E + R = O

I was in an MD’s office yesterday when something caught my eye.

Written in block capitals at the top of his white board was this simple equation.

E + R = O

When I asked him what it meant he said –

yeah – I keep that there to remind me that I need to keep pushing

Now this MD is one of the most resilient leaders I have ever met. His business is in a tough manufacturing sector and after a long haul his business is now robustly profitable. The business must apply significant energy to sustain excellent service levels to what appear to be grumpy and often chaotic customers, which explains the first letter of this equation.

E = Events

When Harold Macmillan Prime Minister in the 1960s was asked what was the most difficult thing about his job he said. ‘Events, dear boy, events’. This is an acknowledgment that none of us have complete control.

Stuff happens, programmes are delayed, tsunamis disrupt supply, lorries get stuck at Dover, long nurtured contacts at customers get changed. When I was a techie I used to love a crisis (sorry, event) as they were a lot more exciting than the daily routine. When I became a leader crises seemed a lot bigger and much scarier and far less exciting.

R = Reaction

We are all allowed to and hopefully in fact do actually feel the full spectrum of emotional responses to events. Rage, denial, fear, oh not again, why me, excitement, joy, satisfaction. If you don’t feel any of these then check your pulse – you may be dead!

The trick is to recognise your emotion then choose how to respond.

If you react to events by ripping into subordinates or raging against what the stars have dealt you, then sorry, you are a crap leader, do the world a favour and go do something else. But if your first reaction is to pause for a minute, breathe and say “Right – didn’t expect that! Here is what we are going to do” then you will more than likely positively influence the last letter of the equation.

O = Outcome Event + Reaction = Outcome

Choosing how you react to an event is more likely to determine a positive outcome.

Sounds cheesy but it’s really true. If you always react with anger, rage or denial then you are not in control and so events are controlling you.

Take a deep breath; pull the team together, explain the problem and start the countermeasure then the outcome is more likely to be a positive one.