Six Situational Mindsets To Putting First Things First

No one would argue that as leaders, we want to immediately tackle the most important issue or opportunity. As Stephen Covey advises, “put first things first.”  However, deciding what is most important, and that awareness, cannot be made based on past practice, outdated assumptions, or preconceived options.  Circumstances change too quickly to rely on what was valid.  We must continually reassess our situation and alternatives. Interestingly, a study of leaders found that 80% of them never consider alternatives or situational mindsets before making a decision, despite changing conditions.

When we drive our cars, we cannot rely exclusively on what we see through our windshield.  We also check the side and rear view mirrors.  But we also have to check our dashboard for speed and any warning lights.  This expanded context ensures our safety.  Likewise, leaders banking on a single viewpoint miss opportunities and invite risk.  Utilizing multiple sources of current information delivers optimal choices.

Leaders inherently know this, however, many leaders will utilize default decision-making, blindly sticking to tradition; skim over or ignore data that contradicts beliefs; or readily jump on any goal bandwagon, and implement current fads. In a dynamic environment, adopting a “ready, fire” approach is dangerous.  “Aiming” or situational awareness must precede the decision to launch as it is the only way to discover the best path forward. Instead of believing we have all the answers, we must commit to asking all the right questions to analyze our circumstances.

So, what is the alternative when deciding what goal to pursue? Leaders must become situationally aware by studying six situational realities.

To collect the information for aiming, questions addressing six situational factors must be investigated.  These mindsets depict what has happened, what is happening, and what is likely to happen.  The situational mindsets are:

  • Inventing or measuring how innovative your products, designs, and services compared with what is possible.
  • Catalyzing or assessing the level of your customer service, market position, and sales effectiveness compared to the competition.
  • Developing or evaluating system effectiveness, information flow, unit alignment, goal and policy alignment, decision making and autonomy
  • Performing or studying the quality of deliverables, cycle time, productivity, workflow, safety, and ROI
  • Protecting or questioning staffing levels, retention of key talent, succession planning, engagement, and cultural agility
  • Challenging or examining trends, business plan options, validating assumptions, identifying niches and searching for alliances

Inquiring about these situational mindsets provide leaders with the ability to see what is on the wall, around the corner, and within reach.  And it is an easy practice to implement.  The six mindsets become a checklist to ascertain complex, challenging, ambiguous, or precedent setting circumstances.

In addition to developing a mindset question checklist, we should also:

  1. Allocate time for reflection, analysis, and imagination. The KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) only works when things are stable. Dynamic factors and new realities are rarely simple. H. L. Mencken captured this truth by saying, “There is always an easy solution to every human problem” neat, plausible and wrong.” We must stretch our thinking to secure our future.
  2. Identify our biases and rationalizations. Smart choices mean we must generate new ideas to address the waves of change. As Einstein stated, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking we used when we created them.”
  3. Recognize the power of asking open-ended questions. As Dr. E. Edwards Deming remarked, “If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.” Expand the scope of your questions to detect trends, examine implications, and craft new opportunities.
  4. Accept the fact that the greatest obstacle to our future is not ignorance, but the illusion that we already know all that we need to know. We must dig deeper and wider in a search for new knowledge and insights.  It is important to ask: what have we learned what should we start doing, and what should we stop doing. Mark Twain observed, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It is what we know for sure that just ain’t so.
  5. Resist peer pressure and the temptation to follow the crowd. Enthusiasm for a new initiative regularly conceals flaws and squashes critical thinking.  Ask for what could go wrong, what other options are there, and what potential issues might surface. As journalist Walter Lippman observed, “Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.”  We need people to think and speak up.

Take the time to ask the mindset questions to discover what to put first.  Let’s make our future truly promising.

Published first at Value Walk: https://www.valuewalk.com/2019/08/six-situational-mindsets-first-things-first/

Using Checklists and Statistics to Get in Sync With Reality

I was recently struck by my seeming lack of perspective on global developments while reading  Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–And Why Things Are Better Than You Think. My only consolation was that I was not alone;  95 percent of the people held the same views, according to the author, statistician Hans Rosling.

One of the questions I missed was according to Rosling was:  In the last 20 years has the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty:

  1. Almost doubled
  2. Stayed approximately the same
  3. Almost halved

Would you be surprised to learn of Rosling’s claim that extreme poverty has been cut by almost 50 percent?  I was.  In fact, I barely considered option three.  My preconceived ideas, my repeated exposure to tragic news stories and, to be honest, my reliance on outdated facts led me to conclude that poverty had almost doubled.

While I am in good company since almost everyone was mistaken, the fact is both comforting and disturbing.  It means most of us are out of sync with our current reality.   Why is this?  The causes include:  (1) our assumption that we already know everything we need to know, (2) a tendency to expect the worst case is the most likely outcome, (3) a proclivity to reduce issues to two simple options and (4) time pressures.

If you are not convinced of the extent of this problem, consider another question:  Which statement do you agree with the most?

  1. the world is getting better
  2. the world is getting worse
  3. the world is getting neither better nor worse

The correct answer is A, according to Rosling, and the data that he uses to support this contention  includes: significant increase in literacy, agricultural yields have increased, more people have electricity, more groups are allowed to vote, child cancer rates have improved, access to potable water has grown, more girls are in school,  and technology has spread widely to less developed nations.   Many of us failed to see this program.  We seem to see the world as a glass half empty, rather than half full.  Moreover,  this notion creates fear derailing critical thinking and analysis.

What we know “for sure” is rarely entirely accurate.    Sometimes our knowledge is obsolete,  and at other times it is incomplete.  To understand our current circumstance, we must stop thinking we know more than we do and start asking questions to fully understand all the issues enabling us to examine the facts critically.   Critical thinking is vital as we confront rapid change and complexity.  It exposes misconceptions, while also producing wiser more rewarding decisions.

Knowing that we infrequently update our knowledge and overlook information that does not conform to our pre-existing assumptions , we need new tools. Deploying a checklist has proven successful in medicine, aviation, litigation, and construction not because of ineptitude or ignorance but due to inherent cognitive flaws.   Instead of being a constraint, checklists free our minds to concentrate on critical aspects, prevent small mistakes and save time.  Now it is time for leaders at all levels to develop, share and use checklists to stay in sync with their current reality.

The book cited here is: Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, and Anna Roennlund, (2019) FACTFULNESS: ten reasons we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think. [London: Sceptre Publishing]

The Role of Mindsets in Leadership Development

Leadership development historically has two basic approaches:  focusing on personal development and targeting an individual’s job skills. These were enough in a relatively stable environment.  However, in a dynamic and fast changing world, leaders must be adept at dealing with changing environments. This new contextual approach to leadership fills the gap between personal and organizational mastery.

Wise leaders collect, decipher, weigh, and use information from all points of view to capitalize on opportunities and avoid being blindsided by trends due to narrow perspectives. A limited frame of reference creates blinders.  This lens is also called current driving Mindset. If we ignore some data, we open ourselves to unnecessary risk. This current driving Mindset is one of six Mindsets which enable you to assess opportunities, threats, and risks characteristic of your organization. Seeing the big picture ensures that your actions, plans, and decisions target the right outcome and address the critical challenges.    

Mental agility remains a key leadership practice. Leaders who have foresight to see reality will be more proactive. To put this in practical terms, a leader who elects to act when noticing a fire code violation offers more value than one who waits until they see flames. It saves lives, property, and opportunities for the future.

Leaders with ability to make decisions or judgments which balance short-term and long-term priorities play an invaluable role moving an organization forward. It is often the ability to change minds and gain commitment of others to produce results, depends on collecting and evaluating data from six Mindsets:

Inventing

The desire to develop new ideas, products, and services is high in the Inventing Mindset. This Mindset also seeks new internal synergies and cross-functional innovation.

Catalyzing

A focus on fast action to meet customer requirements, keeping existing customers and building the brand and beating the competition drive this Catalyzing Mindset.

Developing

Building infrastructure, creating policies and systems are the focus of the Developing Mindset as are se goals and establishing policies.

Performing

Process improvement, safety, and profit margins are in focus in the Performing Mindset. In this Mindset, quality, improving productivity and performance metric are in the forefront.

Protecting

The Protecting Mindset includes developing talent and building the internal culture of an organization. It also concentrates on succession planning, team collaboration, and engagement.

Challenging

The desire to test assumptions, create strategic options and adjust the business plan is primary in the Challenging Mindset. Discerning and spreading best practices, seeking new alliances and niches are key to sustainability.

Neglecting to comprehensively collect and examine data generates blunders.  Consider the fate of Blackberry, Kodak, and Blockbuster.

The writing was on the wall, but they failed to see it.  Their limited situational awareness blinded them to the need for change.  Situational awareness is the missing link in leadership development.  It provided leaders with the ability to see what is on the wall, around the corner, and within reach.  It is time we help leaders effectively read the realities they are confronting.

Situational Triage: Judging Current Conditions

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

First Things First: Tips to Move You Forward

When you have a to-do list the size of Montana, how do you tackle it? Do you have a fail-safe practice that garners favorable results consistently? Today’s tasks seem to multiply yet the hours in each day are stuck at 24. These tips can help get you centered and on track toward getting things done. What else can you add to help readers who struggle with too much to do? This could be the help you’ve been looking for. Read More

INTRODUCING: Brilliant or Blunder Action Guide

INTRODUCING … Brilliant or Blunder Action Guide (2017) the learning manual for putting Success Mindsets to work for your organization. This recently published companion to the original text, Brilliant or Blunder: Navigating Uncertainty, Opportunity, (2014) brings detail and clarity for implementation of the methodology and processes unique to developing Success Mindsets.Read More

Three Dimensions of Leadership Development

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