Leadership is about mobilizing people to make progress on tough challenges, and to do so we need to be able and willing to imagine that things aren’t perfect. (And at the same time, absolutely believe that things can and will get better!)
Every change effort starts with collecting information (aka diagnosing the situation). And in most cases, with just a few observations, we make an interpretation about what’s going on. Usually, our quick interpretation justifies a relatively simple response.
We constantly and often unconsciously go through these steps: Observe. Interpret. Act.
When we attempt to lead differently on our toughest challenges, we start by thinking about the problem differently. More observations generate more interpretations and more possible actions. Exploring tough interpretations means pushing past your first interpretations to generate others that point toward more difficult-to-execute steps.
One interpretation from one person won’t work when the challenge is adaptive. To solve our toughest problems, we need diverse points of view and multiple interpretations. It is an exercise of leadership to encourage others to bring more data and imagine more explanations for what’s happening. When you engage a group to consider multiple tough interpretations, you are inviting them to consider conflicting versions of the truth—not so they can act on each one but so they can choose which interpretations are worth exploring further.
If you find yourself resisting an interpretation because addressing it would involve loss and discomfort, you’re probably on to something. How we think about a problem determines how we try to solve it. Change or evolve our thinking and we might discover ways for more progress.