One of my most memorable lessons in persistence came at
the hands of a Marine Gunnery Sergeant. We were on a field exercise and the
Gunny told me to move a small truck to the other side of a
I told the Gunny that I couldn’t drive. I grew up in New York City where you
couldn’t get a Learner’s Permit until you were eighteen. I joined the Marines at
seventeen. I was not prepared for the Gunny’s response to this information.
“I didn’t ask you if you could drive, Marine. I told you to
move that truck across the field.”
I won’t tell you how long it took or how ugly it was, but eventually I got
the truck across the field. I count that as my first driving lesson.
Lots of people learn to drive that way, but my children went to Driver’s Ed.
They took classes on driving techniques and traffic laws. Then they got a
The Learners Permit let them drive under limited conditions, the most
important of which was that a licensed driver had to be in the car with them. In
the Driver’s Ed program they moved to a stage where they drove
specially-equipped and marked cars under the guidance of an instructor. The
instructor helped them learn all the maneuvers they would need to pass their
Parents and friends offered help. I was the designated volunteer driving
instructor for several friends’ children. I helped them practice and master some
There’s no doubt which way of learning to drive is better. Driver’s Ed wins,
hands down. Structured learning and supervised practice do a better job of
turning out good drivers than putting a person in car and telling them to drive,
then letting them learn as they can.
Driver’s Ed is also a good model for leadership training. When I was coming
up in business, leadership training didn’t look like it does today.
A lot of new leaders learned to lead the way I learned to drive. Some of them
got what a friend of mine calls “tavern training.” That’s where you take the new
supervisor to the tavern after work where experienced bosses share their advice.
And many of us took a class or read a book.
That’s still true for some leaders today. Others benefit from sixty years of
the study of leadership and how to teach it. Like Driver’s Ed we can now offer
learners a structured program of combined book learning and classroom learning.
That’s important, but, also like Driver’s Ed, the most important learning comes
when the hands are on the wheel.
Boss’s Bottom Line
Help your team members who want it learn to lead with reading and discussion
and class work. Just remember that you can’t learn leadership without leading
and that the development process is more effective with guidance, feedback, and