How in the world did YouTube think that I would be interested in a TV show about incredibly dangerous roads? Drawn in, I couldn’t help but notice all kinds of leadership lessons. So, what can you learn about leadership and leading during a crisis from mud and mayhem?
In the show Deadliest Roads, several truck drivers from Myanmar were featured trying to deliver passengers and goods (and even a cow!) to the final destination. They drive through the mountains during rainy season on roads that twist and turn and are incredibly treacherous. The roads are muddy and slick... truck is stuck... tires spinning. Mud is flying all over the place, and it’s clear that the truck is going nowhere. It’s also very common for the drivers to lose control, and for the trucks to tip over, and on occasion go right over the edge, down a steep cliff. Have you ever felt that leading an organization can be a treacherous endeavor? Perhaps you have felt stuck at times, like your wheels are spinning. And, you certainly don’t want to be a leader who drives the organization right off of a cliff.
As I watched this show I found myself reflecting on how leading an organization through a crisis can be like navigating these roads. For example, it was interesting to see how the experienced drivers prepared for their journey and how they overcame their challenges along the way. The drivers would talk their peers about the road ahead. They would make sure that their loads were balanced. As leaders, we know that we will face many challenges. How we prepare and how we approach these challenges can make a huge difference in our success and in the success for our organizations. Who are you talking to today about the challenges ahead? Is there a more experienced leader that you could be consulting?
One of the interesting moments during the show focused on passengers asking the driver to go faster. They wanted to reach their destination as soon as possible. However, the roads were dangerous. If the driver went too quickly, then the vehicle would have tipped over. Perhaps as a leader, our followers want us to go faster or to slow down. They are not happy with the pace of change. How do you find the right pacing as a leader? Leaders must continually think about the rate of change and adjust accordingly. We must be observant, and we must stay in touch with both the road and the people it serves. If we are disconnected from our community or from reality, then we will not be able to make wise decisions. How are you staying connected to your people and to reality?
Don’t Go Alone
On dangerous roads, drivers do not travel alone. They have a partner who helps them identify upcoming dangers. Their partner can see the road from a different perspective. If the truck gets stuck, the partner gets out and helps the driver get the truck unstuck. If the road is washed out, the partner adds rocks to stabilize the road. Experienced leaders know that they cannot do it alone. Who do you have as a thought partner to help you avoid making leadership mistakes? Who is helping you to have another perspective? Do you have a trusted partner who you have invited to tell you when you are off track?
Keep a Positive Mindset
It was notable that the drivers in Myanmar always kept a positive attitude. Even as they faced difficult challenges, their smiles and their sense of humor were noticeable. One of the drivers said, “If the truck winds up in trouble, I smile to calm myself down.” I appreciated hearing the drivers laughing even as they were solving problems. How are you keeping a positive mindset even as you face leadership challenges? Brain research shows that negativity hampers the brain from working well. Negative thinking can make it difficult to process thoughts and find solutions while positive thinking can improve your ability to analyze and think.
Look for Opportunities in the Difficulties
In another fascinating scene, one of the vehicles got stuck at the bottom of the hill. It had been raining and the road was too slick and too steep to get out. The driver and many others worked for hours to free the truck. Eventually, the entire community came out to help the driver. I was moved by how everyone worked together to solve the problem. Even though the challenge was quite significant, they persevered. At one point the driver says, “No matter the problem, we never give up. Sometimes we are even happy to face difficulties.” The driver could not have done it by himself. He needed help from the entire community. I imagine that the driver learned a great deal as he problem-solved throughout his ordeal. How is your community coming together during these challenging days? Are you finding the opportunities within your difficulties?
As you lead your organization through the twists and turns of life, be prepared, remember to stay connected, don’t go alone, keep a positive mindset, and look for opportunities in the difficulties. Finally, what advice do you have for leading during a time of crisis? I look forward to learning from you!
Dr. Eric Semler serves as Elementary School Principal at Concordia International School Shanghai.
Happy brain, happy life. (2011, August 2). Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/prime-your-gray-cells/201108/happy-brain-happy-life
Laine, D., & Comiti, C. (2020, July 10). Deadliest Roads Myanmar [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_Wkq9bO8FM