Diagnosis as an act of leadership doesn’t stop with exploring tough interpretations. After you’ve explored, it comes time to test those interpretations to discover which will be most useful in determining next steps. You’ll want to find out if any of the multiple interpretations you and others came up point to valid ways forward on the challenge you care about.
Don’t stay overly loyal to any one interpretation. Keep auditioning new ideas and you’ll help yourself and the group gain a deeper appreciation for what’s really happening.
Keep in mind that your brilliant idea – or someone else’s more provocative explanation – about what’s going on is just a single idea, from one perspective. Before jumping to action, choose a couple of the most intriguing interpretations and take a closer look. Hold each as simply a possible indication of the best way forward. Engage others in your tests. Don’t try to do it alone.
Hopefully, if you are at the point of testing, you’ve already taken off your rose colored glasses and looked your leadership challenge straight in the eye. You’ve considered some tough interpretations. You’ve engaged in the leadership activity of imagining as many perspectives and ways to make meaning of a situation as possible. The word tough reminds us to push ourselves to consider interpretations that aren’t easy to deal with, that may require a different kind of leadership than we are used to.
This leadership behavior, test multiple interpretations, takes us two steps further. First, you make a judgment call and choose the most compelling interpretations. Engage other people as you make that call. Second, you implement tests designed to understand those interpretations better and see how important they may be.
Test implies action. But built into this act of leadership is a caution against jumping in with both feet and with lots of accompanying risk to your organization or reputation.
And don’t test just one interpretation. Test several. Test interpretations that came from people you don’t agree with. Test interpretations that will require you to change your mind or redirect your energy. When your challenge is a tough one, a wise exerciser of leadership considers and tests many explanations for what makes progress so difficult.
So, what does a test look like? It could be as simple as more purposeful observation or short conversations with a variety of people asking them if your take on the problem seems right. Testing an interpretation involves gathering clues to determine how likely it is that further leadership experiments in that direction will lead to important learning and progress. Sometimes it means trying something, a pilot or a small investment of resources, before fully committing to a solution.
When we test an interpretation, we have one foot in the competency of Diagnose Situation and another moving toward the more action-oriented leadership competencies of Intervene Skillfully, Energize Others and Manage Self.