What happens when you face an obstacle? And how do you lead when your team hits a roadblock?

You might think the role of a great leader is to create and execute a perfect plan.

And while there’s some truth to that, life rarely plays along. Having a vision is a good way for every team member to know how they fit into the bigger picture and ensures everyone is heading in the same direction.

But what happens when you hit a bump in the road?  And how do you lead your team when there are sudden changes beyond your control?

Truly great leaders still lead when the plan no longer works.

I have a sprinkler set up on my front lawn. It oscillates, spraying water back and forth across the grass and extending over the sidewalk.  Because of the way it moves, it creates an obstacle for people walking on my side of the street. And even though I feel guilty about disrupting their journey, I love watching the different ways people deal with the obstacle.

Sometimes people are paying attention to what’s happening ahead of them and cross to the other side of the street.

Others, lost in thought or focused on other things, run right into the water and are surprised to find themselves wet.  Runners are usually slightly annoyed at the possibility of losing their stride and often side-step into the street to avoid it.  And others walk straight through, not caring if they get wet or not.

This morning, I watched a mom pushing her daughter in a stroller approach this obstacle.

My first instinct was to call out an apology for disrupting their walk.  But the mom saw the water moving back and forth and knew there would be a pause before they could move ahead.  And she turned it into a game. 

She built up the anticipation standing right at the edge of the moving water.  And when the gap appeared, she ran through it with her daughter laughing the entire way.

The smile on her daughter’s face was pure joy.

How do you face obstacles in your path? 

Do you blunder into them because you’re so absorbed in your thoughts that you miss what’s happening around you?  When we find ourselves amid the unexpected, it’s easy to get angry and blame others.

Do you see what’s coming but feel annoyed at being forced to pause or change course?  Sometimes we feel others are inconsiderate of how precious our time is and how much we need to get done.  We just wish they could get out of our way.

Do you endure the discomfort no matter what?  Sometimes it’s easy to lower your head and just keep going.

Or do you see the opportunity in the pause?  Do you get your team on board and turn the obstacle into a game?  Do you wait for your chance to move forward, and, when it comes, do you seize it with joy? 

Obstacles are always frustrating. They slow us down and block our path. But great leaders don’t let these unplanned disruptions get the best of them. They see the opportunity to bring the team together and find the best way forward. It’s a chance to try something new. And to learn.

It’s a chance to look at the individuals on your team and see who has the natural skills to tackle the situation. It takes patience and strong communication for people to see an obstacle as an opportunity.

But once you find your way forward, together, well, that is the stuff legends are made of.

When an obstacle appears in your path . . . how will you choose to lead?