Having a choice

“You don’t want to let drowning get in the way of a good swim.”

That’s what a woman said to me in the locker room one day. She was referring to her dislike of the large crowd that had arrived for the aqua aerobics class. In her view it was dangerous: too many people chaotically kicking and flapping their arms in the pool would cause her to lose her balance.

As she said it, I realized that this is similar to how some of my executive clients feel. There is too much flapping and kicking in their organizations. And whereas the movements in the pool are somewhat choreographed, organizational antics are less likely to be aligned. Executives are drowning in excess movement. But what choices do they have?

“What are your options?” I asked the woman. She looked as if she had never thought about this before. After all, she had come with her bathing suit and aqua shoes – and the intention to get wet. She had a plan to get some exercise in the pool. She always came to aqua aerobics on Tuesdays. But somehow, suddenly, her plan was derailed by the number of other people with a similar plan. This was a fully-equipped gym, but she was unfamiliar with the majority of the equipment. “What else could you do?”

Executives get caught in similar ways. They respond to organizational tendencies for chaos by establishing routines. It’s Tuesday, therefore the Executive Committee meeting. It’s Wednesday, therefore the strategy meeting. It’s Monday; therefore, time to plan for the next Executive Committee and strategy meetings. They might have been drowning in chaos, but now they are drowning in their own routines, not to mention excessive meetings. “What else could they do?”

They can ask themselves the questions: “What are my options?” “How can I approach strategy/governance/marketing decisions in refreshing ways?” “How can I myself and my team get out of the ruts we have created for ourselves?”

Executives may have some control over their situations. And so did the woman in the locker room. She decided to go outside and take a walk for her exercise that day. “Thank you.” She said to me as she laced up her sneakers. “I do have a choice. It’s a beautiful day.”

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