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Don’t Mind the Cones!

About twenty years ago, after attending Clemson University, I received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to attend the BMW High Performance Driving School. In these elite, hands-on courses, drivers learn to execute high-risk maneuvers never performed legally on the road. Of course I signed up! When else would I get to drive a $110,000 car like I’m Danica Patrick?

I was the only girl in the course and obviously the most inexperienced. Other students were throwing out terminology like corner entry, panic braking, and figure-eight rat races. Soon I was getting behind the wheel of a BMW X5 to try out these very maneuvers on a course modeled on the Hechlingen Enduro Park in Germany, complete with hills, water holes, gravel roads, and washboards.

Yes, we got to drive VERY fast (the clock doesn't lie)! While driving my dream car, the BMW M4, I remember looking down at the speedometer and watching the needle fly past 90 mph—and I was in second gear. It was like being on an adult playground. The instructor's advice was to "wire the junk out of it" -- to floor the accelerator and take the car to its limits, even while doing mad laps and 360s with all the traction controls turned off.

One early skill was tight autocross handling- weaving between cones at insanely high speed. The first time I volunteered I hit EVERY SINGLE CONE, sending about 50 cones flying in all directions. I think I even retired a few. My failure was definitely on display; I was asked if I needed guidance before I started, and I had declined. One classmate even made a joke about my bad driving that got a laugh from everyone.

My instructor explained that our eyes are a crucial factor in skill enhancement. If I kept my eyes focused on the goal, my hands would follow. The faster I went, the farther ahead I would have to look. “Ignore the cones. Don't even look at them. Stay focused on where you want to take the car." I sat quietly on the sidelines for about 30 minutes, trying but feeling like it was impossible to ignore the cones. Feeling energized, I tried the course again with my instructor in the passenger seat. This time, I didn't hit a single cone. My speed and accuracy stats beat everyone in the group. It was a proud moment.

The first time I attempted the course, I was clueless and lacked skills and knowledge to be successful. Even knowing my deficiencies, I still chose to do it my way. I was arrogant and overconfident. And what happened? I hit everything but my goal. The second time, I listened to the one who gave me the assignment. I openly admitted my inadequacy, sought wise council, put in the work of visualizing my game plan, and fought hard to resist the distraction of the neon yellow cones.

Like my driving instructor, God doesn’t give leaders an assignment and then leave us to fend for ourselves. He provides us with resources to see the assignments through. Surrendering our will enables us to succeed despite our inadequacies, bringing honor and glory to our Lord. Like my driving instructor, God will allow us to do it our way, but His judgment is swift, tragic, and many times final. Yes, He will always forgive us, but unlike in driving school we don’t always get another chance to run the exact same track. Also, in leadership there’s usually WAY more than flying neon cones at stake.

Anytime the Lord gives you an assignment, expect distractions: opposition, division, gossip, and accusations. These tender times are humbling and seem unfair, but God uses these painful experiences to draw leaders close to Him. Ignore the distractions. Cultivate focused determination to do His assignment His way. Remember, you have an audience of one.

I keep a BMW matchbox car in my office to remind me of the leadership lessons God taught me at driving school. The competitive race car driver in me thinks IF I can beat out a group of car enthusiasts who handle a BMW like it's on rails, I can do ANYTHING!!

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