A fresh voice on leadership and a senior leader at one of the world’s largest communications networks, Elise Mitchell author of Leading Through the Turn reveals why success comes by focusing on the journey, not just the destination.
May you live in interesting times. I’ve never been sure if that’s a blessing or a curse. But the year we’ve just had certainly fits the description.
What a year – 2016 brought so much unexpected change: Brexit, Trump, the refugee crisis, Istanbul, Zika, Rio, David Bowie, Wells Fargo, Harambe. On top of that, it was also the hottest year on record.
While it’s not always welcome, change is something leaders should be very good at managing. Leading through change is a critical capability that requires a strategic mind, strong business acumen, adaptability, composure and guts.
The question is how prepared are we to lead effectively in these changing times?
No matter how much/little change management expertise you have, you must continue expanding your capabilities in this critical area. The amount and type of change in the world is only speeding up, thanks to technology, social and political upheaval, and shifting demographics. We must push ourselves to stay one step ahead of change. Only then will we be prepared to step in — and step up — to lead in the most interesting times.
Looking through the turn
Riding a motorcycle has taught me so much about being nimble and adaptive to change. One of the most critical lessons I learned years ago as a beginning rider is how to “look through the turn,” which works like this: As you approach a turn, you must look where you want to go rather than focusing on all the potential hazards within the turn itself. The difficulty comes in keeping your eyes focused on where you want to end up while using your instincts and experience to adjust within the turn while using your instincts and experience to adjust within the turn — all at a moment’s notice.
I’d like to share three lessons from my book, Leading Through the Turn, which was inspired by this fundamental principle of motorcycling. These lessons have helped me learn how to lead more effectively through change. I hope they will help you, too.
1. Expect the unexpected – This seems so obvious, and yet we seldom do it. When we’re in the middle of a project, we’re focused on what’s in front of us or on the plans we’re making for the future. We’re thinking about the destination and how to get there. Then the road shifts beneath our wheels. We need to get better at anticipating change and being prepared to respond when it happens – especially in how we help our team and business evolve.
This takes effort – and time. Work with your team to regularly ask “what if” questions that help you spot potential change sooner rather than later. What if our customers’ needs fundamentally change and they no longer want what we offer? What if there is a change in their top leadership that directly impacts us? What if a new technology disrupts the way we or they are doing business? By asking the right questions and looking ahead more frequently, we’ll become better at expecting the unexpected.
2. Create a “culture of try” – To deal with change, you must be an agile leader, on the one hand staying very close to what is happening around you with your employees and clients; on the other hand stepping back to see the bigger picture.
But as a leader, it’s your job to think about what’s possible, not what is. That means empowering your team to come up with new solutions and not be afraid to try new things.
You must create “a culture of try.” Trust me, your team and your customers want you to try new things. Employees are empowered by a “let’s do it” mentality. And customers want to know you can take them places they’ve never been and can’t get to on their own.
Leaders need to create a greenhouse environment that encourages teams to try new things and see what works without fear of punishment or embarrassment if it fails. Ultimately, you want a culture that’s not afraid to fail—it’s afraid not to try. This is part attitude, of course, but it’s also part practice. You must set the tone by being a role model for taking smart risk and inspiring your people to try new things.
3. Enjoy the ride – When we ride, my husband and I will occasionally pull our motorcycles over, put the kickstand down and just drink in how beautiful it is. This always makes the journey more enjoyable and memorable.
No matter what changes come your way, you need to have a journey mindset, willing to deal with uncertainty, staying fully present in the moment and enjoying the ride along the way. When you do, you have a much better chance of setting aside your frustrations and fears, and channeling your efforts towards finding solutions.
This also goes for how you live and lead on a daily basis. How often are you pausing to celebrate success at work? Saying thank you to others? Letting those in your personal life know how much you value them?
Take a good look around and appreciate where you are right now. You must make time to live in the moment, because it will be gone before you know it. Embracing the journey is key to enjoying the ride.
Whether it’s challenge or change, we have much to look forward to in 2017. I hope to lead at my best this year – how about you? Let’s help each other.
Read more from Elise Mitchell on her website elisemitchell.com and find her on Twitter @elisemitch.