Stubbornness is not an ethnic trait, it is a human one. To very earliest accounts of humanity, we see stubbornness at play and causing issue after issue. It is true that some of us are especially stubborn. (My wife just shouted “AMEN!”)
The danger is to confuse stubbornness with determination. I am a firm believer in being steadfast and consistent. However, to use these words in place of my own stubbornness is a major flaw and can be devastating in leadership.
Times change. Situations change. People change. We change. To hold something just because it is what we have always known or done before when everything is changing is just down right not smart.
Just like a guitarist works to keep her guitar in tune, we must work to keep our lives in tune and moving forward.
When I was 19 years old, I left home to explore life and make my own path. I pulled out of our driveway in Mayfield, KY in my 1984 Ford Bronco and headed out on a grand adventure. I had my Sony discman CD player with cassette adapter for my stereo and book of CDs for entertainment. I had a brand spanking new Rand McNally Atlas purchased at Wal-Mart for my “navigation system”. A few hundred dollars cash. No credit card. No phone. No computer. The next year was truly a grand adventure and life-changing in so many ways.
As I look back at that time, there is a sense of nostalgia and even a hint of longing for the simplicity of it all. However, when I took my family to North Carolina for vacation recently, it was a bit different. Now when I travel, I have my smartphone with GPS and weather info and bluetooth connectivity. I travel with a credit card as well as cash. I drive a much newer vehicle with far fewer mechanical issues. I am more prepared and more aware. Change.
We can’t stay the same and expect growth. We can’t keep doing what we have been and expect things to progress. What got is where we are won’t get us where we need to be. There are better ways. There are new opportunities. There are advancements. There are things that didn’t exist before.
In the 20th Century, progress hit a new speed with technology. Society and the world started changing at a faster rate. However, it was still manageable most of the time. In the 21st century, the momentum of change has accelerated to dizzying speeds. What once was accepted is taboo in a matter of months based on one incident that captures media attention. The cutting edge of technology is hard to define in a world of 6-12 month turnover. The evolving scape of global politics is like keeping up with March Madness with all of the realignments and coups and shifts of power.
For an organization to keep up requires a lot of hard work and intentionality. For a leader to stay ahead requires a lot of hard work and intentionality.
It requires a constant evaluation. We have to ask ourselves frequently:
- Why are we doing what we are doing?
- Is there a better way?
- What can I learn from what just happened?
Without on-going evaluation we will begin to stagnate and become complacent. Before we know it, we will be left behind and miss out on what could be.
I am not suggesting trying to be the one out front on the cutting edge of everything latest and greatest. This is about evaluating self and methods and making sure that stubbornness or complacency are not starting to take over.
In the church I pastor, we debrief and evaluate everything we do on an almost weekly basis. This is to catch things while they are fresh and find what is good that we can highlight and what needs some attention or be fixed or even removed.
In my life as a leader it is important to do the same thing. All of us have to fight the “creep”. The “creep” is the slow erosion of what we do well. It is the whittling away of our good habits and discipline. It is those things that begin to eat away at our time and take away from what we need to be doing forward to advance our purpose, ability, and effectiveness.
Without evaluation and adjustment, the “creep” wins. That second part is absolutely vital. Evaluation without adjustment is useless. Knowledge without action has never helped any one or any situation. Once we evaluate, we must act. We must adjust.
If you are driving down the highway and realize that you are not heading the right direction but never adjust and get back on the right path, you will not arrive at your destination. It would be ridiculous to just keep going forward because…
- …it just seems too inconvenient to turn around
- …you are making good time going this way
- …it’s a pretty view
- …others are going this way
- …you’ve never gone the other way before
- or any number of other crazy excuse we come up with for not enacting needed change.
Eventually, you will reach the end of that road and you won’t be where you intended or wanted to be. The longer you wait to evaluate your direction and then act, the longer it will take to get back on the right track.
Evaluation needs to be constant and adjustment needs to be immediate once it is identified.
We must have a standard in our evaluation. If we don’t have some basic guiding principles and values then we will evaluate according to emotion and what seems popular and right and that will leave us chasing nothing. That’s like driving with no map, no GPS, no navigation at all. I addressed this in the post on Vision and Direction found here.
Evaluation is not an excuse for being wishy washy or giving in to environment. Sometimes that right thing to do is stand against something. Sometimes we need to shape the environment around us. Sometimes we are wrong and we need to change. We only know through evaluation.
Here are a few keys to help in evaluation…
- Know the what – clearly define what you are trying to accomplish/acheive
- Know the why – have a concise understanding of why it is important, make sure you know your motivation
- Write it all out – if it isn’t written it will more easily fall victim the “creep”
- Measure everything you are currently doing against the what and why – if it doesn’t line up, it probably needs to be changed/fixed/removed
- Ask, “Is this the best way to accomplish/achieve the what and stay true to the why?”
- Make this part of your routine – evaluate regularly
- Get outside perspective from time to time – we can’t always see clearly and need fresh eyes on what we are doing
As we make evaluation a habit, the adjustments we need to make become clear and easier over time.
In striving to be a better leader, we start with learning to manage self. Effectively managing self includes constant evaluation and adjustment.