Old Dogs, New Tricks, and Management Effectiveness


Anyone who stops learning is old, whether 20 or 80.  ~Henry Ford

Last month I took the written test for my UK driver’s license.  Now I have been driving since I was 16 years old, that’s nearly 5 decades, and bar a couple of accidents (the other person’s fault) and running a red light two days after I got my license (thought I was invincible!), I consider myself a very practiced and accomplished driver.  So the prospect of getting a driving license in the United Kingdom seemed like a piece of cake.

Okay, so they drive on the left and the steering wheel is on the right (the opposite from the US), but figuring that out was the easy part.  And, to be honest, passing the theory part of the test was pretty easy as well.  Download the official UK DSA software, read all the rules through a couple of times, take a few practice tests, and bingo, 50 out of 50 correct on the theory test!

But to obtain a UK driving license, one also has to pass a practical test.  That is, driving for 30-45 minutes with a license examiner and making fewer than 15 minor faults.  Needless to say, actually driving according to the UK laws and rules is a lot different from reading and passing the theory test.  This is not the US and not only are the traffic laws different, but the rules of the road, safe driving, are different as well.  And everything is accentuated in city driving versus just driving on the motorway or on a country lane.

So, off I went to get a driving lesson from one of the hundreds of driving schools situated in and around London.  With all the foreigners living in London and the UK, and more arriving from the EU countries every day, driving instruction is a big business.  The national average is about 40 lessons, at an average of £24 per lesson, plus the cost of the theory test and the practical driving test.  And, get this, well under 40% pass the first time!  We are talking an industry here.  Most test slots are booked up 6-8 weeks in advance there are so many people wanting a driving license.

I had a nice young, very experienced driving instructor named Mohammed (originally from Morocco) who had been teaching for the past 6 years and he quickly made me feel at ease.  After an hour of driving around is his dual pedal car (in case he needed to slam on the brakes or take control) I walked away with a lesson in humility and a deeper appreciation for the science of human learning.

Basically, I cannot apply American rules of the road to UK driving, and he pointed out about a dozen little driving habits I had acquired over the years, of which I wasn’t even aware..  Simple little things like putting the gear in neutral and coasting to a stop.  Or crossing my hands to turn the wheel ( UK examiners require the push-pull method so your hands don’t cross when turning the steering wheel), to signalling before I look in the rear view mirror.  Not major faults, but lots of minor faults, and I also learned I don’t always read the road signs to determine what is coming up, I just go!

So a few more lessons for me before my exam in late April.

Marshall GoldsmithBut seeing my bad habits for the first time in many years got me thinking about how many managers have bad habits they aren’t aware of when managing projects and people! Habits of assuming people know the business processes that you know so well.  Habits of giving incomplete instructions since you know the job backwards and forwards, but they don’t.  Habits of moving to a new company and believing the culture is the same as the one you came from and people behave and think the same.  Habits of using a  hundred PowerPoint slides when supposedly interacting with employees.  Habits of not speaking up with suggestions or ideas when it’s not your department.  Habits of talking “about other people” rather than directly to them with complaints or suggestions.

What got you here won’t get you there.  Marshall Goldsmith

Unconscious little habits of how we manage are often the downfall of many a manager aspiring to move up into senior management.  You might want to watch this presentation by Marshall Goldsmith about his best-selling book: What got you here won’t get you there!

You watch the video and think about your management habits.  I’ve got to go practice my driving for my UK license.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress


About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
This entry was posted in consulting, corporate culture, Human Psychology, John R Childress, Life Skills, Organization Behavior, Personal Development, the business of business and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Old Dogs, New Tricks, and Management Effectiveness

  1. Great post. And Marshall Goldsmith’s book is excellent. (Love the Henry Ford quote too). Thanks John.


  2. Steve Borek says:

    Sometimes you can’t see the picture while you’re in the frame.

    Wonderful message John.

    Enjoy your travels on four wheels across the pond.


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