My youngest child just received her driving permit. A big grin beaming from ear to ear as she is now ready to drive. She has never driven anything except an occasional golf cart or go cart. So she is truly an entry level driver. I have always thought myself a pretty good communicator. How fast I learned in a crunch time, I need to up my communication skills. My daughter wanted to instantly get on a major highway. With so many years riding shotgun in the passenger seat, she felt driving would be second nature.

1.    The art of delegation. I have three children. This will be my third tour of duty as a driving instructor. I was not meant to be a driving instructor. So I sought to delegate the task. “Don’t you want someone else to teach you? You complain about my driving and I would hate to pass on bad habits.” I was met with a resounding “No!”  Just like in my consulting practice, there are some tasks you can delegate.  Others tasks need to be handled personally. Choose wisely.

2.    Start small. I tackled teaching her to drive like any other software project I have managed by starting with small manageable tasks. I did not want to overwhelm her by putting her on a major highway, but start in a familiar territory.  We started by driving in the neighborhood, dodging parked cars, stray cats, and small alleyways. I begin consulting projects much the same way. Learn my client’s current business practices. Start with work flow they know are very comfortable and familiar with.

3.    Prepare for the next tasks.  As my daughter was getting strapped in to the driver’s seat and adjusting side mirrors, I wanted to calmly describe the journey we were about to embark upon. As we would approach turns or stop signs, I wanted to let her know in advance what to expect. I quickly found out there is a certain timing you have to acquire with a new driver. If you tell them too soon about the upcoming stop sign, they stop 100 yards short of the target and then bounce on the brakes. You basically bunny hop the 100 yards the remainder of the way to the stop sign. If you tell them too late, they come to a screeching halt as you are screaming “Stop NOW!” at the top of your lungs in the middle of the intersection. The seatbelt clothes lines your chest and your neck ricochets forward. I try to be Goldilocks in communicating with my teenage driver and my clients’ as well. Not too soon, and not too late. Just right. Give enough advanced tasks so they understand the next steps, but not too many tasks or they are overwhelmed.

4.    Words become very important. I found myself pointing a lot. Pointing to make a right hand turn, but my words said left. So I had to focus in the face of fear. Fear can really scramble your words. I tried to be encouraging and motivating. There were times I panicked and words just came flowing out, not much choice involved there.  When implementing software, problems will arise. Words become important when keeping the project on task. Sometimes you need to be encouraging and coaching. Other times, you need to have a firmer tone. At no time should you ever communicate in a way that is derogatory or condescending.

5.    Manage distractions. When I am working I have to manage the distractions of email, phone calls, and in person interruptions. The same theory applies when teaching a teenager to drive. My new driver wanted to drive home from school. She wanted everyone to see her drive. She felt cool in becoming a member of the elite driving club. It was also distracting. Cute boys, music, and pedestrians, led to giggling which led to popping the curb or narrowly missing rear ending a car. So I learned in certain instances, to turn off the music and take a different route. In work, it is a matter of not getting sidetracked by other tasks that pop up along the way. Have a set schedule for checking email, returning calls, or conducting follow up.

6.    Small breaks. I found out quickly I could only last about 20 minutes in the car before I would hyperventilate. There were only so many left turns into oncoming traffic, curbs jumped, or fast turns that made it feel like we were up on two wheels. I began to make a list of errands and broke them up into small increments. This would allow tasks to be accomplished, give me small breaks to lower my heart rate, and wipe my sweaty palms. Projects also need breaks or time for evaluation. Time for the team to come together and feel a sense of accomplishment on what has been completed, and what lays ahead.

7.    Evaluate lessons learned. After a day of driving, my daughter and I review where we drove, what we did well, and what needs to be improved. Every time she gets behind the wheel, she improves. I feel the same way after each project. I evaluate the overall project, was the scope accurate, what was done well, and what can be improved? There is always room for improvement.

My daughter will learn to drive. I will survive and unleash yet another great driver onto the highway. I will also learn from this experience and improve upon my communication skills.