[Life Back West] April 2014 – Riding Up Front?

When you’re a kid in a car culture like the USA, a major life milestone is the iStock_000030831368Mediumtime when you get to ride up front.

It’s not exactly adulthood, but looks like the same neighborhood; out of the back seat, associated with kiddie car seats and “baby” status, and into a view from the front like the big guys.

While some adults learn that riding in back – think limos and Uber – is the status spot – getting a pass to the front works the same for most everything else.

You can ride “up front” in first class in commercial planes which suggests you’re special (though not as special as a private jet), or get a “Front of Line” pass at an amusement park like Universal Studios which gives you line cuts over regular patrons.

There are usually costs involved though. That Front of Line pass will set you back $95, more than doubling the regular admission $84 one-day price. And that bump-up to flying first class will usually cost mileage awards or some extra cash.

Other costs that may not be so obvious? Those mileage awards earned through airline loyalty programs get you hooked like catch-but-don’t-release steelhead on the Umpqua River. You stay with the carrier for the miles, not the price or service; you expect (sometimes just hope) to always be treated as “special” in return.

And that ride in the back of the town car? It can generate a degree of isolation from those that are served and those that serve. Lea Michele on a recent episode of Glee knew it was no way to learn New York City and its people; she gave up the limo to return to taking the subways.

While research shows that we prefer to surround ourselves with people just like us, research also shows that those are exactly the people with whom we become most stagnant in thought and perform poorer as a group.

Like too much of any good thing, too much “up front” privilege can lead to the syndrome that Jim Hightower attributed to the first George Bush: “he was born on third base [and] thought he had hit a triple.” Like that steelhead you’ve been hooked and don’t know it; you’ve become over-entitled.

The danger in part is that over-entitled parents frequently raise over-entitled kids. And over-entitled kids rarely have the skills or experience to connect (and lead) others not-so-like-themselves in a world that is increasingly more, not less, diverse.

Leadership research by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner is that empathy – the ability to see the world as another person, to share and understand another person’s feelings, needs, concerns and/or emotional state – is a critical element of successful leaders.  Channel Mitt Romney – likely a good and decent man –  and you’ve got Exhibit A for an inability to lead or connect with the many others who are different.

Any my kid Traylor?

He spotted a $70 two-day Universal Studios pass at CostCo, a place for interacting with a broad range of people if there ever was one. Apart from the $200 he saved us over a Spring Break road trip to Universal Studios last week, he said that the Front of Line pass didn’t seem like such a good deal.

I suspect he’ll be just fine.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub.