The Waze of Great Leadership


Being one who travels virtually every week, I often find myself in remote locations, driving to hotels I've never seen, in a town I've never been. Upon landing at the closest airport, I'll typically grab my carry-on luggage, proceed down an escalator, and if my destination is too far for an Uber, I'll find the closest Hertz Car Rental. Years ago, I would have been carrying state maps, an atlas, or asking at the desk for directions before leaving. However, today this is not the case. No, not because I'm a "typical guy" and refuse to ask for help. It's because technology has completely modernized my travel. When I drive while traveling, I regularly use the Waze app, a great tool that gives me guidance, alerts me of issues, and helps me navigate to my final destination in the fastest time possible.

Image Credit:

Image Credit:

According to its website, Waze is the "world's largest community-based traffic and navigation app. Join other drivers in your area who share real-time traffic and road info, saving everyone time and gas money on their daily commute." At a recent leadership event I was running, I began making the comparison of how setting the vision for a district or a school was a lot like using the Waze app. The more I began to reflect on my comparison, the more I realized that actually, great leadership, has many parallels to the way the Waze app operates. Here's why:

1. Great Leaders Have a Clear Vision. 
Upon opening the Waze app, users are first asked, "Where to?" so that the destination can be set. To use the app effectively, one must understand where it is he/she plans to go. Most times, I'll add the exact address of a hotel, conference center, etc., but there have been times where I'll simply put a town or city so that I can explore the area prior to an event. Simply put, without having the vision as to where one is going, it's easy to literally end up just spinning the wheels. Great leaders have a clear vision of where they want to go and they simultaneously empower those around them to help lead the way in getting there.

2. Great Leaders Continuously Evaluate the Best Path Forward.
Waze is a "social driving" app. In other words, it utilizes the metadata from all of the other drivers using the app to understand current conditions throughout your route. Waze continuously evaluates the best route moving forward and will reroute users to maintain the best path, considering real time conditions along the way. Great leaders do the same. They gain the best, most current information along the way to navigate the path forward. Leadership is not just about setting the vision and opening your eyes once you get there. It's about being constantly aware of your surroundings and adapting as needed to ensure the best path throughout the journey.

3. Great Leaders Recognize Roadblocks, Alert Those Around Them, and Adapt As Needed.
One of the great aspects of using a tool like Waze is understanding roadblocks and driving issues before you come upon them. Waze will indicate issues such as a car on the side of the road, an accident that recently happened, or heavy traffic ahead. (Or a police car that happens to be sitting on the side of the road, ahem.) Upon recognizing the upcoming issue, Waze will continuously work to reroute the driver to the final destination, in the most efficient manner. Great leadership is very similar. Great leaders identify roadblocks, alert those on the journey with them, and adapt as needed to ensure the best route forward. They are aware of reported concerns, consider all the conditions around them, and continue to lead the way. In the words of Simon Sinek, "When we have a clear sense of where we're going, we are flexible in how we get there." 

4. Great Leaders Leverage the Capacity and Talents of Those Around Them.
One of my favorite aspects of Waze is its ability to utilize data and input from other drivers to help guide your personal path. As mentioned, being a social driving app, Waze leverages the input of all users on the route, to make the best decision. Great leaders do the exact same thing. Great leadership is not about making every decision and always being at the front of the pack. Great leadership is about building and leveraging the capacity of others, utilizing their input and insights, and collaboratively navigating the best path forward.

5. Great Leaders are Crystal Clear in Their Communication.
One of the aspects that I love about Waze, is the way directions are clearly articulated. I can see my real-time directions on the map or switch to step-by-step guidance complete with written directions and distance away, all while listening to the spoken directions that plays from the app. Like Waze, great leaders communicate in a way in which the direction forward is crystal clear and use a variety of methods to support those they are leading.

6. Great Leaders ReRoute When They Miss the Mark.
Even though I'm staring at the route map, and hearing the upcoming directions, I've missed more exits  than I care to admit. Even with the roadmap right in front of me and the AI telling me, I've messed up and gone the wrong way. Great leaders recognize their own imperfections, realize that they will make the wrong decisions, and reroute when they miss the mark. Fortunately for me, when I miss the directions that have been given to me, Waze will recalculate the route and guide me on the new best path forward. There are times where I've really messed it up, and it's added considerable time to my route. The same happens when leaders make large mistakes. Yet, it's going to happen. The best leaders pick themselves up, recalculate, and keep seeking the best route forward after the bad decisions happen.

7. Great Leaders Recognize and Celebrate Success, While Remaining Ready for the Next Journey.
When your trip is complete, Waze will indicate, "You have reached your destination;" a celebration of sorts. For me, there are times where I feel the AI wants to say, "...and I'm surprised you made it with all the turns you missed!!" It'd be easy for leaders to harp on mistakes; to focus on the turns missed, or the roadblocks that caused them to reroute along the way. Great leaders don't focus on previous issues once they've moved past them. They focus on the vision forward and celebrate the success when it's obtained. Like, Waze, great leaders also don't remain complacent in their recent success; they remain ready for the next destination at a moments notice.

For me, Waze has saved countless hours of aimless driving and helped me avoid a tremendous amount of headaches. It helps me understand what's going on around me and works to safely get me to my destination. As outlined in my new ASCD book Learning Transformed, this great leadership is the foundation to a redesigned student learning experience. By working collaboratively, like Waze, we can get there.

You are part of the solution.

All for the kids we serve,