Matters Column

Learning to succeed by altering the perspective

February 8, 2013
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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. Being more afraid to move toward a new opportunity than to remain in an unrewarding situation is a sign of stagnation. We must not simply look ahead if we want to enjoy or experience change; we must act intentionally to move from comfortable reality toward undefined (and often unlimited) possibility.

There are several pitfalls that limit our potential and minimize our ability to bring dreams to reality:

  • Those content with what they have — their status, position, relationships or potential — are often content with the skills or knowledge they possess.

To move forward we must continually upgrade and apply our abilities, refusing to accept “what is” as an end but rather as a means to “what might be.” What was once necessary to maintain a life-long job is no longer sufficient. A secretary needs word processing proficiency. Many production workers need to run automated machinery or understand statistical process controls. An HR professional must maintain his or her knowledge of work force legislation to ensure compliance. Individuals who “fail to know” typically fail to grow.

  • Those who are comfortable living and working at a steady, unhurried pace often confuse being efficient with being effective — or worse, keeping busy with being productive.

An e-mail may be efficient, but a conversation resolves 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. Placing a call without leaving a message necessitates the return of a call to clarify an issue. Effective people make sure every investment of time and/or energy has a direct and measurable impact on their — or their organizations — ability to conduct business.

  • Those who are content with who they are and what they might contribute often believe they 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 grow; they simply reinforce their stagnation and acceptance of mediocrity. You will never be able to seek new horizons or accept new responsibilities until someone else can do the things you do.

  • No one person knows all the answers because, singularly, we cannot begin to know all the questions.

To avoid failure one must always be open to new ideas, techniques and ways of doing things (particularly if we wish to grow). Innovation- and resolution-based problem-solving comes from applying new ways of doing things to accomplish existing tasks. One truly contributes only after identifying the limitations of current systems, policies and procedures, asking questions as to how they might be improved, then moving forward toward the adoption of more effective resolutions. People who know all the questions are often more valuable than those who feel they know all the answers.

  • Individuals destined to fail often assume the credit for positive results with which they are associated — deferring or shifting the blame upon others for each failure.

People who recognize and acknowledge the ideas and actions of those who 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, ownership is clearly established. The worst thing we can do is assign the responsibility but retain any praise for a task’s accomplishment. Think about how much we could accomplish in life if only we did not care who received the credit.

  • Learning to succeed involves sharing the lead. We do not establish confidence and credibility by always assuming the lead.

A delicate blend of “me first” and “I am right behind you” is needed to gain another’s confidence. The better measure of a person is through his or her actions rather than through words. 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” so as 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.”

As you take time to plan where you are going, think about how you are going to get there by maintaining a positive perspective along the way. Learning from the failure of others is often easier, but acknowledging and moving forward through our own experience is much more effective. In order to succeed we must identify and nurture “the possible” rather than accepting and hiding within “the probable.”

David Smith is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association in Grand Rapids.

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