In nearly every SENSEI LEADER MOVEMENT workshop someone will complain about being stuck––as an individual or as an organization. Nothing is changing.
Sometimes you feel like nothing is changing, but it is. You can’t stop it. We are always changing, again as individuals and as organizations. Whether you feel it or not, these changes are leading us to either success or failure.
The problem is you sometimes don’t notice it. Worse, and this is a huge mistake for any leader, we sometimes fail or refuse to see it.
One problem is that we sometimes expect that change is going to feel grand. Again, many changes go unnoticed. We feel nothing at all, which is why we sometimes feel nothing is changing. But sometimes the most meaningful and significant changes are the smallest. We just don’t know it at the time.
I learned that lesson while earning my black belt. Most people that go through the black belt experience learn the same lesson.
You don’t suddenly awaken super powers the moment you strap on your belt. You are fundamentally the same martial artist, and the same person you were seconds ago when you removed your brown belt for the last time.
Essentially, only two things really change: your mindset. And the color of your belt.
For martial artists it may be the moment you strap on your black belt. It’s the same when you except your first management position, or earn your first seat in the C suite. You are not suddenly a different person. You are the accumulation of thousands of small steps — each preparing you for this moment and this opportunity.
You might notice the change now because you’re marking a passage––celebrating a tangible achievement, but everything you are now is the product of thousands, maybe millions of small steps. Some forward––some back.
You may not feel these little steps. Or, you may feel moments of frustration, doubt and fear that don’t at all feel like progress. These moments don’t feel like change––at these times we often feel stuck. Along the way, these words might help:
“Frustration is the well from which all wisdom springs.”
Of course we could add, it doesn’t always feel like it at the time!
Again I want to stress that every one of these smaller steps is where any real change is happening. Lao Tzu wrote long ago that “every journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step”. The rest of the journey is just a lot more single steps! Without these thousands of steps, standing on the summit would not feel like much of an accomplishment.
As leaders it’s important to understand and accept this process not only for our own growth and development, but so we can lead others on the same path. So that we can provide the encouragement, guidance and sometimes even sympathy needed to lead others up the trail to the summit too.
OK––philosophy is great, but how do we put these ideas to work?
The secret is in the small steps. If we want to create change––in ourselves, in others and in our organizations, we’ve got to:
- Identify the small steps
- Discipline ourselves to keep walking
- And recognize our progress along the way
I’m not a fan of “big goals.” Don’t get me wrong––we need big goals, but too often people stop right there. That’s why so many fail.
Break the “big goal” down into a series of small, actionable steps:
- What can you do first?
- What resources do you have here and now and what can you do with them?
- What do you need to find, develop or learn to progress further?
Then––discipline. It’s all easy on flat ground. Are you willing to keep pushing when the whether turns against you and the trail gets steep? Commit yourself to doing what it takes. Anticipate the worst possible conditions and prepare for them. Expect the unexpected and welcome challenges and hardships as opportunities for growth.
Finally, recognize and mark your progress––and as a leader recognize the progress of others too.
Along the way enjoy the view! And as a leader, make sure you help others enjoy it too. Even the smallest acknowledgement can provide powerful inspiration––especially when the going is tough.
It’s become kind of a meme, but it’s absolutely true. “Change happens.”
The more you are an active and aware participant in that change the more you can achieve, and the more satisfaction and even joy you can experience along the way…
At every single step.