Leading the way into new territory takes work

Managers need to step out of comfort zone to lead well

blazing-a-new-trail
The scenery was gorgeous, but breaking a new trail takes effort. I was quick to suggest we turn around to a traveled path but in doing so, I lost the opportunity to flex some new muscles. Are you giving up too early and missing the valuable returns that come from taking greater risks?

My legs were heavy. My heart beat fast. Each step of pulling my snowshoes up and into the heavy, deep snow was effort. All I could see ahead was a long open space of an unbroken path. In my narrow focus, I was missing out on the pristine forest all around me. Several minutes earlier, we had crossed over a different path that had run perpendicular to our direction, one where at least one person had already walked, creating a nice broken trail. I yearned for that trail at the moment. This was hard work.

I kept telling myself that I was thinking of Grace. Going snowshoeing with her is always risky, because the conditions need to be just right. If the snow has a hard crust, she can stay atop and she enjoys the outing with us. But if she’s constantly plowing through snow that is as tall as she is, she gets cold, wet, and tired. It’s no fun and she lets us know how she feels. On this day, she was quite fine whether she was on trail or off trail.

But me, on the other hand, well, I was ready to turn back very quickly, because I knew I had an easier option to explore.

Forging into new territory can feel uncomfortable. Executives are faced with this all the time. Having new ideas, trying to implement change, alter the status quo, or ask employees to do things differently, requires perseverance. It requires stretching new muscles, and staying the course for longer than you want. Naysayers and those who resist your efforts can beat you down, just like that long stretch of heavy snow was doing for me.

And like me, you might not even realize you’re taking the easy route. You might have a built-in excuse (mine was Grace, even though it wasn’t even true that day).

I see it frequently when managers change direction, too quickly, and for reasons that don’t make sense. Changing processes within an organization is a very common example of this. For starters, it takes a long time for people to simply remember the change — our habits die hard. It may have nothing to do with whether they think the new way is better or worse. When managers see time after time that a new policy is not executed, they get frustrated or discouraged. Rather than taking the opportunity to reinforce the change, they take the easy route. They revert back, losing the chance to see extraordinary things could happen by stretching further.

Earlier in the hike, I was the one out front breaking the trail and I sheepishly admit that I was very eager to give up that role. It can be hard work to move into unknown territory.
Earlier in the hike, I was the one out front breaking the trail and I sheepishly admit that I was very eager to give up that role. It can be hard work to move into unknown territory.

Think about a time when you forged ahead and kept on track for your goal. I’m guessing that in the end, you felt rewarded, you felt elated at the accomplishment, especially if you had several, tough obstacles that you overcame.

Here are a few suggestions to help you stay the course:

  • Be clear about your goal. Visualizing the outcome will help you realize what you want and why.
  • Set a realistic time frame for achieving the goal. It’s easy to get discouraged in the early stages of taking on something challenging, but if you’re only one month into a year-long objective, there’s no reason to give up yet.
  • Know that some people on your team will be early adopters to a new project and others will take time to adjust. Work at a pace that is right for each person, not just what feels right to you.
  • Anticipate what some obstacles might be and devise a plan for countering them. Nothing gets you in a positive frame of mind faster than feeling like you know what to do next.

Next time I have the opportunity to walk a new path, I’m going to stick with it longer. I’m going to widen my view to see the forest, the bigger picture.

What’s your story? How can you branch out further? Let us know. We all learn when we can experience these things together.

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