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I Crashed My Motorcycle and Learned This Leadership Lesson

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I’ll never forget the day I got a 1985 Honda Elite 250 motor scooter. As a reward for making good grades in 9th grade, my dad bought it for me off a retired judge who had kept it in pristine condition. We had been searching for the right bike all summer, and this was it. The judge’s wife even hand-painted my name in gold letters onto the matching red helmet. It was beautiful.

I’ll also never forget the morning after the day I got my scooter, when I crashed it.

Motor Scooter - Web

I approached a turn in my neighborhood and, before I knew it, all I could see was the ditch I was headed for and the inevitable coming wipeout. My body hit the asphalt, bounced and skidded a few times, and finally stopped in the middle of the street. I looked up to see my scooter on its side, in the grass, scratched up, but still running.

Thankfully, I walked away with minor cuts and scratches. The only damage to the scooter was cosmetic. It’s a miracle that my parents didn’t sell it immediately, writing the whole deal off as a very bad idea. Instead, they signed me up for a local motorcycle safety course.

A few weeks later, I learned one of the most important principles of not only riding, but leadership:

“Look where you want to go. Don’t look where you don’t want to go.”

The course instructor, a retired pro motorcycle racer, explained that the physical mechanics of steering—pushing with your hands and leaning with your body—soon become second nature. At that point, it’s your focus that actually determines the direction of your bike, with course correction happening subconsciously.

Simply put, where you look is where you’ll go. (Pay attention the next time you see a motorcycle driver on the road and you’ll probably see this principle in action. The driver’s head will turn prior to the bike.)

I knew instantly why I had crashed.

In my inexperience, I panicked as I approached that turn and was looking directly at the ditch I was afraid of hitting. By focusing on the ditch, I naturally steered myself right toward it. If I had turned my head and looked down the curve of the road to where I wanted go, I would have leaned into the turn and rolled right through it.

Since learning this lesson, I’m happy to say that I have not had another accident. But, I have realized that what’s true for driving motorcycles is true for ethical leadership. Our lives are always course correcting to our focus. And just like the steering of a motorcycle, it happens at a subconscious level.

Leaders can’t always control the challenges they’ll face in the road. What they can control, however, is their focus. When faced with a problem, where you look is where you’ll end up.

If you only see the potential short-term damage to your bottom line, position, reputation or job security, you’ll be more tempted to make ethical compromises to avoid it. However, if you can look ahead to the bigger picture of a career that’s marked with integrity and character, you’ll find that navigating such issues is almost automatic.

The key here is maintaining a clear picture of where you want to go—or who you want to be—in your focus. Whether you’re riding a motorcycle or leading a business, it makes all the difference between crashing and rolling smoothly through challenges.

– David Sargent
Communications and Electronic Media Specialist, NASBA