We leaders have opinions and preferences. We (hopefully) think a lot about the future. We consider a range of scenarios and how we would respond. And as a result, it is easy to develop pictures in our mind of what we consider to be the best, most logical solution. There is a tendency to become enamored with our pictures. After all, we are smart, we have considered a range of options, and we have envisioned an end result that makes the most sense to us . . . And then one of your senior staff members or trusted advisors (who by the way has followed the same process as you) describes a totally different picture.
Oh . . . wow . . . okay . . . but you really have confidence in your picture. Sure, you want to encourage different perspectives. You know that the best leaders are open to adapting their plans when they gain new information. And yet, you find yourself feeling a bit defensive in support of your original plan. Should your scenario be given primary consideration because of your position or level of experience? Should you seek out evidence that supports your approach or calls other perspectives into question? Does an openness to changing your plan signal uncertainty, or a lack of conviction for your identified preferred path?
This three-part process can reduce the likelihood that you will find yourself in such a leadership quandry:
- Openly discuss your thoughts, and those of others on the team, early and often.
It is much easier to consider new information and make course corrections in your assumptions along the way, rather than waiting until you have a fully developed picture. Siloed or independent plan development often leads to more entrenched divisions down the road.
- Make a sincere consideration of contrarian views part of the process.
It is easy to ask someone to “play” devil’s advocate with the goal of discounting them. What if, instead, the team thoughtfully considered how an intelligent individual who also wanted the best for your organization might see things differently? What if you considered the “truth” of a variety of perspectives. How might that change your conversations?
- Always leave room to improve a plan.
With every plan, you should start with a clear articulation of the end goal, and end with the caveat that, “This is our best thinking with the information we have AND we need to hear from you if you have additional insight that could impact our overall success. That way, if someone does have additional input, they are not saying your plan is “wrong” they are merely helping to make it better.
Listening only to yourself, or people who think like you, provides a false sense of clarity. It tends to make you over-confident and under-prepared for the complex challenges facing leaders today. Are you confident enough in your process to let go of your picture?