A fan of winter I am not. The cold I can deal with, I just bundle up. The snow I can deal with, I get my kids to shovel the driveway. But the driving… Oh… I hate driving in the winter. It takes twice as long to get anywhere and, of course, no one knows how to navigate the potholes or snowdrifts so traffic just piles up everywhere. During one of my multi-hour commutes I started thinking about preparation and how leaders can proactively plan for potential icy patches along their journeys.
Inevitably along our journeys as winning leaders we will run into gaps; icy patches in the road we are traveling along to our desired destination. We will have gaps in training, communication, understanding, prioritization, and so on. All of these are rolled into three buckets, The Knowledge Gap, The Importance Gap, and The Action Gap, which prevent us from meeting our expectations.
It is vitally important that all leaders understand that these performance gaps exist in our teams and within ourselves, and we must quickly identify and close them if we are to have winning results. One thing that we’ve also discovered is that leaders who have long-term, long-lasting, and repeated successes do so because they pre-identify their potential gaps.
This is a proactive, intentional dissection of our business, our teams, and ourselves where we strategically search out to discover any potential gaps that may lead us astray from our specific objectives and expectations.
This is similar to how we should drive in the winter. We need to consider all possibilities that could happen. We could get a flat tire so we should make sure our spare is in good shape. We could slide into a ditch so we should make sure we have a bag of sand for traction and a small fold-up shovel. We could get stranded so we should have easy-open snacks, a blanket and some flares. We could hit an icy patch so we should determine ahead of time how we will react if we do.
In leading a team, we must look for distractions that may lead us off of the track we want to follow before the distraction happens. We must consider all possibilities that could, however unlikely, happen to the plan. What potential mindset issues might we have to deal with? What potential skill development programs might we have to create? What potential resistance from customers might surface?
We must not just think about the risks, we need to document them. We need to write them out, track them and reference them daily to keep them fresh in our minds.
Once we list out all risks, we need to first look within ourselves. How will we act or react if the risks actually take place? How will we think? How will we feel? What will we say? What will we do? What support will we need? We need to intentionally pre-determine what our mindset will be if we hit one of these icy patches and begin to slide off our designed course and away from our objectives.
After we decide specifically how we will react, we must assemble contingency plans. We need to determine what we will do to get back on track. These actions need to be created ahead of time. Once we are in the heat of battle, gaps will open and there will be very little time for re-strategizing. We will need to understand what will happen prior to it actually happening, and we will need to know what to do when it does happen.
Along the way we will experience gaps. We will hit icy patches. Some are clearly visible, but others are more like the “black ice” that lies hidden on the pavement. There is no question about it. We work in the real world with real people, and real people make real mistakes. Real leaders plan for them, they look for the potholes and slick spots in the road and plan out how to avoid or overcome them.
There is no shame in gaps happening. Winning leaders understand that. What they do, however, is understand where they potentially could lie and they plan out how to close them quickly or prevent them in the first place.
On your journey as a winning leader, identify and close performance gaps in your team and yourself. Do it quickly. Do it permanently. Do it strategically and proactively. Just by being aware of potential gaps creates a deeper awareness of what to look for as you travel down your road to success.