5 keys to outstanding leadership
By Mark Warren
In 1948, Harold L. Smith began teaching an eye-mind coordination driving program that he had developed after observing how the eyes work and how drivers respond to what they see on the road. It was called “5 Keys to Space Cushion Driving” and has become known throughout the world as the Smith System. The 5 Keys are:
1. Aim high in steering. Avoid collisions by seeing, evaluating, and acting upon on all the information available.
2. Get the big picture. Fewer mistakes are made when you have the complete traffic picture.
3. Keep your eyes moving. Proper scanning techniques separate safe drivers from people who make costly and daily errors.
4. Leave yourself an out. All that separates drivers from collisions is space. Use it to your advantage.
5. Make sure they see you. Seek eye contact and use warning devices at the proper time.
These 5 keys are obviously geared toward improving driving acuity. They could also find a central place in leadership in corrections, throughout the criminal justice system, and, indeed, in our personal lives.
It seems that great performers of every stripe — sports, military, business, and in other arenas — share at least one crucial characteristic. They focus completely on the moment while they’re in it. They are, in their own way, visionaries. Great successes and great victories require great vision. They know that no one can change the past, so dwelling or pining is futile and wasted effort. In fact, great competitors spend little time looking back. The legendary pitcher, Satchel Paige, said, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.” Great leaders strive to make the next race, the next event, the next day better than the last one.
Leadership is akin to driving a car. It’s necessary to stay in the moment, know the environment, and keep focus. At the same time, if the goal is to get somewhere, it’s critical to know where you’re going. With minor adaptations, the Smith System seems well suited for successful leadership.
1. Aim high in steering — Recruit, hire, and promote people with good people skills and those who value serving others. No longer assume that the way we’ve always done it is the way it will always be done.
2. Get the big picture — Enhance the work culture and professionalism by teaching others how to avoid the “Peter Principle.” Stay grounded in the moment, but always keep your eyes on the horizon.
3. Keep your eyes moving — Model, mentor, and motivate others to follow the three “R’s”: Respect for one’s self, Respect for others and taking Responsibility for all your actions.
4. Leave yourself an out — In any relationship, our IPC skills may be all that separates negative conflict from positive conflict. Remember, the best two-way communicator is one who “seeks first to understand, then to be understood.”
5. Make sure they see you — Learn to value the value of social skills and good manners. They are, as Emily Post once wrote, the most visible sign of one’s innate character and attitude toward life.
Mark Warren is the Training Coordinator and a Consultant at the Texas Association of Counties (TAC). He served the Texas Department of Public Safety for 23 years, including seven years as Assistant Commander of the Training Academy.