Riders on the London Underground are given a visual and audible warning to “mind the gap” when they are stepping on or off the train. This reminder that there is a space between here and there is designed to protect passengers and keep their footing sure. Likewise, leaders would do well to mind the gap lest they stumble and fall in the space between where they are standing, and the place they are trying to move toward.
Where, exactly, do leaders need to mind the gap?
1) Between the leader’s perspective and that of their critics. Recognizing the gap between you as a leader and your critics — in experience, information and/or desired outcome — can help you respond more effectively to those who would (sometimes quite vocally) recommend a different course of action. Rather than being thrown off balance by an outspoken challenge, look for the source of the gap. Are the critics missing information, are their goals different from yours, have they had an experience that differs from your own? What can you learn from them that could build greater understanding on all sides? Curiosity can help bridge the gap whereas defensiveness widens the chasm.
2) Between the leader’s intent and how others experience them. As leaders, our actions make sense to us because we understand our intent — we know our end goal. For our followers, there may be a gap between what we intend to accomplish and how they experience our actions. Ever have someone misinterpret what you are trying to do . . . or jump to conclusions based on their own perspectives and storylines? Mind the gap. Connecting the dots between your intentions and your actions is a simple as stating what you are trying to accomplish. It is easy to think people understand your reasoning because it is so clear to you. Often times, they don’t unless we tell them. As an added bonus, when we clearly state our intentions, people may be able to suggest an even better way to meet our goals . . . they can help us fulfill our intent, but first they have to know what it is.
3) Between the “map” and reality. Wouldn’t it be lovely if everything worked out exactly as we outlined in our carefully developed plans? Except it doesn’t. If we are so focused on following the plan, rather than arriving at the destination, we are likely to stumble . . . sometimes with devastating consequences. It is a leader’s responsibility to monitor the terrain, to look for new information that might require you to change your approach, or your timing, or the route you use, and adapt accordingly. And if you have followed #2 above, and made your intent clear, your people will help you find the best route forward.
As a leader, there are many things that can trip you up as you try to move from point A to point B. What’s the best way to keep your footing sure on the journey? Mind the gap.