Don’t Fall in Love with your Plan

“Don’t fall in love with your plan.”

That was a lesson that my Dad taught me from a young age.

My Dad, who died a little over a year ago (love and miss you every day, Dad!), was a licensed AMP (for the uninitiated, that’s an airplane mechanic). Over the course of his career, he rose to manage mechanical safety for a good-sized international freight company. He was responsible for ensuring that all of the airplanes in the fleet were current on all required and emergency maintenance. It involved a huge amount of planning to get the right planes in the right places so that they could rotate planes out of service sometimes for months at a time to stay compliant with FAA regulations.

He loved the thrill of the whole thing. The pressure. The deadlines. The optimization. The expectations. Getting the team to turn projects around faster and better… It was all challenging and all fun!

Sound familiar?

Anyway, Dad used to tell us the story of his boss who was notorious for looking at a plan that had been carefully crafted for hours and hours and for throwing the whole thing out in a matter of minutes – sometimes seconds! He was a hard old-school type of boss who expected perfection and didn’t spare anyone’s feelings in his quest to get it.

My Dad was training a new member of his team to whom he was working to delegate the routine maintenance planning. He had shown her how to do it several times and this time it was her turn to make the plan and present it to the boss.

He warned her, “don’t fall in love with the plan!” and told her to expect a none-too-friendly rejection. Well, true to form, that’s exactly what she got and, despite all of the encouragement to be prepared, she was devastated. To have her work discarded so quickly and re-worked elegantly in just minutes was hard to swallow.

It was a story I heard many times in my life and, from that one simple story I learned so much.

I learned to be compassionate and aware when I became a manager.

I learned that I didn’t have to be a jerk (like my Dad’s boss) to get people to be excellent. I could be an encouraging teacher (like my Dad).

And, most importantly, I learned where to put my focus. I learned to be attached to the outcome, to be committed to the end result and to remain flexible on the path to achieving that result. When we get too attached to the plan, we lose the ability to pivot, to flex, to lean into a new opportunity or to see a setback as an opportunity.

These past couple of pandemic years have forced our hand to be willing to retool our plans and, as we look towards the wrap up of 2021, I want to encourage you to consider where did you double down on your goals even if the path started to get wonky. Where did you flex to lean into the opportunities as they arose. Where did you get a little stuck because of your attachment to your plans…

Plans are good.

Outcomes are better.

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