Every now and then I like to take a quote 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 to think about things differently. Recently, I came across a quote from Thomas Jefferson 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 think about some of the best leaders I’ve worked with, they’ve been followers of this way of thinking. One of the challenges we all face is change, even when it’s clear that it’s necessary. We wish others around us would change, but fail to see that if we change 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. Similarly, we may know a lot of people that have been operating this way their entire lives. We may even meet that person in the mirror.
Don’t be afraid of failure.
Change is hard. We do things 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 difficulties 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.
Good leaders make changes when they aren’t getting the results they want. 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 study the problem far past the point where action is needed due to fear of making mistakes. It’s not about shooting from the hip or rushing off in a new direction recklessly. Rather, it’s 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.
Don’t be afraid to take action.
When my dad and I were working on something challenging, usually a car, and were stumped on what to do next, my dad would say, “Let’s do something, even if it’s wrong.” He knew 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. But each of us is faced with a choice. If our current situation doesn’t match our picture of success, then it’s time to do something, even if it’s wrong.