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3 Leadership Tools to Rely On When Things Don't Go According to Plan

I read a daunting statistic recently that stated 70% of all strategic plans fail. 70%! Let's assume for a moment that this data is accurate - this means that the vast majority of all strategic plans are destined for failure. describes the 10 reasons why these plans fail as follows:

  • Having a plan simply for plans sake.

  • Not understanding the environment or focusing on results.

  • Partial commitment.

  • Not having the right people involved.

  • Writing the plan and putting it on the shelf.

  • Unwillingness or inability to change.

  • Having the wrong people in leadership positions.

  • Ignoring marketplace reality, facts, and assumptions.

  • No accountability or follow through.

  • Unrealistic goals or lack of focus and resources.

My takeaway from this list is this:

Plans fail because of the people involved - they are either unprepared, apathetic, lack accountability, flexibility, leadership, analytical capability, and/or good judgement.

You cannot realize any plan whether in your personal life or professional life without people. Recognition of this fact alone will take you a long way toward succeeding more than you fail.

So now let's assume that for one or all of the reasons above, you find yourself holding the bag with a spoiled plan. What tools do you have to help you manage and ultimately grasp joy from the jaws of failure? I have three suggestions that hopefully will make it easier to move on from failure and get back on the path to success.

  1. Take accountability - one of my favorite leadership concepts is the one about the mirror and the window - meaning that leaders should look in the mirror (take accountability) when things don't go according to plan and out the window (give praise) when things do. Owning up to your part in the failure is a big deal and can engender you with humility and vulnerability - key attributes of a trust building leader. Your teams will also learn it is okay to acknowledge and learn from failure and you can build a culture of failing fast.

  2. Confront the brutal facts - if you are a longtime reader of this blog, you know I am always advocating for realism as the bedrock of successful planning. Make sure you have all the inputs you need and have done as thorough an analysis of the situation as possible. A great tool to apply in this situation is the Socratic Method of challenging assumptions with the simple (yet profound) question - How do we know that? If you can successfully answer this question at 3 different levels - chances are you are building plans based on facts not inferences or (much worse) guesses/opinions, just make sure that when facts change, plans need to change as well. Don't be the leader that hears their team state that the launch date is not possible and still demand that they meet this unrealistic timeline - either help them change the underlying facts behind their launch assumption or acknowledge and adapt the plan.

  3. Remain flexible,agile, and above all PATIENT - understand that plans often fail and nothing works out 100% of the time. Check in on the progress of plans early and often. Take bad news in stride and recalibrate as regularly as necessary. And apply the concept of "practical patience" - meaning that you understand that some things will take time to work themselves out due to practical constraints of time, money, and capability. This does not mean you ever remain in a "wait and see" mode - remember that "hope is not a strategy". Effective plan execution takes near constant tinkering of the right variables and knowing which variables need time to settle. It's a delicate balance to strike to be sure but remaining mindful will keep you on the right track.

What do you think of these three tools? What others would you add to the mix? Please comment below and if you like this article give it a thumbs up and/or pass on to your network.

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