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Thought Leadership

Pragmatism and the Worst Case Scenario

At the center of every business are people. Those people, including you and me, can get caught up in visioning, in processing, in distributing, or impacting. “Or” indicates the problem: When we are so focused on something, to the point of avoidance and lack of awareness, our business is put at risk. 

Understanding what we can do promotes a good business strategy. In Leadership is Ongoing Work, I referenced research about the three brains of leadership. They are the head brain, the heart brain, and the gut brain. Business tends to be heavy on the head brain, but it is the heart and gut that define a business’ culture, competitive advantage, and adaptability to stay relevant over time.

Positivity disguises potentially business-halting problems. Prioritization of opportunities that capitalize on our strengths is positive. Looked at as part of the position of the whole-company (a dynamic SWOT) this has tremendous power. Even during times of tension, staying positive without taking a deeper look at the actual position of your company is easy. The strategy that considers the whole business will be stronger. It takes courage to recognize and write down weaknesses and threats. 

Don’t limit your capacity by focusing only on the positive.

With at least two sides to every story, it is important to have many data inputs. Seeking information takes time, and even when you can compile the data in an automated way, determining what story is being told takes time. It’s easy to look at data with a bias – you conducted information gathering and presenting of the information for a specific purpose. Looking at the data from multiple viewpoints is on you, always.

Positive and negative. If negative is missing from the equation, you won’t be confident in decisions that you make. While perhaps not obvious, the trust in your decision will be eroded away because there is a detail you know you missed. But something will always be missed. Yet seeking out what is wrong and what could go wrong adds an important layer of information to financial and other data reports.

To know if you’ve fully grasped the other side of the coin, go further and consider the worst-case scenario; you’ll know it in your head, heart, and gut. These are the three brains of leadership to activate and check to see if you’ve gone far enough … that you have enough data, and that you’ve thought about the good and bad outcomes. Confidence in your decisions will go up with this practice. To find out more about this concept and its use, tune into Good Leadership is Ongoing Work

Commonly, we take things in stride. It’s ok … that we didn’t get that sale, or … that we weren’t expecting our largest client to take a different path, or … a key person left, or… thinking all will go back to normal if we just just wait it out. This type of thinking – that everything is or will be ok – lacks perspective. 

Here are three questions to help you start obtaining a whole perspective for making important decisions and getting to the juicy stuff:

  1. Do you know what information tells you the real story of how your business is doing? 
  2. Do you have the ability to build consensus and a leadership team that regularly discusses a written strategy (that is a living document and adaptable)?
  3. What controls do you have in place to detect and prevent problems? 

These are BIG questions without easy answers. Questions with answers you sit with, work on, and chip away at are the ones that ensure you are pragmatic. That seeks out the negative, the weakness, the threat to fully understand opportunities you strategically evaluate.

Do something about analysis paralysis or overwhelm.

Ed Vincent, CEO of Festivalpass, says “It’s understanding and then thinking about how you can turn a weakness into an opportunity. I often talk, talk to different folks within our company, and I try and coach them on that path.”

It’s understanding and then thinking about how you can turn a weakness into an opportunity. I often talk, talk to different folks within our company, and I try and coach them on that path.

When weaknesses and strengths are known and discussed they become known (the same is true for threats and opportunities). 

When we know something, the uncertainty surrounding weaknesses loses its fearful edge. You begin to fully grasp what is in your control. When we know what is in our control and what isn’t, we are able to make decisions with confidence.

Many rely on copying the approaches of others, and find themselves stuck. They don’t have enough information and therefore can’t make a decision. Or they gather too much information and likewise are unable to make a decision. Fearful of what they don’t know, they make no decisions. Yes, analysis paralysis is overwhelm.

The power of a pause shifts overwhelm into action. 

First, check in with yourself. Are you agitated, pushing forward, or even acting automatically? Patience, being able to tolerate some uncomfortableness creates more awareness.

Second, investigate alignment. Usually overwhelm and analysis paralysis sneak up on us when there is a disconnect between actions and priorities. In times of high stress, closing gaps and keeping actions and priorities aligned is important.

Third, connect to curiosity. When curious, you can accept emotion that is present and at the same time really look at the reality of a situation. It’s a surefire way to get real about what the situation actually is. 

Fourth, you create more time. By knowing the information to use, current priorities, and the worst case scenario you can make quick confident decisions. You’ve put the pieces together and can rely on them.

Decisions don’t have to last forever. 

Under stress or considering how to respond to an unexpected situation, your decision just has to be right – for right now. 

Use these four reminders to find the power in a pause and be able to shift toward purposeful action.

Make confident decisions even when outcomes are uncertain.

The more decisions we make that turn out as expected build our confidence. The process you use to reach desired outcomes is repeatable, when you are aware of it. 

Knowing what is important for the success of your business underpins any set of processes created. 

That foundation includes your mission, vision, values, and guiding principles – the way you do business. Additionally, the single equation that calculates profit, cashflow, and a dynamic SWOT are required. These seven items, when regularly used, become your most invaluable and reliable dataset.

This information becoming part of the day-to-day routine means that you will have more time to spend choosing the right path forward. When the core elements are in place to rely on, you can begin to look at other things – like the worst case scenario.

Worst case scenarios are for the courageous, the bold. Thinking about and accepting that results could go awry ensures you are aware of one or two negative possibilities. The biggest benefit is that you recognize what could go very wrong, and are able to know if you find yourself on the wrong path. 

It is important to know what isn’t working and what the wrong path is. This knowledge helps you learn. That’s something that Cynthia Del’Aria, CEO and Founder of Raika Technologies, shared with me. She said, “The purpose of failing fast is learning. What are the edges of what you’re trying to do? Where is it going to work? Where is it not going to work? And then, the faster you get to that place, the more specifically you can pivot to find that area where everything opens up.”

The purpose of failing fast is learning. What are the edges of what you’re trying to do? Where is it going to work? Where is it not going to work? And then, the faster you get to that place, the more specifically you can pivot to find that area where everything opens up. 

Know what you can control.

You control moving toward or away from your goals with each choice you make. The actions you take from the decisions you make. Decisions you make have an impact on each person in the company, as well as customers and stakeholders.

What you can control:

  • Having a written plan that outlines the connection between your short- and medium-length goals and the company vision.
  • Having clarity around the key elements (mentioned above) that provide a launching pad for your decisions – especially when decisions must be made quickly.
  • Considering the worst-case scenario to know more than that you are off track – but to also know how extensive negative outcomes may be.
  • Harnessing the power of the pause.

Creative leaders, and leaders that really gain loyalty from their staff and retain the highest talent, are the ones that make it a point to celebrate, pause, acknowledge, and then make a plan. 

Lizabeth Wesley-Casella, CEO of L-12 Services, discussed the additional benefit of loyalty. She said, “Creative leaders, and leaders that really gain loyalty from their staff and retain the highest talent, are the ones that make it a point to celebrate, pause, acknowledge, and then make a plan.” This tells me the framework you use must be useful in an ongoing way.

Here’s the framework to know what you can control:

Think about what the worst case scenario would be.

Find your go-to questions and ask them.

Take a pause (the harder it is the more you need it).

Decide and act on the next best step.

Each of these items is outlined within this article. A framework provides you a way to create a customized approach that supports your business and the business’ unique selling proposition. To sustain and to grow, what you put into the four sections is unique to your company’s vision and goals. Provided you’d like some assistance with this, I’d be happy to help. This is what the Unstuck Quick on-demand consulting is for, and I’m excited to talk with you.

Efficiency is making sure you have money spent and maximum profit reached. Resiliency is having a set of processes that you rely on and practice regularly (think Present Retreat™, board meeting, or company retreat). A true example: remember as a kid how you had drills – like a fire drill? There was a process to follow and it took time to practice and experience it. Growing up in Kansas, we also had tornado drills. We never used a fire drill because of a fire. Yet, on two occasions when I was growing up we needed such drills to protect ourselves from tornadoes. 

Over time, we practiced drills for the very small chance that we’d actually need them. This is not efficient. Yet, because the process was set and was practiced, when needed students and teachers were ready. Today, that looks like switching from working in an office to working remote or a fire that destroys data and requires the use of backups. It even means having workflows written down so that when someone must step out of their role for a day, a week, even months, that someone else can fill in with little to no understanding of the role and keep things going.

This framework to know what you can control is not efficient. It takes time and doesn’t add to the bottom line day-by-day. Yet a framework to know what you can control is necessary to be confident in your decision during times of uncertainty and high stress.

In the face of the unknown, your pragmatism comes from staying tuned into processes that are hopefully unneeded, yet on the rare occasion they are, the time and energy allows for stepping right into the situation and moving forward without much course correction needed.

What is better than optimism? Pragmatism.

The framework outlined here helps you recognize the urgency and importance of what you face when things feel out of control. You will:

  • Have a sense from the get-go about what are the reasons this is an important situation.
  • Be comfortable looking at what the worst case scenario could be.
  • Have an awareness of how much it would cost to roll back a decision and start over.

In times of highest stress, complete chaos, or facing an unexpected situation, this framework will help you keep sight of your company’s True North. Realism is recognizing there will be emotion and navigating the unknown. Pragmatism is taking that a step further and being ready to find the real opportunity in a situation to keep you moving forward to your company goals.

Use this framework to fall back on and get the right results from doing the right things at the right time.

As additional reading material, check out the following articles:

Is your business out of control?

3 types of internal controls

7 ways to ensure your business succeeds

Why management is out of control

You can’t control everything about your business – but you can control this one crucial factor

The 3 types of business controls

Four ways to evaluate a big decision


For more tips on growth, leadership, and business strategic planning check out our previous articles

Still feel like you need a bit of help with some business direction on this topic? Then ACT to Plan by contacting me for a 30-Minute Unstuck Quick Consult. We’ll discuss your aims, where you are, and where you should be to move deliberately toward your team-building goals!

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