By Whiskey Tango
Bottom Line Up Front- Decision-making is a critical role of organizational leaders. Effective leaders know what questions to ask which people. Learning this skill is critical to success. Listed at the end of the article are my top three questions to ask.
Short Story "The Coldest I've ever been"-2006
I walked up the presidential mountain range trailing my team. The air was crisp and dry. My heavy breathing came out in puffs of smoke like a laboring steam engine. The temperature was relatively warm for the week at around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. My 1980's leather-wrapped crampons kept falling off my feet as I tried to climb the mountain. At each equipment malfunction, I'd stop and re-dawn the old apparel. Frustrated, I'd laced the frozen fabric back through the metal buckles. My bare fingers kept sticking to the metal as I worked to re-lace the crampons. I couldn't believe my special tactics squadron couldn't afford better equipment. It was dead of winter in New Hampshire. I walked behind the mountain-god guides that we had hired to teach us the basics of wintertime rescue. They were quite the pair. Their names were Kurt and Alain. They taught me avalanche rescue and snowshoeing. I learned ice-climbing and winter ropes rescue. Other points of instruction included; snow anchors, ice axe arrest, and skiing. I was committed to learning everything I could about mountain rescue. I would be deploying to Afghanistan soon and needed the skillset. When we reached the base camp for Mount Monroe I would learn to build a snow cave.
Our plan was to walk the presidential range and stop short of the peak, Mount Washington. We would summit the following day. The peak of Mt. Washington is 6,288 feet above sea level. A seemingly unimpressive height for a mountain. What is impressive is its wild weather. Atlantic storm fronts slam into the mountain from the ocean. The seemingly small mountain has claimed a high amount of casualties due to its wild weather swings. The total is around 135. The presidential range also boasts some of the coldest recorded temperatures on earth. This makes it a great training ground for climbers all over looking to gain experience in an easy way before approaching something like Mt. Everest.
As we reached the top of Mount Monroe we were instructed on the correct way to build snow caves. Our test would be to pair up, construct snow caves to standard, and bed down for the night. A snow cave is a dome-shaped structure built into the side of a snow bank. My buddy (Adam) and I grabbed a snow shovel and began digging out our shelter for the night. After a few hours of work, we built the crappiest snow cave you can imagine. The benefit of building a snow cave correctly is that the temperature should stay at a solid 32 degrees inside regardless of the temperature outside. I'm not sure this was the case for us. The sun began to set on Mount Monroe. Adam and I crammed into our new domicile for the night. I felt like Luke Skywalker in that tiny hut on Dagobah. I was cramped and trying to make hot chow over my jet boil. My head kept hitting the ceiling and I felt clumsy in my tight living quarters. I fired up my stove and cooked my mountain house ration of chicken stir-fry. The hot food helped warm my insides before bed. Adam lit a candle and we prepped the area to turn in for the night. As we lay there shivering we had some laughs at our uncomfortable sleeping conditions. Misery loves company. I must have shivered all night in my zero-degree sleeping bag. I tossed and turned as ice water dripped on my face. It was a strange form of Chinese water torture.
Five hours into this sleepless slumber an apparition appeared at the door of our snow cave.
It was our Mountain Guide Kurt. Kurt was an unassuming skinny white guy with glasses. He had a thick northern accent. Kurt was calm and kind in showing us the ways of mountain rescue. Kurt was covered in a thick layer of snow, he peered at us from behind a headlamp. He started in on us in a calm manner, "hey fellas, how are you doing? I hope you got some good rest". I felt like I was talking to the ghost of Christmas past as I squinted into the bright light. He continued, "Hey, so the weather has turned on us really bad". "Took me about forty minutes to find you out here". "But no worries, I need you'll to pack up your stuff and group up on the ridge where we came in". He turned and crawled out of the cave in search of the rest of our team. Adam and I looked at each other and shared a confused look. It certainly didn't seem that bad. We turned on our gear and did as instructed. After we finished we crawled out of our crummy cave and into complete chaos.
An Atlantic snowstorm had rolled in on our peak. The temperature had dropped below minus 50 degrees. The wind was blowing over 40 miles an hour. The punishing wind seemed to penetrate my Gortex jacket. My eyes felt frozen in their sockets. I scrambled into my pack for goggles. My lungs burned from the temperature shock. We wore our headlamps to combat the night but the conditions were white out. I stuffed my hands into my jacket to retrieve my heavy mittens. I was completely lost within the first minute. I felt an animal instinct of survival come over me. Every molecule of my body was screaming at me to leave this place. At my very core, I thought, "If I stay here too long I'll die". I wanted to run in a direction, but I didn't know which way to go. If I ran the wrong way I'd head straight off a cliff. Adam and I shouted over the wind. We searched the area for a trace of the ridge. We were lucky to find it and used it to handrail our way towards the trail and back to the waiting team.
So What? As leaders in an organization, it's easy to lose our way. Easy to get lost in the snowstorms of life. Sometimes we face problems so big we aren't sure where to start. The task of solving them alone feels too big for us. There are three clarifying questions I've used over the years to help me from running off of the proverbial cliff when I am trying to make the best decision.
The 3 W's
1) Where are we at? Before you run off a leadership cliff you have to start by knowing where you are as an organization. Conduct some data analysis. Look at metrics. Ask yourself, "What problem am I trying to solve? Really? Think of this question as turning on a GPS. Or opening google maps. First, the GPS attempts to acquire satellites to determine your position. A large blue ring appears around a point indicating an area where you may be. Then once information is relayed to your device the blue bubble starts to shrink. Eventually pinpointing your position.
2)What have we learned? Talk about your lessons learned. Don't let your organization's mistakes repeat themselves. Figure out the roads you've talked to get here. Conduct regular reporting and share best practices. Promote a culture that embraces learning from its mistakes. This context should inform where you want to go.
3)Where are we going? Where is it that your organization wants to go? Consider what success looks like. Visualize potential solutions to the situation. Once you know where you are you can decide where you want to be. What is your team's ideal state? Consider objectives or goals you want to achieve. Consider your team's mission and purpose. Then determine which route you will take to get there. Write it down and share it with the group.
Coaching recommendations for Professional Development and Team Building
A message to the readers- If you found my blog insightful, I recommend using it to develop the team you lead. If you don't lead a team consider passing it to someone who does. Listed below is a team-building exercise that works with the blog above.
Instructions: Choose one of the following ways.
Have your team preread the above blog and schedule a time to drive discussion questions below
Schedule a lunch and learn session where you carve out time to read the blog together and then review the discussion questions below.
Have your team preread the blog and use the discussion questions as an opener to your weekly meetings.
What situation have you been in personally where the problem you faced felt too big for you?
How did you react?
Did you have any tools/processes to drive your decision-making?
As an organization/team, what large problems have we faced together?
How did we react?
What could we learn from our successes or mistakes?
Is there a problem we are currently facing as an organization?
How would we define this problem?
Have we been given any guidance to solve this issue?
Are there data, facts, or assumptions surrounding the issue?
What resources do we have to help solve the issue?
What resources are we missing?
What information are we missing?
Are there roadblocks preventing us from solving this issue?
What could we do better to face these challenges in the future?