Too often we think we have a better understanding of our situation than we actually do. We know something needs to change and we are confident we know the right way forward.
Few people probe deep enough to identify the experiments and smart risks that will lead to real progress. Few people spend enough time listening to others to understand what’s really going on.
If you want to exercise more leadership, chances are you’ll go slower than you are used to, you’ll need to pause more often, observing and seeking the need to understand. At KLC we call this diagnosing the situation. Diagnose Situation is one of our four leadership competencies. Our work with over 15,000 people from thousands of communities, companies and organizations shows: If you want to lead and make more progress on your toughest challenges, diagnosis is key.
The biggest leadership mistake people make is misdiagnosing the situation.
- Why do people misdiagnose so often? Three reasons stand out.
“Don’t just stand there; do something!” Communities and organizations exert tremendous pressure, especially on those in authority, to act. Pausing to take the temperature can appear to the uninitiated like you’re doing nothing.
- “Find a pain-free fix, please!” We want positive change with as little cost or pain as possible. Teams that haven’t committed to a new model of leadership will balk at slowing down to explore tough interpretations.
- “I want to be the hero!” Superheroes rarely stop to understand the process challenges or identify who needs to do the work.
It is an act of leadership to see the nuances of your situation. Good diagnosis means taking time to distinguish technical and adaptive work. It means thinking more about how you are going to engage others than about marshaling the facts and making the best argument. Think about it. You’ll be much more likely to solve the problem if you help those around you identify it correctly in the first place!
Diagnosis (like all acts of leadership) is never solo work. It’s about engaging other people to test multiple interpretations. The more eyes and ears you have on the problem, the more options you’ll find for action. The more you know about your challenge, the more opportunities you’ll have to solve it.