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A Leadership Lesson From Google Maps

Google Maps

There are many essential components of leadership. Nurturing and growing people is one. Being compassionate and empathetic is another. Let’s be honest, we could build a long list in short order. 

But for the purpose of this blog, the most important part of leadership is setting vision. 

At Fluency, we often say that setting vision and direction is in the job description of every leader, no matter the context, level, or situation. If you lead people, you have to show them the path forward to the destination. Creating inspiration and clarity around vision, team direction, purpose, and the future of the people you are charged to lead is engraved into the identity of a good leader. 

In the current context of continued uncertainty around return to work, the economic landscape, and shifting business conditions, vision has been more essential than ever and it’s never been more challenging. Feeling your way through the fog of uncertainty is a high test for any leader, but today it requires a brave navigator to be resolute and intentional about setting vision. 

Which leads to a story about getting to a destination as a leader. 

My career is defined by a series of metaphors that I’ve somehow strung into a series of interesting and, at times, humourous stories. I get a rush of dopamine when I can plus-up someone’s insight with, “It’s like….” because metaphors are one of the essential tools of storytelling. And, I’ve been told, I’m pretty good at it.  

A recent coaching client, managing their way through a complex leadership transition and a myriad of emergent business challenges, was being asked to align with some routine business decisions he wasn’t sold on. He recognized the bigger picture and upsides of alignment in building trust. He also realized they weren’t deal breakers for the overall leadership vision and team direction they had charted.   

As he shared this experience, I chimed in and said, “It’s like Google Maps…” 

And here’s where the metaphor kicks in. 

Google Maps works on three simple principles: 

  • Its purpose is getting you to your destination as efficiently as possible. 
  • It picks out an optimal route as you begin your journey based on the information you give it. 
  • Depending on changing conditions or unforeseen changes and challenges, it will adapt and provide you with a new route to get you to your destination. 

Often when we hit the road and drive to a destination, we don’t or can’t take every turn Google Maps tells us to. It could be we had a truck blocking our turning lane, we missed the sign for the offramp, or we were singing “Don’t Stop Believin” so passionately that we lost our focus for a few minutes. 

When this happens, Google Maps doesn’t panic. It doesn’t tell us to slam on the brakes, pull a dangerous U-turn at high speed, or completely abort our journey. It simply takes a moment, has a think (visualize the spinning wheel), and redirects us to a slightly different route to get us to the same destination. It might take us a few more minutes, but our destination is still fully achievable. And we also might see something new or unexpected on this new course.  

On the journey towards a vision, leaders need to be Google Maps.  

It’s easy for leaders, especially under stress and strain, to fret about the destination and tell themselves they need to take all the right turns, get every decision right, and influence every outcome in the way they intended. That’s not realistic. At worst, it’s delusionary for any leader to think they can operate with that level of certainty and control.  

Here are three ways in which leaders can maintain their vision and not lose sight of the destination: 

Adaptability – We believe this is one of the most important aspects of future-ready leaders – having the “professional pliability” to be able to flex, change, adapt, and re-orient based on changing conditions. Pliability is not about giving in or being soft. It’s about having the awareness to not be too rigid, too declarative, and too set in your expectations for every individual outcome. Maintaining the agility to change without losing purpose or energy is a leadership superpower that’s available to all of us. 

Take A Moment – Just like Google Maps, leaders need to take the space and breath to be able to have a moment to reflect, process, and recalibrate. If we are reactionary, we lose our perspective and our ability to see beyond the immediate outcome or challenge. Acting faster does not equate to acting better. Doing more does not equate to doing better. Creating the space to reflect and think is often the antidote to the menace of unpredictability. 

Self-Compassion – There’s not a leader out there who doesn’t need to cut themselves some slack. Google Maps doesn’t scream at you or take it personally when you miss one turn or go slightly off track. You can do the same for yourself. Building in a practice of self-compassion so you protect the asset is foundational to staying resilient and purposeful in changing times. Worrying and wasting energy against every outcome and decision will not lead you well, nor get you to your destination any faster. In fact, it will ultimately slow you down. 

How clear are you and your team on your vision and destination? 

What are you trying to control today that you need to recalibrate?  

Where is one place you can be more pliable as a leader in the future? 

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