Red Lights and Warning Signs

“A man’s conscience, like a warning line on the highway, tells him what he shouldn’t do – but it does not keep him from doing it.” -Frank Howard Clark

Our daily world is filled with warning signs and traffic lights that guide our every direction and momentum to a plethora of destinations. Signposts erected as symbols to the progress of our roadway system serve to enlighten us as to when to stop, when to yield, when to merge, and even to guide and direct us to our next destination. A spiderweb of routes controlled and managed with lights of red, yellow, green…each designed to move us along safely and efficiently. It is only when we fail to take heed of these warning signs and array of lights that progress falters and ultimately breaks down…often in a collision of those destinations.

Understanding these guideposts allows us all to traverse this intricate spiderweb of roadways effectively, and en masse. Warning and destination signs, traffic lights, roadway maps, and GPS systems serve as travel aids to connect us to our route to reach our destination in a timely manner. A complex system, that for the most part, works efficiently for us as we travel through our rural, suburban, and urban sprawl.

As leaders, we face the same intricate and complex web of ‘roadways’ as we set our course to lead our organizations effectively. Especially, in light of the challenging, changing, and constantly evolving times. Times that affect our organizations and leadership with much more immediacy than what we faced in the past. It requires that our organizations and our leadership be much more agile in response.

Unfortunately, the incredibly vital and varied task of leading our modern institutions and organizations does not provide us with the necessary signs and maps that allow us to navigate the roadway as safely and effectively as we would like…in other words, there is no modern leadership GPS system. And there are definitely no warning signs that spring up to let us know when to yield, when to stop, or even when to be careful of falling rocks and debris on the roadway. Most often, our warning signs are constructed along the way in response to our experiences…and very often our leadership foibles.

Not being equipped with a leadership GPS to guide our efforts is why modern leaders must equip themselves with their own warning signs. Warning signs that are constructed from high levels of emotional intelligence…also known as EI or EQ. For modern leaders, the five domains of emotional intelligence very well serve as the signposts on the leadership highway that allow us to better navigate our route and destination. These signposts allow modern day leaders to traverse the leadership highway in a much more effective manner…

Signpost #1: Know Your Emotions – command and control, rant and rave leadership is fading from our modern organizational leadership map. Leaders have to consciously acknowledge and understand their emotions and how they affect their ability to influence and lead effectively. Reflecting on how their own emotions affect their leadership, from decision-making to building and maintaining relationships.

Signpost #2: Manage Your Emotions – leaders must move beyond conscious acknowledgement of their emotions, to an understanding of how those emotions react under the variety of situations and crisis that are faced on a daily basis. When you are able to manage and control your own emotions, it relieves not only your own stress and anxiety, but the stress and anxiety levels of those you lead. They need to know that there is a certain stability in your reaction to situations. When you are unable to provide this stability, it puts the entire organization on alert as those situations crop up…everyone sits on pins and needles guessing the reaction of the leader. Managing your emotions provides stability and makes for a healthier organizational environment.

Signpost #3: Motivate Yourself – leaders need to be resilient. Leaders have the responsibility for setting the tone and tenor for the organization. People react to the body language and words of the leader. Leaders need to be aware of this. Their words and actions affect the entire organization…which can be either uplifting or toxic to the culture. When leaders understand their ‘why’ they are much more motivated and bounce back from difficulties and failures quicker and easier. Leaders with a growth mindset understand that difficulties and failures do not define them and their leadership, rather how they react and learn from those situations is what is most important. Leaders must model the way and provide the bright spots…often when others can’t see or find them.

Signpost #4: Recognize and Understand the Emotions of Others – requires empathy, bottomline. Leaders who have empathy can place themselves in the shoes of those they lead. Which is not as common a skill as we would think. Yet, we know that leadership requires influence. However, leaders who lack empathy very often lack influence. Empathy provides the route and road to lead you to greater influence. A leader who can’t put themselves in the shoes of others, lacks the empathy and understanding necessary for leading in our modern culture.

Signpost #5: Manage Relationships – modern leadership is all about relationships. It is the cornerstone of successful leadership. Those who are unable to build and maintain relationships very often shorten their season of service. It requires not only the ability to communicate…but more importantly, great listening skills. Modern leaders have to constantly enhance their listening ability and capacity if they are to be effective and successful. And most importantly, it means serving, serving others…yes, placing the needs and concerns of those you lead and serve above your own personal needs and concerns. Modern leaders must replace any self-serving attitudes with a mantra that focuses on the serving of others.

While there is much more that encompasses the complex and intricate route to effective leadership in the 21st century. The five domains of emotional intelligence serve as much needed signposts on our GPS of leadership. And the more we traverse and travel with the aid and support of these signposts…the better they serve us in reaching our destination.


1 thought on “Red Lights and Warning Signs

  1. I can tell you this much, Pal: As a full time classroom teacher, the principals that I care the most about — and am willing to do most anything for — are the people who focus on building relationships first.

    As an example: The BEST principal that I ever worked for also happened to work out at the gym where my wife works. When he went to work out, he’d pretty regularly stop in her office to say hello JUST to say hello.

    It was out of his way. He barely knew my wife. But he knew she was important to me and that I was important to him. So he took a few minutes of his time to show her that he cared. Every time my wife would come home and tell me that he had seen her, I became more convinced that the HOURS and HOURS that I spent working after school hours was worthwhile.

    Simple lesson for school leaders: Care about your teachers and their families.



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