Are You Stuck in the Left Lane?

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Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a number of hours behind the wheel of my car making the trek from North Carolina to Florida and back. Sandwiched around time spent working to become a better Vistage Chair at the ChairWorld conference, I had a good sixteen solid hours of thinking time in which to explore the deep questions of life. Lo and behold, there was one great truth that seared itself into my brain…we have a tendency to get stuck in the left lane.

So…why does it matter which lane we are in?

It is not that the lane itself is important. It’s how and why we are there that matters. Picture yourself cruising down the road in the right lane. Something comes along…a slower vehicle…a car on the side of the road…a pothole…something that causes us to move to the left lane. There we go, probably with the idea that we are moving temporarily to avoid this particular obstacle, but frequently with a far different result. Dozens of times during my trip I witnessed someone driving down the road in the left lane, completely oblivious to the world around them. Faster cars would come up behind them…pass them on the right side…move back to the left lane around them…and still, on they drove. Miles of no one in the right lane, but they would not move back. They were stuck in the left lane.

Momentum is a powerful force. Once we are settled in, we don’t like to move. We are comfortable, just rolling along. It takes some kind of disruption to get us to move. Something comes along that forces us to make a change in the status quo. And, once we are in the left lane, there are a lot fewer disruptions to shake us up.

Can businesses get stuck in the “left lane”…?

I would say we can, and we do. We need the occasional disruption to help us thrive. Something that forces us to reconsider our current path and adjust to the changing world around us. Maybe it’s a new competitor, a new technology, or a decline in the market. Constrained cash flow is a real challenge, but it forces us to reevaluate our use of capital. We are most successful when we create our own disruption, rather than wait for an external one. Something that forces us to change for the better rather than just cruising along.

As leaders, one of our important responsibilities is to make sure that we push our organizations to constantly change and improve. We can’t get stuck waiting for someone else to force us to change our course.