Don't you believe it: Driving gets you ahead

'Driving' is a popular descriptor of management activity. But is a helpful one?

by Alastair Dryburgh
Last Updated: 02 Apr 2012

It's a powerful word implying determination, decisiveness and dynamism. Think 'driving change' and 'driving customers'. The problem is that it is also freighted with many other meanings, most of them unhelpful and counter-productive. Here's why it would be better if managers, however dynamic, determined and decisive, did a lot less driving.

The first problem with driving is that it implies that the person doing the driving is the only one who knows where everyone is supposed to be going. In these empowered days, that ought not to be true.

But there's worse to come - driving also assumes that resistance will be encountered on the journey because of the herd-like mentality of those being driven and their ignorance of what's best for them. After all, you drive cattle or sheep because they won't willingly go where you want them to.

Driving also rules out any idea of two-way communication; if those on the receiving end have any useful suggestions about the value of the goal, the best way to get there or emerging problems that need to be dealt with, the driver ain't interested. Sooner or later, organisations that are driven in this way head over the cliff.

Perhaps the worst use of the driving metaphor, however, is 'driving customers', as in driving customers to a website. The idea that you can drive anyone anywhere on the web is delusional - one click and they are gone. Attract, inspire or even seduce them, but try driving and they won't even laugh at you - they'll just leave.

The dangerous appeal of driving is that it speaks to our strong need to feel in control, even when we can't be. What's worse, we act disrespectfully to those being 'driven'. We'll ignore their advice, their knowledge of what's happening on the front line, their timely warnings of potential problems. The irony, of course, is that it's ultimately the driver who pays the price.

Alastair Dryburgh is chief contrarian at Akenhurst Consultants and author of Everything You Know About Business is Wrong (Headline, £13.99). More at www.alastairdryburgh.com.

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