Situation Determines Tactics – LeadershipOnTheMountain™

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December 16, 2015

Day One on the mountain – no new snow for 2 weeks. Conditions: Packed powder and some seriously skied-off and icy sections. Got to be careful: Sharp skis, looking ahead constantly, be ready to get on or off my edges as the terrain changes. Just like leadership. The situation determines your tactics.

I am working with a leader who says she’s the same leader for all her people. I think that’s a big part of her problem but I don’t tell her this outright. She needs to discover this for herself.

She outlines her team of eight direct reports and creates a quick profile of each, rating them on a scale of 1 – 10 on how aligned she believes she is with each one. She does the same thing for six peers with whom she must work closely to get things done. Here are the relevant questions we explored:

  • Create three groups – those with whom you work very well almost all the time; those you work fairly well with, and those with whom you know you more frequently that you don’t see eye to eye regularly.
  • For the first group – list the characteristics of your interactions – what do you each of you do and say that results in your effective work? Use verbs and adjectives. Talk about the give and take each of you make as you work through your issues.
  • For the second group – list some specific examples of when things went very well and other examples of when things did not go so well (were less than optimal).
  • For the last group – same question as group two: What characterizes your interactions?

She looked for the patterns and found that she simply DID treat people in group three differently than those in groups one and two. We discussed this in terms of how she approached collaborative work outcomes and, most specifically, the relative attention she placed on her agenda when collaboration was not forthcoming.

One simple example was her being rebuffed by her peer, Dave, whenever she asked to meet with him over lunch. “I don’t understand it, he never wants to meet, and I always have great meetings with the others.” It turns out that Dave runs marathons and uses lunchtime to get in a quick run. But neither of them mentioned that until we explored the reasons behind why she can’t ever meet with him.

Often leadership effectiveness is not for a lack of trying. But some tools or approaches work better in some situations, and with some people, than others. Remember the example about the hammer as your only tool – and every problem looks like a nail?

And passion isn’t the answer either. Throwing fuel on the fire rarely puts it out (nor does water stoke the fire).

Situation determines tactics.

As long as you are an individual contributor, you might do well sticking with your tried and true tools and approaches. Once you enter the world of leadership, you’ve entered a world of interactions with others (even entered a contact sport – you get it on you!) Your agenda alone doesn’t matter; you have to work with the agendas of others. And if you don’t do the mental work to enlarge your perspective, you default to making up a story about why they aren’t working with you before you can possibly know their truth.

So for my client lunch time was not the right approach for her, but a focused, mid-afternoon coffee break was. All because of bringing some discernment back to the process and exploring possibility, not her absolute truth about the situation. Situation determines tactics.

Skiing with my friend and fellow ski instructor, Jeff Peterka, reminded me that just because my edges are sharp doesn’t mean I always want to carve the ice. I can’t do that all day long anyway. Smearing through the turn (called oversteering in ski parlance) is a lot of fun once I embrace that approach. Carve when it’s ideal to do so, but remember I have a whole skill set available to me.

The next day we had 12” of new snow and 10”more the day after that. Time to put away my sharp, narrow frontside carving skis that would sink down through the deep snow and bring out the powder fatties. I just love skiing deep powder, but you won’t have nearly as much fun with carving skis. And you usually stay off your edges in deep snow. Situation determines tactics.

Leaders – check out your toolset. Are your tools as sharp as they need to be for the job? Are you painstakingly staying with the wrong tool with this colleague, in this situation? Who’s in your brain trust to be able to help you when your passion or your preferences hijack your leadership? Are you being your most effective at this moment?


BE BETTER NOW – A Leadership Call to Action – Take a moment right now to put your thoughts into action

  1. What is ONE ASPECT of your professional life that might benefit from more or different attention in this subject area (enhancing the impact you make on others)?
  1. What is ONE THING you could do TODAY that would move you more deliberately in this direction? The Behavior or action I could take (verb); I will…
  1. HOW will you ensure you are developing – WITH WHOM can you share this goal or add to your brain trust to hold yourself accountable?
  1. MAKE a 10 minute calendar appointment right now to check in with yourself on this topic next week (better yet – for each following week). Keep it practical – write brief notes on two questions only:
  • What clear steps did I take last week for my own development?
  • What will I focus on executing next week?

Need some thought partner time? – Call/email at 336.918.8415

Practical – Relevant – Immediately Useful