Leading from the driver’s seat

by Al Goodhall

Last month I used the phrase ‘crisis in leadership,’ to stimulate some conversation about how the continuing trend of mergers and acquisitions by large trucking companies affects the driver on the front lines.

The trend of bigger is better in order to compete in the global economy isn’t going away. So this month, let’s take leadership out of the boardroom and put it in the driver’s seat.

There is no doubt in my mind that truck drivers are the face of the trucking industry. As such, we are leaders of the industry in the eyes of the general public.

Our actions as drivers and how we conduct ourselves behind the wheel reflect on the company name plastered across the rigs we drive and on the industry as a whole.

The expression ‘Knights of the Road’ sums up perfectly not only the high level of leadership qualities drivers exemplify as they go about their daily tasks but also the pride drivers take in their profession.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of what goes into the mix when we are looking for excellence in leadership from the driver’s seat. Drivers as leaders choose to be the face of a safety-driven culture, not the face of recklessness; Drivers as leaders choose to be the face of courtesy, not the face of road rage; Drivers as leaders choose to hold themselves to a higher standard of skill and awareness than the general public they share the road with; Drivers as leaders choose to take actions that inspire respect and trust, not mistrust and fear.

So those are just a handful of traits that we associate with being a leader, being a professional, being a Knight of the Road.

You’ll notice that I framed those traits as conscious choices we make. Those choices inspire or discourage the people around us.

As a driver there is no escaping the fact that you will be judged by the public as a whole on the choices you make whether or not you accept your role as a leader within the driving community.

But in this changing world, drivers represent themselves and the industry in another way – across social media. It’s an interesting conundrum. There are a lot of younger drivers that have broken into the trucking industry with a minimal amount of training and mentoring.

This younger generation of drivers are the heaviest users of new technologies. This often results in bad experiences in the field being aired across social media. That’s bad for all of us.

That point brings me to my favourite topic and its powerful role in developing leadership: Training and mentoring. This is at the root of all the major issues within the industry.

There is a focus now on mandatory entry-level training (MELT). That’s important, but it needs to go so much further than that. In order to refresh that Knights of the Road mentality, we need to integrate driver education into the driving position from cradle to grave.

As a driver, it is important not to underestimate your value as a leader in this industry but it’s something we do all the time. It’s easy to be reduced by large corporations to just a worker that picks up and delivers freight.

This is a problem that leaders in the boardroom recognize, but have difficulty feeding back to you in the driver’s seat.

Most often it is simply a failure of a large bureaucracy to deliver some simple messaging in a meaningful way. That message is that you are important. The success of even the largest transportation company is wholly dependent on the individual leadership of each driver in the field.

So as a driver, where do you go from here?

More than half of us have a lifetime of experience as drivers leading this industry and are dealing with feelings of being left behind, of low morale and of shrinking income as we head into our twilight years. It’s not enough for a guy like me to say hey, it’s all about your attitude and how you lead this industry from the driver’s seat. That is meaningful but it’s not enough. There are certainly no easy answers; if there were, I’d share them with you.

There are a lot of opinions out there of what leadership is, what it looks like, and what its impact is on you as an individual driver but there is no doubt in my mind that doing this driving job right and to the best of your ability is not only fulfilling on a personal level but is beneficial to all the other drivers in the field. I just keep slugging away.


Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his ‘Over the Road’ blog at http://truckingacrosscanada.blogspot.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.

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