What smart leaders don’t do

In Colorado, buffalo and cows live relatively close together because of the unique topography. The Rocky Mountains are in the western and middle parts of the state, and vast plains lie to the east.

When a storm rolls in from the west, cows that are grazing run east with the storm. Cows can run, but not that fast. So, they don’t outrun the bad weather at all. They get stuck in it and maximize the pain, suffering, and agitation of the very thing they are trying to avoid.

While animal researchers report that cows are quite intelligent and have excellent problem-solving skills, they haven’t solved dealing with storms more effectively- yet.

Humans are smart too. Yet, ineffective leaders procrastinate, avoid difficult conversations, hold grudges, shirk responsibility, and make excuses-thereby prolonging pain, aggravation, stress, and anxiety. They behave like cows, not buffalos, even though they know what they should do. They step away from their power and marginalize themselves, reducing their effectiveness as a leader. Credibility, healthy relationships, and the business all take a hit.

Smart leaders have learned that delaying the difficult decision, or the tough conversation, or avoiding someone only makes things worse. What they do is similar to buffalo behavior.

When a storm comes over the mountains, buffaloes charge directly into and through the storm, and by so doing, minimize the amount of time they spend suffering.

We all have to deal with things that are out of our control. Laws and regulations change. Clients say no, and competitors come up with a new product. People change their minds. How we respond to these challenges is the issue.

Seeing an obstacle as a challenge creates ownership, empowerment, and responsibility, and it puts us in a position of power: we get to choose our response. Believing an obstacle as something being done to us puts us in a position to blame others and avoid responsibility. We wind up being powerless because we think we can’t do anything about the situation.

For example, suppose I’m late for a meeting. In that case, I can focus on external factors: “My assistant always schedules me in back-to-back meetings with not enough transit time.” Or I can focus on the part I played: “I didn’t consider the different locations of these meetings when I asked she/he to set them up.”

One perspective focuses on what someone else did that I cannot directly control. The other focuses on what I did, my lack of attention, over which I do have control. By owning my contribution to the situation, I can learn and see what I can do to produce a better future result. I step into my power. I choose my response. I own my stuff, and I encourage others to own theirs. I accept my imperfection, and I learn for the future.

The questions to ask yourself when you face a tough situation are:

What challenge am I facing?

How might I have contributed (through my action or inaction) to this situation?

What can I do to respond effectively and achieve what I want?

How can I respond with my highest values?

You are running away from the storm if you find yourself thinking like this:

What is being done to me?

I don’t want to deal with this.

They should not have done this.

They are wrong and should know better.

There is nothing I can do now.

When you face your next challenge, be like a buffalo and turn into the storm. You’ll be proud of yourself.

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