If you are like me, you probably find yourself thinking about how cool it would be to know everything! Like having a superhero ability or power to know what was going to happen before it did or how a particular event was going to turn out. But what if there is a reason why it’s good that we don’t know everything in advance?
You might remember Doctor Strange in the Avengers Infinity War movie. After he arrives on Thanos’ home planet of Titan and learns the scope of Thanos’ plan, he starts analyzing the possible outcomes. Tony Stark sees him flickering, kind of like how your VCR tapes used to temporarily distort. Of course, it never does that during the scenes you don’t care about, right?!
Doctor Strange comes to and says he has checked 14,000,605 scenarios and found only one where the result was a good one. He’s visibly shaken by the event. Michael Carlisle from tor.com did some quick math and determined if he was able to process/assess an outcome every two seconds (sounds aggressive, but Doctor Strange is a superhero after all!) then he could pretty much have done that in only 11 months.
I won’t spoil the movie for you, but that’s a pretty heavy burden to carry. As cool as we would think it might be to know how everything is going to turn out, most of us aren’t capable to carry that knowledge without negative side effects. And certainly, I don’t know anyone who has the time to process through even a few hundred thousand event outcome possibilities, much less multiple millions!
As usual, there is some irony in this. If we had all of the information, we wouldn’t have the time to properly assess it and avoid the perceived negative side effects. What do I mean by all of this? Well, I use that phrase “perceived negative side effects” on purpose.
I’m not denying that the tremendous struggles we encounter are undesirable. I’m really sensitive to this right now. Many of you have expressed encountering great difficulties that you could never have imagined. Some are with health, some are with career, some are relational, and all of them are heartbreaking and some even border on soul-crushing.
Knowing The Future Would Change It
Would you want to know that you were going to have to deal with the death of a child? What if you knew that you were going to catch your spouse cheating on you? Would you want to know that you were going to nail that big account? Is it good news to know in advance that you saved more than you needed for retirement?
I’m not being flippant. A failing business or a failing relationship is not a joking matter. There is an immense pain that accompanies this type of suffering in our life. Whether the news is positive or negative, if you knew everything in advance, your response to these circumstances would constrain your growth and your potential.
Because Knowing The Future Would Change You
If you knew this in advance, you might decide to never have children to avoid the pain of loss. You might choose not to allow yourself to fall in love because of the coming betrayal. Would you slack off on your efforts with the big account knowing you were going to wrap it up or fail to pursue other equally important accounts because the one you wanted was in the bag? Maybe knowing you had plenty for retirement would cause you to spend frivolously instead of calculating the best ways to extract meaningful memories from every dollar you spent.
When I was considering this episode, I was tossing around different titles. I’m cognizant of the message that an episode title conveys. I don’t want to focus exclusively on the difficult or the traumatic. There is good to be drawn out of every struggle. Your story and your experience make you powerful.
Then I heard an interview with Carly Fiorina. If you don’t remember, she was the former CEO of HP and presidential candidate in the 2016 election. You might also know that she has a new book releasing soon titled Find Your Way: Unleash Your Power and Highest Potential. If you aren’t familiar with her, I would challenge you to do a little investigation. She’s clearly a very capable leader and she said a couple of things that have stuck with me.
Leadership Is Overcoming Constraints
First, she said that leadership is about overcoming constraints. She went on to make a very interesting point here where she distinguishes the leader from the manager. Both are extremely important with very specific responsibilities. And this is not derision of a manager. Virtually every leader is a manager; however, not every manager is a leader.
One way in which they differ is that often, a manager has learned how to manage within the constraints. As a result, the constraint remains and the manager gets the job done in spite of the constraint. Think of a time where you managed a circumstance in spite of a constraint.
Manager vs. Leader
Let’s say that you have a role in customer service. Imagine that a disgruntled customer is unhappy with your company’s product. As a manager in the customer service department, you are constrained by a policy that caps your compensation to an unhappy customer with store credit or replacement of the product. As a good manager, when the customer emailed regarding their complaint, you immediately responded and requested a phone call with the irritated customer.
When you got them on the phone, you made sure to listen with sympathy and were able to restate exactly what the customer was upset about. You commit to taking the customer concern to the product team. You end the call by asking the unhappy customer if they would like store credit or a replacement product. The customer is not interested in either and requests a refund which you are unable to grant.
You realize that once you hang up, you will likely lose this customer for good. A manager ends the call there. He or she thanks the customer for their valuable feedback, and commits to updating the customer with any response from the product team.
A Leader Takes Action
So, what does a leader do in this situation? A leader acknowledges that the constraint is not satisfying to the customer. Rather than working within the constraint, a leader addresses the constraint and approaches his or her leader with a request to modify or eliminate the constraint. You request that management authorize a refund as an additional option should a customer reject either store credit or replacement product.
So, here’s how a well-known company recently implemented a novel approach to address customer satisfaction issues. If you take a call from a dissatisfied customer, then you have the freedom to spend up to $1,000 to address their concern. Every employee, every day, at their own discretion. Do you know who’s most motivated to keep the customer happy? Everyone.
It’s not good business to frequently spend up to $1,000 to resolve customer complaints. It’s much better business to thrill your customer from the first moment they contact you. But when one slips through the cracks and you fail to deliver on their expectations, do you think they might have a good chance of returning as a satisfied customer? You bet they do.
Do Not Expect It To Be Easy
If Carly is correct and leadership is about continuously overcoming constraints, then you are never going to run out of material items in which you get to demonstrate your ability to “lead.” I’m not sure why we think this should be easy. Leadership is challenging. That is how it works!
Because it’s a matter of perspective. What if you viewed each day as a puzzle? It’s a new problem set that has multiple solutions and therefore your quest is to find the one that best reduces or eliminates the constraint your team faces.
Small Acts As Well As Bold Strokes
And the second thing that Carly said that stuck with me was this: leadership comes in small acts as well as bold strokes. Minor decisions every day result in significant outcomes over time.
So maybe you can’t authorize your team members to spend up to $1,000 to resolve a customer issue today. That’s okay! A small act like handwriting a thank you note to a first-time customer might be just as powerful. Do not underestimate the cumulative effect of a multitude of seemingly insignificant behaviors.
If you knew how all of this was going to turn out, you wouldn’t be very motivated to give your maximum effort. No one wants the trauma or pain. Who in their right mind would take the most difficult path to arrive where you sit today?
The Journey Made You
But the journey has made you into a capable leader. Not knowing has increased the significance of the adventure. You give your all each day because you recognize the power of small, simple acts.
So take a look at your environment. What constraints should you be pushing against, challenging, diminishing or removing? Because your team, your customers, your employer will thank you for leading in a way that improved the outcome for everyone involved.
So don’t miss the next two episodes. I’ll be talking about leading while leaving. These are things you always and never should do as you prepare for a departure from a current role. Some good things coming up and I’ll share my personal experience with you. Until then, go demolish a constraint!
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