We have grown up in a culture of planning, the mindset that to get to point A to point B, there has to be a sense of each of the points and how specifically to get from one to the other. When selecting our leaders, we do so with the belief, or at the least the hope, that they have the points mapped out, and that they have a plan.
The problem is very simple: Uncertainty. We are never quite know what's going to happen, and the truth is that all focused planning takes place on a tectonic plate, and could shift at any moment. The markets may change. The political situation may change. And when the situation changes, leaders need to let go of their plans and adjust to the issues at hand. Leadership is about making the tough decisions. Leadership is about having to walk back a poor decision or a bad choice. Leadership is about having the nerve to call it off.
Leaders who change their minds, or change the course of proposed action are often derided as flip-floppers. To be honest, "flip-flopper" is the king political insults. Calling someone a flip-flopper is supposed to signal that the intended victim has lost their principles and is somehow untrustworthy. The leaders' challenge, as President Trump has learned, is knowing how to keep their credibility while changing their mind.
If you are a leader and you have to change your mind, you want to keep your credibility in place. There are certain things you can do to help you flip-flop with a degree of continuity and grace:
1. "My thinking has evolved." Everyone has had an experience with changing their minds. Sometimes what was crystal clear yesterday doesn't make any practical sense today, under changing conditions. If you thinking has changed as a result of new information, say so. Map out what has changed. Be as clear and articulate as you can. You will not only bring your supporters along with you but you may also entice those have resisted your efforts before to come on board.
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2. "I am in your corner." If you are going a completely different direction than previously charted, some of your hardcore supporters will be perplexed at your sudden change of heart, and they may think that you are abandoning them. Reassure them that you are still with them and agree with them on core issues. The last thing you want to do is trigger the formation of a counter-coalition that will upset your current plans.
3. "A change in tactics is not a change in intent." Just because you are taking what seems to be a side trip from point A to point B, restore the confidence of your supporters by reminding them that you still share the same goals, and that you are still committed to the larger intent.
4. "This new action was born of necessity." You need to make it clear that you aren't a fly-by-night opportunist who is looking out for your own interests. You have to make it clear that the change was necessary in pursing the larger goals. Circumstances change, and the leader has the responsibility to sense the environment has changed, and be agile enough to deal with it.
5. "I hear you." You have to be clear that you hear what they are saying and taking it into account. You can't just move forward without taking the collective interests to heart.
Changing one's mind is an essential leadership skill. However, for it not to seem like a spontaneous reaction, leaders need to ground the change in concrete thinking. They have to show their constituents that they have the ability to read the situation and have the guts to say, "Let's change course." They need to communicate honestly with their supporters to let them in on their thinking.
These five points will go a long way to making sure that your change in direction is not viewed as flip-flopping. You may end up with some detractors, but those who are truly with you and your effort will stay on your side.