When confronted with any problem, conflict, or issue that requires strategic thinking and decision making, there are four different questions we have to ask and answer in order to effectively make and execute tactical decisions.
What Do I Want to Do?
We struggle with the answer to this question because there is an intractable gap between what we want (imagination) and what we think we can get (“reality”). We get caught in the fantasy-land of “what if” and miss addressing the very practical outcomes from making decisions while living in the “what is.” This question is designed to cut through the noise of fantasy in our heads and to get to the root of the matter.
What Am I Allowed to Do?
In many organizations, teams, associations, and even communities, the answer to this question is one of real concern. The answer has to do with power and politics. Power is often defined by who has it when it’s not you, and politics is often defined as who do you have to get on your side, get along with, or get to know, in order to get to a resolution that works—for you. Power and politics questions are almost never strategically addressed directly. Instead, the answers float in obliqueness or are surrounded in cliché. The answer to this question also exposes our fears: of other people, of organizational structures, of outcomes we can’t control, and of new realities that may be better than the current reality we are struggling in now.
What Can I Do?
The answer to this question is dichotomous; that is to say, the answer is never grey, just black or white. However, we often try to make the answer seem less so, by hiding behind some imagined “grey area” that is really about avoiding or delaying the consequences of a decision—any decision—rather than about the actual, granular decision itself. Either you can or you can’t. Either way, don’t confuse the uncomfortable consequences of the answer, by asking the question and then answering it in a clear-eyed manner.
What Will I Do?
This question is last for a reason. The answer to this question is about action, implementation, and accomplishment. Answers to this question should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-sensitive. Otherwise, you’re not fooling anyone, and you should probably default back to the first question.
One more point on the last question: The answers to “what will I do?” should always be as small, as narrow and as impactful as possible for getting to resolution to your immediate problem, conflict, or issue. It’s much better to plan for a narrow specific than a wandering generality.
Fantasy and “reality.”.
Power and politics.
This is the four-fold path to deliberately, intentionally, and tactically addressing problems, conflicts, and issues, as they arise.