Sometimes, somebody just needs to make a decision.
I was lucky to have my husband be that person recently. He, Grace, and I headed out on a new trail we found in a book listing hikes in our local area. We copied pages from the book with the map and text describing the walk; the directions offered umpteen landmarks and milestones along the five-mile round-trip and as we started out, we commented how detailed and accurate the notes were to follow.
But suddenly we found ourselves at a point where things weren’t as clear as before. We saw a trail sign with a directional arrow that seemed correct, so we took it. But the path was a bit overgrown and went downhill, when our destination was the summit of a small mountain. Hmmmm. Didn’t seem quite right but nothing else was immediately obvious.
So we kept walking, making another turn that we thought was right. The ferns got taller. There was no path. We were headed down a steeper hill. We starting making excuses, such as maybe the book was older than we thought or it was just that no one had been on this stretch for a long time. Managers and employees often find ways to rationalize a problem.
What was funny (to me) is that Grace and I happily followed along. I suppose we were convinced that our hike leader had things under control. It was not easy walking for Grace, as the ground cover was taller than she, and very dense. Yet she never once whined. She gave curious looks, but even as we paused to assess the situation, she remained silent. Keep in mind that this dog is The Queen of Whine. If she’s unhappy, bored, nervous, whatever, she whines. A lot. But today, nothing from her.
I was willing to forge ahead, too, optimistic that we might eventually find the right trail somehow, somewhere. After all, I really wanted to get to the top of this mountain. Sometimes we get so fixated on the goal that we lose track of how to get there, and make some bad choices in order to ensure “success.”
After about 10 or 15 minutes of feeling like the path was odd, the rational one among us said, “We’re not going any further. This isn’t right.”
What would Grace and I have done if Pete hadn’t made that decision? Truth is that we probably wouldn’t have gone as far as we did. We trusted the person we were following and we happily moved along with him.
So my point for managers? Employees will often place their trust and faith in managers who they think know best–and will follow them to places that may not make a bit of sense. So be careful where you take them.
Of course, sometimes going beyond the boundaries of established norms is a good thing because it stretches our creativity and we find new solutions, new products, new ideas. But there is a time when a manager has to call off a plan if it’s not going well. She has to say, “This isn’t working and we’re not going in this direction any longer. We need to change course.”
Yet I think managers will too frequently hold to a course they set because it would be admitting failure if they stopped or altered. They view it as a sign of weakness, as if they have made a mistake. Of course, the mistake is if you bury your head in the sand and continue when things are going wrong. Effective managers understand their natural style, which allows them to be more effective in how (and when) they make decisions.
On our walk, Grace and I weren’t even raising distress signals. We were out enjoying the adventure, even though if we had continued too far in the hot temperatures, we could have been in jeopardy, perhaps with too little water or disoriented with no path to follow.
Have you been a part of a situation where you saw that a plan wasn’t going as expected, but no one wanted to admit it? Or (even worse) perhaps didn’t even know you were headed to disaster? What did you do?
Managers need to be realistic when assessing what path you are on. Be open to signs that indicate you’re astray. If it feels wrong, it probably is wrong. So why keep heading in that direction?