Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Stop Lights

"Traffic light" dashboard reports are now commonplace in many organisations. Whilst this has most definitely improved the way executives look at their business it has brought with it an underlying culture, which avoids a "red light" at all costs. We see them as failures and not opportunities or even successes.

Just like our frustration sitting at the red light at an intersection, we translate the same response in our organisations. We want an unencumbered ride down the road and we want all green lights showing on our report cards. We see this as success however the result means that we may be missing some valuable observations along the way. Our people are geared to pursuing green lights if even running the amber light is what it takes.
It is also the continual interchange of lights, both red and green, that allows the whole organism to flow in many different directions and operate effectively. It’s the red lights in life that allow us to get through as well as the green ones and not totally jammed in a bottleneck.

Wisdom, leadership, strength are not attributes born out of a "green light" life. Laziness obesity and ignorance are such outcomes.

Every red light should be looked upon with opportunity and potential. Our tendency to avoid red ones or become extremely agitated or angry says a lot about exposing the decisions we made prior to being held up by the red light. Like the reason we might be in such a hurry in the first place?

Waiting is something we don't do well. We respond continuously upon the pressure on a leader to "act" and it takes a greater portion of character and wisdom to "wait" or "stop" for a moment.

When for instance has the actual red light ever caused you to fail? If you can sight one that didn't involve a decision you made, or another event, and not the stop light itself I would be surprised. So let's look at red lights differently and what they provide for us as leaders.

Red lights on a report provide for us an opportunity to grow, and engage us in recognising that that part of our business might require investment or support. Just like the indicator lights on the dashboard of our car these are signs that we may have overlooked some maintenance or inadvertently forgotten to refuel. In the busyness of life we often need these indicators to pull us back into focus. Instead of seeing "red" and treating these as a pure annoyance we should be entirely grateful that they are there.

If our people feel “safe” in flagging red or amber lights we will reap the benefits of insights that may avoid a greater collision further down the road. It will cause us to become aware that we are actually at an “intersection” that requires a decision which we otherwise would have missed.

Are we annoyed with the red lights? Do we condemn those responsible as failing rather than being grateful for what they provide, or do we encourage these indicators to be activated rather than avoided?

Are we inadvertently leading our people to even race through the amber (warning) lights to avoid the red ones?

Next time you are stopped at the intersection. Take a look around.
Are you really being held up, or is this an opportunity to consider what is really going on.

It may even give you an insight into an alternative route that you have previously missed.

Are you only seeing green lights?
What are you missing?


  1. Wisdom, leadership, strength are not attributes born out of a "green light" life. Laziness obesity and ignorance are such outcomes. < Otherwise a good post. Really? It's impossible to be wise, a leader, strong AND obese? Sometimes red lights allow us to do some thinking. Maybe at your next red light, you could think about how discrimination slows us all down.

  2. Susan I understand that the word Obese has a significant sensitivity for some. My post however refers to organisational and attitudinal obesity not physical, in the same way strength is not referring to the physical. Neither are any of these attributes co-dependent. If obesity presents itself as a significant sensitivity to anyone then maybe this is a red traffic light that is to be considered directly by the individual at the intersection where it is causing a problem. What should also be considered is whether the issue (obesity) is really the result of an amber one that was previously avoided or ignored?