Jean De Luca is the President and CEO of Delta Dental of Idaho. Jean authored this post to share some of her experience with strategic leadership.
The strangest advice I read about in the Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni was to “choose uncertainty over clarity.” After all, isn’t the job of a leader to provide clarity and direction to the team?
After considerable reflection, I realized that Lencioni’s advice encourages us to take a leap and make a decision – to set a direction – even when we may be wrong or don’t have enough information to be entirely certain.
The health benefits and insurance industry has historically experienced only incremental changes over the last 25 years. In today’s market, we find greater uncertainty due to the continued increase in health care costs and the complexities of national health care reform which will bend the cost curve and reduce the number of uninsured.
Although trends point toward probable future scenarios, health reform and the roles of players in the delivery of healthcare continues to change and evolve with tremendous frequency.
As the CEO of Delta Dental of Idaho, a long-standing dental benefits carrier in the state, I have concluded that it is not possible to be certain regarding the future direction of the company. While some on our team may crave more directional certainty, most understand that identifying a course of action and being open to asking tough questions to improve that “certainty” are more important.
As a team, we invested time determining what “is known” to lay a strong foundation for the best decision-making possible. An important step in this process was the ability to probe and challenge one another’s thoughts and ideas. Not only did this improve the decision-making process, it also helped increase buy-in and accountability…all essential factors in achieving successful results.
Creating a culture that openly talks about conflict and demonstrates a comfort with conflict is not easy. Defensiveness will occur and trust will be challenged – anticipate it. Team members who risk vulnerability to raise questions and benefit from a supportive environment for constructive conflict will increase their trust in one another.
It’s important to seek “the stories at the water cooler” that reveal on-the-job realities to determine how an increased acceptance and support for conflict impacts the organization. While maintaining a positive and supportive team environment is always desirable, we must challenge ourselves to address those issues that are not always pleasant to discuss with openness and courage.
It is difficult for almost everyone to experience the fear of being wrong. The tendency to hesitate before setting a direction until certainty or unanimous agreement have been achieved can cause the decision to be made too late to be successful.
As leaders, we need to take a position and seek feedback, both internally and externally from our customers, stakeholders and board, before moving forward with a plan. Next, we must move fearlessly into action, then measure results and improve future direction after giving the plan an opportunity to succeed.
After several months of reading and developing a new strategic planning process, here are the steps that I plan to use in moving forward “in the face of much uncertainty:”
- Identify strengths of our management team and improve the way we work together in using these strengths.
- Mine for conflict and allow time for discussion when developing a strategic plan.
- Set timelines for developing strategies and tactics that have definable goals and measures.
- Manage to these timelines and create accountability for the results.
- Revisit the goals and results quarterly (if not more often) and adjust the goals as needed.
As uncertainty moves onward towards certainty, it’s important to have the courage to evaluate past goals, perhaps determine that the old goals are no longer working, and engage your team to work together thinking out of the box, to innovate, and improve your collective results.
Does your business face uncertainty? How comfortable are you and your team with conflict? And, finally, do you have the personal courage to ask the tough questions that might indicate your direction could be wrong?