For over two decades after its first inception in 1890, the traffic light consisted of only two colors, and two primary functions when signaling pedestrians, carriages or motorists to pass a roadway:
Red for STOP, and Green for GO.
It was not until 1920, when a Detroit police officer by the name of William Potts, developed a traffic light signal system that included the color of Yellow, with the sole function of communicating when caution needed to be observed before a person was in need of stopping or wanting to go.
Today, yellow lights, whether steady or in a flashing mode, are used by traffic operators and construction workers alike to help ensure that everyone who sees them knows that they will soon be in the need of yielding their way in order for safety to be maintained. With the understanding that nearly one-fifth of all auto accidents that result in fatalities occur at street intersections equipped with traffic lights, knowing when to yield is extremely paramount.
Perhaps not only when operating a vehicle, but when leading a team.
When a leader’s team is small or in its infancy stage, it is quite common to believe that every turn a leader wants to make, his or her team will be right there with them. In those early years, there is rarely a need for a leader to check the speedometer or the rear view mirror to see if his or her followers are keeping up, simply because they are usually riding in the same car, sharing the same perspective.
However, as a team or organization enlarges, when spontaneity is now followed by the cars of process and complexity, the lights that once looked green or yellow to a leader who is in front, may soon appear red to those he or she is leading, simply because they are no longer just driving a single car.
They are leading a caravan.
One of the most difficult, yet important lessons any leader will have to learn is when to stop at a yellow light. The larger our team grows, the more we must embrace the fact that success is not based on whether or not we arrived to our destination, but that everyone who is following us arrives there safely.