Leaders with intellectual capacity are flexible - mentally agile - in dynamic and evolving environments. These leaders do not get upset or flustered when (not if) changes occur. On the contrary, they anticipate change, instill it into their team's consciousness, and adapt rapidly.
Three Forms of Change
It is cliche but true: in life (and leadership), change is the only constant.
One way to conceptualize change is to consider it in three basic forms: 1) changes to the local or immediate situation, 2) changes to the macro-environment, and 3) changes to the mission.
Changes to the Local or Immediate Situation. The local or immediate situation can change without notice. This usually requires at least a hasty re-evaluation of your priorities of work, and perhaps a modification of how execution is occurring. Examples of local or immediate change could include: changes in weather; the occurrence of an accident in conjunction with operations; or the loss of a key person, a piece of equipment, or critical resources. Additionally, such changes in others' status (superior or subordinate echelons, the customer, or your competition) should prompt at least a hasty re-evaluation of your operations and objectives.
Changes to the Macro-Environment. The broader situation may be evolving, which may require us to reevaluate our structure, our operations and practices, really everything. This type of change is occurring presently: advances in computing, telecommunications, and disruptive technologies are profoundly changing the way that we communicate, work, and live. Normal business hours are becoming less normal. Telecommuting is becoming less costly and more effective. Conventional media and advertising are giving way to online replacements. These are examples of macro-environmental changes.
Mission Change. Whether directed or deduced, the importance, value, or urgency of some task or other operation may outweigh the current mission and thus prompt a mission change.
Understanding Scripts and Schemes
Change can be confusing and disruptive. For those that don't understand, expect, or want change, it can be very painful and very frustrating. Perhaps one way to understand this issue is to consider the use of scripts and schemes.
Scripts and Schemes are mental models that we sub-consciously use constantly, to help us efficiently perform those common tasks, activities, and events in our lives. Scripts and schemes are an expectation, an understanding of what events should occur in what sequence when performing a particular event or activity. We have scripts and schemes for literally every repetitive act that we do: our morning routine, going to the grocery store, flying on the airlines, making dinner, etc.
As an example, here is a script / scheme for going to the grocery store:
- Parking lot (enter, circle, find a spot, park).
- Enter (walk to front door, automatic door, greeter, basket, arrive at produce).
- Shop (produce, deli, dry aisles, frozen section, dairy, meat, etc).
- Check out (line, empty basket, cashier, coupons, payment, bagger).
- Exit (walk out, find car, depart).
Scripts and schemes are immeasurably helpful, when events transpire in accordance with the script / scheme that you are using. This is what happens most of the time.
To understand how scripts / schemes are so helpful, consider this point: without scripts / schemes, we would have no idea how to perform any of the events or activities that we do in our daily life. Imagine if you had to think about, deduce, and ultimately learn how to interact in a grocery store or how to operate a car every time you did it; we would be much less advanced and much less capable as individuals, teams, and a civilization if this were so.
However, scripts / schemes can also be a huge disadvantage, if events deviate or change from those expected and anticipated in accordance with the script / scheme being used. This is because we are already expecting a certain process or series events to unfold; when this does not happen, our mind struggles to reconcile the difference between what was expected and what occurred.
The inappropriate (and most common) reaction to going off script / scheme is to attempt to get back on script / scheme. The appropriate (and least common) reaction is to acknowledge that a deviation has occurred, identify the deviation and its implications, and adapt as necessary.
Untrained or undisciplined leaders and teams are not aware of the existence and limitations of scripts / schemes, and therefore do not have the ability to consciously employ and - when appropriate - discount them.
Start: operations in progress (using a conventional script / scheme).
- Deviation (change) occurs that conflicts with script / scheme (that is probably subconsciously) being used.
- Leader and / or team attempts to adhere to conventional script / scheme despite the occurrence of the deviation.
- Operations start to not work; wasted time, effort, and resources as the leader and / or team fails to re-evaluate and adapt.
- Confusion, frustration, anger, pouting, mission sidetracked.
- Eventually (hopefully), re-evaluation, modification, and adaptation (possibly too little, too late). Or, possibly, leader shuts down, team becomes adrift, mission fails.
Result: delay, degradation, and / or failure of the mission.
In contrast, a trained and disciplined team will still employ scripts / schemes, but their limitations are consciously recognized.
An effective team will employ conventional scripts / schemes, up to the point that a deviation (change) from the script / scheme occurs; once this happens, the team acknowledges: 1) that a deviation from the script / scheme in use has occurred, and 2) that the script / scheme in use is no longer valid. The team then abandons that script / scheme and 'goes audible'.
Or even better, a highly effective team has replaced conventional scripts / schemes with an advanced script / scheme; one that has elements of ambiguity, change, and deviation already built into it. Essentially, these teams go into an operation expecting things to change. When change happens, it is already part of the plan.
Consider this new type of script / scheme:
Start: operations in progress (advanced script / scheme in use).
- Deviation (change) occurs, which is anticipated in the script / scheme being used.
- The advanced script / scheme in use is still valid, so no script / scheme abandonment or 'audible' is required. The leader and team do what was planned for when the change occurs: re-evaluate, modify, adapt. The transition is smooth because the leader and team expected the change by building it into their script / scheme.
Result: mission accomplishment as quickly, efficiently, and drama-free as possible.
Ultimately, with the new advanced script / scheme, the leader is trying to minimize the interval (in terms of time, disruption, unnecessary expenditure of resources, and emotional wear on whip-sawed team members), between the time of deviation occurrence and the resumption of effective operations.
Three Keys to Mental Agility
In the same vein as the previous discussion, consider employing the following three techniques to move toward the advanced script / scheme mindset:
1. Manage the Team's Expectations by Talking About Change. Talk with the team about the possibility of and potential for changes, and how you and the organization are going to react. Defeat the negative aspects of conventional scripts / schemes by putting the likelihood of mission change in the forefront of your team members' minds.
2. Develop and Discuss Potential Branches. A key component to mental agility is the development and discussion of branches to the plan. Branches are forethought, planned adjustments and adaptations, which are developed based on possible or expected changes.
Think about the potential / likely deviations that could occur while conducting your mission. Pick the three most likely, and craft a hasty plan for what you and the team will do if those deviations occur.
3. Remove Emotions. Some people get very frustrated and upset with change. These drama mamas waste time proceeding through the completely unnecessary cycle of having a melt down or temper tantrum, and then wasting valuable time getting over it. One way to avoid such drama is to not do it.
The solution here is to describe, expect, and demonstrate emotional intelligence. Again, talk about change, expect change, and let yourself or the team get rattled when change does occur.
Ultimately, mental agility equates to faster adaptation to change and increased likelihood of mission accomplishment.
Leaders with intellectual capacity work to develop mental agility in themselves and their organizations. This is done through the understanding and conscious acknowledgement of scripts and schemes, to include their limitations.
Additionally, change anticipation and expectation is developed through expectation of change, discussion, development of branches, and the removal of emotion from deviation occurrences.