Every now and then I like to take a quote that I come across and look at what it really means in our lives, our businesses, and our quest to be more effective leaders. Quotes can be valuable tools for us as we work to think about things differently or see them from a different point of view. I came across this one from Thomas Jefferson recently and thought it would make for a good discussion. “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”
As I look back and think about some of the best leaders I’ve worked with, they’ve been followers of this kind of thinking. One of the challenges we all face is change, even when it’s clear that we need to. We wish others around us would change but sometimes fail to see that if we go first, it can often start the movement we are looking for. Almost everyone is familiar with the old adage that doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity but we can also point to a lot of people we know that have been operating the same way their entire life. Sometimes we even meet that person in the mirror.
Change is hard. We do the things we do because we are comfortable with them, not because they are necessarily right for us. Great leaders make changes when things aren’t working, in spite of the difficulty involved. They understand that new actions usually come with failure at first and they are comfortable with that. They understand that failure is just the process of learning on the way to success. They are anxious even to get to the failure part, because leaders know they can’t get better at new behaviors without experiencing it.
When they aren’t getting the results they want, good leaders make changes. They use all of the information at their disposal to make the best changes they can but they don’t analyze the situation endlessly. Some leaders, out of fear of making mistakes once the changes start, allow themselves to study the problem far past the point where action is needed. It’s not about shooting from the hip or rushing off in a new direction recklessly but it is about having a bias for action once the available information has been examined. Great leaders know that action will teach them things that analysis can’t.
My dad used to say when we were working on something challenging, usually a car, and we were stumped on what to do next, “let’s do something, even if it’s wrong”. He knew that we had pondered the problem long enough. The only way we would get more information was to take some kind of action.
Change is hard, but starting it creates momentum, causes mistakes, and brings a new perspective. Leaders use all of those things to cause new and better results. They know that staying in the same rut, engaging in the same behaviors, and thinking the same thoughts, is a recipe for exactly what they already have. Each of us is faced with that same choice and if our current situation doesn’t match our picture of success then it may be time to do something, even if it’s wrong.