How can you be sure about something? Spoiler alert: you can’t, but you can get pretty close. According to the American Museum of Natural History, “A theory is a well-substantiated explanation of an aspect of the natural world that can incorporate laws, hypotheses and facts.” Basically, 99.99999% of the time, a scientific theory such as gravity works. If you drop an apple, it will fall; if it doesn’t, hopefully, you know a friendly alien because the Vogons are getting ready to destroy the Earth. Grab a towel, and don’t panic. I’ve been watching a K-Drama about a lady who can hear lies. She has a sense of certainty about the truth. As the drama unfolds, though, context matters. As a leader, we are expected to project confidence and help our team to remain hopeful during uncertainty. What happens when we are not certain about the future?
My kid declared that he was cursed. He had accidentally deleted a school assignment and was frustrated about redoing it. I invited him to go grocery shopping to pick out the ice cream. As we left the store, the entire cart was somehow tipped over. Most of the groceries were fine but I lost a carton of blackberries and an egg. I sent him to the store to see if we could exchange the items while I packed the rest in the car. When I entered the store, he was wandering, holding the carton of eggs and the receipt and typing on his phone. I asked him if he had spoken to anyone, and he typed on his phone with a vacant expression. I was certain he had just been walking around because he didn’t want to talk to anyone in the store. Exasperated, I counted it as a loss and returned to the car. He mumbled that he had just finished washing his hands. We drove home silently since I did not want to cause additional harm. Maybe we were cursed.
“I’m sorry.” The following day, we discussed what happened. I explained what I thought had happened and that I was too angry to admit that I was wrong. We both agreed that we could have handled the situation differently. I assessed the situation incorrectly and recognized that I was not cursed. Things happen. High emotions also influence our perception of a situation. Walking in the woods may be a wonderful experience. Walking in the woods hungry may have you cursing every insect bite. We are not our emotions, but it isn’t easy to separate ourselves when triggered. All of my carefully reasoned points about events in life went right out the window when it was my loss of blackberries and two eggs. When we got home, we discovered another broken egg.
We must challenge our assumptions as leaders and ensure we have as many facts as possible before concluding. Where I work, we use the five times why technique, embracing our inner toddler to discover a root cause. It is also essential that we are focused on the real issue. There is so much noise that seems critical but has nothing to do with the situation or plays a minor role. Years of experience have helped me to hone my intuition. When something seems off in my gut, I explore. Oftentimes, we assume there is a policy or a process but in reality, there is a gap. Sometimes, I jump in like Don Quixote fighting a windmill and it turns out there was no problem. Challenging all assumptions and ensuring we have defined the issue is important. Trust, but verify. Namaste.