124. Leadership, Planning, and Showing Up in Times of Uncertainty with Tara McMullin

April 2, 2020

“You have to articulate the question in order to allow for the answer to make itself known.”

One thing I find helpful these days is learning about what my mentors or people I admire are doing. How they are processing this moment, what’s top of their minds and how they’re going about things during these uncertain times.

The person I immediately thought of is Tara McMullin, who is a friend but also one of my role models. So of course, I want to know how she’s navigating what we’re all going through.

Tara is many things. She’s a business owner, an employer, a community leader and she’s also a vocal leader in the small business industry. Not to mention, she’s a wife and a mom too.

I asked her all the questions like, what kind of conversation is she having with her employers and team members, how is she showing up as a leader, what’s planning like for her these days, what this crazy moment is teaching her about herself and about the way she runs her businesses.

No matter what you do for a living — whether you’re in business, are self-employed, or employed by an organization — you’re going to get a lot out of this episode. There’s this part of our conversation where we talked about planning during times of uncertainty that I think is so helpful and relevant – no matter what you do for a living.

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A few highlights from this conversation:

The way I’ve been spending the last week to 10 days is really in that space of just showing up, trying to be of service, asking people what they need and doing my best to provide that and to anticipate it as well as best I can. That is what feels most urgent to me.

Planning allows me to be more spontaneous.

When we think about planning, we fixate on having a plan. I know what I want to accomplish, I know how I’m going to do it. Here’s the timeline, here’s the order of steps that I’m going to take, and then I’m going to work that plan. That’s not realistic right now, right? Because we can’t know what we want to accomplish three months from now. We can’t know what steps we’re going to be able to take to make that happen. So, instead, we’re looking at what does the practice of planning look like? What is the practice of stepping back? Asking questions, making space, getting creative, thinking through options.

The practice of space-making and question-asking and plan-making can be enough to either center you if you’ve been responding really frenetically as I have been to the crisis. Or it can be enough to get you moving if you’re ready to move and you’ve been kind of hunkered down. It doesn’t have to be the end result that you’re focused on. It doesn’t have to be the plan that you’re making. It can just be the practice of planning. It can be the habit of taking stock, of analyzing, of setting some priorities for the day or for the week.

I think the practice of asking questions that don’t have answers is a growth practice. That’s an important part of life regardless, but it’s definitely an important part of life right now.

Articulating questions are part of the process of finding answers. If you don’t let yourself articulate the question, you’ll never find the answer. And I think people get stuck on that. They won’t ask the question because they don’t know the answer. You have to articulate the question in order to allow for the answer to make itself known.

In one of my groups, some brilliant person who I wish I could credit said that this moment is making our own tendencies more clear. We are going to lean into whatever our natural tendencies are this week.

I am recognizing now how many more capabilities we have than we’re aware of on any given day. So with a business, we get really caught up in how things operate. Are they operating smoothly and efficiently and effectively? And then also the products and services that we’re creating and delivering on a regular basis. We get really focused on the interplay of those two things. But in any business, there are things that we know how to do and do well and have skills for and systems for that we don’t really think of as valuable in and of themselves. They’re only valuable in the context of our own businesses. What I think this moment is making a clear to me is how many of our capabilities are valuable outside of the context of how we normally deliver on them.


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