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Leadership is a Long Haul

I recently read an article in Popular Mechanics magazine recently called, "The Grueling Life of a Long-Haul Trucker" that triggered me to reflect on the parallels to leadership. Truck drivers lead solitary existences, travel extensive miles, stop in strange towns, and speak their own distinct language. They also live in pursuit of clear goals and can break those objectives down into weight ratio, miles per gallon, and hours trucked per day in order to maximize their revenues. The truck driver profiled in the article makes this profound statement that I'd like to unpack here:

As long as you take care of your truck and avoid the big breakdowns, you should come out on top. But there's a lot more responsibility having your own truck. Anything that goes wrong is your problem.

  1. Take care of your truck - in the literal sense a truck is the cabin, engine, tires, and trailer. In the leadership sense, a truck is yourself (body, mind, spirit), company, team, culture, values, products, and services. Your job as leader is to ensure that the vehicle is in tip-top shape so you can go the distance and achieve your goals.

  2. Avoid the big breakdowns - time is literally money in the truck driving world. The driver in the article talks about how something as simple as purchasing diesel from warm weather parts of the country can leave you stranded in colder weather parts waiting for a tow truck and/or police to rescue you before you freeze to death. In the leadership sense, this translates into what the book Great by Choice calls "productive paranoia". Great leaders anticipate the factors and circumstances that can derail their progress and always plan and prepare for the worst case scenario. Rose colored glasses may make the world look prettier but they also prevent you from seeing that the sky is falling!

  3. Come out on top - truckers need to arrive on or ahead of time with their sanity and cargo intact and the same applies for leaders. Your function is to instill a high performance culture and drive it until you are winning more than you are losing. By default that means that all leaders need a score board by which to visualize success for themselves and their teams, week over week, month over month, quarter over quarter, and year over year.

  4. Anything that goes wrong is your problem - truckers are fundamentally solo professionals, so when bad things happen, accountability is relatively easy. In leadership however, when things go wrong do you place blame on others or do you take a hard look in the mirror and recognize the error of your own ways? Accountability is one of the keys to performance and leaders who do not hold themselves accountable will have great difficulty holding anyone else accountable for results.

What other parallels can you draw between leadership and long haul trucking? Let me know in the comments section. And if you enjoyed this article please share with your network.

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