High Stress to High Value: Handling Hot Potatoes

Others handle day-to-day challenges. But the hot potato lands in your hands.

Passing the buck in a high stress situation means you’ve reached your peak. But an aspiration to advance requires resolve to hang on to hot potatoes.

Two High Stress Situations:

#1. Answering questions during uncertainty.

  1. Acknowledge agendas. People tailor information and input to create THEIR preferred response. (This may or may not be malevolent.)
  2. Dig below the surface with probing questions. Ask discomforting questions or you’ll be uncomfortable after making decisions.
  3. Test your assumptions. Avoid assumptions based on one person’s input. Explain what you’re thinking and ask, “Does this seem right?”
  4. Test their assumptions. “It seems like you believe xyz. Is that what you’re thinking?”
  5. Explore options with stakeholders – the people closest to the situation, for example.
  6. Make a small decision. Make progress. Don’t solve everything.
  7. When possible, sleep on important responses.
  8. Always follow-up.
  9. Give it your best. If you can’t sleep on it, preface answers with, “This is my best answer at this time.”
  10. Apologize and adapt when you get it wrong. “I screwed up,” strengthens relationships and builds confidence.

#2. Correcting.

People don’t screw up intentionally – unless they’re disgruntled saboteurs.

  1. Assume the best.
  2. Stay cool. Anger makes you stupid.
  3. Leverage curiosity before exploring solutions.
  4. Explore results before exploring causes. “What happened?” is a question about results and impact. It’s not an invitation to attack or diagnose the person who screwed up. The answer to what happened is, “We disappointed our customers,” for example.
  5. Treat mistakes like learning opportunities. “What did you learn?”
  6. Look to the future. “What will you do differently next time?”

Note: Habitual screw ups require stronger intervention than first-time mistakes.

What suggestions do you have for the above situations?

What added hot potato situations should leaders lean into?

Bonus material:

Decision making in Uncertain Times (McKensey)

Making Decisions in High Uncertainty. (Decision-Making)

Your employee Messes Up: How do You Respond (SHRM)

The 12 Toughest Challenges of Leadership (LF)