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Reframing Thoughts

Puzzle, Learn, Arrangement, Components
Leaders with Less
When pieces are missing

Influence is leadership, according to John Maxwell, and it's challenging to influence those around you when you can't prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that you are 100% correct. And let's face it, we usually can't! It seems the higher the position a leader attains, the greater experience they bring, the more often they are required to navigate greater risks, increasing uncertainty, and incomplete information as they work to solve problems. They seemingly have fewer pieces of the whole puzzle, even as they are expected to see and communicate "the big picture". 

This sets leaders up for some predictable scenarios. Maybe you can recognize yourself or your leaders in one of these. 

Leaders who are too self-confident – with followers who see other possibilities.
Leaders who express great confidence in their plan of action sometimes dismiss their followers who have questions or see a better way forward. Why? Typically a lot of time has been spent seeking a solution, maybe in research, one-on-one conversations, or committees, and someone else's questions or ideas threaten the straight-line progress the leader expects.

The risk for the leader is:
1. Seeing buy-in for their solution decrease if others have legitimate questions or strongly believe in different solutions; OR
2. Delaying action in order to incorporate other thinking or provide more explanation.

Leaders who aren't confident enough – with followers who are looking for faster action and results.
Leaders who aren't sure of the way forward sometimes delay decision-making, hoping more information or input will create stronger certainty or acceptance. Why? No one likes to fail. In an effort to minimize that risk, some leaders struggle to accept solutions and forge ahead if they know they can't solve the whole problem.

The risk for the leader is:
1. Losing the support of followers who expect a vision (even an imperfect or incomplete vision) of a solution. Followers may blame the leader for not moving forward fast enough, rather than blame the complexity of the problem for the delay; OR
2. Moving towards a solution that they know won't be perfect and sacrificing their ability to continue to gather data and test ideas.

Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.” – Mahatma Gandhi

What do leaders need to do? Communicate. Leaders should prioritize becoming the most skilled communicators in the organization. Leaders who avoid acknowledging obvious facts or inconsistent logic lose their followers' trust. Leaders who hesitate to take action risk losing their followers' commitment. Because leaders at the highest levels are usually tackling the most complex situations, there will never be 100% agreement about the way forward. If the answers were simple, leaders below them or before them would have already acted to solve the problems. 

Great leaders communicate and great communicators lead
.” – Simon Sinek

No one person actually has all the answers, and no one believes that anyone else does anyway. That's why strong leaders focus on facilitating the work of teams, not just shouting mandates from the mountaintop based solely on their own ideas. For leaders, their experience and intuition are a stabilizing foundation in guiding plans for success, while a certain amount of humility should acknowledge the unknown. Here are some strategies for success that build on one another:
  • Clarity - make sure there's an agreed upon definition of the problem, so the proposed solution is weighed against it more accurately.
  • Process - explain the process that led to the proposed solution to help followers appreciate its complexity; allow for feedback and celebrate improvements to the solution that come from it.
  • Success - consider defining success in a less binary way (success vs failure) by expressing levels such as:
    • improvements (minor successes)
    • important gains (moderate successes)
    • complete transformation (major successes)
Progress builds momentum, and many initiatives make significant headway even if they don't eliminate the problem completely. After all, every problem is an opportunity to pursue a new possibility. If you have all the pieces, it doesn't require much leadership, and it isn't really a problem, is it?

Trudy Menke - Reframing Leadership 

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