Dealing With the Unexpected

Gerwig 2015-04-22

Am I the only one ready for Spring??? Ok, if you’re one of my family, friends, colleagues, or readers who lives in Southeast Asia (e.g. the Philippines) or the Southwest United States (e.g. Arizona), you’re excluded. I know your situation is different. You haven’t suffered through a long, difficult Winter filled with cold temperatures, snow, and ice. I’m jealous!!!

If I were still in Cebu, I’d be diving in board shorts. If I were still in Phoenix, I’d already be looking for “misters” when eating at sidewalk cafés in Scottsdale and Tempe. But alas, I’ve spent the last two winters in Kentucky and part of this Spring in Connecticut. “So what?” I hear you asking. Well, last winter in Kentucky was the worst on record in over 50 years. This winter was nearly the same. Then I moved to Connecticut at the beginning of Spring. But it wasn’t really Spring. Connecticut had their “worst” Winter in over 60 years and Spring was delayed. Ugh!!! It’s just now warming up. Flowers have started to come out, fruit trees have begun to bloom, and the grass has started to “green up.” And it’s the 3rd week of April! Late!!!

This past Sunday after church as I was driving around looking at houses (we’re in the process of moving from Kentucky to Connecticut) it was a balmy 75 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun was out! A beautiful Spring day. Finally!!! As I drove around with my windows down looking at houses in a number of towns switching between K-Love and an oldies station on the radio, the day kinda got away from me. Before I knew it, it was dusk (kilom-kilom for my Cebuano readers and friends!). And I was lost.

Now those closest to me will know that getting lost isn’t unusual for me. Though I have a keen sense of direction, I often “day-dream” and forget where I am and where I’m driving. Perhaps that’s why I’ve had a number of speeding tickets over the years (another story for another time). So even with a navigation system and a smart-phone with access to Google Maps, I was lost.

But then something great happened. I rounded a turn in the middle of “nowhere” (actually between Meriden and Cheshire, Connecticut) and saw a beautiful sunset (pictured above). It took my breath away. It was a rural setting. With a pond. With a spectacular tree. With incredible colors in the sky. The picture above doesn’t do it justice. I wish I’d had my Canon 5DS with me. Oh well. At least I pulled over and took a quick picture with my iPhone.

It took my breath away. Did I say that already? And it was unexpected. I wasn’t purposely driving to “sunset point” to see the sunset. I was lost, rounded a turn and witnessed unexpected glory. So what’s this have to do with leadership? Well, often we have to deal with the unexpected, right? I certainly do, don’t you? You have a plan, but something unexpected happens. You have a plan (maybe even with contingencies built in), but something unexpected happens. You have a plan, but bang! Stuff happens. Right?

What do you do? Give up? Adjust? Cry? Dig your way out? Celebrate? Laugh? Take a picture? Well, obviously it depends on the surprise. Was it something positive or negative? The unexpected can be either. And your reaction, would obviously, vary according to the situation. But I’m going to assume for this article that the unexpected causes a bump in the road for you. It’s an obstacle of sorts. It hinders versus facilitates you achieving your plan. So what do you do?

Here are a few tips:

  1. Margin – have some margin built into your schedule to allow for the unexpected. Margin in time. Margin in expenses. Just-in-time (JIT) is great in a well-run manufacturing facility, but in your ordinary life, even at work, you need margin.
  2. Don’t Panic – assess. Can you ignore the unexpected? Can you delegate it? Regardless of your first instinct, don’t panic. Rarely does the unexpected require you to take flight immediately. You will generally have time to fight the unexpected with a revised plan of action.
  3. Reprioritize – after you assess and explore ignoring the obstacle or delegating it, reprioritize. You might need to adjust your plan. That’s fine, just do it methodically. No knee-jerk reactions. New information has come in. Now it’s time to reprioritize.
  4. Develop a Plan of Action – you’ve reprioritized. Now develop your actions steps. Or modify existing action steps. You’ve received new information. You’ve assessed and reprioritized. Now it’s time to develop your new plan of action.
  5. Execute – ok, this is obvious. It’s part of the PDCA cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act). You know this. Just remember, you’re executing the new/revised plan, not the old one.
  6. Bonus – keep a positive attitude. Dealing with the unexpected may be easier for some temperament/personality “types” but everyone can do it successfully. And a positive attitude helps. Remember, change is constant. Life is full of both variation and “out-of-control” points. It’s okay. This is normal life. Don’t panic. Take it in stride. Adjust. And move forward.

How about you? Have you had to deal with the unexpected lately? How did you handle it? What lessons did you learn? Are you getting better at dealing with the unexpected?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.

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