Bumper stickers for leaders

by Roger Schwarz

I like bumper stickers. They’re brief, to the point, and often clever. Here are a few of my favorites along with how they relate to Mutual Learning lead­er­ship.

Minds are like para­chutes; they func­tion only when open. If you want to be a leader who gets the best from your team, it’s not enough to try to influ­ence them to follow your views. You need to be open to being influ­enced by their views as well. If you expect your team to be open to new ideas, it’s essen­tial that you model what you expect. That’s why one of the core values of the Mutual Learning approach is curiosity.

You don’t need a para­chute to skydive. You need a para­chute to skydive twice. (Why are para­chute bumper stickers so popular?) This bumper sticker is a brutal reminder that you need a different kind of mindset and skill set to create sustained team results than you need to get your team to perform only in the short term. It’s also a reminder that solid prepa­ra­tion pays off.

186,000 miles per second – it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law. This physics bumper sticker reminds us that we work in systems with immutable natural constraints and inter­de­pen­den­cies that we must operate within. It’s similar for the social system of a team. For example, if you focus all of your energy on improving team perfor­mance and neglect how your team members’ work together, over time you won’t have high team perfor­mance or effec­tive working rela­tion­ships.

Forget about world peace… imagine using your turn signal. This is a satir­ical version of the bumper sticker “Think global, act local.” I’m all for world peace, but as a formal job, it’s a little above my pay grade. This bumper sticker reminds us that the little behav­iors we engage in every day can make a signif­i­cant differ­ence for the people we work with.

Don’t believe every­thing you think. It’s smart to ques­tion others’ thinking; it’s wise to ques­tion your own thinking. You lead your­self astray when you tell your­self stories about what’s happening in your team and then act on your stories assuming that they’re true. It’s crit­ical to ques­tion your­self and how you came to know what you think you know. And that takes us full circle to the first bumper sticker.

Copy­right Roger Schwarz & Asso­ciates, 2011. All rights reserved. Repro­duced with permis­sion.