You have to be unrealistic

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It’s that time of year. I hope those you lead are hitting all their objectives as we get close to year-end. This week’s message is less about hard numbers and targets and more about how we think and our attitude. It is of course all related. Stick with me.

Four or five times per year I work with an executive to develop the presentation of a big strategic idea for approval. The analysis spans the spectrum from totally unrealistic to very conservatively realistic.

There are a lot of what ifs explored in the analysis. This analysis can sometimes take months. We consider all the options. There is some natural right answer along this spectrum. It becomes evident. Since we’re trying to innovate, it’s frequently an option that will stretch the organization – a seemingly unrealistic option.

Throughout, other executives pull strongly to the realistic end of the scale.

They say things like: Will we have the budget? Can we bite that off right now? There are other priorities. How would we do it cheaper? Can we slow things down and spread it over five years instead of two?

Of course, reality may in fact dictate that the ideal desired option won’t be possible. Maybe there really isn’t money available this year and we will have to get creative.

The leadership attitude though is what’s important here.

You see, we’ve done the analysis. We know the ideal, unrealistic alternative is what’s best for the organization. Others have also said so. But it’s not realistic.

The attitude of the leader with the idea is important because it squeezes all of the possible innovation out of the approach.

As a team based on that leader’s mindset: We fight for that ideal. We fight for the unrealistic. We dig for alternatives. We rework things. We don’t give up. The whole team is frustrated. They start to waiver. What’s the point after all? They also stretch to new levels. We’re frustrated. The leader starts to annoy their bosses. People are pushing for realistic and the leader is pushing for unrealistic. We are renegades and revolutionaries.

Even if we don’t reach the ideal, we’ve fought for it. We’ve done what’s best for the organization. The team knows this. The organization notices too.

Bottom line, you win some and you lose some.

The problem is when the leader anticipates realistic and sets their sights there. It’s the easier thing to do. It’s not what’s best for the organization.

UnmaskJeff Nischwitz in his new book Unmask says, “Being realistic often involves lowering your expectations.”

Realistic leads to average.

Jeff makes the point well to fight for the unrealistic whether you win or not when he says, “In the end, you control everything leading up to the outcomes except the actual outcomes.” How you lead up to that outcome distinguishes great leaders. The message is to focus on the process and the journey rather than the outcome. Push the organization. That’s leadership.

To do this week. Click here to pick up a copy of Unmask on Amazon. Also, look for ways to be unrealistic. Explore the options that may not be the safe answer. At least do the analysis.

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On December 7, 2016
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