The Best Ever Leadership Lesson from Traffic School

I’m writing this through some bleary eyes, thanks to the fact that I was up until the wee hours of the morning finishing up traffic school. I did it on-line, in one sitting. Let’s just say I was near the deadline.

Many won’t be surprised to hear this isn’t my first time at the traffic school rodeo. (To those who want to comment and berate me, please know I’ve already heard it all. To my beloved, easily-worried, very Italian mother…


…I’m sorry you had to hear about it this way.)

To be fair, the long and tedious process did reveal some interesting little rules of the road. But there was one nugget in particular that struck me…because, really, it’s about a whole lot more than driving.

It’s about leadership. It’s about life.

It had to do with one simple line stated over and over again, related to things like what to do when a driver cuts into your lane…or when the pedestrian in front of you crosses against traffic…or when a driver shows signs of road rage.

The big answer? (Brace yourself.)

Sometimes you just need to give up the right of way.

We’ve all been in situations when we just know we have a right to expect something

  • We are the boss…and expect our staff to create a special report for a meeting
  • We are the staff who has been given full authority over a project…and expect our manager will sign off on it
  • We are next in line at the store…and expect to check out and get moving. Next.

Each of these scenarios is perfectly reasonable…and in a perfectly reasonable world they would all be done quickly and with a smile.

But we all know this ain’t a perfect world.

Maybe our staff member isn’t quite so into time management…maybe our creative boss loves to get his fingers into projects…maybe the person behind you in line has just one item and asks if she can go ahead.

When we have a perfect right to something and others fight us or don’t come through, it can be extremely frustrating.

After all, we followed the rules to get there. In some cases, we actually worked for the right. And when things don’t come out like we feel it should we feel annoyed, disrespected.

Understandable. But here’s the problem.

Sometimes your right of way doesn’t matter at all. Sometimes, no matter how much you just know you deserve something, others won’t see it that way or respect it. That’s just a fact.

Which means there are some times, even when it might just kill you inside, where you need to give up the right of way…where you need to finish that report yourself, do the project over or let the person go ahead of you.

Otherwise, it might just mean more time and an even bigger amount of frustration. And, even if you push your right of way over and over, the other person might not get it. Or care. So you won’t get to keep it anyway.

In the end, you get to make the choice about your right of way…for your own sanity. You get to make the choice between this…


And this…


Now. There are of course times when you shouldn’t give up your right of way. There are times when we as a manager need to manage…when we as a parent need to parent. We need to teach lessons, model behavior, get things done.

But there are plenty of times when we don’t need to use our right of way simply because we have it. And there are more of them than we may think.

How can we tell if this is a time to give up our right of way?

First, we need to examine why we’re fighting so hard to keep it.

  • So…Is this one of those times when our right of way absolutely matters?
  • Or…is this simply about having the right of way? Is it about our ego, because we feel we deserve it? Is it just about being right?
  • And…in the end, will giving it up really matter?

The greatest leaders understand this point and practice it, because they don’t let their egos get in the way. They know when to give up their power and when to keep it. They choose their battles and find success on what really matters.

They know there will be times that – no matter how right they are –  their right of way is simply not worth fighting for.

They know they need to choose what will get them the greatest results, the greatest quality of life, the greatest peace of mind. Parents do the same thing.

I see that success and try to learn from them. Which is why I let a speedy little driver go ahead of me at a four-way stop today, even though I got there first.

You just never know who’s behind the wheel.

old lady driver

I just knew it wasn’t worth it. And besides, the last thing I needed was another incident to take me back to traffic school.

After all, I’ve learned the best lesson already.

This week…

Recognize how often you fight for your right of way just because you’ve got it. See if it leads to more frustration.

Then find one situation and give it up. See how it feels. Enjoy the peace it brings.

Then turn your focus on what really matters…and fight for it all you want.

Now go do good…and do it well.

12 thoughts on “The Best Ever Leadership Lesson from Traffic School

  1. Caroline says:

    Hi Deidre,
    Glad to see I’m not the only one paying my dues at Traffic School this year. Although I’m not a “frequent flyer”, I do appreciate your insight on yielding the right of way. I’m always seeking to be a better leader and is worth taking the time to ponder this approach.


    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Ahhh…always nice to hear from someone else who’s been there! Thanks for your comment…and trust me, the approach takes some time (and a bit of hard swallowing), but I’ve definitely found it’s been helping me as I continue to think through what really matters!

  2. Julie-ann says:

    Hi Deirdre,

    This concept is related to another that I find helpful when facing one of these choices. Consider “what’s the real goal here?” It’s never about my ego, or my personal want/need of the moment. In traffic, it’s about working together smoothly and everyone getting to their destination safely, not about me being 30 seconds earlier (or less late). In parenting, it’s about this child being a successful adult one day, which means learning lessons about the topic at hand, about working together, and about having enough respect for each other that we can keep working at that long project as the days go on. Work is a little different, but not that different. Human relationships all have similar things at the core.

    Glad you brought this up!


    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Great point Julie-ann…and I have to say I think you’re wonderfully evolved! As much as I know deep down my goal is something greater, I think far too often it’s easy to let those other silly elements of ego and power get in the way. Keeping your eye on the end prize is definitely smart!

  3. Blaire says:

    Fabulous post. Thanks for the words!!

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      My pleasure Blaire – thank YOU for taking time out to read them!

  4. LaCandice McCray says:

    I had the opportunity to practice giving up my right of way this afternoon. I was asked to help edit a promotional video for a youth program because I have experience with video editing software. During the process, I noticed some of my feedback was brushed off and often times challenged. I found myself verbally agreeing the changes even though I disagreed internally. Luckily, as we went through the process, the group was able to understand where my feedback was coming from. I did not want to appear as the “know-it-all”, and I also wanted to be respectful of the invitation. I previously would have considered this compromise, but you’ve given me a new perspective on these types of situations.

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Thanks for sharing our story, LaCandice. Congratulations for handling the situation with professionalism and grace, even though it might have stung a bit inside. In the end, it sounds like this was one situation where giving up your right of way led to a more peaceful process for you…and hopefully still resulted in a great final product!

  5. Patty Costa says:

    Deirdre, thanks again for such words of wisdom to live by. It comes down to choosing my battles and my PEACE is very important to me. I happen to be an old Italian mother too! So regards to your mom. In relation to eternity, what does this mean? Kind of puts it in perspective. I can’t win every battle but I can win the war! My best lessons are the hardest learned. But do listen to your mom and drive carefully!

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Thanks for your great comments…peace really is a wonderful ultimate goal, yes? And your daughter is a lucky girl!

  6. Theo says:

    Deirdre, thanks for a very timely post. Something I’ve been paying attention to in recent weeks in a variety of roles I work in. I try to watch for the signal that I’m pushing my perspective too much and try to determine a workable detour or new route in the conversation that shows I value and respect input from others. Thanks for providing such great reminders!

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Thanks for the great comments, Theo…and wow…your introspective ability to watch for signals that you’re pushing your perspectives too hard are impressive. I always admire those who strive to show their respect for others in an ongoing way…

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