“The DNA of a leader needs to be fundamentally different from what it was in the past…be the person you want other people to be” Leadership lessons from a driving instructor.

When your offspring reach a certain age, a sense of fear and trepidation rises. The time has come to teach them to drive. My husband and I considered ourselves good drivers and, at the time, we were teachers, so it seems only natural that we would be excellent driving instructors.

We spent several months driving with each son. When your kids are learning to drive you must take every opportunity to build up the mandatory hours, a requirement in our state.  At times the stress was tangible in the sweat on the back of the neck, but thankfully the driver, the parent-instructor and the car came out relatively unscathed.

In the last month or so, before the driving test we would engage the services of Ernie, the local driving instructor who had a pretty good pass-first-time record amongst the teenagers in the area. He had a very good reputation, and knew when his protégée was ready for the test.

After a couple of weeks driving with our first son we asked Ernie how Joe was making progress. “Pretty good”, he replied, “I just needed to spend a bit of time helping Joe unlearn some bad habits”.

What bad habits? My husband and I were his first driving teachers. He could start the engine, steer, indicate, navigate traffic lights and roundabouts. What was there to unlearn? We just thought Ernie would do what needed to be done to pass the test. Perhaps it wasn’t the ‘big’ things, habits are often the everyday things we don’t see.

Unknowingly, we had passed certain habits onto our sons, as we instructed him and as he had been our passenger over his lifetime.  We were unintentionally teaching these habits, both the good and not-so-good. Those not-so-good habits were mostly from my husband, I’m sure.

Recently, I was reading about Rebecca Dee Bradbury the head of Kraft Foods in Australia and NZ. She is a successful woman who has risen through the business ranks, and has been brought into Kraft to transform the organisation, what she does best.

Rebecca Dee-Bradbury represents the new style of leader,

“The DNA of a leader needs to be fundamentally different from what it was in the past. You need to be the person you want other people to be.”


21stC leaders take responsibility for the health and growth of their team. They also need to realise that the problematic aspects of the team, may just come from the leader. Let’s say it out loud, “you and me”.

Leadership today isn’t directing, it’s modelling. A procedures manual can tell people ‘what’ to do, but the essence of leadership is the ‘why’ and the ‘how’.

What things are your team seeing and hearing?

Contributing to a greater cause or building your empire

Valuing people and communicating vision or merely getting the job done

Focusing on excellence and integrity or cutting corners and covering up

Conveying trust and empowerment or micromanaging

Learning from mistakes and errors or imposing punitive consequences when things don’t go quite right

The model of leadership that you and I project will be the one that our team members learn. Many of us intuitively lead, unaware of the habits we are modelling and teaching our people. Maybe from time-to-time we need an ‘Ernie’ to help identify and correct the transmission of our bad habits.

And, yes, both of our kids passed their driving test first time.

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