The world has become a place in which change is the only constant. If we stand firm without seeking to improve ourselves or increase our contributions we may find ourselves “on the outside looking in.” While many seek work, the sense of security offered by a solid job can become a prison from which one cannot escape if it fails to provide the opportunity to grow and advance – the ability to contribute, receive appropriate rewards and be adequate challenged.
In today’s competitive environment, people can find contentment with what they have accomplished (becoming stagnant within their lives) or they can reach beyond “where they are” to a place not yet imagined (if they hope to taste success, fulfillment, recognition or growth). Looking back (instead of ahead), remaining content with the present (rather than using it as a window into the future), and doing what works (as opposed to seeking what might be more efficient, productive or require less effort) are signs of terminal stagnation. When we seek nothing more than we have and wish to do nothing differently than what has been done in the past we can expect to achieve only what has been previously accomplished.
Everyone faces failure during their lives – it is how we REACT TO failure that defines us. Some avoid risks and the possibility of falling short by travelling ONLY upon the paved highways that lead to well-established destinations. Others welcome the difficulties that enter their lives as being flames that temper steel – the rough times that challenge us in life (as long as we learn from them rather than allowing them to defeat us) strengthen us and our resolve to reach heights not previously discovered. In order to climb these mountains, however, we must recognize that before every summit comes a valley – that before any accomplishment comes many times of trial – and that a truly innovative leader does not ALWAYS win (but he or she DOES have many “false starts” before finding the correct path to follow). As we travel this long and winding road we must recognize some of the pitfalls that limit our potential – that minimize our ability to bring dreams to fruition – as recognizing these traps can help to keep us from a self-imposed prison that could, if left intact, become our reality. In order to ensure success – to learn from our mistakes as we seek to leverage our experiences towards future success, recognize and actively avoid these precursors of failure:
· Continually upgrade and apply your skills and abilities, refusing to accept “what is” as an end but rather as a means to “what will be.” We once felt that “learning” equated itself to earning – that once we “arrived” in the world we had reached the top and could climb no higher. What was once necessary to maintain life-long success is no longer sufficient in today’s world. A secretary needs word processing proficiency (rather than relying upon exceptional “typing” skills). Many production workers need to run automated machinery or understand statistical process controls (rather than performing repetitive roles or jobs requiring limited skill sets). An HR Professional must maintain his or her knowledge of legislation impacting the workforce to insure compliance (rather than simply staffing an organization and maintaining a respectful community in which to work). A homeowner must understand the demand for energy when rewiring his or her home (or the circuitry will not withstand the demands placed upon it by our reliance on electronics). Individuals who “fail to know” typically fail to grow.
· Do not confuse being efficient with being effective or keeping busy with being productive. An e-mail may be efficient, but a conversation could more effectively resolve an issue without extended “replies and clarifications.” Leaving a note as to where you are might be efficient but calling someone to give a personal explanation can be much more effective. A person may appear busy but unless a concrete objective is accomplished – a sense of urgency linked to the completion of a stated Organizational Goal – the activity is no more meaningful than dust in the wind. Effective people make sure that every investment of time and/or energy has a direct and measurable impact – whether it be in their business OR their personal relationships.
· NEVER believe you are irreplaceable. In the workplace, when an employee feels that nobody could EVER do what he or she does, that employee has probably limited what he or she could ever accomplish. If nobody else can do your job, then you will never have time to do anything other than your assigned tasks. Individuals who believe they are “critical” to the Organization within their limited and specialized role do not typically grow – they simply reinforce stagnation and the acceptance of mediocrity. If nobody else can do the things you do, you will never be able to seek new horizons or accept new responsibilities. Individuals feeling self-important within their relationships often lead lonely lives as it is difficult to be important to anyone else when you become self-absorbed in your thinking and self-important in your priorities.
· Do not fool yourself into thinking you know all the answers. One must always be open to new ideas, techniques, and ways of doing things in order to grow. Innovation comes from applying new ways of doing things to accomplish existing tasks. One can truly contribute ONLY after identifying the limitations of current systems, policies and procedures, asking questions as to how they might be improved then moving forward towards the adoption of more effective resolutions. In reality, people who know all the questions (and are unafraid to ask them) are often more valuable than those who feel they know all the answers
· NEVER forget (or refuse) to give credit to others – particularly when assigning blame to others should they fail. People recognizing and acknowledging the ideas and actions of those who have taken risks to make things happen – and assume the blame if things go wrong – will win loyalty, be recognized as leaders, and become vital contributors to the activities around them. When one assigns the responsibility AND holds an individual accountable for results (providing the opportunity to rectify mistakes should they occur), others are able to spread their own wings as they soar high above those simply doing what they are told or performing strictly within established boundaries. Think about how much we could accomplish in life IF ONLY we did not care who received the credit!
· We do not establish confidence and credibility if we always assume the lead. A delicate blend of “me first” and “I am right behind you” is needed to gain another’s confidence. A person is measured more by his or her actions than by their words (as actions shout while words simply whisper). To retain credibility, others must be encouraged to grow up through the ranks – forging a path that the group can follow – with you “watching their back” to minimize the consequences of a fall. A good leader cannot always be first – but must never push the team into avoidable trouble from a “safe position behind the lines.”