Large amounts of data and rapid change increase the need to think critically and adjust to new realities.
Will Rogers reminds us that “even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” While stagnation is dangerous, finding the path forward can be challenging. Mental agility, situational awareness and sound judgment are essential to addressing probable, pervasive and problematic change.
The rapid rate of change has led CEOs to identify critical thinking, judgment and innovation as essential to their future success. In today’s complex world, no individual has all the answers, but a person can ask the right questions and evaluate responses.
Mental agility — the ability to recognize what has happened, what is currently happening and what could happen in the future — requires an open, inquisitive mind. And that openness must be combined with a critical analysis of all relevant information to discern how to leverage opportunities in the short and long term. Mental agility and critical thinking close the ubiquitous gap between what we think we know and what we need to know. They prevent missteps and blunders.
Mental agility and critical thinking do not require an elevated IQ, advanced degree, lofty position or specific personal style. They do require a dedicated willingness to:
- Test existing assumptions that may have changed based on dynamic environments
- Check for potential distortions or bias, including level of effort and confirmation bias
- Solicit and respect multiple points of view
Adopting an open mind means actively seeking information, considering alternatives, and selecting a viable and valuable goal. With multiple variables affecting any decision, a comprehensive framework is indispensable in collecting pertinent information. Knowing it all prevents risking it all.
Consider the purchase of a car. Decision factors include price, warranty, miles per gallon, cost of insurance, features, size, lease or purchase, color, style, type of gas required, cost of maintenance, towing capacity and dealer location. This list may appear lengthy, but compared with the factors involved in organizational success, it is quite small.
Organizations confront greater complexity and interdependencies than purchasing a car. One individual’s ability cannot juggle every aspect. Leaders need a system to gather timely, relevant information from multiple sources. Considering six situational mindsets ensures an effective grasp of reality. The following definitions and questions serve as a guide and can be tailored into a checklist for your organization:
- Inventing Situational Mindset questions concern innovative products, designs and services: What new features or services can we offer? How can we apply technology in a new way?
- Catalyzing Situational Mindset questions assess the level of customer service, market position and competition: What new markets can we explore? What will grow sales? How can we improve customer service?
- Developing Situational Mindset questions evaluate system effectiveness, information flow and seamless execution: What will improve cross-functional collaboration? Are our systems effective? What policy alterations will support our goals?
- Performing Situational Mindset questions examine quality, cycle time, workflow and return on investment: What deviations should we address? What can we improve? What limits our productivity?
- Protecting Situational Mindset questions address staffing levels, retention of key talent, succession planning and engagement: What will improve collaboration? How can we retain key talent? How can our culture become more agile?
- Challenging Situational Mindset questions probe trends, assumptions, strategies and opportunities: What new alliances are possible? What new niches should we pursue? What will position us for the future?
These situational mindsets surface what is present, what is within reach and what is around the corner. Their use builds the mental agility and critical thinking essential for organizations to achieve their goals in the midst of change.
Published with permission from SmartBrief.com
Mary Lippitt, an award-winning author and speaker, founded Enterprise Management Ltd., an international firm helping leaders deliver results. A leader in the field of organizational effectiveness, she has assisted corporate and government clients in the US and abroad, including Lockheed Martin, Marriott, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.
In the film,The Matrix,the main character, Neo,is offered a choice. He could take a red pill representing a desire to live in the real world as a free person or take a blue pill and remain secure in an illusionary world where he could hold on to his established beliefs, practices, and expectations. His choice was change or stability. It was an either-or choice to be made immediately.
In the movie Neo takes the red pill, rejecting a fabricated world to gain increased awareness and discomfort and the risks that follow. He elected reality and change over staying in a fictitious world offering predictability and safety. With only two choices and pressure from Morpheus, encouragement from Trinity, and pursuit by agents he had little time to make this momentous decision.
Organizations today often cast major decisions as either-or options, when, in reality, there are few binary choices. For example, what if Neo asked if he could take both pills? What if he asked Morpheus for additional time? What if he asked if there was a purple pill? With only two polarizing possibilities, he elected not to stay shackled to an impersonal manipulative system and change the matrix.
Leaders today must reject dualistic thinking and apply critical thinking to assess multiple options. This does not require an advanced degree, membership in Mensa or a lofty title. The practice merely requires an open mind and a willingness to shift mindsets to address current conditions. Adopting the practice of probing six situational mindsets enables leaders to discover alternatives and weigh options. It also engages others, surfaces new information, and creates common ground. The six mindsets questions cover every organizational aspect.
- The Inventing Mindset probes options for new products/services, creative designs, and new synergies.
- The Catalyzing Mindsetfocuses on serving the customer and building the organization’s brand.
- The Developing Mindset creates seamless infrastructure, integrated systems, and effective polices.
- The Performing Mindset targets process improvement, quality, workflow efficiencies, and ROI.
- The Protecting Mindset centers on developing talent, collaboration, agility, and bench strength.
- The Challenging Mindsetevaluates challenges, trends, risks, and opportunities for sustained success.
These six mindsets combat our natural tendency to rely on past practice, accept only confirming information,jump quickly into action, and tolerate limited alternatives. We can do better asking questions covering all six mindsets. A simple mindset checklist will prevent hasty action.
Now some resist the idea of a checklist viewing it as a personal shortcoming. However, lawyers, doctors, and pilots use them. The world is too complex and there are too many variables to juggle and weigh complex issues. If we have to-do lists, grocery lists and digital schedules, we already recognize ourinability to balance all of the information.
If we adopt an inclusive understanding of our circumstances and choices, we will find more alternatives. May be there was a purple pill option for Neo if he had asked. What questions should you be asking right now?
Many leaders exhibit a tendency to jump intoaction. When a problem is identified there must be an immediate response. There appears to be an ingrained “just do it” mentality on the assumption it will produce results as well as admiration. What is overlooked is the option for a pause between learning about a situation and responding to it. The pause enables information gathering and analysis. It also acknowledges recognizes that no one, no matter how talented, can master the complex issues facing us today.
The practice of gaining input can be called brainstorming, consulting, buzz groups, task teams, or crowdsourcing. But these work only when they are employed, when everyone believes they can contribute, and when everyone feels that it is safe to offer an opinion.
The lack of critical thinking cited in many CEO surveys encouraged me to poll 100 people about the barriers they experience in practicing critical thinking. The results are:
- 42% Identified time pressure or the lack of time to consider options
- 20% Expressed fear of rejection, ridicule or retribution
- 20% Replied nothing will happen as a result; They were resigned to accept that status quo
- 9% Doubted their ability to add anything important
- 5% Feared that it will mean just mean more work for them
- 4% Stated that no one required them to think critically
Organizations are wasting valuable human resources if insights and concerns never surface. And reversing the top concerns require only minor adjustments. Consider implementing one or more the following:
- Concerns over time constraints can be overcomeby setting aside 5 to 10 minutes of a staff meeting to explore an idea or ask for an issue that needs attention. It can also be encouraged by reminding staff that preventing problems saves time and effort rather than having to resolve setbacks later.And, the cost of blind spots continues to grow.
- Creating a “safe” environment by encouraging and respecting different points of view. Why not start your next staff meeting by asking “what have we learned since our last meeting?” Another option would be to appoint a rotating “devil’s advocate” who will critically examine proposals and raise issues. This is particularly important whenpotential benefits crowd out a comprehensive examination. The devil advocate can spotlight the need for deeper dive. In business and physics for every action there is a reaction, and it is important to recognize ramifications before leaping into action.
- Every suggestion or proposal deserves a response. Clarification on what was done or why no action was taken must be shared. It showsrespects for the person who offered the suggestion and ensures further engagement. Additionally, the contributor can learn about factors that can turn an apparent slam dunk into a pitfall.
- Build critical thinking confidence through coaching, usingan established checklist, and providingtime to reflect and confer with others. Recognize that not all critical thinking happens instantaneously. It can require “soak time,” whether it is in the shower or in the car. Confidence is also boosted when critical thinking is recognized, whether it was implemented or not. Whatever the outcome, the practice deserves encouragement
Leaders and decision makers must recognize those that think out of the box as well as those that think inside it, and under it. To paraphrase,Einstein, today’s problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that was used to create them. We must expand our thinking practices.
Dr. Mary Lippitt is the author of “Situational Mindsets: Targeting What Matters When it Matters”. She founded Enterprise Management Ltd. to help leaders successfully navigate today’s challenges, boost critical thinking, foster engagement, and deliver stellar results. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Situational Mindsets expands leadership beyond mastering personal style, skill set, and positive characteristics. It adds the ability to adjust to dynamic conditions and deliver results. The importance of situational awareness was cited as early as the 5th century BC in The Art of War by Sun Tze. Sun Tze described how the terrain, weather, population, sources for food and water, and vegetation were important factors in military strategy.
While the challenges facing our leaders today differ, knowing what has been what is and what is changing enables leaders to accurately assess their current environment to make a smart decision.
Situational Mindsets offer a framework to effectively scan an organization’s environment, weigh alternatives, decipher complexity, and address changing realities. Leaders cannot do everything that they want to do, but they must target what is vital at this moment in time. Using situational mindsets, leaders grasp present realities, foster engagement, circumvent risk and leverage opportunities. Situational mastery flows from asking questions. It does not depend on IQ, advanced degrees or extensive training. Also, when we exchange information, we promote understanding and alignment. Leaders do not need to have all the right answers, but they must ask all of the right questions. No one person can handle the pace of change, the growing complexity and amount of data. But the task is not overwhelming. It merely requires a situational mindset checklist to guide data collection and prevent potential blind spots.
Six situational mindsets cover key organizational factors: new products and services, customer focus and competitive position, organizational excellence, productivity and profitability, people and culture, and preparing for the future. Insights from situational mindsets prioritize actions and prevent blunders.
Another benefit is that mindsets enhance respect for different points of view. Valuing diverse perspectives builds collaboration and initiative. It also reduces interpersonal conflict. It provides the clues to walk in another’s shoes translates. It spotlights how to influence their thinking and actions. It is also the greatest honor you can give to another person—to listen to them and help them achieve their goals. After we understand all perspectives and realities, we can discover common ground.
In the dynamic 21st century the scope of leadership must expand. Situational mastery, critical thinking, priority setting, and sustainable results play a critical role in a person’s and an organization’s success. Click to order your copy ☛ Situational Mindsets
Join me on October 29th at 1 pm Eastern for a FREE webinar on Situational Mindsets: How to Boost Critical thinking and Deliver Results ⤵︎ click link below
Published with permission from Bizcatalyst360.
When something is missing, it is a vacuum or space creating a void. I believe we have a missing element in our understanding of leadership. We all recognize that leaders face challenges that were unfathomable twenty years ago. However, leadership remains consumed with the relatively stable aspects of personal style and skill sets.
Given our dynamic environment, situational awareness becomes an essential component for leadership success. Leaders must recognize how the competitive landscape, regulatory forces, workforce demographics, and system ramifications impact the organization. No one should ignore their present realities.
While I would temper Peter Drucker’s statement that leadership “has little to do with “leadership quality” and even less to do with “charisma.” Its essence is performance,” I agree with his focus on results. But to date, it undervalues results in favor of steadiness, predictability, and persistence, all of which certainly play a key role. However, so does flexibility, agility, timing, and current conditions. Ignoring these increases our blind spots and risk.
Getting the leadership “formula” right reminds me of searching for the sorcerer’s stone. A magical solution, to be sure, but we must remember it is also fictitious. Search for any universal formula will not work. Precisely following in the footsteps of Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos will not guarantee success. Certainly, those leaders deserve their acclaim but that does not mean their formula will work in every organization.
Few leaders run an organization that is the equivalent of an Apple or Amazon. I have met many business leaders who assume that what worked in one environment will work in every environment or that what worked in the past will work in the present.
Leadership has changed in scope and expectations. Organizations are more integrated, customer requirements shift more rapidly, and resources have become more constrained. And to make it even more challenging, our greater complexity means that no one person can have all the answers. So instead of becoming the solution provider, leaders need to develop their ability to question and evaluate alternatives. Luckily, this is not rocket science or a matter of IQ. It requires committing to a practice of employing six situational mindsets to uncover information before jumping to a decision.
Situational awareness Consider what a leader could learn by asking questions in six different areas including:
- What new approaches or creative options can we investigate?
- How can we improve customer service and retention?
- How can we become a truly seamless effective organization?
- What can improve our quality and efficiency?
- How can we foster collaboration, engagement, and learning?
- What can we do now to ensure a prosperous future?
Vacuums are broken using heat to expand the container. We should use the heat created by change to expand our view of leadership. Yes, listening, planning, team building, and engagement are critical but so is collecting information on our current realities and leveraging them to achieve results.
Dr. Mary Lippitt is the author of Brilliant or Blunder: Six Ways Leaders Navigate Uncertainty, Opportunity and Complexity
“Breaking the Vacuum Around Leadership” was originally published on 10 July 2019 at BizCatalyst360.
Adopting a narrow or fixed perspective is both foolish and dangerous. My MBA students frequently and fervently embrace a single answer, but in their rush to provide an answer they overlook key aspects and alternatives. Experienced decision makers know to dig deeper to see all that they can to address what most important, rather than wasting resources on what appears promising or urgent. They know their role is to ask the right questions more than delivering an answer.
When we drive our cars, we do not rely exclusively on the view through the windshield. We check the side and rear mirrors and this expanded awareness ensure our safety. Relying on a single point of view, or past practice discounts alternate perspectives as immaterial or mistaken. Such a laser-like focus equates to wearing blinders. But the other extreme of trying to focus on everything equally produces confusion derailing achievement.
Not everything warrants immediate attention. The urgent should not obscure the important. Decision makers must make the right call at the right time for the right results.
We can access mountains of data but extracting information, detecting patterns, and understanding the implications requires critical thinking and analysis. Mining insights requires discipline rather than an advanced degree, an elevated IQ, or a lofty title. Critical and situational analysis is not rocket science, and it is not bestowed on just a few of us. What is needed is to develop the ability to ask questions and gauge current conditions before jumping to conclusions.
Decision makers at all levels must effectively scan their environment, extract key insights, discover alternatives, evaluate risk and target key issues. And that cannot be done relying on our memory. Most of us have a working memory (the number of things we can pay attention to and manipulate at one time) of only three or four items at a time (https://www.livescience.com/2493-mind-limit-4.html). Therefore, we must train decision makers to collect and gauge the glut of information in a systematic manner to avoid blind spots.
If we fail to see all that there is to see, we pay a high price. Consider Tide PODS. Procter & Gamble launched one of their most innovative products in 2012. The brightly colored packets have captured one-fifth of the laundry detergent market by 2018. Yet, that success has to be balanced with eight deaths and over 9,000 poisonings. Could that have been foreseen? Many would argue that the risk could have been identified since young children are attracted to vivid colors and shapes that they can hold. A risk assessment would have identified it as probably and severe.
Likewise, Boeing could have anticipated software problem with their flight-control system. How do we know this? Boeing offered their customers, at an additional cost, a Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) system enhancement to override potential malfunction in an angle of attack sensor. Given that 737 Max 8 cost over $100 million and the fallout from a failure, the decision to charge extra for the additional software was a major red flag demanding attention. That short-sighted decision combined with a reduced amount of pilot training combined to increase risk and cost the firm approximately one billion dollars. Tide PODS and the 737 Max 8 had foreseeable and overlooked dangers.
Decision makers need to focus on asking questions to know what to do and when to do it based on current relevant information. What questions are you asking to guarantee that your team can target critical issues?
“Targeting What Matters When It Matters” was originally published on 25 April 2019 in BIZCATALYST 360°.
One of my clients was entering a strategic planning process with a dysfunctional executive team. The team was stuck over how to plan for the future. The lack of harmony was attributed to perceived personal slights, pressure tactics, and lack of information. In this case, resistance and competition replaced collaboration and the chance for agreement was never established.
Background on the Team
My client, a newly hired president of an international firm, wanted to adopt a new strategy he had crafted by himself. His team of six vice-presidents actively resisted the plan. The client said that the vice-presidents were “just stuck in the past.” He believed they sought to limit his success and tenure since several had applied for his position. He wanted me to interview each team member to start a bridge-building process with a one-day offsite meeting.
The Beginning of the Bridge to Conflict
During interviews, the vice-presidents voiced objections to the president’s “go it alone” style and his lack of industry knowledge since he was new to the industry. The prevailing opinions were that he was grandstanding for the board and was not interested in working collaboratively. The fact that the president did not consult staff in developing the strategic plan was used as an example of his Lone Ranger approach. It was clear that the team was at an impasse. From the interviews, I also discovered, while there were entrenched positions, everyone wanted the organization to succeed. Therefore, I chose to focus on identifying shared organizational outcomes to shift the team’s focus away from personal suppositions to objective analysis. My goal was to engage them in a results-oriented search to discover a mutually acceptable plan for the future. Since the strategic plan was the official cause of the breakdown, it made sense to focus on strategy.
Discovery of Mindsets
In my experience, many strategic discussions revolve around vague aspirational statements which offer encouragement but little direction, definition, or measures. This executive team needed to agree on something specific and measurable. My assumption was that strategic alignment would rupture the personal stereotypes, trigger discussion, and allow the team to critically assess alternatives. Therefore, in preparation for the off-site meeting, I asked all attendees to complete the Leadership Spectrum Profile® and review the generated report. The Profile examines six organizational goals and how they currently drive an individual’s goals and priorities. It also creates a common vocabulary for discussing advantages, constraints, and trade-offs among those goals. In addition, it focuses on existing circumstances and goals rather than past actions, offering an opportunity to explore facts and alternatives. The six situational mindset goals concentrate on:
1. innovation or being seen as state-of-the-art,
2. customer and growth focus,
3. seamless infrastructure and policies,
4. productivity, quality, and ROI,
5. change-ready engaged culture with strong bench strength, and
6. new trends, business models, and niches.
The team was asked to complete the inventory based on their assessment of the best strategic orientation. After completing the inventory, each member received a report on their goal orientation. A composite team profile without names was presented at the off-site and the composite revealed a split with six individuals in agreement and one with a different perspective. Offering the results without attribution enabled participants to identify their positions and kicked off a productive discussion of the strategic priorities. The six vice-presidents shared a common focal point on improving quality and internal processes. This point of view or situational mindset prefers evolutionary change, risk mitigation, and has an internal focus at this time. The president’s mindset targeted expanding the customer base and growing market share. This growth-oriented goal values revolutionary change, external focus and accepts risk for the opportunity for great rewards. After an open discussion, they each discussed the facts, events, observations, and evidence that drove their thinking about their priority or desired path for the future. During that exchange, the president learned that large corporate accounts were being lost and the vice-presidents learned that the board had mandated the president’s growth strategy to improve ROI. These insights defused some of the tension, but a division remained.
The Connection Between Organization Life Cycle Stages and Strategy
The next step was to connect the organization life cycle stages and strategy. While the group was not familiar with the organizational life cycle model (Lippitt, 2014), they recognized it since it mirrored their product and project life cycles. They also knew that different actions were essential at each stage. After defining the six stages of organization life cycles as Birth or Start-up, Growth, Stature, Prime, Mature, and Renewal stage, I asked each person to select their organization’s current stage. This discussion exposed the same split presented by the inventory findings. The president selected the Growth stage since it reflected his board mandate. The vice-presidents split between Stature and Prime. The tone in the room changed when they mapped their differing individual perspectives onto the organization life cycle model and talked about their reality. The group recognized the organization was past the entrepreneurial Growth stage with a respected brand and well-established policies. The firm was moving into the Prime stage where the focus revolves around process improvement, quality, and ROI. The premise that market growth was the only way to improve ROI was debunked.
The vice-presidents shared many additional internal issues that were unknown to the president. Problems, including quality issues, information system failures, and staff shortages, were undermining productivity, morale, and quality. As the president absorbed this key information, he understood his staff had rejected his fast growth strategy since the loss of major accounts stemmed from operational flaws rather than competitive factors. While the president had assumed that the vice-presidents were driven by personal motivations, he now realized it was due to current circumstances. His demeanor changed. He listened and learned what was holding the organization back from the success everyone wanted. He also realized that before the organization could grow, they had to halt the hemorrhaging of major accounts. It did not take long before an internal improvement strategy targeting operational flaws was formalized. The team agreed, when this strategy was achieved, they would develop another plan based on newer vital needs.
Once they agreed on their goal priorities, the executive team estimated the financial impact of the lost accounts on their bottom line. They developed a pitch for the Board that showed the importance of addressing quality. They also agreed a new strategy would be presented after quality concerns were addressed, and that the next strategic thrust might be market growth, assuming the situation warranted it. The president’s presentation to the Board highlighted the fact that getting new customers and then having them leave due to operational shortcomings not only wasted marketing efforts but also impacted the brands’ reputation. After all, dissatisfied customers not only stop using the firm but also spread their negative experience with others. The Board accepted a “build it and they will come” approach to meet current challenges and improve ROI. A once dysfunctional team coalesced around a shared reality and the need for results. Personal attributions were superseded by shared common results-oriented goals.
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The TV series M.A.S.H. was not just a funny comedy; it also depicted advancements in field medicine including the practice of triage. As the helicopters and trucks arrived with the wounded, the doctors and nurses would check each patient and determine whose injury needed to be attended to first. Recent mass casualty events remind me of this process and the value of astute professional medical judgment.Read More