The Road Signs of Leadership in Action

I recently returned from a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. It is an incredible place rich in culture, natural beauty,  archeological history, delicious food and fantastic weather. But that isn’t what this blog post is about!

My partner Andy and I have spent a lot of time in Latin America during our lives.  I think it is fair to say that the “rules of the road” and common courtesies that we experience while in our vehicles in the United States generally don’t apply.  I would say that more often, it is every driver for him or herself.

As a pedestrian, you adjust and prepare for sprinting across the street when it appears the coast is clear, regardless of whether there is a light in your direction or not because that rule doesn’t often apply.  If you are a Californian and you are accustomed to stepping off a curb to see all vehicles jam on their brakes to allow you to cross, you need to hit the delete button because that behavior could result in a visit to the hospital.

This trip something changed. In fact we noticed as soon as we arrived, cars were following traffic laws, cars were stopping when we crossed the street. We looked at each other and both acknowledged something had changed.

We then spoke to an American who had been living in Oaxaca for 10 years and she said, “yes, the city has made a concerted effort to make driving more civilized and it is working.” We asked “How?”  She said, “They put up these Yield signs that said, ‘1 x 1, First you then me’.”

Oaxaca Traffic Sign
“First you then me.” – new traffic signs in Oaxaca, Mexico.

I saw this sign and watched drivers do just that…..”First you then me.”  I thought to myself, “This is leadership right here on the streets of Oaxaca City!”  I am a believer in the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. It is easy to remember and it is globally transferable.

Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership

  1. Model the Way: Do what you say you will do and others will follow.
  2. Inspire a Shared Vision: Streets where traffic moves smoothly and cars share the road with pedestrians.
  3. Challenge the Process: Take initiative to do something innovative like put up new signs.
  4. Enable Others to Act: Trust that others will follow if you foster collaboration. This only worked because everyone collaborated.
  5. Encourage the Heart: Create the spirit of community, celebrate success. As pedestrians we were thrilled when drivers waved us across the street.

Have you seen leadership in action while walking down the street? Share your story!