Taking an orienteering class can make you
a better leader of others.
If you are not familiar with orienteering, it is typically a timed sporting event in which individuals or a small team use a map and compass to navigate through a natural landscape to find checkpoints. But here’s the catch: the route from one checkpoint to the next isn’t clearly marked. As a result, participants must continually stop to assess their position, use a map and compass to take a bearing, and then determine their path of choice that will lead them to the next checkpoint.
Why Do Leaders Need to Assess Reality?
Leaders are often futuristic, forward-thinking individuals. Many are excellent at vision-casting or inspiring others to pursue a carefully crafted picture of the future. Unfortunately, most will fail to get there and never actually see that future realized.
This happens because it is impossible to determine the right path to the desired destination if you don’t know where you are right now.
Assessing reality is critical for leaders who hope to see the future and clearly help others rally towards a preferred future.
There Are 4 Steps to Assess Your Reality
Leaders who can stop and create time to self-assess, gather relevant information from other sources, and take inventory of their own resources will have a greater grasp on their current reality and be more equipped to choose the right direction forward for themselves and their teams.
Step 01: Stop and Self-Assess
Although orienteering is a timed event, it is generally not recommended to take a bearing (measuring the direction of the next checkpoint) while on the move. Reading a map and compass while walking or running can affect the result of the measurement and give bad information.
The same idea applies to assessing reality as a leader.
If you are constantly focused on all the “things” that result in busy schedules and require urgent attention, you will likely have a hard time evaluating what is currently affecting your ability to reach the desired destination. Leaders who are too busy to stop in order to self-assess are not likely to find success over time.
Once a leader pushes the pause button on his or her busy environment, the self-assessment can begin. To frame a personal perspective on current realities, it can be helpful to take a look around, and ask questions, such as:
- How am I feeling right now?
- What do I notice about how I am using my influence?
- Am I ok with the current results or outcome? Why or why not?
- How are others responding to my leadership approach?
Taking a self-assessment of the situation can provide a starting point for understanding the bigger picture. It can also help leaders identify underlying assumptions that have been guiding their own actions and examine whether or not these are helpful.
Step 02: Suspend Personal Judgment
Creating the time to pause and self-reflect is a critical step in the process of assessing reality, but it isn’t the only step. Often, when leaders realize they are not where they desire to be in relation to stated goals and objectives, they exhibit a tendency to jump into solving the problem.
Feeling uncomfortable can cause a rush into action. However, it is important to go through the full process of assessing reality and take in all the information before acting. This is because we use less information to make decisions than we think, and that can get us in trouble.
Choosing to suspend personal bias or judgment of the current state of affairs can help allow all the information to be considered.
Ed O’Brien, Associate Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, puts it this way:
“People view the mind as a rational arbiter, assuming that they and others will withhold judgment until they finish flipping through all the evidence. But the mind isn’t just a passive information processor; it’s also emotional. In reality, once people begin to experience that evidence in real time, they will inevitably react to it as they go along. We won’t need to see later information if we already love or hate the very first piece.”
- Ed O’Brien
Step 03: Gather Relevant Information
Before taking a bearing, those participating in orienteering events look all around their surroundings for landmarks that could provide a clue to their current position. The more distinguishable features there are in the landscape, the easier it is for individuals to estimate their own location on the map in relation to known landmarks.
This idea works the same way when leading others.
Leaders aiming to assess reality should seek multiple sources of relevant information to carefully consider. Individual leaders should solicit feedback from team members and colleagues and also use a variety of quantitative and qualitative data points to get a more complete perspective of reality.
Servant Leaders do not wait for year-end performance reviews to get feedback on their own leadership. Instead, they seek input from others regarding difficult questions, such as:
- Are we accomplishing the goals and benchmarks we set out to achieve?
- Are we trending in the right direction?
- Are we going at the planned pace?
- What are my strengths and weaknesses as a leader?
- What could I do differently to improve the way I lead?
Step 04: Determine Available Options
Once participants in orienteering events have a clear estimate of their current location on a map, the process for measuring the direction of the next checkpoint is actually quite simple.
After using the compass to provide a reading to follow, individuals then look at the map to examine possible routes that could lead them to the destination and any obstacles that could block them along the way.
One path may be the most direct line to the next checkpoint. However, this could also require the most strenuous effort. Another path may allow the individual to conserve energy by going around a major obstacle, such as a mountain, which may require more time to do so.
Leaders, too, should seek to determine available options for reaching their preferred future. This process involves evaluating both opportunities that could lead to desired outcomes as well as threats that could impede progress or stifle growth.
Great leaders recognize that not every path actually leads to where they want to go. Instead, viable options are those that actually lead to the desired destination, factor in the resources currently possessed, and acknowledge the level of effort needed to get there.
Once determined, a list of available options provides the opportunity for leaders to choose their next step forward with clarity and confidence.
Assess Your Reality To Chart a Path Forward
Knowing where you want to go is only part of the equation when it comes to making real progress as a leader.
It is only after assessing where you are right now that you will be able to chart a path forward.
Leaders who practice assessing reality by stopping to self-assess, suspending personal judgment, gathering relevant information and determining available options, will make better decisions about the future and ultimately have greater success in reaching their intended destination.