The Voice for Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row, P.E.

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trophyThe trophy case stood in the middle of the building. It covered an entire wall. Walking through the Miles River Yacht Club, the sun reflected off the polished silver cups, chalices, and bowls. Some of the most highly sought trophies could have held a basketball. I stood in front of the case and marveled. I’d just witnessed historic log canoe races. The boats were beautiful, the crews were skilled, and the decades-old trophies were huge.

What, I pondered, causes us as humans to create an object (a big, shiny object) to signify accomplishment? Givers of trophies learned centuries ago what neuroscientists can now see. Trophies of any sort cause the brain to feel appreciated, connected and seen. You probably don’t have a trophy case at your office. And, you don’t need one as long as your employees feel rewarded for outstanding work.

How do you make employees feel like they just won the big trophy? There are more ways than you may think. Anything that makes them feel appreciated, connected and seen is an intrinsic trophy. An intrinsic trophy connects with the heart and feels good. Here are five examples to get you started.

1.       Take her to lunch or coffee. Never underestimate that power of being seen with the boss. Go into the lunch or coffee with an attitude of curiosity. What can you learn from this person? What can she teach you? Tell her what you learned and watch her glow with pride.

2.       Call him out in front of colleagues. Make it specific. Describe what he did to merit the mention so that he understands that you really know his contribution. Tie his work to an organizational initiative, goal or value.

3.       Listen to her ideas. Really listen. Repeat back what you hear to ensure that you truly understand. Repeating the idea forces you to pay attention. To be heard is to be seen.

4.       Implement his idea and give him credit. There is no greater compliment you can give than to implement his idea. Be clear about the source of the idea and give credit where credit is due.

5.       Donate to her favorite charity in her name. Not only is this a nice thing to do but you may be surprised by the choice of charity. The charity she selects may provide new insight into interests and life experiences

Notice that each of these intrinsic “trophies” creates good feelings because the rewarded person feels appreciated, connected and seen. You and your staff are thinking, feeling beings. The insightful leader is wise enough to leverage feelings to support, encourage and reward staff. It doesn’t have to be a punch-bowl-sized, silver chalice (although that could work, too!). Create your own intrinsic trophy case by consistently recognizing prize-winning behavior.

What creative techniques have you used to reward staff and make them feel appreciated, connected and seen?

Photo Credit: Spinsheet.com

It was supposed to be an easy cruise. That’s what they told me.  The  47’ Morris sailboat, sailed the Newport to Bermuda race and finished second in her class. We were part of the crew sailing her back to Newport.  And, it was my first sailing trip. To say that the trip didn’t go as planned is an understatement if there ever was one. We made it back safe and sound because of the quality of the boat and the experience of the crew – except for me. When we left I still didn’t know a jib from a halyard or port from starboard.

The trip, expected to be a little more than three days, took five due to adverse weather. The only thing calm was the crew. The seas were rough almost from the start and became even rougher when we crossed the Gulf Stream. The evening we hit the Gulf Stream, we encountered three 50-knot squalls in quick succession with 10’ to 12’ seas. Due to the rough weather, the boat had a series of issues. The auto pilot stopped working on day one, the engine stopped on day two, during the storm the reef line on the mainsail broke, the halyard on the jib broke, the furler jammed, the tack of the spinnaker let go and, later, the spinnaker artfully wrapped itself around the forestay. During the worst of the storm, lines fell into the water and promptly wound themselves around the propeller shaft. I’m told that none of this is unusual but to have them all happen on one voyage was remarkable. By the time we arrived in Newport, everything I brought to wear was wet. The quick-dry fabric never dried.  Collectively, we smelled like a 50’ wet tennis shoe. Are we having fun yet?

As I lay in the narrow bunk, heeled 30 degrees, I listening to the storm tear at the boat and sails. And, I listened to the crew tackle each adversity calmly, collaboratively, decisively and transparently. Do you do the same when adversity hits your organization?

Calm. It was one problem after another in quick succession in rough weather. It would have been unnerving except for the calm of the captain. With each calamity, he talked to the crew – no raised voice, panic, of exasperation. The intensity of the situation stood in clear contrast to his calm demeanor.  As an insightful leader, how do you manage stress and outwardly demonstrate calm?

Collaborate. When a problem was solved, something else broke. Each time, the captain collaborated with the crew. What happened? What are the pros/cons of each option? This was no dictatorship. Neither was it a democracy. It was informed leadership. How do you collaborate under stress to capture and objectively weigh all options? Our captain based his decisions on crew input. Do you truly listen to others?

Decisive. The conversations between the captain and crew were quick, succinct and decisive. The captain listened, made a decision, and that was that. Other ideas were dropped, and action was taken. Are your decisions crisp, clear and strong? Once you decide, don’t waiver. There’s time later to evaluate and adjust. For now, give staff clear directions to follow.

Transparent. We were in a tough spot. Some of us were not experienced sailors and the situation was a wee bit unnerving (to say the least). It would have been easy for the captain to sugar-coat our predicament under the pretense of not alarming us.  Instead, he was honest and transparent. In a matter-of-fact manner, he shared the realities of each situation and decision. The transparency was reassuring and created trust. Are you being transparent with your staff about difficult situations? Yes, some topics can’t be discussed openly, and it is not constructive to publicly debate every option.  However, once a decision is made, it is helpful to share the decision, the rationale behind the decision and the implications. People understand that not everything goes as expected, but people don’t like to be in the dark. That creates suspicion and erodes trust. Transparency does the opposite.

I confess that I’m not ready for another cruise like this one, but I’m grateful for the crew and for the lessons: be calm, collaborate, be decisive and transparent.

Share an experience that you’ve had that taught you a lesson.

The night was warm as we stood looking over the Annapolis harbor at the gathered crowd. It was a perfect evening for (are you ready?) tango. Yes, tango. Argentine tango, to be specific. The bricks of the Annapolis City Dock were covered by a smooth dance floor and a small band played tango music. If you are not a dancer, Argentine tango is not like a typical ballroom tango. Ballroom-style tango has specific steps. Argentine tango does not. It is all improvisational. The men learn to lead by shifting their bodies. Women learn to sense and follow their lead.  As we watched, the men were steady and (relatively) straightforward with their steps while the women twisted, turned, and flicked their feet with grace and style. They represented a subtle communication between leader and follower that resulted in beauty and art.

When I think about being an insightful leader, there are three lessons from tango.  The tango leads provided:

  1. Direction. The leader provides the forward direction. Will he steer his partner slightly right, slightly left or straight ahead? He watches other couples and navigate between and around them. He adjusts their rate of progress to account for others. It’s the same for leaders in an organization. You, too, provide direction and navigate employees, staff and projects around obstacles. In your case, obstacles may be political, technical, financial or personnel. It’s your job to watch the surroundings, notice openings and deftly steer the organization forward as though you are dancing together.
  2. Framework. The tango lead held his frame. He provided a firm, physical frame that gave his partner the boundaries for her dance. Within his arms and the space around his steps, he contained the space of the dance. A leader does the same. You provide the organizational framework within which staff perform and work happens. In this case, your frame work may be the organizational culture, a way of doing business, the boundaries of acceptable business practices or acceptable behaviors at work.
  3. Flexibility. Perhaps the most striking part of the tango was the flexibility afforded to the woman dancer. Our tango lead provided direction and a framework that allowed her to improvise. Steps, kicks, flourishes, twists and turns. She was the show. He gave her the space to explore her creativity and develop beauty. Too often, this element of leadership is missing. Sometimes, we as leaders create a framework that’s too tight. It confines creativity in the workplace. Instead, insightful leaders create space like the tango. There’s an openness to new ideas, new processes and procedures. Staff are encouraged to develop their creativity and show off their highest skills. The creativity of the staff can be the showpiece under a wise leader.

Because of the skill of the tango leader, the woman improvised, added her unique style and created a work of art while moving forward within the framework. How well is your organization dancing under your leadership? Maybe it’s time for a tango lesson!

Copyright: timurpix / 123RF Stock Photo

Each May the Blue Angels fly for the U.S. Naval Academy graduation in Annapolis. Their performance in the blue skies over the Severn River is a highlight and a special moment. Visitors and residents gather along the shore staring overhead, searching the horizon. No matter how many times I see their show, the sudden roar of their engines ripping the sky apart surprises me. It’s as though they materialize from the clouds. Flying 18” apart they make sweeping banks as though they are glued together. Then, in a roar of power and speed they rotate upside down, sideways, right side up. Their flying is a thrill that belies the skill needed to execute as a team.

This year, standing on the dock, marveling at their precision, I was struck by the level of commitment they embody. When they are flying, there’s no debate, no discussion and no consensus building. They follow the leader’s commands. Period. Sometimes, that’s the way it needs to be in an organization, too.

We talk a lot about the need to gather information, discuss, debate and gain consensus. We should also talk about when enough discussion is enough. We need to know how to decide and commit. You probably disagreed with a decision at some point. Did you handle it with grace or did you grumble to anyone who would listen? As those jets zoomed overhead with no margin for error, there was no grumbling…only commitment. What does it look like to commit at work – whether you agree with the decision or not?

  1. Recognize that you don’t have insight into all facets of the decision. Like the Blue Angel flying at the back of formation, you only see from your vantage point. That pilot only sees the planes directly in front of him. His view is limited. He trusts that the lead plane – which has a different view – is making the best decision based on the additional information they have. It’s the same for you. You don’t have all the information that the final decision-maker does. There comes a time when you must recognize that decision-makers are assimilating more and different information than you. Commitment means trusting that they will select the most reasonable approach based on their vantage point.
  2. Don’t bad mouth the decision-maker. You’ve argued it up one side and down the other. You’ve got the facts on your side and still the decision doesn’t go your way. Well…that happens. Commitment is determined by what you do next. The most detrimental behavior for the organization is to complain about the decision to your staff. Venting to others at or below you grows distrust and breeds lack of commitment. Either keep quiet or go to option three below.
  3. Disagree and commit for the good of the whole. The Blue Angels can’t tolerate the pilot who wants to bank 2-degrees differently from the others. Either everyone agrees to the same plan or they literally all go down in flames. Most of us don’t have that level of risk in the workplace. Nonetheless, the time comes when you must decide to disagree and be fully committed to the decision. For the sake of the greater good and for the sake of moving forward, swallow hard, find ways to articulate your support and behave in ways that fully conform with the decision even though you may not personally agree.

Six planes, wingtip to wingtip soared directly over the viewing stands. In a single precise moment, each plane abruptly changed course to fly apart in six different directions into a starburst of power and smoke.  But, we all knew, they would meet back at the base together to celebrate a safe, well-executed show.  All because they committed.

It was dark and I was in unfamiliar territory. I was aboard a friend’s boat on the Chesapeake Bay, at night, headed home, when he said, “You should drive. It will be good practice.”

“Good practice?” I thought. “Is he crazy? There are lights everywhere.” As I looked across the horizon and saw white lights, yellow lights, red lights, green lights, blinking lights, bright lights and faint lights.  “Which do I follow?” I asked him.

He said, “You’ll learn to sort out the important lights, that help you navigate to the dock, from the irrelevant ones that are a distraction.”  Wise words that also apply to you as an insightful leader.

You navigate your organization towards the future and along the way there are countless pieces of information and distractions that can take you off course – if you let them. How do you sort out the relevant from the irrelevant? Here are three tips I learned from executives I interviewed.

  • Have a clear objective. You can only navigate to your goal if you are clear on your goal. Yeah, I know…that seems obvious. And, I’m continually amazed at how often managers lack clarity on the goal. We breeze past the difficulty of finding clarity in the rush to act. Clarity immediately reduces distractions. Clarity allows you to ignore all inputs that don’t align. Without clarity, it would be like me aiming for any creek when I wanted Aberdeen Creek.To get clarity, ask yourself,
    • “What is the desired outcome?”
    • “What specifically needs to be accomplished?”
    • “What specific action do I want to occur?” Don’t settle for generalizations. Be specific

From a place of clarity, identify the key next steps. These steps help to retain clarity and focus along the way. Activities that aren’t in alignment with the steps to the objective, can be dealt with later.

  • Control the tangents. Be brutal about this. Everyone you talk to will try (maybe unintentionally and maybe intentionally) to take you off on a tangent. If you stay laser focused on the objective, you can tactfully redirect the conversation while staying aware that other issues will be dealt with later. When someone tries to divert your attention, say,
    • “That’s a good point, and we need to stay focused on the goal. We can come back to that point once we deal with this.”
    • “I appreciate you bringing this up. Let’s put this in the parking lot to address next.”
    • “I realize this is a concern of yours and we will address it, but for now, we need to stay focused on the goal for today.”

As I scanned the darkness, the horizon filled with lights. But I didn’t need the circling light of Thomas Point Lighthouse or the red and green lights of other boats. I began to train my eyes to discern the lights on the markers that indicated the way back. It went like this: Marker light…got it in my sights. Lighthouse light: it’s out of the way; I won’t run aground; no need to consider it further. Other boats: They are not in the way and not coming my way; no need to consider them further. They remain in my periphery but didn’t distract from the goal. How do you sift out the tangents, set them aside, and stay focused on the objective?

  • Check in along the way. As we motored back toward the dock, the navigational chart told me which marker should be in view next. Did it appear when and where it was supposed to? Check. We were still on course. As an insightful leader, it is wise to check your course along the way. Are you still focused on the objective? Are you still taking the steps you identified or have you succumbed to a tangent? Check in along the way and make course corrections as needed.

You, as an insightful leader, are the keeper of focus. In addition to reaching your goal efficiently, your staff will feel more secure and calm because of your clear-headed focus.

Photo Copyright : James Kirkikis

over thinkingI was intrigued but not surprised. The a-ha moment happened as I discussed the pitfalls of over-thinking with a group of 70 transportation leaders. It could have been any group of leaders. Perhaps it is evident: Leaders develop good and bad decision-making habits and so do organizations. I work with individual leaders to develop their capacity for balanced decision-making.  But, organizations also develop habits – ways of relating or responding – that may be productive or not.  The organizational decision-making pattern is learned or influenced in part by the leader.

I see two implications:

  • The same principles for balanced decision-making apply to organizations as to individuals.  Like an individual, organizations can practice and reinforce productive decision-making until the collective “brain” of the organization is rewired.
  • The leader’s impact extends beyond the immediate decision. The leader is the decision-making model for the organization. Over-think it and a message is sent. Have a knee-jerk reaction and another message is sent. Exhibit balanced decision-making and a model is created that reinforces optimal behavior.

Let’s consider, for example, a tendency to over-think decisions. Over-thinking is characterized by delayed decisions, a relentless need for more information, and analysis paralysis. Over-thinking wastes time, causes missed opportunities and reduces ROI. And while it may be a characteristic attributed to a leader, an over-thinking organization moves at a slow, slogging pace.

An over-thinking organization creates a culture of caution that permeates its collective thinking. Early warning signs of an over-thinking organization include constant striving for more data and analysis, reluctance to make a recommendation, and bumping the decision to a higher level. Cautiousness grinds progress to a halt.  Rather than decide and move on, the organizational unit studies and vets and studies even more. As with an individual the way out is to first notice the hesitancy and then to probe the organizational discomfort.  What is the underlying feeling within the group? Why is there fear of moving forward?  What repercussions lurk – either real or imagined – that color the forward progress of the group? Once those intangible issues are surfaced and articulated, there is a chance for the group to choose a different path.  But an organization is more complex than an individual.  Although difficult, deeply ingrained organizational habits can be changed.  As with an individual, that change comes as a result of practice, reinforcement and focused attention. Did I mention practice?  Did I mention reinforcement?  This is hard and it requires determination. It is the practice and focused attention that will ultimately rewire the organization’s collective brain.  Members of the organization, managers and leaders must stay vigilant to the ease with which decision-making can slide into old, familiar patterns. As in an individual’s brain, habitual responses are easier, faster, and comforting for the organization.  But they may not be productive.

The leader’s role is even more crucial. It’s important for a leader to develop good decision-making practices as part of her skill set and it is even more important to be an example of productive decision-making. The leader’s decision-making approach is mimicked and modeled – perhaps more subconsciously that consciously.

When a leader gets lost in over-thinking, that behavior trains the rest of the office. An over-thinking leader creates a culture of restraint with overly-cautious team members who are risk averse and who have an avoidance mentality. Unhelpful behaviors exemplified by the leader are passed along to the staff perpetuating suboptimal decision-making. It’s a huge price to pay.

Conversely, a leader who models balanced decision-making that uses both cognition and intuition grows a staff with deep awareness and capability. This type of decision-making also takes individual practice and persistence.  However, the ROI is significant.  The organization benefits from sound leadership decisions and staff become receptive and capable with the depth to choose well-balanced responses. It cultivates a healthier organization and positions individuals to grow into insightful leaders. When the leader cultivates balanced decision-making patterns, it permeates the organization like a breath of fresh air.

So what about you and your organization? Are you as a leader, developing balanced and insightful decision-making patterns?  Have you looked at the decision-making patterns of your office? As you develop yourself, you feed them.  It’s worth the practice and persistence.

 

We left the dock at 5 am, bundled against the cold, the boat loaded with food, drinks, snacks for us and lures for the fish. It was opening day of Rockfish season. I know nothing about Rockfish, but I was with an experienced team who have fished together for twenty years. Their preparation was extensive and exhaustive. The week before they organized lines, white and chartreuse lures, weights coordinated to each line so that lures trailed the boat at varying depths and distances. The team planned it all in advance  ̶  thoughtful & intentional. Knowledge of Rockfish patterns determined the trolling location which was 90 minutes away at top speed. We were well organized, well planned, and well prepared…and we caught no fish.

Have you ever been fully prepared; thought of everything and were disappointed that it (the project, the meeting, the conversation) didn’t turn out as planned? Insightful leaders may be disappointed but they start asking questions.

  1. What mid-course correction can be made?

At the first inkling that the plan isn’t working out, insightful leaders look for ways to adjust. Since much of any work project is about making an emotional connection, what clues can you pick up from the reaction of the client, boss or audience? Notice their mood and receptivity. Do you need to ask more questions, reorient the project direction, be more or less aggressive, or make a change to the project team? Mid-course corrections could be in timing, staffing, approach, product/service shift, scale or more. Maybe a tweak will get you back on track.

Our accomplished team quickly realized that the fish were scarce. They adjusted the lines, cleaned jellyfish from the lures and changed course. All were good mid-course corrections and they didn’t work. Time for the next step.

  1. What are others experiencing?

Is it just you or are others experiencing problems? Your next steps are colored by the answer.  Are you able to ask questions of others in your office with similar projects or clients? Competitors may offer clues, too. When you observe their behaviors, do you notice them shifting strategy, tactics or customers? Are there partners or even competitors with whom you can safely make inquiries? Your intention is to determine if your work is an isolated situation or part of a bigger trend.

As we trolled the quiet waters, we observed the charter fishing boats.  Many were in the same area we were. We took comfort in that, except the radio was missing the usual chatter of excited fishermen. Within hours, the charters started looking for fish elsewhere. We were part of a tournament. Friendly competitors texted back and forth lamenting the lack of fish.  It wasn’t just us.

  1. What’s the bigger picture?

An insightful leader is always attentive for indicators of a big picture shift. In a time of big data, there are an increasing array of information sources to help spot a shift. Sometimes, the gnawing in the gut is also a good indicator. When you look at all the information you gathered, do you see a shift in client expectations, a change in client demographics or psychographics? Are there new technologies that bring new business opportunities and disrupt existing ones? Is this a one-time problem or a systemic trend? You need to know the difference.

The water was still too cold. That was the consensus from our team. The fish had not yet left the rivers. The question remains, is this a one-time event or an indicator of climate change? One is a blip, the other would make opening day fishing more speculative.

As any leader can attest: It’s essential to have a plan and it’s equally essential to be able to change the plan. Use these questions whenever your best-laid plans don’t pan out.

Are there other key questions you use when plans change?

 

I was in my hometown of Smithville, Texas for the big Jamboree celebration. Jamboree includes a coronation, parade, dances and a livestock show and sale. For the livestock show, kids raise steers, pigs, goats, chickens and rabbits to be judged and sold. The two-year old granddaughter, Kyndall, of my childhood friend was fascinated by the rabbits. An eighth-grader holding a white bunny walked past and Kyndall was ON IT. She patted the rabbit, rubbed its ears and, in a moment of brilliance, she bent over to be at eye level with the rabbit as though she was communicating with it. It was an adorable moment that captured my attention. Here’s why.

In today’s world where email, instant messenger, LinkedIn messages and more are a predominant form of communication, the insightful leader understands the importance of relating person to person (or, for Kyndall, person to bunny). Here are three tips to be more relatable, particularly for high-stakes conversations.

  1. Make eye contact. Kyndall got it right. She made every effort to be make eye contact with the rabbit. You, too, must make every effort to make eye contact and that can only happen in person. Increasingly, the staff I work with seek to hide behind email, but an insightful leader meets in person and makes eye contact – for real. Yes, it’s easier to email but the personal touch makes all the difference. Force yourself, make the time, and make the effort to talk to your staff face-to-face and eye-to-eye. That’s how you connect as people.
  2. Use language that is relatable. Multisyllabic, pretentious (big, showy) words may make us feel educated but they create a barrier to communication. Recently, I assisted a client to craft an important communication to all employees in the company. We intentionally used words that are simple and understandable to all. You create connection via your communication. Think about the simplest terms you can use to communicate effectively. Simple, concise and clear are the recipe for relatability.
  3. Show your interest. Kyndall carefully ran her tiny fingers through the rabbit’s fur and over its ears. As I watched, it was clear that she loved the rabbit and the rabbit sat calmly under her touch. Your staff may not have soft ears and fluffy fur but you can still communicate your interest through sincere curiosity about their perspective and interest in their work life. How do you express your interest in your staff? What do you know about their thoughts and ideas? Do you inquire about their suggestions to improve their work? Like Kyndall’s rabbit, people respond to those who they sense are interested. What would your staff say about your level of interest in them?

Let’s learn from Kyndall and her rabbit. As insightful leaders, you can take a few simple steps to be more relatable to your staff. It’s pays off in dedication and the hard work that comes from feeling connected.

 

Have you ever found something that you like and just stick with it? Maybe it’s your favorite restaurant, favorite running shoe, favorite hand lotion or…in this case, your favorite clam chowder. Recently, we visited friends in Florida and a discussion ensued about the best clam chowder. The next day, we had a side-by-side taste test with two clam chowders. There was the old favorite and a new un-tried contender. I’ll leave you in suspense about the winner as we ponder the relevance to insightful leadership.

At work, we also have our favorites– a favorite process, a favorite go-to staff person who always gets the job done, a favorite approach to problem solving. They are our favorites for a reason – they worked well in the past, we are familiar with them, they don’t require excessive thought, or they are reliable. Like the favorite clam chowder – we know what we’re getting. We get what we’ve always gotten, and the brain likes it that way. It takes less energy for the brain to do what it’s always done.

But, you lead in a fast-moving environment where little is stable. Can you afford to settle for the standby, comfortable solutions? What if there’s a new way and you didn’t discover it? How do you entice people to look beyond their favorites and uncover the creative approach? Here are two simple questions that help push you and others to look beyond the obvious.

Ask, “What if we can’t do it this way – what’s another way?” Let’s say you’re working on a sensitive project and all recommendations take the tried-and-true approach. Push yourself and your team out of the comfort zone by posing this question. “Let’s pretend that our regular approach isn’t available to us. What else can we do?” With that question, you force the discussion to become more creative immediately. When you take the favored approach out of contention and require consideration of other options, you force the brain to dig in and do the hard work of real thinking. Expect to meet resistance. Don’t settle for the default option. Continue to take options off the table to force thinking at a deeper level.

Ask, “Why are we doing it this way?” Listen carefully to the responses. Perhaps you hear, “That’s what we did the last time,” or “It worked for us before,” or “It’s the standard approach.” All responses are of the same ilk…they are reliant on the default behavior. Don’t stop probing until you get to the bottom line goal.  Take the clam chowder example. Why do we always choose this particular clam chowder? The answers could be: It’s at the restaurant on the way home from work; it has a top reputation; we’ve been eating it for years. Good to know but the objective was not to find the most convenient clam chowder with the best reputation. When you uncover the reason for selecting the tried and true, it can open the door to other choices and reveal options to explore.

As for our clam chowder taste test…the old standby won in a landslide. That could happen to you, too. If it does, don’t be lulled into thinking there’s no reason to probe in the future. Change is constant and those who keep up the questions and see beyond the obvious will be the first to find the next favorite thing.

Copyright: cokemomo / 123RF Stock Photo

pavement markersIt happened just the other day. I was in Florida driving back from a training program just as the sun was getting low in the sky. Because I’m a transportation engineer I see things on the road that you may not. Glancing in my rear-view mirror, I saw them. The raised, reflective pavement markers. Have you ever noticed them?  They are small, raised bumps between the white dashes and they reflect white light at night with your headlights. But, if you happen to travel the wrong way on the road, they reflect red. You see a continuous line of red twinkling dots to tell you that you need to go the other way.

As the red dots sparkled in the evening sun, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if there were red twinkling dots to tell us we’re going the wrong way as leaders?” On second thought, perhaps there are.

The nagging feeling that gnaws in your gut. You know that feeling – it tells you that something’s not sitting right. Ignore that feeling at your peril. It’s your inner red twinkling dots trying to get your attention. Both my personal experience and interviews with executives say one consistent thing about the nagging feeling – pay attention. There’s something in your brain that’s trying to get through. Ask questions; probe your discomfort; dig in to understand why the tell-tale feeling has kicked in.  From a neuroscience perspective, the nagging feeling is something from your experience that’s trying to get your attention. Call it intuition or gut feel, but, whatever you call it, it has validity and deserves your attention. In fact, a friend who is an executive director of a trade association told me that she gages the wisdom of her decisions based on the nagging feeling. “The nagging feeling goes away when you make the right decision,” she says. It’s your internal warning system … if you pay attention to it.

Trusted colleagues who say, “You might want to think about that again.” The emphasis here is on “trusted.”  When someone I respect says, “uhhhh….you might reconsider that before you decide,” I’ve learned to reconsider before I decide. There’s only so much that you can see from your vantage point. Others may have a clearer perspective and see consequences and implications that you can’t.  They are your own personal red, twinkling dots. In fact, they can be so effective you should proactively cultivate them. As an important decision approaches, seek counsel from the wise people in your world. What perspective can they offer that you wouldn’t otherwise see?

What other red twinkling dots have you noticed that cause you to pause and take note before deciding? Share your experiences with me and the other readers so that we don’t make a wrong turn.

Photo credit: 3M