If you strive to be a good leader, or even if you just happen to be human, odds are you've had the following two experiences: moments of uncertainty about what to do next, and your GPS device chanting that one word that deftly and reliably seems to get under everyone's skin - recalculating. At least on the surface, the two things would appear to have just one thing in common, driving and losing your way. But in truth we lose our way all the time, and the key when we do is recalculating.

The Power Of Recalculating

When Google Maps, Siri, Alexa, or whatever other A.I. voice of choice chimes in with the "R" word, the reason is clear: Whatever it is your encountering doesn't look like what you planned or by extension, where you expected to find yourself. Intuitively you know recalculating is necessary. But often we land in such places precisely because we've handed off some of the key responsibilities to others (live or robotic) and in the process, forgotten to tune into our own good sense. Such load sharing isn't inherently bad. Smart technology, smart co-workers, even good processes and plans can and should give us the confidence not to helicopter over every aspect of what we do. But they shouldn't give us an excuse to disconnect mentally from what's going on around us either.

Artificial intelligence is just that. Even with it's ever more sophisticated abilities, it's not a substitute for the need to be tuned into the conditions around you, to notice when they change, and to recalculate to be sure not only that you're still on course, but also that the course you're on is still relevant and where you want to be.

The Necessity Of Interacting

As I write this I am sitting on a plane with another form of AI as my seatmate. Not unlike Google Maps when I'm driving, the screen in the seat back in front of me is currently telling me where I am in route, how long I've been flying, and the time left to my destination, among other things. This device too is constantly recalculating, but not because of anything I'm doing. It's designed to regularly check the variables it depends on for changes - wind, plane speed, adjustments the pilots make, and so on. Interestingly however, this one candidly reminds me that I have a similar job to do. Its label, "My Interactive Map," suggests that I not sit idly by watching it do its work, but instead recalculate what I want and what I'm spending my time doing. In sum, it invites me to actively engage. Talk about smart technology.

All this tech talk is just a metaphor. There's a far bigger lesson her about leadership and getting yourself or others wherever it is you want to go. If you fail to recalculate as a matter of course, you're all but guaranteed to find yourself off course. Will it always be in a big way? Actually, rarely. But do the small drifts in direction accumulate, and with them the risks as well? That is a 100% guarantee.

The Seed Of All Successful Leadership - Regardless Of Rank

It can be a complicate thing this recalculating, but we simply must do it. The pertinent question is whether or not there's an easy way to begin. There is. More, it's a step anyone at any level can take. To make it vivid and memorable, let's stick with travel, this time turning to the human side of it, and to leadership, just perhaps not in the way you're expecting.

Too often when we look for leadership examples we mechanically turn to the top of the organization (a shortsighted mistake for another time and column). But the fact is every person on every team has a leadership role, no matter how large or how small we might at first calculate it to be. Today, as I awaited my flight, my lesson in recalculating and leadership came from the gate agent. When I asked her questions about my travel plan, her answers consistently referred to the plane as hers, as in, "My plane just landed," and "I'll be loading my plane as soon as we do some basic service checks." She spoke not of the corporation's plane, or even the pilots', but of her plane. She was thinking about all the things she must do to enable the plane to do what all of us - the agent, me, the pilots, and her employers - want and expect it to do, but she was constantly recalculating as she did so. She never assumed that everything would happen at the appointed time and in the agreed ways that the flight plan said its should. Of course that plan was her goal, but it wasn't her blind assumption. She was in the lead in that moment, thank goodness for that.

In any organization, when every leader of every kind shares a common purpose, and when they are taught to see their role as serving that purpose, they tend to filter everything they do and everything they observe going on around them into their actions. When they do, they quite naturally recalculate the best way, in that instant, to meet the purpose. They don't need to be told, they just need to be allowed. It is one of the simplest yet most powerful leadership lessons we can master and invite others to as well.

Published on: Dec 24, 2018