It’s 11pm, dark and raining. You are driving a dark road and although you are feeling tired you keep driving because you want to get home. You are going fast enough for your brain to process only the information available instantaneously within the glow of your headlights as the car moves forward. You are trusting that the road will be there when you get there. The environment simply will not allow you to plan beyond the headlights.
Similarly, pandemic times require a mind shift change. It means being comfortable not knowing what is just around the corner. In a world where we are used to setting goals and planning long-term, we are forced into a new normal that has our answers unveiling themselves with less notice.
“We’ll deal with that when we get there.”
“We are making the decision today with all the info available to this point. When new data presents itself, we’ll reassess then and adjust if needed.”
“We don’t have all the answers, but we will find them as we go.”
“We could be proven wrong along the way but this is what we believe in now and we must do what we believe in, otherwise it won’t work.”
“We consider what others are doing, but need to make our own decisions, based on our specific set of circumstances. Others’ choices may not necessarily work in our system.”
“We can trust our teammates to come up with the right decision when it’s time to do so.”
“We think about the future without being ruled by it.”
Not outdriving your headlights means understanding what you can control and having the discipline to mentally stay there. Leaders capable of doing this make decisions within their comfort zone, without worrying about what is beyond sight. It means thinking about the future, but not letting it overtake you. It means trusting that your organization has the right people and processes to decide what needs deciding at decision time, given the myriad of data points that have not yet happened.
Real-life example of not planning what is beyond your control…
In 2014, my wife and I went out for dinner on our anniversary. I had the whole thing planned: transportation, reservations, dress code for the cold walk back, babysitter, etc. However, halfway through that plan, we saw a huge crowd. It was the week of the Toronto International Film Festival so celebrity sightings were a thing. I asked the gate guard whom we were waiting for and he said “Travolta”. We hesitantly decided to stay and I urged us to leave after 20-minutes so we could stick to the plan. (Thankfully, my wife forcefully disagreed with me, and we stayed).
Then, things got real. In the distance, a black SUV pulled up and John’s silhouette gets out. The crowd went nuts! As he started making his way along a crowd of people held back by a near endless-sized semi-circle of lined gates and security. After about another 20-minutes he slowly approached where we were standing. We filled our cell phone memory with pics. I stuck out my hand and gently tapped his shoulder. He spun around precisely into the frame of my phone for a selfie as my wife says: “I love you John” (she still denies saying that to this day).
Point is: I was completely outdriving my headlights. If I had stuck to my comfort zone (i.e., the plan), I would have missed a once-in-a lifetime opportunity.
Thinking back, I wish I had not spent all that time forecasting, because that planned scene never actually unfolded.
Jason Chenard & John Travolta (Lauren in middle)
Sept 12, 2014, 9:09pm | Toronto, Ontario, Canada