Nothing ventured, nothing gained. How does that phrase resonate with you on a personal, leadership and business level? Over the last 20 years, and the last 10 in particular, this phrase has held resonance for me. While I make a distinction between personal, leadership and business worlds above, those of you in leadership roles and certainly those of you who have launched and are leading your own business know that this distinction is highly artificial. Everything we do as a leader/owner is very much about US - it is difficult if not impossible to separate our realities.
In my coaching and consulting work, I have often marvelled at the conniptions that my clients put themselves through - or are put through - in the name of "risk management". Certainly part of that is a function of the broader society we work within and the degree of regulation that has become so much a part of our lives. When I reflect back on my leadership career and how that world has evolved since my first leadership role in 1986 it is amazing and distressing to see the degree of oversight that has now been imposed on our systems. Now don't get me wrong. The increase in regulation in many parts of our lives - healthcare protocols, environmental protection, financial reporting requirements - have all been done with positive intent and, in many cases, because leaders and systems have failed us. We have met the enemy and they are us.
A significant consequence of this evolving reality, I believe, is that it has sapped our courage and diminished our ability and willingness to experiment and be bold on the promise of greater, future success and benefit. Rather than being motivated by possibility we seek and actively enlarge the risks, barriers and challenges that MAY be in our way. We often give up before we start.
Whether you believe you can or can't, you are right.
So what explains this phenomena? Why is it that at a personal and even organizational level we can start out with such enthusiasm and passion for a project or a cause and slowly have our fears grow and our confidence diminish? I believe at least two interrelated factors come into play and they are our emotional intelligence and organizational culture.
Considering emotional intelligence (EQ), areas such as Self-Regard (which might be equated to confidence), Independence (ability to stand alone as necessary), and Stress Tolerance are subsets of EQ that come to the fore when I consider how we might "talk ourselves out of" a course of action. Many of us are familiar with the "imposter syndrome" and wondering what gives us the authority or audacity to advance a position or initiative. Might not there be other better qualified or informed people out there to lead forward? In addition, when more and more voices present challenges (rather than solutions) who am I to question their perspective? Self-doubt creeps in and grows. Maybe they are more right than I am. Beyond this sense of self-confidence and ability to stand alone for something we believe in, we are all also social beings - we value inclusion, not exclusion or isolation. Our desire to be part of the "tribe" can sometimes hold us back from leading the tribe.
And what about organizational culture? Culture can be defined as "...the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values and knowledge which constitute the shared bases of...action.." and "...the total range of activities and ideas of a group of people with shared traditions, which are transmitted and reinforced by members of the group." I've highlighted what I think are some key elements of the definition to help illustrate my current train of thought. In particular, the longer an organization has been around the more likely that it will have well-established, formal and informal, beliefs and expectations that guide, motivate and constrain its actions. Some of that same perspective holds true for sectors (e.g., government, public sector) and professions. Over time, the motivating or constraining elements of these cultures are given voice - and authority - through policies, procedures, protocols and all the other trappings of well-established organizational bureaucracies. And over time, even if we look to change those parameters (e.g., to support creativity, innovation), we now have to contend with a culture that has become imprinted and embedded into our collective consciousness. The tribe and our own desire to belong and maintain status within the tribe diminishes our willingness to push boundaries.
So our own EQ "levels" combined with strong organizational culture can effectively partner to hold us back from a preferred future in deference to a "safer" status quo option. We can be left to lament a lack of excitement, engagement and fulfillment on a personal level. We can be left jaded, cynical and disappointed about what our organization can or can't do. We have met the enemy and they are us.
So how to sustain drive, energy and hope in the face of all these real and perceived obstacles? How can we sustain the venture and the promise of success in the face of "reality". I suggest a number of ways that I have worked with and that I have seen my clients demonstrate:
One - Be crystal clear about your own vision of success. It's much easier to get pushed away from your personal and organizational success when you yourself are not clear about the benefits of persevering in a course of action.
Two - Ground yourself in your values, personal and organizational. What's really important to you both in thought and action? Again, if these are not well articulated you may inadvertently find yourself making decisions of convenience (e.g., risk aversion) rather than of conviction.
Three - Get out of your head and test reality. One of my favorite coaching questions is "What is the worst that can happen?" This is usually followed up with questions around how likely is this circumstance and what is our ability to develop mitigating strategies.
Four - Get out of your head and test reality Part II. Discuss your vision and strategy with others. As I was creating BreakPoint Solutions, this meant getting coached by two separate coaches on two separate occasions. Yes, there were potential barriers and unknowns, but by working them through I determined that my future developing vision was more compelling and engaging than just "making something else work..."
Five - Prepare for resistance and setbacks. No great thing every came without effort, work and tribulation. You will always have naysayers, those who want to play it safe and a range of other barriers. Circle back to your Vision to sustain you. Measure progress, appreciate success, recognize anomalies for what they are, and press on to the next milestone.
Making a difference at a personal and organizational level takes courage, determination and hard work. As a famous tag line says - "Is it in you?"
Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC
President & Founder - BreakPoint Solutions