Debunking Leadership Myths #11 — Everything Should Be Predictable

If you’ve followed my Debunking Leadership Myths Series, you’ve learned about ten common misconceptions that prevent CEOs and executives from unlocking their full potential and becoming the leaders they aspire to be. As a result, perhaps you’ve used some of the free tools and assessments on my website, or ordered my book, Activators: A CEO’s Guide to Clearer Thinking and Getting Things Done

These are the leadership myths we’ve debunked to date:

1.     I need more “what” and “how” knowledge to grow my business.

2.     Experience pays.

3.     I am inherently rational.

4.     Fear matters, but not that much.

5.     Inspiration matters, but not that much.

6.     It’s ok to avoid actions that make me uncomfortable.

7.     I am already surrounded by the right people.

8.     My people should be accountable on their own.

9.     I can – and should – leave my past behind.

10.  Behavior change is hard.

Here’s a bonus Leadership Myth to round out the series. Leadership Myth #11 is yet another demoralizing, growth-slowing whopper that I regularly encounter through my work with business leaders:

“Everything should be predictable.”

Nothing in life is predictable, and your business is no exception. 

The replacement belief here is to expect—and accept—the unexpected. In fact, rather than perceiving unforeseen events as hurdles to overcome, you can learn to leverage them as excellent sources of innovation and entrepreneurial opportunity. There’s a catch though: You have to be ready to seize the opportunities and generate a return on your luck, regardless of whether the “luck event” appears to be positive or negative. That’s where acceptance comes into play. If you can’t accept the unexpected, your capacity to capitalize on unforeseen circumstances is lost. In other words, as Louis Pasteur once said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” 

To ensure your mind is ready and willing to accept whatever “chance” comes your way, consider the work of psychologist and Stanford professor emeritus Philip Zimbardo, who conducted extensive research on the psychology of time. Zimbardo identified the concept of time perspectives—that each of us has a default setting that determines how we perceive past, present, and future events. His research suggests that those who are best prepared for whatever comes their way have the following time perspectives: 

·       High past positive: You can clearly envision and remember past successes, helping you maintain a positive disposition and motivating you to pursue similar outcomes.

·       Moderately high present hedonism: You are fully present, but not so much (think partying all the time…) that you ignore your future. And, importantly, you believe you have control over what happens in your life, driving you to actively pursue the results you want.

·       Moderately high future orientation: You are not too high, which could mean ignoring the present or becoming too much of a perfectionist; nor too low, unable to do the work, and maintain the discipline necessary for long-term success.

To find out how your own time perspectives stack up, assess them online using the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory. It’s free, takes just a few minutes, and will open your mind to how your perceptions impact your thinking and actions.

Having the right time perspective isn’t the only way to prepare yourself for unexpected events. You can also foster an important habit to increase your chances of success (with the help of deliberate practice) by training yourself to default to capitalize on luck. Changing how you think about luck—and choosing to capitalize on good or bad luck when you have it—will enable you to generate better returns, regardless of what the situation in front of you brings. The goal here is to develop the tendency to capitalize on luck as a habit of thinking in response to any luck event.

Here’s a simple, yet powerful example of what this can look like in practice. Say a key member of your team takes a temporary leave of absence. Most business leaders would see this as an unfortunate, temporary circumstance and frame it as the “loss” of a key player for a period of time. They’d plan to accept the discomfort that would inevitably ensue during their teammate’s absence, put a Band-Aid or two in place to hold things together, and count the days until the individual’s return. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way! You have the opportunity to approach things differently. 

Rather than bracing yourself for the weeks or months to come, you could think about your colleague’s temporary absence as both an opportunity and a challenge, shifting your focus toward how to translate this event into a positive return for the business and creating a return on luck solution. 

In this leave of absence situation, one of my coaching clients routinely taps other staff to not only cover the individual’s responsibilities, but also specifically to position more junior staff to stretch, learn, grow, and contribute in new and innovative ways. They’ve found a win-win approach that supports a positive outcome, even in the face of a “bad luck” leave of absence event.  

Here’s another way to accept the unexpected: Do your best to amplify your present hedonism time perspective. In other words, get great at being in the moment. 

I experienced this firsthand a few years ago during a conference hosted by Gravitas Impact Premium Coaches, a leading mid-market global coaching organization (Disclosure: I serve on its Core Advisory Team). At 7:15 a.m. on the morning of the event, I received an unexpected call from one of my colleagues who was scheduled to lead a sales training session in forty-five minutes at 8:00 a.m. He was stuck in another city due to bad weather and wouldn’t make it in time to teach the class. Meanwhile, eighteen coaches representing six continents were expecting to learn selling skills and techniques from him!

“Mark,” he said, “I’m not going to make it. I need you to teach my class this morning.” 

Teaching that class was the furthest thing from my mind—I hadn’t even showered yet! But I knew I didn’t have a choice. Plus, I recalled that I had facilitated the training once before. I found my PowerPoint slides and facilitation guide from the session, jumped in the shower, and made it to the classroom at eight o’clock on the dot. 

That morning with the coaches was fantastic; their survey scores demonstrated they received tremendous value from the session, as did I. Rather than resisting the situation in front of me, I chose to be in the moment, go with the flow, accept the unexpected, and teach the class. As a result, I had an opportunity to positively impact those coaches, and to learn some things from them as well. 

Life is full of unexpected situations. If you can be OK with that reality, you can learn to capitalize on it, and hopefully enjoy the journey along the way. When you encounter an unexpected luck event, asking yourself the following questions can help: 

·       What is the opportunity here?

·       How can I capitalize on, learn from, or grow from this moment?

·       How can I use this experience to help others?

·       What am I giving up or losing out on by choosing not to enjoy the journey right now?

To practice keeping yourself in the moment, try the free Schedule the Present tool from my book Activators to engage in more present-moment focused activities and enjoy your journey. 

No, everything isn’t predictable and, yes, we seem to be living in a world with increasing levels of uncertainty. That said, you can prepare for the unexpected and, through discipline and habits of thought, stack the deck in favor of generating positive returns for your business and for yourself from virtually any “luck” event.

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Resource Links…

In my work as a business and leadership growth coach, I encounter articles, research, and stories about how leaders learn, grow, and become more effective. As you’ll see below, I share a select few in each edition of my newsletter – particularly those at the intersection of leadership, business growth, and behavior change.

How to Stay Creative When Your Team Is Working Remotely (Inc. Magazine)

“Depending on whom you ask, working from home has been a blow or a boon to innovation. Among the pessimists is Nicholas Bloom, a professor of economics at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Bloom says he has spoken with dozens of CEOs and employees who report that while work-from-home is effective for continuing current activities, creativity has suffered. And while “change and crisis” will drive some innovation, he doubts it will make up for constraints on creativity created by working from home. “I fear 2020 will be the year of little innovation, and 2021 the year of disappointment,” he says.

Yet some companies say productivity is up since employees disbanded to their dens and back bedrooms. Tempted by the opportunity to save money on rent, many businesses plan to continue at least some professional distancing post-pandemic. A recent survey of the Inc. 5000, our ranking of America’s fastest-growing private companies, found that two-thirds intend to somewhat or greatly increase employees’ ability to work from home. Around 2 percent will go all-in on virtual.

How, then, to keep creativity thrumming within digital work teams? Several innovation experts offered advice…”

How to Beat Stress, Trauma, and Adversity with Resilience (positivepsychology.com)

“Why is it that some people, when faced with adversity, will be forced to defend themselves against further onslaught and erect barriers while others will transform it into a challenge and marshal all their abilities to meet it head-on?

Our resilience to stress, adversity, and change depends on our inner resources. And while we do not have much control over circumstances that determine our personality, intelligence or availability of support, we all can develop coping strategies…”

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