Like many people, I was surprised in the early hours of November 9th following the election. It was a good lesson about a lot of things, not the least of which was that surprises happen all the time. The important thing is to be prepared.
My clients were surprised on election day, too. Here are just two of the emails I received the next day from my executive coaching clients in the U.S.:
“Sorry. I have to attend an emergency meeting regarding election results at our regular time. Can we reschedule?”
“I’ll only be able to talk for half an hour on our call today because there’s an emergency meeting about the possible consequences of the election.”
Those clients who made their appointments could talk about nothing else except their fear of what might happen as a result of the election. It was apparent we were not prepared for this outcome.
My question to my clients all day was, “What else might happen that you haven’t considered possible?” I followed up with “Would you be prepared for it if it did?
For organizations whose mission involves human services, the answer to the question, “What’s the worst that could happen?” is always about the safety of the clients served. It could also be about the health and security of the employees. Then the conversation can shift to issues related to budget, lawsuits or even bad press.
I asked one new CEO of a smaller agency that cares for children about what she thought would be the worst that could happen in her organization. Predictably, she said that a child in their care could suffer a serious injury or die. Then I asked her what she would do if she received a 2 a.m. call that the worst had happened. She related a series of mandatory calls she would make, critical questions she would ask, and appropriate actions she would take.
“Are those written down anywhere?” I asked. There was a pause.
“What if you were away,” I said, “how would your staff know what to do?” She didn’t answer.
I continued. “What if your senior manager were hospitalized tomorrow? What would you do?” There was another long pause.
“Well, that’s highly unlikely, but I guess I’d give the necessary jobs to another manager.”
“Had you ever considered this before?” I asked. She hadn’t, but she was now. And writing it down.
While leaders can’t spend all of their time worrying about what could happen, some attention must be paid to what to do if they do—and especially to those things that seem unlikely or impossible. Not only is it good to have a plan, but also the exciting spillover from having that mental conversation is that an astute leader will also look at ways to make impossible things that are desirable happen, too.
Unlikely and even impossible things happen all the time. It’s not if but when. And when it comes to being prepared, you either will be or you won’t.
The question is if it happened at your organization, would you be prepared?