When was the last time you received an email where the writer focused so heavily on his needs that he failed to account for others’ views, experience, or knowledge that might actually present a potential solution to a stated problem?
Many times, those with whom we deal have a narrow focus, fostered in part by their own specialization and limited exposure to a broader environment.
While individuals may be expert in their arena, they may very well impair the actions or ideas that emerge from an entire team because of their own blind spots.
Failure to account for the blind spots that everyone on the team possesses contributes to a state of mindlessness, which reflects the absence of being mindful and sensitive to other situations that could affect the outcomes of one’s own efforts.
In contrast to mindlessness, mindfulness incorporates a continuous scrutiny of existing expectations, a continuous refinement and differentiation of expectations based on newer experiences, and a willingness and capability to invent new expectations that make sense of unprecedented events (Weick & Sutcliffe, 2001).
Creating a mindful organization requires an individual level of business maturity that includes having sufficiently high self-esteem to deal with the unvarnished truth and being pre-occupied with failure.
Although someone may be expert in his or her discipline, the dynamic external environment in which we all work suggests one can never be comfortable with one’s knowledge or expertise because both can vanish rapidly.
Consider the following situations.
- How would the response to Hurricane Katrina been different if Louisiana’s state and municipal leaders had properly anticipated and prepared for the failure of the levees after being hit by a Category 3 hurricane?
- Would the Gulf of Mexico disaster have occurred if British Petroleum executives had anticipated failures in deep water drilling equipment and acted in the best interests of the entire region?
- Would the U.S. economic situation be different today if banks anticipated the failure of sub-prime lending practices to borrowers who could not afford homes in the first place?
Although a deep analysis of these events is not possible here, readers can clearly see how many people in positions of leadership failed to act mindfully in critical situations, and these failures had widespread effects, some of which we still feel today. Good, mindful leaders recognize their responsibility to look beyond the present and anticipate future failures that could negatively affect an organization’s success.
Leaders at all organizational levels need to take a broader view and gain a greater appreciation for the systemic aspects of situations they face.
- Front-line leaders need to anticipate and be mindful of the impact their actions have on customer perceptions and the employees to whom they model desired behaviors.
- Mid-level leaders need to anticipate and be mindful of the impact potential process failures could have on delivering value to individual and collective end-customers.
- Strategic level leaders must be mindful when scanning the environment and assessing external factors that could negatively affect a business, from which they need to take swift and effective actions to avoid the most serious threats.
The question this week is, “Could the major failures our Nation experienced over the past 60 months have been averted or minimized if leaders had acted more mindfully? How are the leaders in your organization acting mindfully to avoid potential failures?
Reference: Weick, K.E., & Sutcliffe, K. M. (2001). Managing the unexpected: Assuring high performance in an age of complexity. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.