January 29, 2021
Some of my greatest success stories to date, occurred when I simply got out of my own way.
Have you ever been involved in a group project at work, and the goal of this project was to solve an ongoing issue that was costing the company money unnecessarily? If so, I am confident at some point in the journey you and a few other colleagues scheduled a meeting to review what would entail resolving this issue.
After determining what it would take, the next steps probably requires collaborating on possible solutions, such as what is the fastest solution, least costly, what current process could be eliminated or improved, etc. As the project starts to build some momentum and progress is made, you identify a key element that seems to be the root cause of this costly issue. It would only make sense to simply change and improve this existing process, and one would think, as a result, the issue could be resolved.
As you and your colleagues communicate back and forth about the best way to go about this solution, someone on the team and/or a leader in the company, speaks up with one of the most infamous statements of all time stating “that can’t be changed and that is how we have always done this.”
I have reflected on this statement for some time now, and I will admit that two things really stand out when this statement is said. First, I believe there is always truth in this statement, and it is likely that this is how things have always been done. Second, and more importantly, I believe this statement acknowledges a real opportunity for progress, and by simply getting out of our own way, we can write some of our greatest success stories.
Over my career, I have been fortunate to be led by a number of incredible leaders. Leaders that are visionaries, ambitious about what we can accomplish, and their sense of direction became addictive. I have also been led by leaders who have made me feeling like my sole purpose was to do as I was told, and regardless of the outcome, if things went bad… well I am not comfortable repeating what was said.
I am confident others can relate to my experiences with different leadership styles, both positive and possibly negative. I am also confident that if you were to take a moment and reflect on your successes as a professional, you could think of a couple of leaders that inspired you to get out of your own way, and challenged you to change how things were done, regardless if this is how they were always completed.
Throughout the years, there have been a number of inspirational leaders that wrote quotes about leadership. One of my favourite quotes communicated by John Quincy Adams is “if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” Why I appreciate this quote so much is the fact that in order to learn more, and do more, we need to get out of our own way. In addition, nowhere does his words indicate a leader, must be a boss.
As you reflect about yourself… let me ask you this… who in your sphere of influence encourages you to do more? Who do you associate with that inspires you to share your bright idea because it is the solution your company was looking for, regardless if it differs from what has always been done?
My most recent example is my colleague and friend Derek who I consider to be an inspirational leader. Recently, during one of our manager meetings, Derek completed a safety moment. Derek spoke on the real purpose of a leader and shared the photo included in this article, which explains the difference of what people think leadership is compared to what leadership really is. I believe we need more people to realize the power of real leadership, especially in our current climate because leadership can be in different forms and levels.
Last year was tough, but you know what? We are tougher. As we navigate 2021, I believe it is necessary for us to lead with optimism, and to encourage positive growth in our industry regardless of the position we are in. This year, we have already experienced unique challenges, and depending on which news channel you tune into, the foreseeable future will bring more. As a result, we have the opportunity to implement creative solutions – solutions that overcome how things have always been done.
Now, you may be asking, how on earth will we create these solutions? Although I will not claim to know all the answers, I do have a couple of beliefs that I am confident will work along the way. First and foremost, it starts with us. We, as people, need to operate with integrity and commit to doing the right thing, regardless of how “hard” that may be.
Secondly, and equally as important, we need to remove the self-identification of “just”. What I mean by this, is eliminating the outlook that we are “just” our jobs. In my experience, those who approach their day knowing what and whom they are working for, such as their families, their friends, or loved ones, operate in a much safer way, than those who just identify as a “job title”.
Finally, we need to celebrate our wins and provide empathy when losses occur. One thing that I constantly communicate to my 10-year-old son when he experiences a loss is when you fall down, you need to get back up.
This year, I believe our greatest success stories will occur when we simply get out of our own way, and rise to the occasion to lead the way.