Practice Leadership While in Traffic

When presenting the Four Levels of Maturity as a way to adopt an others-focused mindset, I often joke that traffic is a great place to observe these levels in self and others. Maybe, though, it’s time to take it from a joke to a tool.

For example…

Level One

is the person recklessly weaving in and out of traffic. Level ones are obviously selfish and destructive.

Level Two

is the person driving the exact speed limit, even in the left lane. They are independent and technically correct, but not helpful. Even though they’re destructive to the morale of other drivers and traffic flow, they do not believe they are a problem, because they’re right.

Level Three

is the person who responds to your turning signal and moves over to let you pass. This person is cooperative. They are part of the solution and willing to make a little sacrifice to help out. Level three people are helpful and obvious about it.

Level Four

is the person who is proactive and promotes great traffic flow by staying out of the way. Level four people are generous and helpful, but they are not obvious about it. In fact, they’re so proactive and observant that no one notices them.

Part of the model states that when surrounded by level 1 and 2 behaviors, we tend to be drawn into them, rather than fighting them with levels 3 and 4.

Here is one of my favorite examples:

You are driving at an appropriate speed. Perhaps, 4 mph over the speed limit in the left lane.

There’s a lot of traffic, so going faster is probably unwise. The traffic in the right lane is going 2mph slower than you.

Then, someone comes up from behind. Obviously impatient, they follow very closely. What do you do?

I take a show of hands for each of these options:

  1. Do nothing. (This gets a few hands.)
  2. Immediately look for an opening in the right lane, slow down, and pull into it in order to allow the impatient person get ahead of you. (This gets no hands and a lot of laughs.)
  3. Tap on your brakes and slow down to show the impatient driver that they don’t own the road and they’re already going FAST ENOUGH, DARN IT! (This gets the most hands.)

In other words, you’re driving along at level 3, ready to cooperate, but someone’s level 1 behavior— speeding and riding your tail—pushes you into a level 2 self-righteous behavior. In turn, this behavior makes you grumpy. Actually, lots of traffic situations make us grumpy. Yet, it’s not the traffic; it’s the people and the choices they make on the road that make us revert to personal judgements like,

  • They’re reckless
  • They don’t need to be going that fast
  • What’s their problem?
  • Why are they going that slow?
  • Must be looking at their phone…

All these judgements make us feel worse, drive more aggressively, and arrive at our destination more on edge. And they all represent the Fundamental Attribution Error

“I have a good and thought-out reason for my driving choices, but those other people are selfish, reckless, inattentive, entitled and a hazard.”

Therefore, I audaciously propose the following:

When you drive, use the time as an opportunity to practice mindfulness to…

  • prepare your heart and mind for what comes once you reach your destination.
  • exercise the act of empathy
  • practice putting others first

As you experience other drivers, think…

  • What’s it like to be them right now?
  • What might their day be like?
  • Would I want others to show me grace when I’m not driving at my best?

And most importantly…

  • They are probably doing the very best they can right now.

When it comes to your own driving, consider…

  • Am I really doing the very best I can right now?
  • Are my thoughts and actions right now a reflection of who I really am?
  • Am I making life easier for other drivers, even at the expense of doing what I want to do?
  • Am I so proactive in making traffic flow better than my efforts are invisible to to others?

In life, at work, at home, out in public, it’s hard to be empathetic and patient with others. Even though we know we should, we’re out of practice.

But, what if we practice in traffic, every day, all the time? It would help us develop the right habits in a less personal environment, so that when we come face-to-face with people, we’ve already practiced the art of empathizing.

And most importantly, they may be doing the very best they can right now.

I’m done joking about it, and I’m going to start proposing this seriously. In traffic, when you drive, use that as an opportunity to…

  • Observe the four levels of maturity in other drivers.
  • Practice staying others-focused in making driving choices.
  • Become more patient, mindful, and empathetic.

What could happen?

Thanks for reading,

Alan Feirer

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