Courage to change direction


Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” We hear the quote and nod in complete agreement. Of course, that is madness. It is so obvious when you read the quote. And yet, many businesses, sports clubs, education establishments and charities dabble in insanity every day. They do things that are not quite working, but it is what we have always done and so we will continue to do it.


In football, the winger swings in a high ball and the 6ft 4in centre back headers it away. So, next time the winger swings in a high ball and the 6ft 4in centre back headers it away. So, the next time the winger swings in a high ball and the 6ft 4in centre back headers it away. The spectator at the side looks on and says to his fellow spectator, “that’s not working, we need some floor football.” But the next time . . . the winger swings in a high ball and the 6ft 4in centre back headers it away. It’s so obvious when you can see a sports example, but the same consideration is needed when leading others, in whatever field of business, education, public sector or charitable sector we may lead in. We need to have courage to change or adapt direction to get a better result. This comes in four steps.


The first step – to dare to ask

People generally like routine and rhythm. It provides some comfort and makes sense of their day. This may sit at the heart of why we often do things that don’t necessarily reap great results but we continue to do them anyway. The status quo does often need challenging, or at least asking these four questions:

  • What is our vision?

  • Does what we are doing feed the vision?

  • Is it working?

  • What could be done differently to get a better outcome?


But to ask these questions will cause a little discomfort. Last week we examined having the ‘courage to look at the squiggly things’. We discovered that courage needs vulnerability. To have courage we have to step into a little vulnerability. Asking these questions could cause some discomfort. I might unsettle things. People might take offence. But I need to ask it anyway. As we ask these questions, we need to bring people back to what our vision is for our organisation and is what we are doing fuelling that vision?


The second step – to dare to dream

Of course, if the answer to the questions is that it is working well, then maybe all is good, and asking the questions has actually become an encouragement as people realised there is a good system. However, more often than not, the questions unearth areas that need to improve. The second step is then to have the courage to dream what it could look like. We need the courage as leaders to dream big. What is our vision for this? What do we really want it to look like?


The third step – to take the risk

There can be this image of leaders, that they know the blueprint, they know exactly what will work and when they set off on a direction that it all goes to plan. But life is different to the movie and in reality, as leaders we don’t know it all like a blueprint and life’s indiscriminate twists and turns often end up in conflict with any plan we did have. So, in reality leadership does involve having the courage to change direction, to alter your course to respond to the challenges that occur. If we watched a ship sailing and suddenly in front of it was an iceberg, you would expect it to change direction to go around the obstacle. It is so obvious. But there is a temptation as leaders, when we are faced with the need to change course, that we want the change of direction to guarantee success. Seth Godin said in his book 'Practice' that ‘the search for a guarantee is endless, fruitless and the end of possibility, not the beginning’. We have to have courage to take the risk, knowing it might not be guaranteed success but it needs to be tested.


The fourth step – the courage to hold it lightly

When we make a change, we want it to be successful. And so there can be the temptation to hold firmly to the decision that you made, for fear of looking silly if it doesn’t work out. But if we hold tightly, we risk falling straight back into the insanity trap of doing things that still are not working. Asking those same four questions again help us to gain clarity.

  • What is our vision?

  • Does what we are doing feed the vision?

  • Is it working?

  • What could be done differently to get a better outcome?


Clarity can lead to understanding. Understanding can lead to action.


Courage to change direction is not a one-off binary act. It is a process of refinement. It is ‘Black Box Thinking’, looking for gains and then marginal gains to get the direction spot on. Changing direction is rarely doing a 180 degree turn and going in the opposite direction. More often than not it is about navigating the obstacles and icebergs to get to the ultimate destination. Life and leadership rarely travels in straight lines.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts