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Plan Versus Improvisation. . .Don’t Ignore These 4 Strategies

Leadership is a balance between plan and improvisation.

Between thinking and reflex.

Too far one way and you are sluggish.  Too far the other and you are reckless.

Most great leaders understand this dance and embrace it.  They realize that not everything can be planned and scripted and that while a certain level of planning is necessary, sometimes you just have roll with what’s happening in real time.

Think of the great quarterback who sees the line dissolve in front of him.  Certainly the play was never to scramble in the pocket and then decide to run the ball himself, but if that is the only way to win, then its off to the races.  Great leaders are the same way – they value the plan, but if things change then they understand the importance of adaptability.

Remember that leadership is integral to the service experience.  Organizations without leaders who know how to plan and how to deal with a changing environment are destined to fail in their service mission.  Great businesses with great leaders know how to adapt when things don’t go quite to plan.

They know how to put their Guests first.

Work Your Plan, But Don’t Fall in Love With It.  There is value in planning and taking the time to craft a strategy.  This could be for your business, your career, or even in your personal life.  Planning is imperative to success and without a plan, you are just hoping for the best without a road map to get there.  The problem with success is that is that it can begin to make you think that you have cornered to market on planning and execution.  It can make you believe that you know best.  It can make you complacent and rigid.  But you can guard against that by staying flexible, nimble, and humble – and by keeping an open mind.  You may need to adjust your plan as things on the business landscape change and be willing to listen to others who might have a better or different idea.  This is particularly important if you are embarking on a change effort or trying to build consensus.

Don’t Revere Luck, But Take Advantage of It.  Every now and again a little luck comes everyone’s way.  You might believe that luck favors the prepared – and maybe it does, but sometimes stuff just falls into place.  Think about the chance crossing of paths with an executive you have been wanting to pitch.  You probably had nothing to do with that encounter, but you can be ready to take advantage of it if it happens.  When the CEO walks on the elevator with you, that’s luck (unless you’ve been riding the elevator all day trying to run into him or her – in which case, that’s stalking).  But what you do next is all you.  Are you ready with your summary pitch (or elevator speech) or did you just say hello and then stare at the floor display?  The trick here is that you can’t depend on luck – that’s not a sustainable strategy – but you can take advantage of it.

Be a Strong Leader, But Not Unyielding.  There is something about strong leaders that attract people to want to work with them. You must be focused on success with enthusiasm and resolve. You have to be tenaciously focused on excellence and believe in your ideas and vision.  But you can’t fall so in love with your ideas that you refuse to listen to others.  Being a strong leader is about listening to others and making sure that everyone’s voice is heard.  There are amazing ideas throughout your organization and it is up to you to be sure to that they are brought to the surface and put into action if they can benefit your business or your Guests. 

Listen to Others, But Make a Decision. Procrastination is often hiding in the need to research, plan, and consider.  Its okay to listen to others and thoroughly consider issues, but don’t let it paralyze you.  In business – and life in general – you have to make decisions.  You should get the best input you can and think through the possibilities, but at some point, you have to act.  Your team is looking to you to cut through the clutter and make a decisions when it matters.  They are looking for you to involve them and hear them – but also ensure that the course of the organization is laser focused on success for Guests each day.  When you over analyze and procrastinate rather than making a decision, you risk waiting to long to execute on your vision.  That could mean missed business opportunities or innovation that comes to late to be meaningful to your Customers.

On balance, leadership is about the dance between your plan and the unexpected.

The very best leaders understand this and relish the challenge to develop processes that not only deliver results, but that leave enough flexibility to adapt when needed.

They particularly understand that their leadership will allow their organization to treat Guests like cherished friends.


Tony Johnson

-Customer Experience Leader-

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