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  • Writer's pictureDawn Burkett

Ready To Drive At Work? 5 Steps To Take

Initiative sets drivers and passengers apart. Learn how to take ownership of what you are passionate about at work by getting in the driver's seat.


My husband is married to quite the backseat driver. There is nothing more tense or irritating than trying to find a parking spot with that man. Let me tell you why...

First, he is always on the phone in a parking lot. Callers must know the second we arrive somewhere. They must choose to call him at the very time he should be focusing on finding a perfect parking spot. And the guy cannot decline a call. While on the phone, he drives past at least five perfectly good spots and we inevitably end up in the very back because I give him my my very best eye roll and point out all the spots he missed. Once he gets off the phone and I share my complete irritation for the experience, he always responds with…

"Well then, why don't you drive?"

Good question.

You see, I don't always want to drive. On road trips, this man is awesome. I love settling into the role of passenger and simply enjoying the scenery. When we go for a Sunday drive, he knows the best places to go. I never have the urge to recommend where to go next.

But a parking lot….

Give. Me. The. Keys.

But this example applies to much more than a parking lot. You see, it is easy to sit in the passenger seat and judge the driver at work. This driver isn't always the boss. It can be the peer that always seems to get the best projects or the department that has influence and makes things happen.

Why didn't they take the quicker route?

Why did they handle that situation that way?

They totally just cut that other driver off!

I would never drive like that.

These thoughts consume us, especially when it comes to areas that we care a lot about (like my parking lot) and we eventually dread the ride. When we dread the ride, we check out. When we check out, we miss out on some pretty great adventures. And our work misses out on the value we could be adding.

"Well then, why don't you drive?"

When we drive, it is up to us. Although we are never in full control we determine the route to take, the speed we maintain, and the signals we give. The driver's seat is quite powerful. Driving means that we take ownership of what we are passionate about. Driving means that we are responsible for others.

Driving is not always about being the one with the title. It's about taking the initiative to say "I'd like to drive this one." Initiative sets the drivers and passengers apart. And often, we don't have the confidence to speak up and ask for the opportunities to drive.

So, want do you want to drive? Maybe you have an idea that would improve workflow. Perhaps you want to lead the next department meeting. Or it could be that you want to be included in budget planning. Finding what it is that gets you excited about coming to work is like buying a car. Sure, we can't just pick out any car but we absolutely have options if we look.

Once we decide what it is that we want to drive, there are five steps to take.

1. Learn How To Drive

Seriously. Once you decide that you want to be in the driver's seat, you better make sure you can drive! After all, we did not learn to drive by reading a manual, right?

We got in the car, hit the gas a little too hard, swerved into the other lane with more force than needed, and parked in the very back of the parking lot to avoid any unnecessary turns. Learning a new skill at work is the same way - it involves practice and repetition.

  • Find others you consider to be good drivers and learn from them. Identify and make note of behaviors that make them effective. Once you do, share your observations with them and ask them how they do it. Not only do you learn from them, you initiate a relationship with an expert that will be there to support you as you develop your new skill.

  • Practice honing your skills. In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear shares a story about a group of photography students. At the beginning of the semester, the professor split the class into two groups. The first group was told that they were in the "quantity" group and would be graded on the amount of photos submitted. The second group was the "quality" group and would be graded solely on the excellence of their work. The quality group could submit just one photo, but it better be as close to perfect to get an A. Guess what? At the end of the semester the best photos did not come from the quality group; it came from the quantity group. Why? Because they spent their whole semester practicing and taking as many photos as they could instead of focusing on perfecting one. Much can be learned from this example. Time spent taking action and practicing will get you closer to driving than trying to come up with the most perfect plan.

2. Get Your Driver License

You must prove to yourself (and your peers, boss, etc.) that you can take on a new responsibility. No one is going to let you drive just because you want to. Be able to offer "proof" that you are capable. So how do you do this?

  • Take a class. Obvious, right? Yes. But surprisingly, we don't do this enough. There are so many resources out there to learn. Structured learning sets aside time devoted to learning and creates accountability. It also shows that we are serious about driving.

  • Share what you are learning in your next staff meeting. Again, initiative sets the drivers and passengers apart. You may have all the proof, but unless you share it no one will know. Don't assume others see your improvement- you've got to show it! It can be as simple as:

    • "I learned how to create a pivot table and I'd love to show you how I'm using it."

    • "Wanted to share this article with you all. I had so many takeaways, especially on...."

    • "Had an aha moment yesterday about [insert aha moment]. I'm going to work on putting it into practice by...."

  • Look into certifications. There is so much value in experience. Experience coupled with a certification absolutely provide proof that you take a skill seriously and have taken the steps to become an expert.

3. Have Insurance

Insurance is about having a support system to help you. Whether it is a peer that you can bounce ideas off of or a leader that you trust to give you honest feedback. You must have people in your corner.

  • Remember those good drivers that you found in Step 1? Use them! Share your progress with them. Ask them questions. Continue to develop a relationship with them. Chances are they have experienced the same things you are experiencing. These drivers can help keep you on the road and may also vouch for you when you are ready to take the keys.

  • Ask for feedback. If you are my husband, you don't have to ask- I will gladly provide feedback on your parking abilities. But sometimes we don't have that support system that gives us unsolicited feedback on what we need to improve. Ask for it and be specific about what you are looking for. Instead of "How am I doing?" try, "I am working on my virtual presentation skills and I would like your feedback on where I can be more effective."

  • Find ways to minimize the risk. Want to be insured? Don't be dangerous! Use your support system to minimize the risks. Here are a few roles that I recommend having in your support system:

    • The Editor - This person is the "go-to" for reviewing work before submitting. We are all human...having a second set of eyes on something can prevent a simple mistake.

    • The Idea Machine - This person has a unique perspective that comes in handy when you have an idea. They can see your idea and present alternatives, challenges and considerations. They help vet your idea before taking it to the decision maker.

    • The Subject Matter Expert (SME) - This person knows the subject in and out. They don't do the work for you but provide specific answers and feedback.

    • The Motivator - Learning to drive is hard. Sometimes you just need someone to give you a thumbs up. Find that person that makes you feel good.

4. Be a Good Driver

Don't expect people to just jump in the car with you. This takes time, repetition and trust. Studies show that the first year of driving is the most dangerous year. Why? Because we are new at it. We can't just get our license and have it all figured out...we have to put in the time.

  • Start slow. Building trust and credibility does not happen overnight. Be patient with your progress. If you are truly following steps 1-4, you are making progress. The exciting thing about progress is that it creates momentum and according to John Maxwell, "Momentum provides the energy for needed change."

  • Sometimes you have to repair a reputation. Perhaps you have had a couple of wrecks or maybe you have been a backseat driver for a while and others don't see you as a driver. You must be aware of others' perceptions of you and work hard to repair them. Target the areas that need repairing and make sure that your critics know what you are doing to fix them.

  • Practice the hard stuff. Driving down your favorite road is one thing....merging onto a busy freeway is another. To be a good driver, you must be comfortable with the hard stuff and the only way you will be comfortable is by doing it over and over.

5. Stay Off The Phone

I get anxiety just thinking about my husband's phone ringing in the parking lot. Don't give others anxiety. Driving means that we are responsible for others. Stay focused and ensure that you have a good plan.

  • Do not disturb. When you are driving, eliminate your distractions. At work we are so plugged in with ways to communicate. As great as this is, it can pull us away from who or what is in front of us. Minimize your window, turn off notifications, set your do not disturb, mute your speaker, and be present!

  • Plan your route and share it! When you spend the time preparing for the drive, it goes much smoother. Have backup plans in case there is traffic. Get gas before you get on the road. Plan for red lights. When you do these things, your passengers can enjoy the ride.

Final Thought

It is totally okay to be a passenger. We cannot do everything, nor should we, but don't be so afraid of driving that you never get in the driver's seat.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” -Joe Sabah.


If you find yourself being a backseat driver at work in areas that excite you and make you want to take the lead, take the initiative with the following steps.

1. Learn to Drive - Identify good drivers, learn from them, and practice your skill.

2. Get Your Driver License - Be able to provide tangible proof that you are serious about driving.

3. Having Insurance - You can't do it alone! Build your support system.

4. Be a Good Driver - Understand that it takes time and consistency to develop this reputation.

5. Stay Off The Phone - Be intentional about planning ahead and maintaining focus.


About the Author

Dawn Burkett is the Founder & Principal at DRIVE Talent Development. She is all about developing people to make meaningful impact at work. Learn more about Dawn and her work here.


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