How to Lead Through Uncertainty with Strategic Planning

I see a lot of slippery slopes. And I don’t even ski.

The slippery slopes I encounter are a metaphor for uncertain leadership.

Now I should note here that most of the organizations we work with are on solid ground when it comes to annual operations.  (We tend to refer the others to our competition.)  Where the slope gets slippery for our clients is usually on the strategic horizon: the one stretching across multiple years, where there lurk uncharted peaks and valleys.

I think most would agree that finding the strategic pathway is the best and highest purpose of an organization’s governance board.  But many boards are unprepared and under equipped to lead such an expedition.

As a one-time mountain climber with a handful of Cascade summits under my Danners, I can tell you that en route you are always vertical.  You are ascending or descending, or you are wasting daylight.  The same is true for organizational management and growth.

And like climbing, everything must be planned, including the routes, certainly, but also preparations for those times when things don’t go according to plan.  Vertical terrain is, after all, dangerous terrain.  A simple trip can lead to devastating consequences.

Many years ago I employed videos as part of my strategic planning workshops.  One of the videos I used was from a film called Vertical Limit.  In the clip, a climb goes terribly wrong.  I used the clip to show how things can happen on a vertical pathway that we don’t foresee. It was powerful. Too powerful as it turned out, and I think a few board members needed therapy when technology failed and the clip extended a few seconds later than intended.  It was a critical few seconds where a body hitting the ground was seen and heard.

I stopped showing the video, but kept the allegory.

The best fix for uncertain leadership is solid strategic planning. Think of it as the ropes and harnesses that secure you to the rock when there is a misstep or sudden storm. You don’t want to climb without them.

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