The Enemy Gets A Vote

- Kelly Wolfe

I like looking at leadership from a slight military perspective, or better yet, from the viewpoint as the parent of a two-year old. The enemy gets a vote.

I actually had not heard this phrase until after I was out of the military, although I’m sure it’s been used for a long time. I was low on the totem pole and didn’t participate in high-level leadership meetings but once I heard it, it immediately made sense to me. Even your best laid plans are subject to outside forces.

As leaders in our organizations, we try our best to forecast the future, to strategize for the best possible outcome, and to make sure we have sound plans in place so we can execute the strategy. We even come up with contingency plans in case this or that happens, and we need to adjust.

But something always happens that seems to come out of nowhere. A tornado rips through your area and destroys crops or buildings. A key employee wins the lottery, moves to a secluded beach and throws their cell phone in the ocean. Maybe a supplier suddenly goes out of business or a competitor steals a big customer. Or you could be on your way out the door headed to work when you find your two-year old covered in hand soap. The enemy gets a vote.

Not all is lost though. Keeping this thought in the back of your mind forces you to think a little deeper and to plan a little better, which is a good thing. We now keep hand soap way out of reach and child locks on all of the important doors.

Daniel Kahneman, in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” talks about teams doing a premortem before a project gets underway. You think about all of the ways the project can go wrong, and then you work backwards to reduce as much risk as possible, limiting what the enemy can vote on.

It’s impossible to predict the future and cover every possible scenario, but if we want our organizations to survive long term, it’s a habit we need to instill. And whatever you do, don’t go more than five minutes without checking on the toddler.