Driving Leadership: Lessons from Route 2439

by | Jul 21, 2015 | Blog, High Road Leadership


LEADERSHIP - wordcloud - colorful SIGNS

Republic Services wants their employee-drivers to be safe and create safety around them. To accomplish this vital goal, they created a safety program that every driver must buy into. Driving a 50,000 pound vehicle through residential streets filled with children and cars, pets and pedestrians can create a dangerous situation if the truck driver is careless or not paying attention.

At a recent meeting of my local Chamber of Commerce, six employees from Republic Services gave a presentation on how drivers of the trash and recycle collection vehicles practice effective safety as they go through their assigned routes. This program is based on the Smith System Driver Improvement Institute and consists of five keys.

The best part of their presentation is that three drivers and one supervisor delivered the information. As each key was introduced, the employees took turns describing what it meant to them. Each employee shared an anecdote that explained why the safe practices key was important.

The five keys of the Smith System fit into a motto practiced by Republic Services’ employees: “Think, Choose, Live Safety.” The keys are:

  1. Aim High
  2. Get the Big Picture
  3. Keep Your Eyes Moving
  4. Leave Yourself an Out
  5. Make Sure They See You

The presenters added a sixth key, which I feel was more about Republic’s emphasis on delivering high quality customer service than about safety, and yet it integrates with their safety model:

  1. Smile

Good Safety Practices Translates into Good Leadership Practices

Nearly everything I do and think about involves leadership [that burden/blessing comes with being a provocateur]. So naturally, my mind fastened on to their message and I saw a leadership model within the Smith System. I shared this insight with Republic’s Municipal Relations Manager Janet Prichard. After thinking about it she agreed and related, “We tell each driver that they are the CEO of their truck, so in a sense we are teaching them about self-leadership even though our message is about practicing safety.”

Using the Smith System’s keys, here is a lesson on how to become a better leader of yourself. Once you master these keys in your day-to-day existence, you will be ready to lead others.

Six Practices of Self-Leadership

Aim High – Republic urges its drivers to be well read and know what is going on.

As an emerging leader, you need to set a vision for yourself. Decide where you want to be a year from now; then do it for five years and ten years from today. A compelling vision builds excitement and momentum, fires up motivation, and helps you decide what actions you need to take.

Get the Big Picture – Republic urges its drivers to get lots of information from many sources. If the driver only pays attention to oncoming cars, he could miss a driver attempting to pass on the right.

Similarly, as a soon-to-be leader, you must emerge from your office, cubicle, or cave to meet with people, observe people in action, start conversations, and ask tons of open-ended questions.

Keep Your Eyes Moving – The driver needs to pay attention to the environment, the traffic, the weather, and many other factors that could affect safety.

As an emerging leader, you need to pay attention to what you are doing and not doing. See how people react to you and how you react to people. It is far too easy to focus on the next task or deadline. For your vision to activate, you need to look up and out frequently. Get out the weeds and fly at the 34,000 ft. level once a day.

Leave Yourself an Out – The truck driver is always on the lookout for a backup plan if events prevent him from completing the next task. This also applies to the route should an unexpected detour arise, or an accident is about to take place. This allows the diver to always be thinking ahead and planning for the worst.

As a leader of yourself, not all of your goals, tasks, and actions will work out as you hope. Be prepared to have a Plan B and a Plan C. Manage the risks you take by hoping for the best while planning for the worst. You will end up on a path that skirts disaster and allows you to move forward no matter what happens.

Make Sure They See You – Every good driver knows blind spots lead to problems, so they look into the eyes of pedestrians and drivers. If that person is looking at the truck driver, he or she will likely stay out of harm’s way. And if the pedestrian is facing an electronic device, he or she could miss a truck the size of elephant about to make a turn right in front of them.

A true leader is always extremely visible and this is both a blessing and curse. People watch what you say and do, and they copy your actions when they are in agreement with your words. If you mess up, you do so publically. If you take the wrong path, it will be quickly evident.

Self-leadership requires congruency between what you do and say. To have integrity, your public and private actions must be the same. Therefore, if you want others to take the High Road®, you must travel it first.

Another dimension of ‘make sure they see you’ as a leader is to go out and be with people. Do good in your community. Support people and your community in visible ways. Be open and be transparent.

Smile – No matter how you feel in the moment, a smile will tell others that you care about them. Smile in the mirror at yourself and show yourself a little love. Be kind to yourself because you are not perfect and you will crash and burn often. It is those painful lessons where you fall down that you learn how to get up and how to survive. By smiling during the ‘bad’ times, you will be grinning when you finally reach the point of self-leadership where you thrive and prosper.

Based on what I learned from Republic Services’ caring and committed employees and their motto of “Think, Choose, Live Safety,” I have taken the liberty of adapting their message to fit your situation – a desire to transform from an emerging or Reluctant Leader™ into a confident and capable one.

Think, choose, and live good leadership by practicing it on yourself first.