SHOW DATE: OCTOBER 16, 2013
Sometimes we turn our heads and ignore one simple universal truth: that things go wrong. Equipment breaks down, people don’t keep their agreements and new systems don’t work the way you wanted them to.
What’s worse, you believe everything will be fine if you just turn the other way and wait for the problem to dissipate. We call this magical thinking. It’s believing the situation will magically solve itself.
This magical thinking is not only destroying your reputation, it’s also robbing you of opportunities to be the office troubleshooter. It’s preventing you from being a leader.
But today we’re not going to teach you how to act in times of distress, we’re going to teach you how to pre-act.
There’s a great example of magical thinking going on in the news right now. As of August 1st, the Common Application—what high school seniors nationwide have been using for years to apply to colleges—was reincarnated in online form. Since its release, there’s been nothing but problems. The executive director of the form, Rob Killion, has expressed how everything’s going to work out and how they’re going to fix the glitchy system. October has rolled around and the online Common Application form is still experiencing major issues, causing schools to push back their early decision deadlines.
Instead of riddling high school seniors and counselors across the nation with anxiety, Killion could have reached out to colleges early on and asked them to defer their deadline, or he could of created a contingency plan before everything went so awry. But all Killion did was keep iterating how everything was going to work out: now that’s magical thinking.
You’re doing the exact same thing in your office: you pile on projects, event preparation and promises to clients and coworkers, and when the deadline rolls around and you’re running out of time, you cross your fingers and hope for the best.
Pre-acting isn’t about living in constant worry and perpetual paranoia that things will go wrong—it’s about being prepared. It’s about starting things a little sooner, checking if the printer’s working before you have to use it, making sure people are on top of things.
This doesn’t mean you have to be a worrywart all the time; you’ll probably get an ulcer from the stress. Simply acknowledge the possibility that things will go wrong if you don’t pre-act.
Here are several things you can do in advance to effectively pre-act in the office:
Catch yourself in the act of magical thinking: If you catch yourself in the act of asking “what’s the chance that’s going to happen?” it’s time to pre-act. Don’t be a gambler on the job. If the only thing you need for your meeting is the printer, check the ink, or get somebody to check the ink and check up on them to make sure they handled it.
Don’t be afraid to get up in people’s face: Yes, constantly checking in on people means you might get a little annoying. But that’s what leaders do—they get up in people’s face and make sure disaster doesn’t strike because everything was put off till the very last minute.
Do a run-through: This is exactly what Killion didn’t do. If you have a meeting the same day, do a mock meeting beforehand. Set up the chairs, refreshments, pens, paper and meeting material. It’s when you do a run-through that you notice that one thing you missed, the one thing that you would have never realized until the actual meeting.
Always be consistent: When you are arranging for people to be at an event, you will always send an email out, you will always follow up two days later and you will always make sure they’re responding to you. When you’re setting up for a meeting, you will always make sure that the pens and pads are exactly in front of the chairs and you will always check the ink in the printer. When you are this consistent, there’s no need for magical thinking: you are effectively pre-acting.
Make it fun: Pre-acting doesn’t need to be soul-draining. When you’re done setting up for an event or meeting much earlier in advance than you normally do, admire what you have done, soak in how calming it feels to have everything done beforehand, how less stressful it is to be on top of things.
Stop craving that last-minute rush: You know the feeling. You get that adrenaline rush when you do everything last minute. But this drives everybody around you crazy. Don’t drag everyone down into your last-minute fix—instead, get the rush from doing everything in advance.
Killion and his team constantly worked backwards. they didn’t prep, they didn’t do a run-through, they didn’t do anything to insure the system won’t act the way it did. Some colleges have even switched over to a competitor now. When you’re in a position where you run the show (or when you want to get to that position), you have to stop thinking magically and start pre-acting for what’s coming up.
And when you do pre-act, when you are on top of things, you become someone dependable, you become someone people can rely on, and the amazing results seem almost… magical.