One of the first and best admonitions I ever heard from a supervisor was “don’t ever let me be surprised.” What he meant in sharing this expectation was he never wanted to be caught in a position where new information that probably required action on his part was catching him unaware. In other words if there was bad news or an emergency he wanted to hear it from me before he heard it from others. This desire doesn’t come from a place of insecurity, it comes from wanting to be proactive in situations and not reactive. It’s a very strong strategy for any of us as most often our plans and actions are stronger when not made from a reactive position. Being forced to be reactive can lead you to make decisions based purely on emotions such as anger, shame or embarrassment. In many cases not only are these not the best decisions but they lead to actions that can hurt your character or cause you regret later. Bottom line, none of us want to be put in a position where we are making decisions and taking actions from a place of surprise. Yet many leaders put themselves in places that allow them to be cut off from important information and input.
What’s the best ways to guarantee you can end up that way? Try these three practices:
Stop Asking Questions
One of the quickest and most efficient ways to get blindsided comes from not asking questions anymore. It’s easy for a leader to either assume everyone knows what they want (thus stop communicating expectations) or to stop hearing from people about what is happening daily. An informed leader will intentionally be asking people what is going well and where the challenges lie in their work. Proactively asking questions will either provide insights or will allow one to see emerging patterns that will help keep them from getting surprised later.
Intentionally spend time with the same people
A leader must intentionally spend time with a variety of people around their workplace. Sometimes a leader will feel the need to only be around other leaders in their organization. While this type of networking does have a value it is also isolating the information you get from the same sources. Just as your body would suffer if you were only to eat only one particular food all the time so will a leader’s understanding suffer when they only hear from one set of people.
Be defensive and judgmental
Not reacting well to bad news, criticisms, or insights others share is another great way to make sure you get blindsided someday. This is because people will either quit talking to you or they will only tell you what they think you want to hear. This is a very efficient way to cut off the information flow to you. You’ll find yourself quite happy when you aren’t hearing the things you don’t want to hear, until it inevitably blows up.
A leader who cares about their work and their organization does not want to cut themselves off from various information flows. It requires a few extra conversations and listening sometimes to ideas you know don’t have a chance of happening, however, the main point is people are talking to you. These flows of information don’t guarantee you won’t ever get caught unawares. It will, however, cut down the chances of being blindsided and help you make more informed decisions when you do.