PHANTOM BRAKING (Never tailgate a Tesla)

Reading time: 6 minutes
Thinking time: enough to take a ride?

Every Tesla driver will know the phenomenon. When on adaptive cruise control or autopilot, your car mistakes a road sign for a person or is triggered by a truck slightly crossing the line and suddenly brakes. Where the brain of your car detects a possible threat and by consequence supports you in avoiding calamities, in fact there’s nothing there. Your unexpected decelerating nothing but an unnecessary annoyance to yourself and to the car behind you. Frustration at both sides. Spoiled energy. Not to mention the potential risk it causes. That is if the one on your backside is too close of course. Or not paying attention. Which he shouldn’t (the first). And should (the second). Nevertheless, one could say, in those cases you can be too safe.

Enough about cars right now.

How often does it happen to you in real life? Braking when there’s nothing to brake for? Impacting not only yourself but also the people around you? My estimated guess is that it’s happening more than you might think. Starting from the belief that we always need to keep our guards up. Continuously on the outlook for potential hazards. Enhanced by relationship dynamics, office politics, demanding environments, peer pressure, a general insecurity about the future, and much more. We call it survival strategy. Used when not in life endangerment.

Qualities and success/survival strategies

Human survival behaviour is nothing more but an excess of qualities that is demonstrated when under pressure. Even more, demonstrating these qualities is often what’s leading to ‘having a beautiful career’ in the first place.

Think about following types:

The failing is not an option type
With a talent for working hard, many hours, never giving up. Always able to accelerate one more time when needed. Highly driven and always going after what they want. Speeding up time after time without much questioning. Fast forward? They simply never seem to get tired.

The born leader type
Pretty assertive and with a great impact overall. Good at setting boundaries for themselves and for others, effortlessly speaking their truth, with a loud and clear voice, outspoken and never too shy to take the big stage. The first in line when it comes to taking up responsibility and leading the group.

The let’s keep everybody happy type
Friendly, service oriented and focused on keeping the group together. Their clear preference for harmony is what makes them strong team players and an excellent sales force. Often highly valued as a person, in return they love to shower others with favours and support where needed.

When qualities turn into bad habits

From the positivity of working hard to the negativity of losing yourself and ending up in a burn-out. From much desired assertiveness to an unwanted aggressive communication style that prevents your team to be sufficiently critical, simply because they are afraid of you (since you fired the last one that stood up against you). From valuing harmony and positivity to pleasing and avoiding conflict at all costs.

In his book (and my bible) ‘What got you here won’t get you there’, Marshall Goldsmith describes 21 bad habits of highly successful people. When ‘the failing is not an option type’ keeps speeding up, for example, leaving a team behind that is not able to accelerate to the same degree, we see a leader losing impact. The more the leader becomes aware of this loss of impact, the more he or she speeds up. Because that is what helped them become successful before. That is what got them this far. A dead-end street, as you’ll undoubtedly understand.

As Marshall writes, further developing yourself as a leader is often not so much about knowing what to do or start doing, it is about knowing what to stop. Stop being a jerk. Stop wanting to win at all costs. Stop adding too much value. Stop telling the world how smart you are. Stop the excessive need of ‘being you’.

Why behaviour is so important

The higher you go in an organization; the more behaviour is an important differentiator. At top level, everybody is smart. Everyone is supposed to have the knowledge that is needed. The only thing that makes you able to differentiate yourself and thus enables you to take the next step in your career? People skills. Behaviour.

The failing is not an option type
While working hard and many hours may have brought you to the top of the organization chart, there comes a time when you need to let others do the work. The fact that you are that successful often means that your reasoning capability and working pace is higher than average. Slowing down is the only option if you don’t want to go alone.

The born leader type
Although your strong leadership did you no harm, at some point in your career you need to let others shine. Taking up the sole responsibility yourself isn’t the best path to choose anymore. Not only because your span of control doesn’t allow you to anymore, but also because inspiring leadership isn’t about micromanaging and doing everything yourself.

The let’s keep everybody happy type
If you want to be popular, sell ice-cream. No such thing in leadership as keeping everyone happy all the time. Next to that, we prefer a leader that chooses the wrong direction over one that doesn’t choose. Even when opinions are divided, you confidently need to guide the whole team through any endeavour that is coming up.

Back to the phantom braking Tesla.

What happens when we jump into our survival mode? Just like the Tesla is unexpectedly braking when nothing is there? We overdo demonstrating our good qualities, the ones that brought us the success we already have, especially when we feel stressed by office politics, demanding projects or caused by a general fear for rejection or failure. What our behaviour at work and those amazing features in a Tesla car, that enable it to ride without much intervention from the driver anymore, have in common? They simply start to work against you when overly demonstrated.

In an attempt to ‘correct’ a situation that doesn’t need correction, you only make it worse. Your ‘slowing down’ won’t cause the whole organization to fall over. You not micromanaging that one presentation probably won’t make that much of a difference in the end. And managing a conflict consciously, instead of trying to keep everyone happy, might in fact bring you and the team more good than bad.

Now, one final remark. As you now know, never tailgate a Tesla. Or any car for all that matters. Leave your colleague or significant other with enough space to have an unnecessary brake from time to time. Simply because you never know when someone feels endangered. Survival strategies are all around. But if you know how it works, you can avoid worse. After all, we’re all doing the best we can, right?

Food for thought? Or for conversation?

Feel free!

About me – Being a certified executive and personal coach, I am associated to the Global Coach Group and Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching team and owner of the global executive coaching practice where I am working on an ambitious scale-up plan now that I’ve learned to ‘not having to do it all on my own’. Next to that I’ve co-founded in December 2018 and started working some hours a month for my old love, the Adecco Group (LHH) as well as for one of the biggest Dutch coaching practices in Amsterdam. My passions include playing my quarter grand piano and messing around with acrylic paint on large sized linen canvas. When I’m not catching some proverbial Big Fish, for now I’ve partially replaced the gym for my now brand-new mountain- and race bikes, and I am loving it. But then again, I am still luckiest doing what I do best, challenging others and myself to perform at ‘our’ best