Several times a week, I take the winding road up onto Dartmoor. Essentially the main link between Tavistock on the other side of the moor and Ashburton on this, it’s a perfectly useful road for much of the route, with lines down the middle and everything. It’s a somewhat different story on our side of the moor however, where the road narrows, twists, climbs and dives in ways that can’t be anticipated due to the high hedges and stone walls on either side. There are many places where the road simply becomes too narrow for two cars to pass and, in addition, there are two very narrow bridges where cars often meet in the middle.
In short, it can be a frustrating road, particularly at this time of the year when it becomes clogged with bemused tourists. And it’s a road that brings out both the most courteous and the most aggressive behaviour in drivers.
I was wondering the other day, as I sat in my car saying ‘thank you’ to all the drivers who had carefully ignored the fact that I had pulled in to let them pass, why some people seem so rude. There are always some that will glare at you as if you’re personally responsible for building a road that’s too narrow for their people carrier or camper van. And others who just drive at speed, staring ahead like a horse in blinkers, hoping everyone else will miraculously manage to get out of their way and they’ll somehow get through. And those who simply refuse to contemplate the risk of reversing to the layby they’ve just passed.
In general, those of us who know the road get along with it quite well. We know the spaces to wait for oncoming cars. We know how to tell if there’s a car approaching the bridge from the other side and experience has taught us that despite appearances, we can successfully navigate the journey without our wing mirrors or doors being torn off by other road users, a stone wall or a wayward cow. (Did I forget to mention the livestock that roam freely along the road?) We wait, we say thank you, we wave, we shrug, we laugh at the craziness of it all.
The thing is though, when I started using the road a few years back, I HATED it. Worse, I feared that journey. And that fear probably led to my own bad behaviours, like glaring at other drivers I thought were getting very close to my car at speeds I now consider normal.
Being a new manager can feel a bit like being on those early journeys. We’re faced with a situation we’re not familiar with, we feel anxious and we probably lack confidence. We might suffer from imposter syndrome, wondering how we came to be selected for this new role and when we’ll be ‘caught out’.
It strikes me that training that is focused too early on the dangers of doing something wrong, the importance of processes, the risks of tribunals, disciplinaries and grievances and procedures - in other words training that feeds our fears - can be counterproductive.
We’re rarely at our best when afraid. Indeed, fear can provoke lots of negative behaviours like hostility, anger, aggression and even hate. Fear can lead to newly promoted managers too aggressively trying to assert their new authority. It can prevent them taking risks or suggesting new ideas. It can make it difficult for them to try new, unscripted approaches with their team.
What difference might it make if learning focused on potential? On building confidence? On what managers might achieve when they empower, engage and release their team’s full potential? On what they might achieve when they create a sense of community?
What difference might it make if we could show inexperienced drivers that negotiating that tricky new road isn’t as hard as it seems, and can actually be fun?
As you’d expect, there’s loads of materials in Trainers’ Library that will inspire managers to embrace the adventure before them and realise the positive difference they can make. Let me know if we can help.
As always, all feedback, positive or negative is welcomed. Until next time...