Leadership Cancers #8: Anticipation

by Gary Monti on May 4, 2010

Anticipation, a song by Carly Simon, chronicles well the consequences of waiting for consequences, “Anticipation…is makin’ me late, keepin’ me waiting.” In this blog we will explore anticipation and look at a much healthier alternative.

The Desire for Control

Anticipation has its roots in the desire for control. Specifically, it results from building expectations. With expectations I choose to lock on to some possible future event causing thoughts and actions to become a servant of the desired consequences.  Not a smart way to operate.

This was reflected in a rather painful experience pursuing a contract early in my consultancy. A division of an aerospace firm was looking for someone to audit their current project management system and then provide guidance and support in making it more robust.

The fit felt perfect! After going through preliminary conversations it seemed like a slam-dunk. There was only one problem – other companies were bidding. Ignoring this, I kicked back and rewarded myself with some rest and relaxation prior to starting the engagement. Fantasies as to how the engagement would be successful and transformative for the client danced before my mind’s eye.

The Loss of Freedom

As you might have guessed, the day of reckoning came and much to my surprise someone else was awarded the contract. The first thought was, “How dare they!” To say my blood boiled would be an understatement.

Anxiety followed the anger. The future was surrendered to an expectation. The feeling of being trapped soon set in. It was quite genuine. Leads were dropped in anticipation of getting this contract.  It was a lesson well learned. Fortunately, there were sufficient reserves to make it through until the next contract.

The Solution

A better way to behave is stated in a term from complexity theory, anticipatory awareness. It sounds almost identical to the leadership cancer called anticipation. It is quite different.

Where anticipation is a locking on to an expectation and experiencing emotional ups and downs similar to a gambler at the racetrack, anticipatory awareness is a complete letting go of expectations.

Does this mean no planning is done, i.e., just sit around and wait? No. It is much more subtle and more challenging than that. In fact, anticipatory awareness can be restated as, “Plan without consequence.”

Practicing anticipatory awareness requires discipline. In the case of making proposals it means creating a document as if the prospective client’s survival depends upon it and then letting go as if the client does not care. While it sounds a bit crazy it promotes a very healthy behavior. It keeps me on the move. It also promotes a constant question central to any good consultancy, “Does what’s being offered really provide value?

Share you comments! I’d like to know what you think. In addition to commenting on this blog you can also send a response via e-mail to gwmonti@mac.com or visit www.ctrchg.com.

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