I love a good road trip. For me the drive is part of the adventure. The long hours on the road give me time to think and time to talk to my family. Many, many great conversations have happened on these trips and many memories made. My most recent trip was a 17-hour trip to return my son to University for his third year. Now… he most certainly could have flown, and the cost and time involved in flying would have been less. But the conversations that we had on that trip are so valuable that they trump any other considerations. There is just something about the open road and the time together that allows for great communication. I’m sure that it is in part because we are all facing forward and so the conversation is not confrontational, and no one feels put on the spot. We also have an agreement about how technology will be used. In our case my son and I have an agreement that he will have only one earplug in, so that he can hear all the random thoughts his mother provides while he listens to music or podcasts. Luckily, I still pay the bills and can insist on such arrangements.
On our most recent trip we talked about sports, politics, family, music, more sports, shared memories, and finally his life plans, in that order. Only once we had talked for many hours did the really good stuff come out, but it did. And that’s what is so interesting to me. Let’s face it… my son, like most 20 year-old young men, is relatively independent and wants to run his own life. That’s a good thing. The sharing of his thoughts with his mother is a complicated thing as it flies in the face of his independence, to some degree. I get that but I’m sure happy when I hear that there is a plan and he is heading in the right direction.
So what’s the link to leadership coaching? I find that the time spent with our team members is also limited and the short conversations, or perhaps just emails back and forth, do not create an environment where the best conversations can happen. When the only coaching moments you find are thirty minute meetings in your office where you sit across from the individual and have a conversation about their projects and… oh while we are at it… career goals, they may not be in the right mind space to share and learn. One the other hand if we take those conversations offline, if we find a chance to share a meal, go for a walk around the block, or fly together when possible, the depth of the conversations might improve. You may not get the chance for a 17 hour road trip but perhaps you could carpool to a meeting together. Or you could create the magic of the road trip by checking in with your folks while you are both driving or commuting home. Keep the conversation light, and try to use this time to connect with them on a personal level. Once you create that comfort level, the person will be more open to your coaching.
So enjoy your road trips, with family and with colleagues, and remember that it takes time and connection to create great coaching moments.