Side Roads

Winter road into forestAhhh, best laid plans. They really are amazing, aren’t they? Such a shame that they rarely work out the way we intend. And when that happens (because it will happen . . . maybe not every time, but it will happen), the leader’s response reverberates throughout the entire organization. Do you slam on the brakes and wring your hands over the roadblocks before you, or do you merely take your foot off the accelerator long enough to find the nearest side road to get you where you’re going?

It all depends on whether your focus is on the route or on the destination. Theoretically, it is easy to say we need to focus on the destination, but oh how we love our routes. The plans that we spend months creating, convincing ourselves that we have considered every option and have selected the best course. We have developed the metrics, the timelines, the budget, and even a few scenic overlooks along the way. With so much investment in the route, it seems foolhardy to abandon all that effort, even if you encounter a few red flags or flashing signs along the way . . . right?

I have two words for you. Side roads. I’m not saying you shouldn’t identify a route up front. Fast and easy is always lovely if you can make it work. I am saying that you also have to remain nimble enough to shift gears and take some gravel roads if that’s what it takes to reach your destination. Sure you may have to take a few deep breaths, you can even have a momentary pity party for the demise of your beautiful pre-planned route, but then you need to scan the horizon, consider alternate paths to reach the end goal and then pick one and go.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Side roads can be filled with hidden gems and opportunities. They may even turn out to be a shorter and faster than the well-paved road you originally identified. Side roads are easy to miss you unless you’re looking for them, but if you listen to your people, it is likely one of them has an idea of where they are located. However, they are only going to speak up if they know that the route truly is secondary to the destination . . . when they know that changing course isn’t seen as “failure” but rather doing what it takes to get the job done. Do your people know that?

I like a good plan as much as (and at times maybe even more than) the average leader, but I’ve also driven enough miles to know that sometimes the side road is the best path of all. So the next time your best laid plan is going up in smoke, take a deep breath and a hard look at where you’re trying to get to . . . and then I’ll see you on the side road.

A Roadmap for How . . .

Vintage compass


Today as I was going through a file related to our organizational strategy, I ran across a document from more than seven years ago related to my expectations for senior staff. I think this document is as relevant today as it was when it was written because it focuses more on the “how” than the “what.” Unfortunately, in our fast-paced world, the “what” changes not only from day to day, but often from hour to hour. For that very reason, the clearer you can be on your “how”, the more your staff will have a roadmap to guide their actions and allow them to respond to situations quickly and with confidence. I share these expectations not because I think they will be a fit for every individual or organization — they won’t be — but to challenge you to consider what you would include in a “roadmap for how” for your organization. In my experience, you can get to your destination much faster when you have a map.


DDR Expectations of Senior Leadership Staff

The quick and dirty . . .

  • Treat others as you would like to be treated
  • Always take the high road
  • No surprises
  • We have to be the grown-ups

Probably more what you had in mind . . .

  • I expect they are fully committed to the mission and vision of the organization and that they exemplify agency values in their interactions with individuals, both internal and external to the organization.
  • I expect they have the baseline knowledge necessary to fully carry out their job, or have developed a plan for acquiring baseline knowledge.
  • I expect the driving factor in decision-making is what is in the best interest of the agency as a whole, not personal or departmental priorities.
  • I expect the work within their area is consistent with, and supports the fulfillment of, Chaddock’s strategic and operational plans.
  • I expect when they come to me with a challenge, they will also come with potential solutions for consideration. My job is to offer guidance and feedback, not “solve their problems”.
  • I expect them to balance short-term urgency with long-term importance.
  • I expect them to be accountable to their team, including me, in carrying out their job responsibilities, and recognize that the decisions of one team member impacts the rest of the team.
  • I expect communication among the team, and with me, to be proactive rather than reactive, identifying upcoming decisions/activities before they occur rather than reporting afterwards.
  • I expect them to make the hard decisions in a thoughtful, caring and timely manner. I also expect them to understand that I’ll do the same, and although they may not always agree with my decisions I expect them to support them.
  • I expect them to look out for their team members, and raise concerns or observations in a supportive manner when appropriate. I also expect that they are receptive to the feedback from their team.
  • I expect them to model transparency in their actions, and foster two-way communications throughout the organization. Hierarchy is not a hideout.

Don’t Confuse a Clear View for a Short Distance

Les Baux de Provence Cliffs Ruins H

Several years ago, my husband and I were on vacation at a scenic location when we saw a ruin in the distance and decided to hike over and check it out. After following a somewhat treacherous trail for much longer than it we thought it would take to get to the structure, we looked to the horizon and realized the site didn’t seem any closer than when we started. At that point, we began to question if we should continue . . . it was already late in the afternoon, and once we got there we would have to walk all the way back . . . but it looked so cool, and we had already come this far, so we decided to press on. We probably stopped two more times to have a similar conversation before we actually made it to the ruin — which was totally worth the trip, even though it was approaching dusk by the time we wound our way back along a narrow path to return to our car.

I had to smile as a quote I had read several years earlier popped into my head. “Don’t confuse a clear view for a short distance.” Credited to Kevin Kelly, I have had numerous opportunities to be reminded of the truth of this statement. The bottom line is, most major projects take longer, and include more twists and turns, than we expect at the outset. And if we don’t have a clear view of where we are headed, it is easy to stop after the first few bumps in the road and decide the trip really isn’t worth it. But when you have a clear picture of the destination in your head, you are much more likely to press on through the brambles, the steep drop-offs, and rocky paths. Making a commitment to persevere toward a clear view can lead to amazing results — not only when you reach (or exceed!) your destination, but also in the increased levels of collaboration and support that can happen within a team along the way.

The reverse is also true. Without a clear destination in mind, even a fairly easy path can seem overwhelming, or require too much effort. A vague or foggy description of the view doesn’t inspire near the energy or enthusiasm needed to complete the trip. The journey is sure to include numerous uncontrollable variables, and there will be multiple scenarios that could come to pass. You will have to adapt and make course corrections along the way. But when everyone is clear on the ultimate destination, they are more likely to respond to these challenges as simply that — challenges to overcome, not insurmountable obstacles on the way to a fuzzy destination, which have caused many a team to stop short of their goal.

It is true that, as a leader, you should never confuse a clear view for a short distance . . . but you should also never underestimate the power of a clear view to motivate your team to stretch beyond what they might have otherwise imagined.