Merge's Blog

Tag Archives: leadership instinct

Are you falling into the complacency trap?

I saw the following words on a poster in my bank manager’s office the other day.

Complacency. Just because things are going well now, doesn’t mean that they can’t suddenly go horribly wrong.complacency

It was just below a photograph of a snail resting on a railway track, with a train approaching in the distance.  While I realize that the poster was slightly tongue-in-cheek, I was still reminded about how easily and quickly leaders can fall into this very trap.

Sure, it’s nice to have a period of time when things seem to be moving along smoothly, when the bumps in the road are small enough that they can almost be ignored.  But the reality is that while a short reprieve to catch your breath and celebrate success is well-deserved, resting on your laurels for too long can only get you into trouble.  When we get complacent, we tend to both under-estimate the risks we face, as well as over-estimate our own abilities.  And when complacency kicks in, things can suddenly go horribly wrong.

How would you know?

This poster got me thinking about how we would know if we are falling into the complacency trap.  What are the clues you should watch for as a leader that might indicate you are taking the status quo for granted?  Here is the list I came up with: Continue reading

The dangers of becoming complacent

worldtravelThe world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.  So said St. Augustine in the 4th century.  And it’s a doctrine that I’ve taken to heart.  Those of you who know me know that I love to travel.  However, a recent travel experience taught me a lesson about the danger of becoming complacent, a lesson that applies to leadership as well, and something that I have talked about previously in the blog (see Nokia’s blunder).

Ironically, one of the most exciting things about world travel can also be the most trying … I speak of course about the lack of amenities in some developing parts of the globe that we simply take for granted in countries such as Canada and the United States.  On a recent overseas trip, I spent a few days in a rural community in India where I was harshly reminded that some of what I consider to be the basic necessities of life are actually luxuries in other parts of the world.  I am so used to twirling a tap to get water or flicking a switch to get electricity that I have come to expect these conveniences without even giving it a second thought.  In fact, I have become so complacent in expecting these services, that it led me to make some very poor decisions.

Frozen in the tropics!

Before I left for India, I checked the daily temperatures – they ranged from 7 to 15 degrees Celsius (45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit) – in the areas that I was traveling to.  Thinking as a girl who’s spent most of her life in Canada (where we have central heating almost everywhere), I said to myself – “that’s pretty good weather”.  And I packed accordingly.  Continue reading

Determining what information you’re missing will improve your decision-making

MissingToday I want to finish up the short series on decision-making that I’ve been writing about over the past two weeks.  In previous blog posts, I’ve offered up proven techniques (most recently the impact of your decision one year from now), and this final tool I want to share with you today has also proven to be repeatedly successful.  The tip: determine the most important information you are missing.

When it comes to decision-making, it’s very easy to focus on what you know.  And in today’s data-driven world, it’s amazingly simple to get distracted by the deluge of information that’s often at your fingertips.  There is usually no shortage of reports that can provide all kinds of facts, figures, numbers and statistics.  Surrounded by so much information, one can easily ignore what is not there.  Continue reading

One thoughtful action to improve the quality of your decision-making

FutureFor the past week, I’ve been blogging about specific techniques you can use as a leader to improve the quality of your decision-making (three or more alternatives, brainstorming with 2-6 others), and today I’m continuing this short series with a third tool – take a few minutes to write down the impact your decision will have one year into the future.

Now don’t just think about this, put it in writing.  The act of writing is very powerful because it will force you to articulate the anticipated result of the decision, and it’s what happens next that will give you the enormous value.  Continue reading

Improve decision-making by brainstorming with 2-6 stakeholders

BrainstormingLast week I started a short series on specific proven techniques you can use to improve the quality of your decision-making in your role as a leader.  Last week’s technique was to develop at least three or more realistic alternatives for the situation you are facing.  Today’s tip is one that I actually referred to in passing in the last blog post; specifically to brainstorm with a team of at least two, but no more than six stakeholders.

While this tool comes directly from my many years of experience working with leaders in numerous organizations, you don’t just have to take my word for it; the empirical research into organizational decision-making fully supports and reinforces this as well.  Obtaining insights from more people adds value and also increases buy-in, both very important in organizational settings.  But there IS an ideal number of people to brainstorm and team up with when it comes to achieving the highest quality of decision-making.  Continue reading

Improve decision-making by developing alternatives

ThreeChoicesRecently, I’ve been thinking a lot about decision-making by leaders.  The reason isn’t terribly earth-shattering, it’s only because an association client has asked me to re-develop a program for their members on tools and skills for problem-solving and decision-making.  But since I often blog on this subject (most recently just at the end of June), I’d like to, for the next two weeks, focus on offering up a few definitive ideas on how to make more effective leadership decisions.  Today’s specific tool – develop at least three or more realistic alternatives.

Significant research into the psychology and process of decision-making shows that no other practice improves the quality of decisions more than expanding your choices.  So brainstorm with 2-6 colleagues (more on this number in an upcoming blog post) and put some energy and creativity into generating at least three, but ideally four or more, practical and reasonable options for the topic at hand.  Continue reading

Don’t lose sight of your important role in making decisions

Making decisions is what leaders do.  Whether it’s hiring staff, evaluating vendor proposals, or resolving process bottlenecks, making decisions is our bread and butter.  It’s why we get paid the big bucks! J  Given that making decisions is such a critical part of our roles, the tendency can be to fall into a routine, and even lose sight of how important this responsibility can be.  And invariably, our decisions stack upon one another – the first decision leads to a second, which leads to a third, and so on.  So what would happen if you made a poor decision somewhere along that path?  Logic says that it could potentially take you down a road that could lead to a sub-optimal or even damaging outcome.

MongooseThe world of natural science has numerous examples of how one seemingly harmless decision has led to devastating unintended consequences.  Consider the introduction of the mongoose to the Hawai’ian islands.  In the 1880s, sugar cane farmers in the islands were seeking ways to control rat populations that were destroying their crops, and in 1883, with the best of intentions, they imported hundreds of mongoose and let them loose in their fields.  It proved to be a decision that was enormously uninformed.  Continue reading

Problem-solving tip: now is better than later

ShovelingSnowAs regular readers of this blog know, I often offer up ideas to help leaders deal with and resolve the myriad of issues you deal with on a daily basis.  In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the frequent identity crisis of analyst versus leader.  Well, just earlier this week, one of my professional colleagues said something that brought problem-solving to the forefront of my mind again.  He said – “Eventually snow melts.  But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t value in shovelling the sidewalk.”  His point was that even though issues may resolve themselves in the long-term, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t advantages in taking action to sort them out earlier.  In the balance, “now is better than later” is a good principle for leaders to abide by as well.

Good leaders address problems and concerns sooner rather than later.  In fact, it’s been my experience that most leadership matters, left unaddressed, actually get worse.  Continue reading

Struggling with making a decision? Set a short time limit

timerI’ve previously blogged about the pitfalls that come from amassing too much information in advance of making a decision (Does the wisdom of Segal’s Law help or hinder decision making?).  Today, I thought I’d offer an idea on a related subject –what to do when you face an issue to which there is no clear, obvious, or right solution, but yet you’re responsible for making a decision.  One very powerful answer, set a short time limit.  Now I know that this won’t sit well with many of you, but hear me out.

If you’ve reached the point where you’ve explored all reasonable options and there is still no clear answer, then set a timer for 15 minutes (or 5 or 10 or 20), and at the end, just decide.  Continue reading

Relying on leadership instinct can sometimes get you into trouble

I’ve said in the past that If you’re not careful, past successes can prove to be decision making pitfalls. In much the same way, so can leadership instinct.

InstinctDo you operate on instinct? Sure you do. How many times have you sat in your car, driven home (or to work) but had absolutely no recollection of the actual specific journey? Yeah, I thought so! In much the same way, you probably rely on leadership instinct to help you manage a variety of situations in the workplace. And leadership instinct serves a very useful purpose; it allows us to learn routine behaviours which have identical or similar outcomes so that we don’t have to expend mental energy in situations where they don’t serve an optimal objective.

But as leaders, doing things by instinct will not always serve you well. There are three leadership circumstances in which relying on instinct can get you into trouble. Continue reading