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Leading in the Whirlwind - plan . . . for success

“I have a cunning plan my lord,” are the infamous words of Baldrick, infamous sidekick of Blackadder. For those old enough to remember, Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson’s comedy characters sailed through various periods of history, each time having a cunning plan, which never quite paid off. And my favourite response from Blackadder, testing out the measure of the plan, was “is it as cunning as a fox who’s just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University?” In the midst of a whirlwind of challenge, each time they had a plan. Each time it failed, often resulting in comedy moments.

In this blog series, I’m explaining the importance of 4 key elements that can help lead in the real challenge of the whirlwind:

  • Pause . . to anchor yourself

  • Review . . for clarity

  • Evaluate . . for precision

  • Plan . . for success

And this week, we meet the ultimate reason for the pause, review and evaluation . . . to plan a way forward. Now for many readers, you are already thinking that making a plan is nothing new. As leaders in our field that is what we do. 'Failing to plan is planning to fail’. Everyone has heard that. But so many plans do fail and so it’s not just about having a plan. It is not just the fact of planning that is the secret. It is what you plan for that is. You need to plan for success.

Planning for success

When we review something, we are considering ‘what is working well’ (WWW) and ‘even better if’ (EBI). In order to consider the EBI, you need to know what it is that you are aiming for. Like a metaphorical picture on the fridge, it is the aim, the ‘nirvana’ that you are aspiring to. Planning for success is

1. Knowing what excellence looks like

2. Knowing your current position

3. Understanding the gaps

4. Planning clear steps that will fill those gaps

So, when you plan, consider what are you actually aiming for. Seth Godin, in his book Tribes, said, “Leadership is painting a picture of the future, go there and people will follow.” Can you describe what it is you are after? In my training with people we work through

Purpose + Alignment = Shift

When everyone is clear on why we are doing something and what it should look like and we are all aligned to that, then you get things happening. So, consider what you want the systems, people and resources to look like. Consider the following questions as you plan for success:

  • What does the system look like when it is successful?

  • What does each role look like when it is done well?

  • What resources do we have and how are they being used?

This in turn helps you, as you can then compare the aim with the current position. When you know the gaps that need filling, it can be broken down to

  • What resources do we need?

  • What systems need to be developed?

  • What skilled people do we need?

  • What skills do people need to develop?

  • Who needs to be doing which role to get us there?

  • What are the steps to get us there and what order do they need to be in?

You can then, at the top of your plan, highlight that ‘when we get there the system, resources, people will look like . . . . ‘.

Impact on the team

Why do we need it? Patrick Lencioni, in his book 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, talked about 5 elements that will break a team and make it ineffective.

  • Absence of Trust

  • Fear of Conflict

  • Lack of Commitment

  • Avoidance of Accountability

  • Inattention to Results

The last three, particularly, need a clear view on what success looks like in order for the positive team elements of commitment, accountability and attention to results to be played out. You need to know what you are working towards to be committed, hold each other accountable and to focus on results. So, having a clear plan where what makes it successful is also crucial to developing a high performing team.

Baldrick’s cunning plan

Each day we come up with some plans. But what makes them truly cunning, is the simple fact that they are planned with success in mind. If only Baldrick’s plans were planned with success in mind. History could have turned out very different. Who knows what Blackadder would have become?

Do contact me directly at if you are finding planning for success particularly challenging and would like some coaching to help you evaluate the situation. We are here to inspire and equip you.

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