. Little things can annoy you when you’re behind the wheel. I’ve learned how to anticipate what my wife wants and needs as she grips the steering wheel. In your supportive leadership role do you know what the president, CEO, or director needs to do his or her job well. Do you need to keep pens, adapters, or files handy? When you anticipate and assist it helps to reduce the primary leader’s stress.

My job is to look out for things that driver may miss.

Potholes, cars on the side of the road, exit signs are all on the list of things that drivers can go without noticing. With the focus on the destination drivers can miss little details that can have huge impact. From the passenger seat vantage point I have the freedom to look anywhere at anytime or any length of time. This allows we to call out things that can fall outside of my wife’s perception. In a supportive leadership role your vantage point allows you to see things the primary leader will miss. Pointing them out maybe help the leader avoid accidents of all types.

A competent person in the front passenger seat makes a tremendous difference on road trips. Good drivers respect and appreciate the person riding shotgun. A competent person in a supportive leadership role makes a tremendous difference in organizations. Great senior leaders respect and appreciate having the right people ride shotgun.

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