Where do true leaders dare to go?

Where do true leaders dare to go?

Everyone seems to know where NOT to go. “Don’t go there” is one of the oldest and most overused expressions of all time. Then, there’s the more contemporary version — “Don’t even go there.” Not to mention, “Don’t go there or you’ll be sorry,” “Please don’t go there” and “Don’t make me go there.”

No wonder so many people don’t know where to go or how to get there. They’ve been conditioned not to go to so many places. But it’s not just places, either. “Don’t go there” can mean drop the subject, don’t bother, get away from that, back off and more.

The hidden meaning behind “Don’t go there.”

“Don’t go there” may also translate to something that is off limits, out of bounds or too risky. Many leaders use, “Don’t go there” to shutdown something or someone. The question is: Why? Was it really a bad idea or suggestion? Or, was the thought of it too scary, too emotional or too political to pursue or consider? Just because you don’t want to go there, does that mean no one else should go there? Maybe they would be more successful going there than you simply because they believed in going there and knew what to do when they got there. If it doesn’t work out, you can always say, “Don’t go back there,” and at least have definitive reasons why.

There isn’t a leader, or anyone else for that matter, who hasn’t failed. However, what people learn from their failures is what turns them into successes. Besides, how many people have “gone there” after bosses, friends or colleagues emphatically told them not to go there…and then proved everyone wrong? The point is, not everyone knows where to go and where not to go all of the time. Plus, no one can always accurately predict what’s going to happen when you get there.

Beware of what lurks in “Don’t go there” territory.

“Don’t go there” puts subjects, issues and ideas into the category of un-discussable. That makes it even more intriguing and harder to let go of for many people. It may not be obvious, but when you say, “Don’t go there,” people are certainly thinking…“Why can’t we talk about that?” “What’s wrong with that idea?” “I’m getting sick of you always telling me where to go!”

These are the types of swept-under-the-carpet background conversations that can come back to haunt leaders. You have your worldview. They have theirs. Not being flexible can lead to a Worldview War that transforms “Don’t go there” into “We’re not going anywhere” as a company. So, as a leader, it’s important to pick and choose your don’t go there battles wisely. If you never let your people “go there,” they may eventually stop wanting to go where you want to go all of the time. Then, they’ll just go someplace else—like to one of your competitors.

As a leader, you have the power to initiate and allow conversations others fear having. True, they may trigger anxiety, anger, frustration or discomfort. But having those conversations is also a cure for those symptoms as well. Otherwise, the side effects when left untreated, will spread and get even worse. Don’t go there!

Sometimes, great leaders go there anyway.

Understanding peoples’ verbal and visual triggers is the key to uncovering and un-raveling un-discussable topics. Spending more time on “Don’t go there” discussions often results in closure, compromises and even better changes of course. Unresolved issues start to get resolved. Explosive personalities are diffused. Company roadblocks get knocked down freeing up businesses to go in all sorts of new directions.

The sad truth is that companies — and leaders — avoid “going there” way more often than they should. As a result, rock size issues turn into boulder size problems shackled to employees’ ankles, blocking initiatives and getting in the way because everyone knows it’s there even though no one wants to look at or acknowledge it anymore.

Shake it up — go there!

Successful market leaders such as Apple “go there” all the time. They introduce new versions of products before existing versions show any signs of concern. That’s how they stay one step ahead — by “going there” before anyone else gets there or even thinks about going there. The status quo is constantly challenged. Innovation is applauded. Going there is not only encouraged, it’s also rewarded.

The “Don’t Go There’s” usually outnumber the “Go There’s” in most companies. It’s easier — and safer — to ride past success than it is to stick your neck out into the unknown.

Every leader wants to take their company to a better place. Some will make it there and many others will fall short trying. However, the bottom line for any leader or company is whether the right decision is really being made to go there…or don’t go there.

Bio_rose2Rose is the CEO at fassforward consulting group. She blogs about Leadership, Change, Culture and Chocolate Conversations at leadingbittersweetchange.com.

You can follow her on twitter @rosefass.

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