[February 1, 2019] There’s a kid’s guessing game that is old as humans have been on this Earth. It involves one child holding something in one hand and asking another which hand holds the object. It’s a simple guessing game. Or is it? Unlike the average child who gets to chose randomly, leaders don’t guess.
I used to play this game a lot with my sisters and brother, friends, and adults. The probability of choosing the correct hand is fifty-fifty; of course, it is! But I could “guess” the correct hand about 75% of the time; far more than statistical mathematics would have predicted. Like a good leader, I didn’t rely on guessing but on other factors that lead to a greater chance of success.
Good leaders ‘see’ indicators of where that object might be. Those are the leaders who are better at holding a team together, rallying them around a common goal, and accomplishing their mission. They see more than what is obvious. That is what leaders do.
There is a long list of leadership professionals who will give the same advice. “Don’t guess,” they will tell you, “just do.” My best friend and I took the U.S. Army Infantry Advanced Course together as Captains. It was a tough course, and I was just happy to graduate; while my friend, Jonathan Peters, wanted to be the honor graduate. He was fond of saying to me, “don’t guess, just do.”
Captain Peters would smile while giving me his clever advice. It wasn’t until after we completed the course that I understood what he was telling me. It was like the kid’s game of chance we played; predicting which hand held the object of our attention. Success was being able to predict better than everyone else. It meant going outside the randomness and confines of the rules to see other things that provided an advantage.
As a child playing the chance game, I looked at the face of others who played the game with me. Before choosing, I would focus on their eyes and mouth, then point to one hand and then the other. Detecting a change of expression when I pointed to one hand would up the odds that this was the correct hand holding the object.
We used to play this game with nickels (a paltry amount but a huge sum in the late 1950s when it would buy me a bottle of Coca-Cola). I came out ahead most of the time, much to the chagrin of my childhood friend, Wilson. He never figured out my secret. True to form, my military friend Captain Peters was the class Honor Graduate. I bought him a Coca-Cola to honor his achievement.
Good leaders don’t guess. They use other indicators of what the answer might be.