Do you set aside time for a leadership tuneup? - SmartBrief

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Do you set aside time for a leadership tuneup?

Cars aren't the only things that need service, Fred Ende writes. A leadership tune-up creates time to ask questions and weigh answers.

6 min read

EducationEducational Leadership

Car technician servicing a car at his workshop for article on leadership tuneup

(Ljubaphoto via Getty Images)

Last month, as I was sitting in the waiting room while my car was being serviced, I had a thought: On some level, the art and craft of leadership is similar to getting your car serviced. A stretch? Maybe. Yet as I thought more about it, it didn’t seem so far-fetched. I’ve come up with four parallels between keeping your vehicle maintained and getting a leadership tuneup. Readers, start your engines! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Scheduling (when you can) is key

Of course, you don’t necessarily have to schedule a car service. You can simply show up and hope for the best. Yet, in my experience so far, taking the risk of not scheduling a service is a dangerous move (both figuratively and literally). When the shop is full, you might have to go somewhere else. When you’ve waited a very long time to schedule a service, you might end up with car trouble you didn’t anticipate. 

Close-up white paper desk calendar appointment and business meeting concept. for article on leadership tuneup
(Pakin Songmor via Getty Images)

Leadership is much the same. If we don’t set aside the time to proactively think through our work, and we don’t make time for what is important, we run the risk of damaging our reputation, our outcomes and the overall health of the organization. 

Of course, just like with a car, you can’t always be proactive with a leadership tuneup. Sometimes things happen that you never would have anticipated, and you have to act in the reactive sense. That said, if we make sure we plan, schedule and structure our work when we can, we become better able to handle those roadside emergencies when they arise.

Go step by step in a leadership tuneup

Even the most challenging car work can be conducted if we follow the manual. Sometimes this is literally a manual, while at other times it draws on past experience and our own developed process. In either case, the idea is the same. Work happens step by step. If we focus on B after A, then the odds for significant challenges might still be present, though they are often reduced.

In our work leading with people, putting one foot in front of the other methodically is also important. The world of leadership is complex; considering small wins and regular benchmarks can help us to meet goals in a way that is doable for each of us, as well as those we serve. What constitutes a step is different for each of us, and, to be the best we can be as leaders, we often need to find efficiencies in our processes to be most effective. Getting a leadership tuneup step by step can feel time-consuming. But the effort we put into this targeted approach can not only help us make car repair less problematic but also can help us lead with intention and impact.

Questions are better than answers (usually)

When we bring in a vehicle for some sort of service, we often do so with a plan of action in mind. Maybe you need an oil change. Or maybe an indicator popped up on your dashboard, and you need it to be looked at. If all we do is tell the mechanic what has happened when we bring in our vehicle, then we miss the opportunity to learn. Asking why something occurred, or how it might have been avoided (or even how to handle it ourselves), can help us to be better prepared for future occurrences and can teach us important lessons.

This greatly supports the importance of serving as a reflective leader — someone who welcomes questions even more than answers. The ask is where the learning is, while the answer, too often, is where the learning stops. As leaders, our goal is not to be the answer suppliers (though sometimes we must serve in that role). Instead, our goal should be to serve as the question-asker, or prompter, so that we can help others learn for themselves. 

In my perfect world, we all ask more questions than we answer, and we support each other as we engage in searching for answers on our own and with others. What an interesting world it would be if that were the case!

Do only what you can do

A mantra I have been adopting this year has been “I can only do what I can do.” Earlier in my career, I might have seen this ideology as a weak response or one that took responsibility off my shoulders. However, I’ve learned that understanding my current capabilities makes me more valuable to others. As a leader, I first have to be able to take care of myself before I can extend myself to meet the needs of others.

When we look for work to be done on our vehicles, we can fall into the trap of attempting to do too much. In fact, there is always more work to do on a car (just like on a house). To pace ourselves, we must only do what we can, whether connected to finances, time, opportunity, etc. The idea is that we know ourselves and know what is possible in the moment, and we make sure that we don’t overdo or underdo that which is facing us.

While seemingly small in the grand scheme of things, even a routine car checkup provides us with opportunities to consider our leadership skills and develop ourselves in ways that make us ultimately better. 

My car’s service call was quicker than anticipated, so I’m writing the rest of this at home. But whether managing work on a car or thinking through elements of our work as leaders, there is much and more that can always be tuned up. (Again, I couldn’t resist!)


Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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