An Optimist With A Helmet On
What’s the optimum emotional mindset for a leader today? Something like this: That’s me (left) and my brother in law Marc last spring at the start of my first ever bike race. I could post a finish line picture, but it was a little uglier. When I look back at the picture today I notice a few things that I think are relevant to leaders today. 1. I was uncertain. They keep part of the course a secret right up until race day so I didn’t know exactly what to expect except that it would include fast stretches, deep mud, steep hills, and a brutal climb to the finish. I had done some biking and running but wasn’t prepared enough to be fully confident of my ability. 2. I was excited. The atmosphere of the morning was full of anticipation and fun, even with some intensity. I love that feel. I knew it would be a tough ride but I was eager to get going and see what would happen. I figured even if I had to walk some sections, I was going to enjoy the adventure. 3. I was wearing my helmet. Not just because it’s required. Serious crashes are rare, even in challenging terrain like this, but they do happen and I wanted to be ready for that possibility. I grew up in a time when bike helmets weren’t cool, but I don’t get on my bike without one at all anymore. It’s a simple way to manage some of the risk. Leadership today requires this same attitude. We can never anticipate every eventuality, there’s so much we just don’t know, and no one is fully prepared. There are always surprises, good and bad, around the next corner and the best leaders understand that they will always need to be learning to handle them well. Change is constant and no strategic plan will ever stay entirely on course. We need to expect success. Knowing that things will be tough doesn’t mean we’re in trouble, it just means that the eventual celebration will be all the more meaningful. We may need to frequently adjust our targets in response to changing circumstances, but good leaders remain optimistic about the potential of a healthy organization to have real impact. Only those who are able to maintain positive vision for themselves and their team can thrive. We need to prepare for problems. Continuous evaluation of risk/reward scenarios and planning for negative outcomes is a critical skill and strategy. Astronaut Chris Hadfield addresses this extremely well in his book: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. Being intentional about planning for trouble is basic survival. Today’s leader needs to be an optimist with a helmet on.