Leadership Lessons From Metro


Just a little over five months ago, Paul Wiedefeld became Metro’s new general manager, taking the reigns of a mass transit system in crisis.  Since then, he’s shut the whole system down for over 24 hours and announced a massive safety overhaul that will delay millions of people for months.  Along the way, he’s been subject to a fair amount of criticism and Facebook grumbling.  I get it.  It’s the 2nd busiest rapid transit system in the country with over 200 million trips taken per year.  Shutting the whole thing down messes up a lot of people’s days.

While I don’t know anything about how to run a mass transit system, I’m always looking to learn from other leaders.  From what I can tell, Wiedefeld has demonstrated four attributes of an effective leader:

Consistent With His Values

Before Wiedefeld even started at Metro, he sat down with the Washington Post for an interview and made his values and top priority clear, “I’m going to wake up every morning thinking about the safety of the system, and I’m going to go to bed every night thinking about the safety of the system.”  So, don’t be surprised when he’s willing to shut the whole thing down to get this right.  So many times leaders declare something a top priority but then allow a bunch of other factors distract them.  That kind of distraction blunts our effectiveness.

Realistic In His Assessments

It stands to reason that you can’t fix 30 years of neglect without some pain.  As logical as that is, there’s something in each of us that doesn’t want that to be the case.  We’re always looking for the quick and easy path to awesome results (get out of debt by Christmas, rock hard abs in 3 minutes a day, or whatever).  It just doesn’t work that way – big change takes hard work.  Every leader is tempted to sugar coat the truth in the name of placating people and avoiding pain.  But nothing ever gets better that way.

Courageous In His Decisions

Wiedefeld would have to be a total idiot to not realize that shutting the system down and the upcoming maintenance surge were going to be unpopular.  No doubt he knew the frustration that was about to get directed at him.  But he moved ahead anyways.  It’s a reminder that if we aren’t willing to make the tough call, we have no business calling ourselves leaders.  Leadership isn’t about doing what’s popular.  It’s about doing what’s right – even when that costs us something.

Transparent In His Communication

There’s amazing power in honesty.  As much as people may not like what they hear, they’ll recognize a straight shooter when they hear one.  And, more often than not, they’ll follow someone with the courage to tell them what’s really going on.  This should be so freeing for us as leaders – it means we don’t need to worry about spin.  It also means we had better avoid the traps of half truths, distortions or manipulations.  Just tell people the truth!

My point in writing this isn’t to weigh in on something I know nothing about – running a mass transit system.  But I do want to be a better leader in my context, the local church.  And I love drawing principles from other leaders in the hopes of upping my game.  Wherever you’re leading, I encourage you to do the same!

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