CEO Coaching: Chicanery in Leadership

I had a three-hour drive from a client meting to the airport recently through mountainous terrain. Luckily, my rental car had satellite radio.

I was listening to the news on NPR when a feature piece on reducing traffic accidents came on. If the two-lane road were not full of curves (or if I were driving the speed limit!) I might have fiddled with the touch screen and changed channels. But my focus on driving caused me to listen to what I thought would be a boring piece that turned out to be rather interesting.

The tidbit that caused me to pay attention was that chicanes (zigzags intentionally put into the road) reduce accidents. Not just because you must drive slower, but because they make you take your mind off autopilot and pay attention to what you are doing; to use your existing driving skills in a unique way with a heightened sense of awareness.

In a management role, you spend much of your time trying to reduce complexity and make processes rote and faster. You often train your people to shoot for consistency, uniformity and to pick up the speed. You probably use the same mindset when mowing the lawn, washing dishes, or paying bills. 

“Leaders,” however, must not only manage, but also drive change; look for new ways to exploit an opportunity or profitably address a market. While they may employ many routinized behaviors (Monday senior leadership meetings, budgeting, one-on-ones, Friday pep talks, quarterly business reviews), they must also change things up. I would argue that they need a few chicanes in their week, intentionally taking a non-linear route to thinking through a problem or opportunity. (The Covid pandemic most certainly put a few kinks in your thinking, and I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone again. However, I believe that it caused some of my clients to go to a new level of creative thinking!)

Just like athletes come up with new ways to challenge their training, senior leaders shouldn’t always look for the easiest path to success. (Yes, another one of those damn dichotomies of leadership!) So, next week, how can you not only manage more efficiently but also put your brain under new stress to think and lead differently? Try putting different people in the room for some of your meetings. Have someone else lead the discussion. Talk to some potential customers who dislike your product. Go to a different venue for a day—perhaps work from the beach or a pub. Pretend that your largest competitor just came up with a service that will eat your lunch. You get the idea; make it different! Put a bit of chicanery in your week!

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