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Leader as pace-setter: How fast is too fast?

Updated: Mar 19, 2021

Most mornings (pre-COVID), I leave my house at 4:30 am to get to a fitness class. I work out with other early risers who have fallen in love with high intensity training, and I return home before my kids are out of bed. Coffee. Quiet time. The day can begin.

One of the reasons I like working out in the morning is that the drive to and from the gym is so much easier. There are barely any other cars on the road. This is good for a person like me (impatient and easily frustrated by other drivers) and for roads like the one I travel to get there (two-lane highway with few opportunities to pass).

This week the early mornings haven’t been possible because of my spouse’s work schedule and the fact that we have kids too young to stay home alone. So I’ve adjusted and have gone later in the day when there are many more cars on the road. Today I encountered frustration with the driver in front of me on my way back home.

The car in front of me went one speed. 45 MPH. The whole way.

There’s nothing wrong with 45 MPH – it is a lovely speed. It is especially lovely when the posted speed limit is also 45 MPH. This two-lane highway that begins in one town and ends in another has three different speed limits along the way: 55 MPH. Then 35 MPH as you approach stoplights. Then 25 MPH as you get into the area where my neighborhood is.

When the posted speed was 55 and the driver went 45, I was impatient and frustrated. Going 45 felt slow and torturous and I wanted this person out of my way. Then, as we got closer to my neighborhood where there are kids riding bikes and new moms walking strollers with tiny babies inside, 45 was way too fast. It was dangerous.

Leadership is required when we are asking others to change. Pacing change well is a critical part of leading well. Go too slow and you'll be in the way; go too fast and you'll end up without anyone following. Either way, you're doing more harm than good. Pace it just right and you'll build trust as your team comes along with you.

How do you know the right pace?

There's no one right pace. Just as in driving, leadership requires that we adjust our pace based on the needs of the project, the people, and the purpose. Here are a couple things to be mindful of:

Good pacing requires awareness of your environment and circumstances. When you’re leading teams, you get to decide what the posted speed will be. Which pacing will allow transitions to happen well? Will help people feel safe amid the loss? Excited about what is to come? Will avoid harm?

Crises often require that we disobey the posted signs. Just as emergency vehicles have the authority to exceed speed limits when they are transporting a critical patient to the hospital, sometimes leaders have to hit the gas pedal in critical times. Other occasions call for speeds below the posted limit. Imagine a children's parade in town, or ducklings crossing the road - at our work, there are times when our teams need us to take special precautions to ensure everyone is safe. The key is being tuned in and aware enough to adjust.

Finally, good pacing also means being aware of your default pace and giving colleagues permission to give you direct and early feedback about how well it is working in each situation.

Check in:  *What is your default pace? *Do your colleagues have permission to respectfully give you feedback on your pace and how well it’s working? *Do you regularly practice sensitivity to your circumstances and reflect on how to best pace your decisions?

To better pacing – Amanda

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