Side Roads

Winter road into forestAhhh, best laid plans. They really are amazing, aren’t they? Such a shame that they rarely work out the way we intend. And when that happens (because it will happen . . . maybe not every time, but it will happen), the leader’s response reverberates throughout the entire organization. Do you slam on the brakes and wring your hands over the roadblocks before you, or do you merely take your foot off the accelerator long enough to find the nearest side road to get you where you’re going?

It all depends on whether your focus is on the route or on the destination. Theoretically, it is easy to say we need to focus on the destination, but oh how we love our routes. The plans that we spend months creating, convincing ourselves that we have considered every option and have selected the best course. We have developed the metrics, the timelines, the budget, and even a few scenic overlooks along the way. With so much investment in the route, it seems foolhardy to abandon all that effort, even if you encounter a few red flags or flashing signs along the way . . . right?

I have two words for you. Side roads. I’m not saying you shouldn’t identify a route up front. Fast and easy is always lovely if you can make it work. I am saying that you also have to remain nimble enough to shift gears and take some gravel roads if that’s what it takes to reach your destination. Sure you may have to take a few deep breaths, you can even have a momentary pity party for the demise of your beautiful pre-planned route, but then you need to scan the horizon, consider alternate paths to reach the end goal and then pick one and go.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Side roads can be filled with hidden gems and opportunities. They may even turn out to be a shorter and faster than the well-paved road you originally identified. Side roads are easy to miss you unless you’re looking for them, but if you listen to your people, it is likely one of them has an idea of where they are located. However, they are only going to speak up if they know that the route truly is secondary to the destination . . . when they know that changing course isn’t seen as “failure” but rather doing what it takes to get the job done. Do your people know that?

I like a good plan as much as (and at times maybe even more than) the average leader, but I’ve also driven enough miles to know that sometimes the side road is the best path of all. So the next time your best laid plan is going up in smoke, take a deep breath and a hard look at where you’re trying to get to . . . and then I’ll see you on the side road.

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