I run regularly. Since my knees are deteriorating, I’m experimenting with new ways to reduce the shock to my joints. I’ve learned that barefoot (flat-footed) running actually produces less impact than standard heel-toe running in athletic shoes. I’ve been running for several weeks using a gentler, flat-footed style, and I’ve had some good results (less knee pain, building distance, increasing speed). But this new style is incredibly uncomfortable, and I’m tempted to abandon it.
Each time I run I find myself tensing up my shoulders and hands. I can’t relax, and it takes all my concentration just to keep my rebellious feet from going back to their old habits. When my mind wanders, I slip back into a heel-toe rhythm, with damaging long-term effects (sore knees, fewer runs, knee surgery).
I have a couple of clients who are trying new moves in their leadership. Those new moves are proving uncomfortable for them. One is trying to be less controlling and give his team more freedom to choose priorities and solve problems on their own. Another is trying to be more assertive, making necessary but unpopular decisions without consensus from all her team members.
Both of these leaders are in danger of slipping back into old, comfortable rhythms. The first is tempted to start digging into the details of his subordinates’ work, fearing they must be hiding important information. The second is tempted to second-guess her decisions when she encounters the (predictable) opposition. If they slip, their organizations will suffer.
What can we do to preserve our gains and keep moving forward?
Burn the Ships. When Cortez landed in Mexico, he burned (well, actually scuttled) his ships to ensure there was no way his men could back out of the plan to conquer the Aztecs. With our leadership moves, however, “burning the ships” isn’t as tangible. We need to find ways to make it more likely that we will make good choices, day after day. Both of my clients have told their teams about their new moves, expressed their commitment, articulated the reasons why their old moves weren’t working, and asked to be held accountable. Those actions require courage, and they create support systems that pull leaders forward when they are tempted to turn back.
Get Feedback. Without insights from someone who has gone before us down our new path (a mentor or role model), or someone who can help us get where we want to go (a coach), we’re on our own. We can muddle through as rugged individualists, but that isn’t our only option. Coaching is helping my clients run with better form.
Measure Results. I’ve been encouraging my clients’ team members to clarify for their leaders how those new behaviors are contributing to the organization’s success. Clearly seeing the benefits of new moves helps leaders overcome the discomfort.
Run Faster. This one may seem counter-intuitive, but running more, and running faster, allows us to get through the discomfort quicker. The more we practice our new moves, the more adept we become, and the more natural the behaviors feel.