Have you ever noticed that an organization’s reality is shaped not simply by the “facts” of a situation, but also the boxes it does or does not put around itself? Where we are standing, and the parameters we may see as constraining us, contributes to our sense of what is or is not “realistic”. That is why, when faced with seemingly identical circumstances, two different individuals or organizations may view the situation in dramatically different ways. In the words of Henry Ford, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
How, then, can you as a leader help your organization see the possibilities rather than the limitations of your current circumstances?
First, try wondering, as in “I wonder if…” Wondering with people encourages them to consider new possibilities. It is less definitive than, “I think we should,” so it tends to get less automatic resistance. Wondering invites conversation and exploration that builds on a thread of an idea, stretching people’s mind in gentle ways that can open a door to new perspectives. If someone tries to put the brakes on the conversation by saying, “that’s not possible,” simply steer around “the barrier of their box” by continuing the conversation with, “if it were possible, though, what might it look like?” Once you and your team get excited about what could be, you just might be surprised by how often a potential path forward emerges.
Secondly, and perhaps counter intuitively, focus first and foremost on your goal, not your limitations. Focusing on barriers siphons the energy out of the room. Focusing on how you will deal with the barriers to reach a clearly defined destination energizes a room. What’s the difference? The first strategy is passive. It is letting something outside of your control limit you. The second approach is active. It acknowledges the barrier and focuses on the way over, under or around it. Same circumstances, entirely different perspective.
Finally, do something. Don’t wait for the entire plan to come together before you act. Continue to refine the plan as you go, but get started. The longer you sit in one place, the more likely you are to focus on the barriers not the destination, and whatever you focus on grows.
To paraphrase Mr. Ford, if you feel limited by the barriers or optimistic about the opportunities before you, you are right. What’s your leadership reality?