Stop Signs

My dad used to talk about stop signs. Not the ones on the road side, but the ones in life. As a young man, I could not understand why sometimes a “no” would be arbitrary and absolute. As a parent, at times I have the same question, but default to the time-honored phrase “because I say so.” Dad and I would lock horns on occasion, and now I have the same experience with my own son. Payback, perhaps?

My dad had a wonderful way of explaining stop signs that I have found useful, not only with my children, but in business and other matters. His view was that a stop sign is just that. At a crossroad, it’s a good idea to stop, look both ways, and then proceed … on occasion waiting until a truck passes and you feel comfortable moving on.

He reminded me that a stop sign is arbitrary, and by no means absolute or more precisely permeant. You pause, you consider, and you move on – sometimes straight, sometimes left, sometimes right, and sometimes even turning around.

I often think about this as we make decisions in life. One of my favorite uses of the phrase is when we are looking back at decisions and asking what stop signs did we blow through that could have warned us and kept us safer. Some of the best decisions made are the ones that get challenged and tested before proceeding. Some of the worst are when you blow through a stop sign in a hurry to get to a destination.

I sit on several boards and often think my role is to be a stop sign or to be the one to ask the learning question. Not to halt progress, but to force better decision making. Certainly there is a fine line, and at times to grow a manager, you need to let them find their own road markers.

I often think now that prayer, mediation, and quiet time as a process to exercise the notion of stop signs. Not as road blocks, but to stop, look left, look right, and confirm direction and travel. While I certainly see and value quick decision-making and decisive leadership, in my experience the very best that I have worked with are also not afraid to slow down, reflect, seek advice, and then proceed. The art is in the balance of speed and wisdom. The art is also when you let someone else drive.

I have also found it useful in keeping the ticket count down.