Ever wonder how some rich and powerful executives and political leaders can just throw it all away by committing fraud? Shouldn’t they know better?
Have you ever contemplated why it’s so hard for addicts to quit? Or why it takes so many years of psychotherapy for people to actually change their behavior?
Well, I’m no shrink, but I do know quite a bit about what it takes for people and organizations to change. And one thing I know is this: The motivation to change has to come from within. Sure, there’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s where it has to start. Inside you.
We tend to live our lives more or less on autopilot until we start to feel that things aren’t going right. Even then, we’re only likely to make minor adjustments to our inertia. It’s only when things really go to hell that we enter crisis mode. That’s when we’re most receptive to real change.
Which is why you really have to bottom out -- to not just want to change, but to feel the need to change -- to be receptive to life’s big lessons. To truly embrace new ways of thinking that will eventually, and only through a great deal of reinforcement, result in behavioral change.
That’s a long way of saying that you’re not going to change a thing based on any leadership advice I give you. That’s just not how it works. And yet, that hasn’t stopped millions from piling into this genre like it’s the only lifeboat off a stranded Carnival Cruise ship without working toilets.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it isn’t beneficial to read this stuff. I’m just concerned that, the more distracted we become with our gadgets and social media, the more we risk missing the most important learning experiences of our lives. And those are the lessons we have to teach ourselves.
You see, when I was a young manager and sort of new to the ways of the world, I used to say a lot of things. I didn’t say them off the top of my head. I actually felt strongly about them, at the time. The thing is, I don’t say or believe the same things anymore. Now I see those same things very differently.
I used to say, “The ends justify the means.” That’s right, I did. And I believed it, too. Now I know that we all, every single one of us, end up in exactly the same place. And “the means” is actually the only thing that distinguishes us between now and then.
I used to say, “There’s no value in looking back with regret.” Now I know that it’s better to look back and genuinely face the results of your actions than to make believe it never really happened. That’s the only way to avoid a lifetime of regret.
I used to say, “I face my fears.” I wore it like a banner. Like it was a done deal. Now I know that, while I did face some fears, there are many more to come. Courage isn’t static. Life constantly tests your resolve, your confidence, your strength.
I used to say, “Life is short.” I lived it like it was a sprint. Now I know that, if you treat life like it’s a sprint, that may very well become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In reality, life can be long. And if you live it like a marathon, you’re more likely to be upright at the finish.
I can go on, but I think you get the point. Sure, I learned a lot from my parents and teachers growing up. I also learned from bosses and mentors as my career progressed. But the hard lessons, the big lessons, the lessons that changed my worldview and my life, were all lessons I taught myself.
The only way to do that is to not give in to the constant distraction that threatens to turn us all into addicted zombies, if we let it. By paying attention and being aware of what’s really going on. Not just around us, but inside us. By looking in the mirror and being genuinely open to what we might find there. By questioning our own status quo.
One thing I can tell you for sure. You won’t learn your most important lessons here. Those, you’ll have to teach yourself.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of "Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur." Learn more, contact Tobak or follow his new blog at stevetobak.com. Any opinions expressed are those of the columnist.