Slow Down for the Curves

By Steve Hansen, PCC

With an eye to completing as much as could get done in a long workday, Ann, the VP of IT, felt she had to go 200 mph every minute of every day. Her communication style was matter of fact, blunt, direct, and she had little time to explore the “sideways thinking” of some of her direct reports. She was amazingly productive but her team often felt that she didn’t listen or she just directed them to get the job done without checking what they were thinking. She just didn’t have time to slow down was how she put it.

Working with her over a 6 month period gave me an opportunity to help her see how she was not taking care of relationships in a way that created more commitment on the part of her team. She got compliance but not commitment. Commitment was something she had to earn. What she hadn’t yet learned was slowing down to go faster.

I asked Ann if she had heard about or seen Formula One racing, the super fast racecars that drive not on an oval racetrack but on European city streets taking the sharp turns and straightaways as fast as possible. Being a winning Formula One driver requires skill in navigating all kinds of different fast paced driving situations.

She had, and so I asked her a few questions:

  • How does the racecar driver win the race? (By staying on the race course)
  • Does the driver try to go as fast on the turns as on the straightaways? (No, he’d crash and not finish the race)
  • How does the driver feel about all the hairpin turns, S-curves and slower parts of the racetrack? (It’s just part of the racecourse, so do it at the quickest pace appropriate for that part of the racecourse while staying on the track)
  • Does the driver get upset about not being able to go 200+ mph for the whole race? (No, straightaways are only one part of the racecourse. The course includes both curves and straightaways and to win the race you have to be adept at every part of it)

Ann was beginning to get the point of the metaphor. To win the race the driver must stay on the course. To win her business “race” she needed to slow down for the curves.

I suggested to her that she loved going 200 mph throughout her day and she agreed. But she also began to see that there were hairpin turns and slower parts of her day that must be negotiated. I suggested that those turns and slower areas were either people or situations (like meetings) that she encountered every day. And the only way to “win the race” was to learn to slow down as appropriate when they were encountered.

In fact, just as the racecar driver does, she learned to anticipate when she needed to slow down in order to stay on her business course and choose behaviors that helped her and her team be more effective. With a particular project manager she learned she needed to prepare herself when meeting with him, to slow down and listen more carefully. When she did that, she built a better relationship with him by understanding and accepting his style and he became more productive.

In a team meeting, lead by her manager, she learned to accept the pace of the meeting and became more present and engaged. She found that she listened better to the input from others and she contributed more effectively because her slower pace allowed her to understand more of the nuance and complexity of the issues discussed.

By thinking about her business racecourse and identifying who and what required her to slow down, Ann became much more relationship oriented, created a team that understood that she cared about them and got work done more smoothly. Their commitment to her and the organization became more apparent to her and her manager, and became a win for all.




To speak with Steve about your own team, consult with him today.