“We’ve always done it that way” is just about the worst possible reason for doing almost anything.
If you’re going to lead effectively then you’re going to need to know exactly why you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing. What’s worked for a long time, even if it’s still working, may not be the best way of doing it anymore.
If you’re a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” kind of leader or a “don’t reinvent the wheel” type then I have question for you: How are those stone wheels on that hot new car working out for you? The fact is some of the best inventions ever made were just improvements on stuff that was working good enough.
Leaders can get stuck in ruts just like anyone else, it’s just that the consequences tend to be greater when it happens to them. That’s why the most effective leaders are always looking for a fresh perspective on pretty much everything they do. They know what is, what they really want to know is, what’s possible.
Here are a few ideas to shift your thinking from the “is” to the “could be.”
Look at your situation, issue or challenge from someone else’s point of view. If you were a six-year-old child, what would you see? If you were a fighter pilot, or a hippie in the ‘60s, or a prisoner of war, how would things look different then?
Describe the situation in writing. It’s amazing what we see when we see it in black and white. Draw it out on a white board, do a flow chart of your process (you maybe didn’t even realize there was a process) and consider every little thing. Assume nothing and leave nothing to chance.
Take a gigantic step away from the situation and ask yourself these questions: How does this situation fit into the larger scheme of things? What are the consequences of the consequences of what I’m thinking of doing. How does it affect want I’m trying to achieve in life? Does it “fit” with the values I have for my life and my organization? How will I feel about it in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years?
Ask for the opinion of someone very different than you. You won’t learn much from someone who thinks a lot like you or from someone with a similar background as yours. Remember, a fresh perspective will likely be a different perspective than the one you currently have. It’s okay if you don’t like it or don’t agree with it, you can get an even fresher one tomorrow.
Stay curious. Curiosity may have killed the cat but it can save a leader their career. Never stop asking “why do we do this” and “how can we do it better.” There has never been a leader who thrived on auto-pilot, don’t kid yourself, you’re not likely to be the first.
Wait. I’m admittedly terrible at this one. I’m perpetually in a hurry to “get it done.” But it’s amazing how different things can look from one day to the next. Maybe even from one hour to the next. I can’t tell you the number of times I could have done something better by just practicing this simply principle. Wait.
Now, having said that, let me remind you, there is a big difference between productive waiting and productivity destroying procrastination. Effective leaders know the difference.
Leadership is perishable, if we don’t constantly fertilize and freshen it with new thoughts, new insights, new ideas and new practices it can become stale pretty quickly. Have you checked the “freshness date” on your leadership lately?