This last weekend a good friend lamented that the extra weight he was carrying around was because he “had given up” on losing the extra weight. The words “given up” left me considering how often we give up – not only on ideas of losing weight, but also on people, including ourselves.
The relationship therapist, Dr. Harville Hendricks, said “we all come to every relationship with high hopes and a history”. High hopes that our relationships will fill our deepest needs and desires, and a history of past hurts and wrongs that continuously influence our behavior. The same thing can certainly be said for my friend and his hopes for losing weight and his history of trying and not being successful.
Leaders and managers are charged with creating organizations that grow, innovate, and achieve the greatest results possible. They do so in an environment where employees oftentimes believe that having high hopes is seldom rewarded, and have a history that leaves them giving up on their ability to make a difference.
As a management consultant I’ve seen first hand how clients give up on some aspect of their professional or personal life. And that’s what prompted me to ask: can you allow a giving up mentality to take root in one area of your life and not have it affect other areas? Is it possible for an organization to reach the levels of success they know is possible if they’re populated with employees who have learned to give up either personally or professionally?
Higher levels of performance cannot be achieved with a giving up mindset, and any employee who adopts this type of thinking provides a challenge for leadership. Leaders can only achieve greater levels of performance and results by developing a deep reservoir of courage, confidence and resilience within every employee and throughout their organization. Not the temporary type that comes from a training class or skill development, but rather the courage, confidence and resilience that comes from believing in oneself.
A belief in our ability to positively influence events reduces the likelihood of giving up. Here are two ways to reduce the tendency to give up.
1. Understand being bored versus boring. When I was young and would complain to my mother that I was bored she would respond that I was bored because I was boring. Harsh words yes, but said in a loving and funny way. What she was driving home was that if I was bored I hadn’t learned anything new that day and that meant nothing had caught my interest or imagination. She said “go to the library and pick any book you choose and come home and tell me what you learned”. My mother was instilling in me a belief that learning something new was exciting and empowering. I learned that reading books and magazines that sometimes challenged my thinking allowed me to see new and interesting ways of thinking, acting, and experiencing something – and that left me feeling confident and courageous.
2. Progress versus perfection. I read once that only the mediocre are always at their best. How true. As I write this I’m aware that writing blogs takes work for me, and that while I’m in no ways perfect I am making progress as a blogger. I’m always looking for ways to improve so I’ve adopted a belief that rewarding failure as well as success, experimentation, risk taking and making mistakes is of of tremendous value to my blogging. I’ve come to recognize that small wins, while not grandly inspiring do wonders for cultivating a belief in oneself.
Both of these strategies have had a powerful impact on the teams and organizations where I’ve worked. Curiosity, learning and making progress are powerfully instrumental in counteracting the gravitational pull of the status quo. Small wins repeated over time build confidence, and with confidence comes the courage to try new ideas.
Leadership doesn’t require you to become a counselor or therapist. It does require that you become deeply curious and attentive to your personal and organizational tendency to give up on the unknown, untested, and unpredictable. Becoming anesthetized by the known and predictable leaves leaders accepting mediocrity and giving up on what’s truly possible in the world of work.
Ultimately, leaders have an opportunity and a responsibility to transform the world of work from a job into something far more meaningful, transformative, and empowering for every employee.
That of course requires that you not have given up.