Do you or your colleagues suffer from “destination disease”? I frequently see many students with this condition. I have also succumbed to its harmful effects on occasion. But what is “destination disease”? You may suffer from it if you let your achievements define you. The afflicted believe that everything will be perfect when a certain goal, such as completing a degree or getting a promotion, has been attained. This fixed mind-set is caused by ignoring the sage advice that life isn’t about the destination but about the journey.
Considerable research has been conducted on the benefits of developing a growth mind-set. Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has extensively studied how having a growth mind-set (as opposed to a fixed mind-set) can increase success and satisfaction in nearly every aspect of life. Relentlessly nurturing a growth mind-set should be a deeply held conviction of every current or aspiring leader. With this perspective in mind, the following prescription of actionable guidance may strengthen both organizational and personal leadership performance and help prevent the debilitating consequences of “destination disease.”
PASSION AND PURPOSE
All leaders will tell you they like to hire and encourage people with passion. Is passion the main ingredient in the recipe for success? It depends on how we define passion. Passion is primarily driven by intense feelings. Strong emotions can be helpful to initiate action, but seeing things through to completion requires more than emotional intensity. When challenges or obstacles arise, the needed self-discipline and persistence to keep going in spite of these difficulties often depends on more than passion. The driving force behind passion also may not always be aligned with broader organizational interests. Passionate people can be very ambitious but also sometimes self-absorbed and self-serving. It may sound like a subtle distinction, but purpose is what really matters. A commitment to serving something higher than your own self-interest is what distinguishes purpose from passion. A motivational purpose is inspired by reasoning that gives more meaning to our actions. When we understand the “why” behind our deeds, our sense of devotion grows significantly. Passion can help get us started, but it’s purpose that keeps us moving forward. We can lead ourselves and others more effectively when our sense of duty has this higher calling.
Natural ability and talent can be overrated. When our abilities enable us to do something with less effort, we can become complacent and more susceptible to “destination disease.” Continuous improvement depends on both the capacity and willingness to keep learning. Learning requires humility and constant effort. To learn anything, we must acknowledge that we have something to learn. Curiosity is a prerequisite for innovation and growth but is usually only incentivized when we don’t have a fear of trying new things. Effort and persistence should be highly valued because they’re the main components of long-term, sustainable achievement. As one of our greatest inventors of all time, Thomas Edison, famously stated, “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”Many distinguished historical figures have been credited with saying, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” This humorous quote has plenty of truth. Being concise takes more time and effort than pointlessly rambling. But time and effort alone don’t produce quality. High-performing individuals are both effective and efficient. To maximize productivity, don’t fall into the trap of believing that the keys to producing results are spending long hours behind a desk, attending endless meetings, or generating reports few will read. Make sure that what you’re doing and asking others to do adds value and isn’t just busywork.
Do you get upset when someone speaks up with a different perspective? Are you and your team vulnerable to groupthink? Groupthink can undermine one of the main benefits of teams, which is diversity of thought. What does it mean to be a “team player”? A team player isn’t a sycophant. A team player who offers useful criticism should be highly valued since his or her feedback can potentially lead to better decisions and results. Leaders are better served when they create a trusting environment that encourages different opinions and constructive debate. Optimal decision-making approaches rest on creating a culture of ownership and accountability. Don’t be afraid to say that someone else has a better idea. Are you more interested in being right or doing the right thing? Ideas, not people, should be judged based on their merit and feasibility. Genuine progress depends on a willingness to challenge yourself as well as an openness to being challenged by others.
THE REFLECTIVE LEADER
While higher positions may demand that you exercise more leadership traits, your position doesn’t make you a leader or prevent you from being one. Leadership is about influence. If we lack influence over our own behavior, we lack the most essential type of leadership, which is self-leadership. If those we lead follow us only because of our positional authority, we also lack leadership ability. One of the most influential means of leadership is leadership by example. In this regard, everyone can be a leader. Some of the most influential leaders in many organizations are those who have developed a habit of excellence that colleagues respect, admire, and desire to emulate. That’s influence. That’s leadership.
Of course, this proposed prescription for preventing “destination disease” doesn’t promise immunity or guarantee that we’ll reach our full leadership potential. Like you and me, it’s a work in progress with room for improvement. But through regular self-examination, reflection, and purposeful action, we can certainly strive to reinforce a growth mind-set. Enjoy the journey!
IMA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
The IMA® Leadership Academy provides leadership opportunities for all members. From leadership assessment to leadership courses offered in person as well as through WebEx to participation opportunities in mentoring, be it reverse or traditional, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals and improve your leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website at www.imanet.org/career-resources/leadership-academy.