Today in 1947 Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier – going faster than any human had ever gone up until that point – about 768 miles per hour or a mile in five seconds. And it seems that since then speed has played a bigger part in all areas of our lives, including at work.
As a leader it is our responsibility to be aware of and think about all things that have a significant impact on our teams and their success. That list would have to include speed. Speed is a complicated topic when we think about it in terms of human and group dynamics, and so this article is relevant and useful for us as leaders.
In the pursuit of speed, let’s get on with the principles of speed and how we harness them for ourselves and with our teams.
Environmental speed is building. Ok, I already made this point and you get it. By most all measures the world is moving faster than ever and unless you are going to shun society and move off the grid to a cabin in the mountains, you can’t change that. Since you are reading this from a leadership perspective that likely isn’t an option you are considering. The fact is speed is prevalent in our worlds, and as leaders we must help people cope/accept/deal with it – especially since we are seen as (or are seen as the representative of) the source of some of that change.
Speed is relative. 30 miles an hour on a bicycle seems really fast, but that doesn’t seem so fast on a freeway. Have you every driven your car on a freeway at 70 mph, then had to reduce speed for construction, but it is a weekend and there is no one around? Doesn’t 50 now seem slow? Two people join a team or organization at the same time and one thinks things move really fast, and the other thinks it is as slow as molasses. Which is right? Both are, based on their past experiences and expectations. Speed in all situations is relative – which means if you have a team that thinks things are too fast, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are lazy, but it does mean you may have to help them grow accustomed to a new, faster pace.
Speed has style implications. There are many personality and behavioral style tools and models, and each of them (at least those I am familiar with) acknowledges that different people have a different internal pace. Some people talk faster, walk faster, think faster and are generally more action oriented. Others think before they speak, step back more, draw energy differently and are more patient. All of this means that not everyone on your team has the same innate speed setting. Neither is “right” or “wrong”, but those styles will impact how people respond to the general pace and rate of change in your organization. If the thought of styles seems a bit esoteric to you, think about them as habits – some of us just like more speed in our life than others. Your job as a leader? To recognize and harness those styles to improve your team’s overall results.
Speed and your style. Your team members each have a style, and so do you – and your personal style and comfort with speed and rate of change plays a big role in your leadership style. Whatever your style or habits, you must be self-aware enough to see how they are impacting your team, and therefore willing to shift your personal gear as needed.
Speed limits change (a.k.a. speed is situational). If you are leading a team with a significant crisis, speed may need to be increased, and fast! And there are other times when 70 mph just isn’t appropriate, necessary or safe. There are speed limits on the roads to take those factors into account, and we must look for the road signs with our teams as well – so that we set the current speed or pace based on what the organization and environment needs, not what we (or others) are comfortable with or like.
0-60 might be a problem. You may pick a car based on how fast it accelerates. In that case, 0-60 or how fast you can accelerate from a standing stop is important. As a leader, unless a true crisis (not one manufactured) warrants it, moving people, a team or an organization from a standstill to a break neck pace may cause back lash, push back, employee turnover and more. Am I saying not to put your foot on the team’s accelerator? No. I’m saying you may need to find a rate of change that works better than “full speed ahead.”
Even the fastest engines need tune-ups. Even in Indianapolis, where in May the cars top 230 mph, they stop for repairs, tune-ups and more. You may have a team or organization that thrives on speed and excels with it – and yet we can’t all run on the adrenaline and caffeine all the time. As a leader we must know how and when to decelerate the team a bit when they need it.
Speed is required. So I’ve said all of this stuff about the pace of work and change and that we must be able to vary it based on a variety of factors. And the fact remains, as leaders we must maintain a bias for action, we must create a sense of urgency. We are leading an organization that is doing something important and moving towards useful goals, so we must think accelerator more than brakes. We may have to push people from their comfort zones. We may have to help people see that greater speed is the new normal. But time is truly “a-wastin” and we can’t get time back. As a leader we must steward the resources we have to marshal our team towards our goals and vision – and one of those resources is time.