Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
— Robert Frost
It is easy for leaders to romanticize Frost’s words . . . to speak confidently about the desire to forge a new path, to venture into uncharted territory — of course with the presumption of discovering exciting new vistas. The reality, however, is that many paths less traveled are that way for a reason, and a bold explorer is just as likely (if not more so) to find steep inclines, thorny undergrowth or any number of other obstacles that will block the way to the intended destination. And even when there is a way forward, the less traveled path will most certainly offer challenges one would not encounter on a well-trod route. In a day and age when there is low tolerance for “failure” on the part of a leader, how do you decide if it is worth the risk to take your organization down the path less traveled? A few questions to consider:
What is the downside — specifically —of taking the path that most are following?
In most cases, the path others are following is the easiest, most efficient way forward. Why would you want to take on something harder, riskier, lonelier and more likely to deplete your resources? There may be a reason. Just make sure you know what it is, and can explain it clearly and simply to those you need to follow you, or support you, on the quest.
What are the possible gains — again, specifically — of the road less traveled?
A leader should always consider the cost-to-benefit ratio of a potential decision. Wanting a fresh path, feeling lost in the crowd, trying to explore new options may all be considerations, but do those possible benefits outweigh the risks of the unknown? Can you articulate exactly why it is worth leveraging your credibility as a leader to go in a direction most have decided against?
Is this the right time to move in a different direction?
Even if you are convinced that the potential rewards of charting your own path outweigh the risks, is now the right time to make the move? Why? What are the risks and/or possible rewards of waiting?
When you step away from the noise of the crowd, the experts, rebels and the naysayers and answer these three questions — for your organization — the decision of which path to take becomes clear. Note, that I did not say it becomes easy, only that it becomes clear. And that clarity . . . I’m talking single-sentence-explanation clarity . . . will make all the difference, regardless of which road you choose.
See you on the path!