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Mind the gap

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Recently I was travelling to visit a client in central London, and like many people, I decided to travel there by on the London Underground, or “Tube”.  I was equipped with a printout of a map of the area, with directions on how to find my destination and a postcode for use in google maps.  All went according to plan and I arrived in good time.

The next time I visited this client a couple of weeks later I didn’t need the map or the postcode since I knew where I was going.  Except, it seemed that someone had moved all the streets around, and when I emerged from the tube station I didn’t recognise anything at all.

Now, the meeting wasn’t far from the Elephant and Castle tube station, and the first time I had travelled there was using the Northern Line, directly from the National Rail station terminal at Euston.  The second time I went to visit I travelled from a previous appointment and used the Bakerloo Line.  This caused me to emerge from the underground labyrinth using a different exit, and I hadn’t realised!

After an initial panic and subsequent pause for thought, I was able to re-orient myself and figure out how to locate my initial exit, and the directions from there were straightforward.  However, I realised how important it is for any journey to know just where you are starting from.

In leadership terms, it’s important to know where you’re going to, to define where you want to end up.  Sometimes this is really quite obvious.  When Kennedy stated “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade” on September 12, 1962, it was really quite obvious where there was, and where here was.  There was the moon, and here was the earth.

However, when I was going to meet my client, and I was going to walk from the Elephant and Castle tube station, it was really rather important to know which exit from the station I would be using.  I needed to have more clarity on the point at which I would emerge from the underground, the “here” for the journey on foot from “here” to “there” that day.

We experience the same thing in terms of leadership.  If we don’t know where we are, we’ll not be able to chart the course to where we want to get to.  Until we understand and face the reality of our present situation we will never be able to set the correct direction to achieve our vision, and we’ll never be able to make adjustments to our plans along the way if we don’t continue to know where we are.  

“Realistic leaders are objective enough to minimise illusions.  They understand that self-deception can cost them their vision.”

~ Bill Easum

In his book “Leadership Gold” John Maxwell suggests that there are 6 questions that I can ask to help me define my reality, and these are:

It’s important to understand a very natural and dangerous inclination, which is to see our current situation as we intend it to be, rather than as it actually is.  In a similar way that we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions, we can fool ourselves that we are where we intended to be, so having someone to turn to who can look at the situation more objectively from the outside is a valuable asset.

The first stage here is to grasp the saying “know thyself”, or in other words to be really clear about our own personality and our natural failings or weaknesses.  It’s not always necessary to spend hours trying to address a weakness, but understanding where we struggle can be a great help in defining reality.

The second stage is to be on the lookout for people that are NOT like us, people for whom my weakness is their strength.  An effective leadership team will have team members who complement each other, and even when working alone it can be really helpful to engage with a Mastermind group or other such gathering where the other members have different strengths.

The third stage is to find amongst that group some key people with whom you can be really honest, and who will be honest with you, however painful that honesty may appear at the time.  When looking at our journey from here to there, we need an honest appraisal of where here is, and these people will help us on that quest.

Finally, it can be really helpful to have someone who is not familiar with my environment to come in from time to time, take a look and observe, and then report what they see.  Sometimes the obvious isn’t so obvious, and as the saying goes “fish can’t see water”.  When we are intimately involved it can be difficult to actually see what’s there  

“You absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first determining the brutal facts.”

~ Jim Collins

Before going there, make sure you know where here is, and mind the gap!

About Roger Fairhead

Roger is a leadership specialist delivering Leadership for Business Achievement through Speaking, Training and Coaching to business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Leadership for Business also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.