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  • Writer's pictureJerry Olson

Are You Too Close for Comfort?

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

One beautiful autumn day, I had a long break between meetings. It was the perfect opportunity to get some fresh air and a quick workout in, so I jumped on my bike and headed off on one of my regular routes. Just about halfway, I approached a stop sign at an all-to-familiar, seldom-used, and totally obscured driveway. Decision time. Do I slow down and stop before proceeding, or do I blow through it? Like hundreds of times before, I blow through it without even slowing down. As I enter the intersection, and much too late to stop, a car appears on the driveway from behind the trees. I face-plant onto the hood and tumble across the car, landing in the ditch on the other side of the road.

Like so many things in life (including biking), good leadership requires both realistic assessment of risks and honest assessment of abilities to respond to those risks. My collision was a dramatic reminder of this concept.

I love biking. I spend many hours on my road bike each season. I set seasonal (strategic) and weekly (tactical) goals for my riding. I have an app that tracks my progress (KPIs on my scorecard) toward those goals in real time.

When I bike, I continually face challenges and decision points similar to those of business leaders. Should I speed up or slow down? Is my equipment in shape to handle the load? Is it smooth sailing around that next corner or is there an obstacle I should prepare for? What are the risks ahead? What mitigation strategies and tactics are available and how costly are they to my progress? How severe might the consequences be of charging full steam ahead?

Often these decisions seem insignificant. Yet, even small decisions can accumulate significant consequences. The more our decisions provide a positive outcome, the more likely our future decisions will be driven by experience rather than productive critical thinking.

In other words, “this worked before, so it will work again.”

And every time it works, our confidence grows.

The hundreds of times I ran that stop sign in the past worked out and thus, gave me false confidence that it would continue to work. In reality, each time just brought me closer to the eventual negative outcome.

Good leaders must continually and critically question assumptions and assess risks especially in familiar areas. Think about the current state of the world ... is the market really what we assume it is? Is our technology as robust as it needs to be? Are the teams we depend on as loyal and focused as we believe? Is our sales pipeline truly what we think it is?

What decisions, assumptions, strategies and tactics should you be re-thinking? What past experiences have you depended on too heavily that should be reconsidered? Marketing strategies? Sales processes? Staffing projections? Customers’ desires and demands? Supply chain management strategies? Now is the time for every business leader to think deeply and critically to challenge all assumptions and past experiences.

The results of dependence on past experience with little critical thinking can be devasting. On that beautiful autumn day, my biking season ended abruptly with a broken neck. After ambulance and helicopter rides, an intense encounter with 25 members of a Mayo Clinic emergency trauma team, multiple x-rays, MRIs, and a day in the intensive care unit, I was sent home with a substantial neck and body brace as well as a list of restrictions for the next three months. I was very lucky to be alive and walking.

Author, Jerry Olson, is a Business Advisor with The Resultants®. To learn more about Jerry, visit our Team Page or connect with him on Linkedin.


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