Saturday 10 October 2015

If at First You Don't Succeed, Focus on Your Thinking

A priority this week has been helping our son Charlie practice driving. This was his second attempt, just like his dad and mom had done when he was his age (it's genetic).

As we were returning home from a practice session, I asked Charlie a question I ask all leaders who are repeating an unsuccessful change initiative: what will be different this time? Charlie's answer was one I have never heard before. He said, "I am going to approach the test differently. Last time, my mind was focused on getting through the test instead of completing the activities that would have resulted in a pass. I was reactive, waiting for the instructor to direct me versus observing the road conditions and driving the car. 

Charlie's different attitude changed how he practiced, from repeating specific tasks around the test area to driving in different locations under new conditions. He was increasing his breadth of experience and skill.

Most leaders focus on activities or tasks when leading changes that haven't been successful in the past. They try to 'fix' past mistakes (actions and tactics) instead of rethinking the change (mindset). This results in minor tweaks when different approaches are needed to gain the outcomes. 

Successful change requires leaders to align mindsets, actions and behaviours to achieve challenging goals. The hardest to influence is mindsets because beliefs and viewpoints are deep-rooted in people's minds and organizational cultures. Pronouncements such as 'This is my leadership style' or 'this is how we do things around here' are typical and signs of inflexible thinking that lead to marginal change and repeat misses.  

Here are a few questions to consider when attempting a change for the second time:

- What didn't work the first time?
- What has to be true this time to be successful?
- How can I look at the change differently (to avoid what didn't work and do what is required to be successful)?
- What actions and behaviours will deliver my new approach?

Charlie passed his driving test with flying colours. The instructor even asked him to honk the horn at onlookers who were standing in his designated parking spot. He was now a certified motorist!

During our family celebration, Charlie reflected that his new approach worked well. He focused on his immediate environment -- would he have an advanced green light, would the traffic be too heavy to turn at the first parking lot entrance, etc. -- and completed each task as requested. He didn't feel rushed and was less nervous than he had been during his first test. 

Based on Charlie's lead, I am now going to ask a different question of leaders: How are you thinking differently about the change this time around? The answers will be a good predictor of success.



  1. Yea Charlie! Looking good at almost 17! Tell him I didn't pass the first time either. There is much more to be gained by a set back or failure than an easy pass.

    1. Thank you Mairin, I will pass along your congratulations. Your insight is so true: we learn and grow through our set backs and how we choose to overcome them.