When I speak to CEO's I get a lot of questions about reframing the idea of "Planning" and instead using the word "Preparing." I know that a 'Strategic Prepare' doesn't have quite the same ring as a 'Strategic Plan', and that is a shame. I do believe that the word 'Plan' sometimes sets people up for failure.
More often than not, plans have benchmarks that can fail: 'We will achieve goal X by this date.' When a company does not make those goals, the plan then becomes null and void, and people tend to say 'Well, this is no longer a useful plan....' This is why I encourage CEO's to use the idea of preparing rather than planning: If I prepare for the future, then whatever obstacles I encounter are a part of the next steps. There are no mistakes, and no reason to scrap the plan, just new information to add to the outcome.
One tool I have taught is in this process is the pre-mortem. It basically says that before any big action or implementation, you have a meeting to discuss its failure. The pretext is: It is now six months or one year in the future, and this has failed miserably. The question is: why? Why did it fail? What caused it to fail? What were the events leading up to its eventual demise? By looking at the possible reasons why something will fail, we can begin to be prepared for the issues that might affect its success. This can even go as far as life or death to some professions, as detailed in the book 'An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth" by Col. Chris Hadfield. The years of planning, and simulations of what could go wrong in space, help to prepare astronauts to be ready regardless of what does happens. It also trains them to be ready when unforeseen events take place - and to treat them these events the same way as in the simulations they encountered. The level of preparation for space travel is intense - and necessary. It is never a straight path, or one way of accomplishing a task, and any unforeseen event could possibly cause something catastrophic.
So the next time you are seeing out a plan for the future, ask yourself what you are doing to prepare for the unforeseen events that could derail you: things that can make you head in new directions, and help you stop being reactive to issues, and instead be proactive to managing your desired outcome.
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I have found a classification of people in the performing arts called 'accidental administrators.' They are the people who trained to be actors, or directors, or some specific aspect of theater, and ended up being the person in charge of the organization. When I ask these people about their journey, I usually get the same response; they decided to do the things that no one else wanted to because these things had to be done.
So they became the accidental leader of an organization. They didn't plan, prepare or desire to be the person in charge. They just found themselves there because of who they are, because of the type of person they are.
Sometimes this leads to a level of Imposter Syndrome, and even malcontented staff surrounding theses individuals who say 'who put them in charge?'
The answer I tell those disgruntled workers is: You did. And they did. They chose to make the organization work, because it had to be done and no one else would do it. They saw what needed to be done, and did it.
When companies begin - the lines between job descriptions and duties are fairly fluid. Individuals need to do what must be done to make a new organization survive. As a company grows, it's needs change and everyone must adapt to the constant changes. Mark Zuckerberg was quoted as making a commitment to code everyday, which is a goal he has had to step away from as the realities of being the CEO of a large company change.
The main quality I find from these accidental leaders (and in full disclosure, I identify with this group) is that they adapt to the needs of the changing organization as time goes on. Accidental Leaders are still leaders, and they are not stuck in amber waiting for the next ice age. They listen, react in real time, and adapt to the changing situation either by training themselves, or finding the support they need to make a dream come true. They are quintessential problem solvers, who see the end result and goal and reach for the dream.
When you are hiring, how can you identify these individuals? Look for the person who has been doing work outside the scope of their training. That shows they are doing whatever they can to be successful. And test them on problem solving. The ability to adapt and change in real time is a key skill.
How can you develop these skills in the staff you already have? Provide training in the skills of improvisation. It can lead them to higher levels of listening, critical thinking and problem solving as well as leadership development.
Don't let accidental leaders believe that it is all coincidental that they are where they are. It is who they are that makes them leaders.
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