Updated: May 12
I'm a casual baseball fan. Even so, I get caught up in Opening Day or World Series festivities, the exceptional skill of a player, or the excitement of a close game or winning streak by our local team. During the season, dinner conversation among the more ardent fans in our household is often animated. They love exchanging opinions about who is hitting well against which pitchers, and how choices by each team might radically shift the odds of success for our home team. Their views solidify during the season as we see a lot more fast pitches, sliders, and curveballs.
Like batters in baseball, senior leaders regularly navigate varied situations and different moves by competitors.
Constantly scanning the field, anticipating what may come next, adapting on the fly – all of those activities are critical for executing strategy well. In baseball, pitchers throw a curveball to challenge the batter, to force them to shift their stance or their game and hit differently. Ideally for the pitcher, the batter is caught off guard, swings, and misses.
Businesses regularly encounter curveballs. After all, uncertainty is inherent in pursuing the vision. You’re actively pursuing one thing and suddenly you encounter something entirely different, unexpected.
Often, it’s your preparation for and response to those situations that determine whether you’ll hit or miss.
So what to do?
Decide how you will step up to the plate.
Your readiness to navigate successfully is determined well before you see the ball. Batters decide how they will step up to the plate while they are still in the dugout or on deck. Some batters prefer curveballs. They look for the bend in its trajectory, seeing an opportunity to hit the ball out of the park. Leaders with that mindset are typically more open to creating opportunity from the unexpected. They actively uncover new paths forward not only to manage the situation, but also to capitalize on (or shape) an opportunity that hadn’t previously occurred to the team.
Narrow your focus.
Much of the time, you’re focused on the longer-term vision. When encountering a curveball, however, it’s helpful to narrow your focus on a critical, near-term goal and the handful of immediate actions needed in the short term. Use that focus to help you to identify the decisions you’ll need to take later – after the shock of the unexpected has receded. Doing so allows you to avoid being derailed by the unexpected event. You can adapt and get back on track to achieve your vision.
Keep your eye on the ball.
Avoid the temptation simply to survive. Give yourself and your team something meaningful to achieve in the short term that also links to your longer-term objective. That helps everyone to keep their eye on the ball. Then, in those moments when it’s clear you’ve been dealt a curveball, decide what you must do to get safely on base.
PC: Tim Gouw on Flickr (Original version)