Abandon Ship

Boat Wreck

“Abandon all hope of a better past.”

I have not been able to identify who first uttered those words, but he or she was obviously a wise soul. Think about it . . . how much time and energy have you spent re-playing a decision/scenario/encounter in your mind, perfecting what you (or someone else) should have said or done? How many times have the “what ifs” changed the reality of the situation?

One of the tough things about leadership is that sometimes you need to know when to abandon ship. Especially when that ship is so firmly anchored that you will never be able to move forward by clinging to it. Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve are all in the past and don’t change anything — except the energy you have to devote to improving the present and future.

Yes, things happen that we wish hadn’t. Sometimes tragic, terrible, life-changing things. And no matter how much you hope it, focus on it, or re-play it, the past doesn’t change. So as a leader, you have to choose whether you are going to cling to that sinking ship or, in the words of a dear friend, ask yourself, “what did we learn from this?” and move forward.

In some ways, it’s easier to hang out in the past. We know the players and the story line. We can spend hours editing the script until we are happy with the result. But the question remains, to what end . . . what does the energy expended gain us? A happy ending that will never be written?

Far better to take a deep breath, and boldly abandon all hope of a better past. Rather than leaving you defeated, such a decision can actually provide a boost of confidence and energy to propel you into a better future. As cliché as it may sound, in most cases you really do end up stronger for having walked through the fire. While perhaps not a journey you would choose, when you consciously decide to put one foot in front of the other, you demonstrate to all of those watching (and believe me, your people are watching) that it’s okay to walk away from what was and move toward what can be.

Creating a better past . . . that’s a futile effort. Creating a better future . . . that’s the calling of a true leader. Maybe it’s time to abandon ship.

Giving Up Your Security Blanket

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There comes a time in every toddler’s life when it’s time to give up the security blanket, or the binky, or whatever it is that calms the child in stressful situations.

There comes a time in a leader’s life, too.

Okay, so maybe I haven’t witnessed too many leaders literally dragging around a tattered, faded scrap of fabric, but figuratively . . . oh my! How many times do we clutch on to systems, or programs, or markets that are worn and full of holes simply because of the predictability and comfort of knowing what to expect, and the warm memory of past glory. Security blanket, indeed.

A recent issue of the magazine Fast Company (www.fastcompany.com, February 2015) included an interview with Katie Couric who, when asked about her decision to become Yahoo’s global news anchor, said, “When you’re a part of an established entity, there’s so much incentive to maintain the status quo. A lot of times, the people who are leading are at the end of their careers, so they don’t want to throw everything up and see where it lands.”

Giving up the security blanket — throwing everything up to see where it lands — can leave you vulnerable . . . no doubt about it. When you forfeit the comfort of what you know, those first few steps might feel a bit shaky. What if you trip and fall? In most cases, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, I’ve found there’s a confidence in those who have “given up the blanket” that usually results in pulling themselves up, brushing off their back side, and stepping forward in a new direction . . . toward a new market, or solution, or opportunity.

I’m not suggesting you have to take crazy risks. I’m merely challenging you to consider if perhaps you have outgrown some of the approaches or perspectives being used within your organization. There’s nothing wrong with comfortable, per se . . . as long as it doesn’t hold you back from an opportunity that could extend your mission reach or market share. Unfortunately, the more you are snugged in with your blanket, the less likely you are to notice those opportunities.

When you as the leader hold tight to “what has always worked”, chances are your staff will too. The new ideas, the “what ifs,” will quickly get smothered by blanket-toting lieutenants who are following your lead, thinking you’re guiding them along a safe route . . . right up to the point they discover it is actually a dead end.

Look around. Be brave. Take the first step. Lead. Before you know it, you’ll find out you really didn’t need that old blanket after all.