Wrong Turn or Right Path?


I was reminded again recently of the importance of feedback in the moment. Perhaps nowhere is this as useful as when you have made a tentative decision and are seeking confirmation that it is the right one … as I was while driving to a retreat center outside of New Orleans.

Even for a seasoned traveler like myself, driving to new destinations is a bit unsettling, particularly ones located somewhat off the beaten path. After crossing the Ponchartrain causeway, a 20-mile stretch of bridge where all you can see no matter where you look is endless water, I was seeking a particular highway.

Thankfully, a road sign indicated that the exit I needed was the very next right. It was when I reached the exit that things began to unravel a bit. Though this turnoff was indeed the very next right, it offered no signage confirming that it was the Interstate I was seeking. Still, I trusted my gut instinct and took the exit.

As I rounded the corner I looked for the Interstate sign one typically finds letting you know you are on a new road. It was nowhere in sight. “No big deal,” I told myself. “It probably is just a bit farther down the road.”

But it wasn’t. And after a few miles my mind began playing the “should we turn back?” script that usually fills your consciousness at this point. I also began to chastise myself for not asking how far from the exit I would need to go to reach my next turn. Just when I was about to turn around, the next road I needed to take appeared.

While I assume full responsibility for the angst and anxiety I allowed myself to experience during this excursion, it could all have been prevented if that silly Interstate sign had been present after I made my exit.

How frequently in our professional efforts do we find ourselves in similar situations? We have some directions and a vague sense of where we are going. We follow the guideposts provided until we reach that juncture where we have to rely on our own judgment and instinct. And after making the “tough call” we often begin to wonder if we’ve done the right thing.

Organizations could do a better job anticipating these moments and providing process checkpoints where initial decisions and commitments can be reviewed for their appropriateness and impact. Individual leaders can support their colleagues by touching base early on when new projects are being completed and the direction being taken is not always done with 100% confidence. When the project is complex, when its end results will have critical implications for the organization, or when the individuals responsible are fairly new to the work they are doing, the need for immediate feedback and possible course correction is magnified.

From the membership standpoint, we should be more attuned to the somewhat tentative feelings individuals might have lingering after they make the decision to join our organizations or get involved. “Is this really the right place for me?” is not a question completely answered just because someone sends in a check for their dues.

Where might your organization benefit if some uncertain moments received a quicker confirmation?