Please Be Patient. Learner Driver.

Last weekend, the forecast for wind and waves was goooood. So I’d packed the car with all the toys, and, keen to get on the water, started driving to my favourite spot. On the way, I ended up behind a slow-moving car. It had a sticker on the back: ‘Please Be Patient. Learner Driver.’

To be honest, my initial reaction was one of impatience and frustration. I was keen to get out on the water, yet there was this barrier in my way! Soon after my initial response, my more empathetic mind kicked in, and I breathed out. I realised that the driver in the car in front was probably being hyper-vigilant, and facing information overload as they tried to process all of the different information coming at them. No wonder they were going slow. I relaxed into my own journey and arrived at my destination pretty much when I’d expected to. Unhurried, you might say.

Please Be Patient. Learner Driver. Most of us would probably afford our patience to someone in a situation so obvious as this. We’d probably also be patient with those who are clearly learners in other contexts, such as a one-year-old learning to walk. Yet if we further widen our lens to our broader day-to-day world, how often do we give others the grace of patience?

Probably not as often as we could.

Because guess what? We’re all ‘learner drivers’ to some degree. No-one has all the answers. We all face brand new challenges every day. And we’re all making it up as we go along, doing the best we can.

This is particularly true when it comes to the expectations we hold of our leaders. Culturally, we expect that our leaders have it all figured out. They’ll give us the answers and show us the way. And if the way turns out to be wrong, then it’s their fault. It’s nothing to do with us.

Many leaders play into this game. Anyone who tells you that they know what’s going to happen next is just guessing. And anyone who takes their word as gospel is surely setting themselves up for disappointment.

The dynamic at play here isn’t ‘Please Be Patient. Learner Driver.’ It’s ‘Please Be Awesome, Perfect Leader.’ Which is kind of crazy when we stop to think about it. They’re learning, they’re doing their best, and they’re probably going to get it wrong some of the time. When a leader comes down from the stage and shows their vulnerability, we’re all the better for it.

Now I’m not saying that this lets people in positions of responsibility off the hook. I’m saying that we all have a part to play in the system we call society and the systems we call our organisations. Check out this example of how a leader created an environment where everyone got to play their part in solving a gnarly challenge.

When we adopt the attitude of ‘Please Be Patient. Learner Driver’ we soften a little. We provide space for the other to do the work they need to do. And we invite an opportunity for us to reflect on the part we can play in creating the outcomes we all want.

How could you adopt ‘Please Be Patient. Learner Driver’ into your day today?

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