Seven Personal Leadership Lessons From The Roundabout

by Alli Polin on October 15, 2012

Leaders Make Wrong Turns Right

There are dozens of roundabouts in the town where I live.  You know – the big circles designed to make turns easy where many roads meet.  At first, I thought that they would be polite intersections and everyone would alternate turns.  WRONG.  I quickly learned that roundabouts here are an aggressive, fast, go when you can, and a take no prisoners experience.

Early on after moving to Alice Springs, just driving towards the roundabout my blood pressure would start to rise and I’d hunker down in the drivers seat to whiz my way into the trickle of traffic.  Let’s just say if profanity isn’t your thing you should be glad you weren’t riding in my backseat.  When it was my turn, Lord help you if you got in my way.  I was a woman on a mission and nothing was going to stop me from going where I needed to go. 

Actually sounds like a lot of leaders that I know. 

Life and leadership in the roundabout was about:

  • Getting there first
  • Staying on my course with only a sideways glance
  • Staying with the pack of cars in front of me that were flowing forward

Still, given that I’m still new to the town I really don’t know where I’m going most of the time without my GPS and even then half of the time it tells me too close to a turn to make it on time.  My newness is what actually gave me a whole new view on the roundabout.  I missed my turn off the roundabout and kept on going around the circle.  I could backtrack, make the turn and still get to where I was going. 


I was the one making it hard on myself and I decided to on take a new perspective.  Just like that, the pressure was off.

Personal leadership is stronger when you know that you will get where you’re going even if it’s not a straight line. 

Personal leadership in the roundabout now looks like this:

  1. If I don’t feel like zooming, I don’t.  I have given myself permission to wait and take a beat.  Leaders are pushed and pulled to work at the “speed of business”.  Truth is, you can lead even more effectively when you take in the landscape before heading into action.
  2. I’m not bothered if others get there first.  I need to do what’s right for me (and the safety of my passengers) Leadership is not a race to the top.  Leaders need to do what’s right for themselves, their teams, and their customers.
  3. I don’t let others pressure me into going faster than is comfortable for me.  Leaders set the pace for the team but full speed ahead doesn’t work for every person in every culture.  The best leaders understand the styles of the people on their teams and flex to meet them where they are today and where they are most comfortable.
  4. I smile at cars that stop so I can go.  Instead of feeling entitled, I’m filled with appreciation.  I no longer think: Sucker!  Leaders that stop and see other people as people and not obstacles build bridges based on relationships.  Those relationships enable everyone in the organization to function with more ease and focus on their common mission.
  5. I can always make things right.  There is no such thing as a wrong turn; the roundabout lets me correct my path.  The virtual leadership roundabout is about choice.  There are many places to exit but the best part is that if you choose the wrong path you and your teams are not lost.  You can keep moving and make things right. 
  6. It’s so much easier to say “oops” I missed my turn instead of acting as if I was just taking a new way to my destination.  Leaders don’t look bad when they change their path; they look bad when they’re too stubborn to admit that they have taken the team off course.
  7. There is a roundabout rhythm that opens me up to flow and ease in the moment.  The same holds true for leaders working in organizations and in their own businesses.  Recognizing the flow of people and information reduces stress and enables leaders to be in the moment, supportive and sharply focused.

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to use the roundabout instead of putting the pressure on yourself as a leader to always focus on the competition and appear as if you never go off course?

(Photo credit)

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