We all tend to be creatures of habit. We usually follow similar routines during the day. We drive the same route to work and then home again when the time comes. We eat at the same restaurants and watch the same TV shows each week.
We can be predictable. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If I am happy in my current path and satisfied with the choices I make, then why not keep doing the things that continue to make me happy?
In addition, because we live a predictable life and refrain from taking large detours from the norm on a regular basis, we also tend to make the assumption that others will follow this logical order and behavior.
We look for things to always be in their right place.
I was reminded of this the other day when I looked out my window at our bird feeder and found myself eye-to-eye with a red-bellied woodpecker (an interesting name in itself for a bird with a red head and a white belly…but that’s another matter…) which made a nice photo, so I took it with my ever-present camera.
Woodpeckers are well-known for their typical habitat. They live in trees. They are especially adapted to live in trees. I expect to see them on the sides of trees, the side of a bird feeder, or flying.
What I don’t expect, is to see a red-bellied woodpecker strolling across my lawn far away from the bird feeder.
But, when I walked by the window a few minutes later; there he was, wandering around the grass looking for goodies to eat. It caught my eye rapidly because it was a sight out of the ordinary for me.
Obviously, this wasn’t a scenario that needed my attention, but as leaders we often run into unusual situations that must be handled in a more professional manner. Here are 6 tips that you may find helpful when the unusual happens to you:
1. First, do nothing
There is a now very over-used saying from the British in WW II that says, “Keep calm and carry on.” While I personally am now sick of hearing this and all the additional spawn of sayings that are born from it, it does succinctly state the best course of action for any situation that does not required an immediate solution. Rapid decisions in moments that do not require an immediate response tends to leave us wishing we waited before taking action. It is always better to respond rather than to react.
2. Remain optimistic
Unexpected challenges are nothing more than opportunities in disguise. Positive thinking increases the chances of a positive outcome. Likewise, we know all too well that focusing on the negative tends to create situations of self-fulfilling prophecy. As a good leader, you handle situations well every day. This one is unexpected, but otherwise no different.
3. Use your people resources wisely
Great leaders are known to surround themselves with great people who have expert knowledge in areas the leader may be weaker. Your support team is there for a reason and standing by to help. Never hesitate to use them at times when the unusual situation presents. What is unusual to you may not be so out-of-the-ordinary for some of them. You may be responsible for the decision and the plan that needs to be developed, but it will always be easier to make those tough decisions when you use all your resources to make it an informed process.
4. Never lose sight of the forest by standing behind one tree
Ok, so I used a little poetic license here, but the idea remains the same. We can’t let ourselves lose the big picture goals when blinded by a small unusual challenge that presents. When learning to fly a plane, instructors harp on the need to always fly the plane first and everything else comes behind that paramount responsiblity. As a student, I was caught up more than one time worrying about what I needed to say on the radio next while setting up to land instead of worrying about getting ready to land. Tunnel vision can be a killer and I usually heard, “do not drop the airplane to fly the microphone…drop the microphone and fly the airplane!!” in my headset as a brisk reminder. The idea stuck and I think it applies in these situations as well.
5. Once you have a plan, execute it
Leaders need to be willing to do nothing when they need to and then be just as willing to move when the time comes to move. Once all currently available information is reviewed, move forward with the plan. If you fail to execute, you can find yourself in the proverbial “analysis paralysis” that is certain to result in a situation potentially worse than the original. We need to make a decision based on the information at hand in a timely manner. You are a leader; if new information arrives that changes your perspective, you change your plan at that point and continue to move ahead. You are allowed to change your mind when new information arrived. You are not allowed to sit and do nothing waiting for more information that may never arrive.
6. Evaluate what you need to do in the future to avoid similar unusual curcumstances
No need for over-analysis in every unusual situation, but it is worthwhile to always consider the challenge as see what learning experiences are best derived from the event or chain of events. Things tend to run better with fewer “unusual” issues popping up, so why not see if you can be proactive in preventing them by learning from each one that arises?
I hear from time-to-time that we need to “expect the unexpected” which I find a bit comical to contemplate. A better way to think about this is understanding the need for constant, “situational awareness.” Rather than waiting for the unexpected, always be aware of what is going on around you so that you quickly notice the woodpeckers walking across the lawn and react if the need arises.