I work with people and organisations who want to change and I hear it all the time: “That’s nice in theory, but it’s not possible to do that here because <insert good excuse here>.” Or something like “There’s no way I could do <insert scary personal task here>.” Whatever the story, whether in a personal or corporate context, people tell me all the time how a change is not possible. Here’s the secret, though: when we approach a problem from a place of being impossible it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Struggles created by themselves
I know of one company who has been struggling for several years now. This company continues to try and recover from some decisions made by senior management a decade ago, which didn’t produce the outcomes they were hoping for. Unfortunately, this once great company has degraded into a very poisonous environment suffering in areas like financials, morale, processes, leadership, skill drain and more.
When talking with one of the employees, she commented change is impossible. I don’t agree. Change and improvement are always possible. It might be improbable, or very challenging depending on what’s going on, but I never view it as impossible.
In this particular case, the senior management of this organisation seems to be very driven by financial targets at all costs. My evidence of this is how the head of sales frequently employs bully tactics in an attempt to put through more sales. He’s gone so far as to demand poor engineering practices, overtime, outsourcing and more all in the name of increasing sales volume. Any of these actions would have the unintended impact of lowering quality of the product. If your organisation were to become known for lowering quality what is the likelihood of surviving?
In other words, the actions of this management group amount to trying to save the Titanic by rearranging the deck chairs. Such superficial moves don’t make saving the Titanic impossible, only improbable unless we take more impactful steps.
What mindset am I in?
My intention in life is to not waste a single minute of it and to leave this world a better place than I found it. This means I want to have a positive impact on the world around me, through my work and living. Although I don’t really know what my future looks like, I do see myself on an increasingly bigger stage in this world if I’m to have the impact I dream of (not necessarily the physical kind of stage … the metaphorical stage might be the right one)
Although my life has been turning a corner these past few years, I know there’s a significant pivot in front of me when I’m going to have to just go for it. When I start thinking about that pivot in my mind I hear the words “Wait! I’m 50 years old, so it may not be possible to get where I want in the years I have left.” With this little seed planted, I start thinking of all the ways I can be blocked from the path I want to follow.
There are so many good stories I like to weave together for myself: I don’t know if I can make enough money on that path. What if people think I’m foolish. I really should go get a 9-5 regular job and give up this foolishness. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. There’s just so many stories I spin for myself which really do nothing except create a lot of negative talk in my head. In the end, it leaves me with just one thought:
What’s the point – it’s impossible for me to be successful doing what I really want to be doing!
When I get into this mindset, I find myself in a Control Cycle Mindset. In a Control Cycle Mindset, I evaluate my reality, judge it, label it, then telling myself what I should do. When this happens, I see myself as powerless. Rather than trying to change and improve, I just keep doing what I was doing because I’ve convinced myself it’s the best I can hope for. It’s an endless cycle that can leave me trapped for a very long time.
Bullshit … stop telling me it’s impossible
The only thing making my dreams impossible is me. I’ve learned the longer I tell myself something is impossible, the more I believe my stories. The more I believe my stories, the harder it can be to see past them to what’s possible. The harder it is to see past them, the more difficult it can be to dislodge them.
The good news is (speaking from experience): it is totally possible to dislodge the stories blocking me from realising my dreams no matter how tightly I’m hanging on to them. Dislodging these stories starts with having an intention. In this case, my intention is to not waste a single minute of my life while living fully on purpose.
Leading for Change
For Leaders, your job is to create an environment to make change continually possible regardless of what your formal role is. There is no destination for the team to reach, just the next bend in the river along their journey of continually improving.
I don’t know a better way for a team to become stalled than when they start believing change is impossible. It’s much like damming up a river where you watch the potential of the team start to slow, and in some cases dry up.
There are numerous things which can put a team into an impossible mindset, from stories the team tells themselves, learned helplessness, political games being played by leadership, and just so much more. Whatever it is, if a team starts to believe they cannot improve I guarantee it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The good news is this dam can be removed. Even if it’s well fortified and ancient dam, it can be removed with some effort. As a leader, I find if you can start to show the team it is possible by removing a few of the logs from the dam, they start to see things flowing again. Then like a dam holding back a river, slowly you will find the dam will start to fall apart all on its own. Eventually, what remains of the dam will burst and the floodgates are open (which is a good thing in this case).
Regardless of the context, and for whatever the reason I invite you to stop seeing things through an impossible lens as it becomes the only way to see things. Rather, adopt the mantra of: