Two Warning Lights that Indicate You are Headed in the Wrong Leadership Direction

Named by Inc. as one of the top 100 leadership speakers, Shelley Row, P.E., is an engineer and former government and association executive. Shelley’s leadership work focuses on developing insightful leaders who can see beyond the data.
Have you ever noticed the raised reflective pavement markers that reflect white light at night when you have your headlights on?  As a transportation engineer, I see things on the road that many others may not. Some may not know that they reflect red if you are headed the wrong way. (Hopefully, you’ve never seen this in action!)

While traveling one day, and noticing these markers, I thought to myself: “It would be nice if there were twinkling dots to tell us when we’re headed the wrong way as leaders.”  Then I realized, maybe there are warning lights, like these.

That gnawing, nagging feeling.

You know what I’m talking about. Something just doesn’t feel right. Maybe you feel you should just ignore it but think again.  My personal experience and interviews with executives provide one consistent word of advice about a nagging feeling—it’s worth paying attention to.  From a neuroscience perspective, it’s a sign your brain is trying to get your attention. You can call it what you want – intuition, gut feel – but whatever name you give it, it deserves attention.  A friend who is an Executive Director of a trade association told me she gauges the wisdom of a decision based on the nagging feeling. “The nagging feeling goes away when you make the right decision,” she says.

Pay attention to your own “red reflector lights” so that you don’t head down the road too far in the wrong direction!
The trusted friend or colleague who suggests, “You might want to think that over.”

Notice the emphasis on trusted. If someone I respect gives pause or suggests I give more thought to an idea, I’ve learned to reconsider before I decide.  I’m limited in my vantage point, and so are you. Others may have a clearer perspective and see the implications and consequences that I can’t. It’s very valuable to me to have people in my life that I can trust for truthful feedback, not just what I think I want to hear. I encourage you to cultivate those relationships as well. They can make a big difference in times of decision-making large and small.

When either (or both) warning lights come on, it’s worth asking questions to discover underlying information that can help with a decision.  You may ask yourself some questions during some intentional thinking time, and/or ask your trusted friends or colleagues what they see that you can’t.

Pay attention to your own “red reflector lights” so that you don’t head down the road too far in the wrong direction!



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