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  However, deciding what is most important, and that awareness, cannot be made based on past practice, outdated assumptions, or preconceived options.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/

Breaking the Vacuum Around Leadership

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.

Expanding Perceptions and Consensus for Change

Today, one of the most valuable talents is the ability to grasp fluid circumstances and gain agreement for a change initiative.   While there is an imperative to change, change creates stress, defensiveness, and resistance.

It is rarely greeted with unabashed enthusiasm (unless it is a pay increase).  So there is a temptation to demand that everyone gets on board, but this provides short-term acquiescence, not active support.

Instead of pushing change by fiat, we can take another approach and commit to expanding our perceptions and situational understanding.  It means accepting that we operate from a limited perception.  For example,  what we see as an uncompromising opportunity can also be seen by others as an ominous threat.  To reach consensus we must expand our perceptions by asking questions and listening without judgment.  We must be willing to see what others see.

For example, when you look at the following illustration, how many squares do you see?

The common answer is 16 or 17.  And they are correct since it is clear that every single box and the whole illustration are squares.  Yet, if we change our perception, it becomes apparent that groupings of four single squares also form a square.  We just did not see all 30 squares with our first look.   And if we did follow this typical pattern, we fall into the over 90% of the responders that answer 16 or 17. (See PUZZLERSWORLD).  This exercise points to the reality that when we find an answer we stop searching.  Now, this exercise was simple so it is easy to jump to a conclusion. However, when we try to gain agreement, we need to expand our willingness to investigate and understand the issue from all perspectives.   We must agree that instead of thinking we know everything, we accept the need to learn more.   A comprehensive exploration leads to the new insights, solutions and aha moments.

Searching beyond initial reactions,  considering other interpretations, understanding constraints and factoring in trends reveal perspectives. These insights highlight ways to build a consensus.  In my experience, sticking points and loggerheads usually focus on different aspects.  What is essential to one is not critical to another.  Probing reveals new insight and it paves the way for win-win resolutions. Open-ended questions reveal perspectives that can be discussed, modified or sequenced into a plan that gains active support. Consensus takes time and effort but it is delivering results.

Are you willing to look beyond your initial conclusions? If so, you must ask questions covering every facet.  Not only will this build rapport, it will surface new facts that can form the foundation for true consensus.

A version of  “Expanding Perceptions and Consensus for Change” was first published on 4 May 2018 at BizCatalyst360.

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

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