As U.S. President Barack Obama prepared to address the nation and world on his latest strategy for unpopular U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, I saw a parallel to how many leaders get in “over their heads” with both personal and professional commitments.
There is no “right answer” to our military involvement in Afghanistan, despite the armchair pundits populating America’s coffee shops and print, broadcast and social media with their opinions on the matter. Even Obama must recognize that “whatever happens, nobody will be happy.”
Like with any decision, however, a leader’s role is to explore, consider and choose from among the “best right answers” before charting the course and taking action. In the end, the extra time in planning saves time in course correction or even failure in the future.
How did we get here?
Most people would agree, on hindsight, we entered Afghanistan with an unclear mission. The fact that our mission is still “complex” and “complicated”(code words for “unclear”) is what makes presidential decisions and national policy still so difficult and…unclear. There is no right answer.
What are you now facing that is perplexing, even overwhelming, in some way? Leaders, are you getting push-back and confusion from your followers regarding your strategic direction? What is the best right answer?
Chances are, your mission isn’t as clear as you think. Your plan may not be as complete as you thought. Perhaps in your haste to “get started” and get results you actually wasted valuable time that could have been – should have been – invested in planning ahead of execution.
Here are a few important coaching questions to consider:
- How exactly have you defined success in the statement of your mission?
- Why is this your mission? What are the compelling rewards if you are successful? What are the consequences if you fail to achieve your mission or fail to take your prescribed action? How would your team and your other stakeholders answer these questions?
- What roles are necessary for you (or your team or organization) to complete this mission? Who will serve those roles? Does your team understand their roles and how they directly support the mission? Does your team understand and respect one another’s roles? Are they mutually accountable?
- What are all of the conceivable obstacles to achieving your mission – yes, everything that MIGHT get in your way? Remember, YOU are always an obstacle. Likewise, FEAR of something is nearly always an obstacle as well. What is your biggest fear?
- What are the possible solutions for addressing these obstacles, should they arise in the course of pursuing your mission? What is the best alternative? Have you turned this solution into a project or activity with a series of single action steps to implement the solution?
- What are the rules you and team members must follow in the pursuit of this mission? What are relevant policies, procedures, regulatory issues, core values and the “unwritten rules of fair play in the sandbox”? Are you, as well as your team, prepared to act consistently within those rules?
- What is the target date for completion of your mission?
- What is the “x-factor” – the choke point of your mission plan that could bring it to ruin? How might you gain control of that choke point?
No doubt, people will second-guess you at times and perhaps, whatever happens, nobody will be happy. They are more likely to support you and call you leader if you create a clear mission, plan ahead and include the best of their “right ideas” in your planning.
Next time, use these questions to help you and your team end up at The Intersection of Purpose and Now, just like you planned.