The Power of the Passenger Seat
Life can often feel like a race, quickly moving from one point to another. When we only focus on getting to where we want to go, it's easy to miss the impact we can have on others.
When you’re in the driver seat, all of your focus is on what's happening immediately around you. Although you may catch a quick glimpse of some sights along the way, anyone in the passenger seat can gaze out the window the entire time. Soaking in the surrounding beauty and observing what is taking place in the world. Most of us have heard some version of the quote:
Life is a journey, not a destination.
It’s not always easy to leave the driver seat, it provides a feeling of control and progress. We choose the routes we take, when we stop, and how far we can get in a day. How many of us skip chances to network with others because we are convinced we are too busy? How many times do we notice someone who looks like they are having a bad day or needs help, but we decide we are too far behind to talk to them?
We may get to tick the last checkbox on our list for the day, but is that really as good as it gets? If we don’t take a break and switch seats from time to time, we risk reaching the destination but missing the journey.
My Passenger Seat Moment
When I think back to my days of being a first-time people leader, gripping the wheel and staying in control of my day seemed essential. Emails, paperwork, coaching forms, reports, I was convinced all of these tasks needed to be done at all costs. It may go without saying, but I wasn't a very inspirational leader. My team performed the bare minimum necessary to avoid signing a piece of that paperwork with me and I couldn't tell you much about them.
One day my computer was down for several hours. I found myself walking the sales floor among strangers, even though I saw all of them daily. I noticed one of the young men on my team was zoned out at his desk, with tear streaks down his face. I walked up and asked him if he needed to step outside and talk.
He proceeded to tell me he was struggling with addiction and wasn’t sure how to keep going. As someone who got sober at 18, I shared what my life used to look like, what I did and what life was like present day. Fresh tears ran down his face, but this time I knew it was because he could see that someone actually understood where he was at.
I knew his pain, knew the hopelessness he felt and offered a way out of it. I let him go home for the day, and he came back a different person for the short time he remained in that job. 4 years later, and after I had moved on to another company, I received a Facebook message from him that read:
I just wanted to let you know that you pushed me to make a decision and go to rehab back in the day. I can’t thank you enough for that. I’m going on 4 years clean and sober. That morning you pushed me to make a decision that has greatly impacted my life for the better. I’ll never forget that. Thank you so much, I hope you are doing well.
A New Outlook
Now before I received the message, I had already learned a valuable lesson from my time in the passenger seat that day. By taking the time to connect with my team and learn about their lives, we established trust and bonds that drove them to perform beyond the bare minimum necessary. I earned their respect and therefore they performed because they wanted to help me be successful instead of just to avoid being disciplined or lectured. All it took was a few hours out of the driver seat to find a new outlook.
As valuable as that lesson was towards my future success, what I will never forget is the day I received that message. I remember sitting in my chair, a smile stretching across my face, and tears forming in my eyes this time. The gratification and fulfillment I felt knowing I had made a positive impact on that young man’s life, added more to my own life than all the emails, paperwork and reports I have ever completed.
On that day, I didn't think about the destination at all, but I was deeply in love with the journey.