Expect A Raging Rhinoceros

In David Weber’s science fiction novel, A Rising Thunder he writes about an ongoing intergalactic war. Warships drop out of hyperspace without warning and begin firing at everyone. One of the characters, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth III, muses “true leadership isn’t the ability to accomplish the things you plan on but the ability to cope with the things you never saw coming.”

The state of politics in the United States feels like science fiction and it’s certainly hard to find anyone who merits being called a leader by the Rising Thunder measure. But all of you know that. Why do I mention it in a missive about business and leadership and running organizations more effectively?

As I widen my gaze, I notice how few meet this measure not only in politics but also in companies. Many seem like good leaders…as long as things are going according to plan. But what happens, for instance, to the leadership of the grocery industry when suddenly and unexpectedly the warship Amazon appears in their midst and buys Whole Foods? They feel faint and at a loss about what to do.

Apparently they never saw it coming. Or imagined such a thing might occur.

The deer in the warship headlights response is not a path to future success.

Where so many fail to measure up on the leadership scale is their inability to be immediately flexible and agile when conditions change. Flexible and agile without doing unending research, hiring lots of consultants, and gathering and discussing mounds of data when staring down an event they never imagined. Moving from an intergalactic metaphor to a more earthly one, when facing a raging rhinoceros, true leaders don’t let themselves get smooshed as they fumble about trying to get their planning team in place.

In many companies, while things are going well, plans are being followed successfully, goals are being achieved, the press is wonderful. Failure becomes inconceivable. At the same time, blinders narrow thinking and the ability to quickly adapt rapidly recedes.

Suddenly the warship…or rhinoceros…appears. The floundering around begins. Organization progress slows or goes backwards as everyone waits to hear what the new plan is.

But there is no plan.

And the leader is frozen in place, clueless about what to do and unable to make any decisions.

Don’t be blown out of space or smooshed into a bloody pulp. Continually think about the unthinkable, contemplate the unknown, gameplay how to deal with the worst things you can imagine. And learn to act rapidly when necessary with partial information.

More often than you think, the unthinkable occurs. Ask the people of Puerto Rico or the taxi drivers of New York City. Or Hillary Clinton.



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