Learning to lead: are you thinking too much?

Learning to lead: are you thinking too much?

When you need to lead change in your organisation, you have to learn how to overcome your fear of acting – and gain the industry knowledge to ensure you make the right choices.

“It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting.”

That’s the view of Jerry Sternin in his book The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World's Toughest Problems.

It’s a truth that the most successful business leaders live and breathe. Studies have shown it’s easier to act in a way that feels unnatural and let your brain catch up in its own time, than it is to force your actions to follow your thoughts.

Psychologist Richard Wiseman calls it the ‘As If’ principle. Force yourself to smile as if you’re happy and your mood will eventually swing towards the sunny side, through changes in your hormone levels.

Yet inertia is the single thing holding most of us back in life. Rather than act, we let fear hold us back.

Fortunately though, we can choose to override these fears. An ability to do this is one of the things that underpins great leadership. Great leaders make decisions confidently and take risks sensibly, when the stakes are right.

One of those sensible risks is fighting to lead positive change within an organisation. 

Of course, standing up to challenge the way a company’s been doing something for years – even decades – can be terrifying. The problem is that the pace of change is speeding up, not slowing down, and old Ebenezer’s methods from the founding of the company aren’t necessarily the right ones any more.

A jump start is fuelled with decisive action. And, in order for that action to be successful, the right knowledge is also vital.

A tool for action

The OKR framework (Objectives and Key Results), a Google-devised method of setting goals and KPIs at both an individual and company level, is one example of thinking your way into acting.

OKRs are not an easy to use. Advocates are clear: you should expect to go through several quarterly iterations of testing, reviewing and remoulding to get the system working as it should, and over that teething period, you should expect to fail. But it’s OK, because from that failure comes learning and ultimately greater success.

The challenge to overcome a fear of acting has a big potential payoff outside the office as well as inside. Provided you have just enough skills and confidence to get going, a leap of faith could take you places inertia can only dream of.

The right knowledge

Without the right knowledge, it’s impossible to make a sensible decision about what kind of decisive action to take.

For starters, you need to understand your own business thoroughly, and work out what the competition is trying to do as well.

And while there are tools like the OKR framework to help you be more decisive, high-level knowledge of industry trends is more difficult to come by.

For example, one of the major reasons to change how an organisation works is the appearance of game-changing new technology. New social media applications, different ways of advertising and shifts in how people consume content are increasingly common, and could all require shifts in organisational mindsets or processes. These changes should also change how your marketing is conducted – if you are to keep up with the competition.

If decisive action requires courage, an understanding of upcoming disruptors requires serious work. Fortunately, there is plenty to learn online. Yet the more structured approach provided by a training course might be exactly what you need to provide up-to-date insight into current and future marketing trends – and therefore guide your decisive actions.

Looking to boost your industry knowledge? The CIM Marketing Leadership Programme has been developed with the help of the world’s top leaders to build key leadership competencies. Find out more.

Corissa Nunn Freelance Journalist
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