Is Your Leadership Doing ’90 on Empty’?

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Updated from February 19, 2011 post

In a recent executive team meeting here at the Willow Creek Association I witnessed a remarkable drama unfold.

Some data was presented that would help to inform an upcoming decision. And yet while each of us on the team were looking at the same pieces of information, we drew wildly different conclusions.

And I realized again that the way in which leaders arrive at decisions goes well beyond the data we’re provided. It’s as much about our inner wiring as it is about the information we process.

As I looked at what this principle means in my own leadership, my mind went back to an earlier post, when I reflected on this principle through the lens of a fascinating insight courtesy of Jerry Seinfeld…

Jerry Seinfeld“My parents had two constant arguments while they were driving, over how fast my father was going or how much gas was left in the tank.” Seinfeld wrote in his book Seinlanguage.

“My father had a standard defense for either one of these. It was always, “That’s because you’re looking at it from an angle. If you were over here, you’d see.

From where you’re sitting, it looks like I’m doing ninety on empty. But that’s because you’re over there. If you were over here, you’d know I’m in the driveway with a full tank.”

This dynamic plays itself out in leadership all the time.

You look at data and say,“Wow; things are heading in the wrong direction.” But someone else looks at the same information and says, “That’s because you’re looking at it from over there. From over here things look just fine.”

The bottom line is that when you’re looking at information, you need to know if you’re doing ninety on empty, or actually sitting in the driveway with a full tank.

Here’s what I’ve learned from effective leaders.

  • Know your business. Do you know the seasonal trends that can affect data? Do you know how other organizations are doing under similar circumstances?
  • Know your people. Who are the optimists? Who are the pessimists? Who are the realists? Knowing your people will help to filter their analysis.
  • Know yourself. Are you a “glass half-full” or “glass half-empty” person? Being aware of your own inclinations can help bring clarity to how you view information.

The next time you’re looking at your metrics, try filtering it through these lenses.

Who knows? Maybe you’re doing ninety on empty…

How do you compensate for these dynamics when making your own leadership decisions?


the author

Scott Cochrane

Vice President- International, Global Leadership Network. Love Jesus, Nora, Adam & Robin, Amy, Dave, Willow & Olive and John, Fiona & Will. Lifelong learner.

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