As anyone who has ever tried to plan an outdoor event in New England knows, the weather is unpredictable (to put it mildly), and checking the weather reports more than two days out can be maddening. It is so easy to allow yourself to get emotionally buffeted by the constantly changing forecast and to become too attached to how you want it to be. As if that were not enough, if there are other people depending on you to make a decision, then you not only have to manage your own expectations and feelings but those of a larger group as well. If you are in charge of an outdoor event and you allow yourself to get swept up in the fluctuations of the forecast, you will open yourself up to a great deal of second guessing, both from those around you and from yourself.
Weather and People’s behavior:
In my mind, there is a lot of similarity between these two natural forces. In the business world there are a lot of forecasters who try to predict exactly how people are going to behave. While, with some training, it is fairly easy to look back and track exactly why people responded a certain way to something, it is pretty much a guessing game about how they will behave in the future. Even with the most sophisticated satellites and computations, the meteorologists still get the weather wrong from time to time. However, even when they get it right statistically, what does 55% chance of rain tell me about whether I should have the party in the building or on the lawn? I still have to make the call.
A leader’s job should be to reduce the confusion for the group, and a good leader is someone who can present a team with a clear reason why she made the decision she made. She is capable of listening to the anxiety of the group without taking on the anxiety as her own. She is also someone who is able to take in the information that is helpful, weigh the options and then make a decision.
All of this probably sounds obvious.
So, why is it so hard to recreate?
A Strong Emotional Core:
I think that any leader who is able to make decisions from a strong “core” is a good leader. A strong core is a way of describing that part of you that always knows who you are, regardless of what is going on around you. A person like this doesn’t attach her identity to the outcomes of events. She can celebrate the successes and feel terrible about the losses without feeling that either one defines her as a person. What forecasting does is that it gives us the illusion of control over the outcomes of an event. We can look at the data and try to draw an educated idea about what the best path is to take. However, there is no guarantee that you will be right. In fact, the whole goal of forecasting is built on the idea of minimizing the chance of being wrong. And any leader who is more concerned with being right than meeting the objective is doing a disservice to the group and is a poor leader.
A leader with this strong core or sense of self will be able to separate herself from the confusing emotional trap of trying not to be wrong and will instead focus on the “best solution.” There will always be those who will enjoy telling people when they made the wrong decision. I can remember one day when school was cancelled because there was supposed to be a huge Noreaster coming, only to discover the next day that it blew out to sea. The snow day was a beautiful sunny day. Everyone loved to point out that the school made a mistake and people still mention what a colossal error of judgment it was. If you want to be a persuasive and effective leader, however, you cannot worry about what people will say or where to put the blame. The idea is to make the best decision possible, given the information you have, and not to lose sight of what the goal is for the group.
A leader like this will allow the group to move beyond any immediate disappointment or embarrassment because she herself won’t be caught up in needing to be right about those elements which are out of her control. The group or team will relax, knowing that they don’t have to be responsible for the final decision, and that the goals won’t be hijacked by anyone’s emotional needs (not even their own).
To sum up:
1. Find your center and know yourself (don’t attach to outcomes).
2. Pay attention to the forecasts, but don’t lose sight of the main goal for the group.
3. People feel anxious when there is uncertainty. A good leader is honest about what is under her control, a good listener to the concerns of her team and willing to make decisions within that uncertainty.