I recently spoke with a friend of mine, an experienced 14-year business owner, who faced a couple of decision dilemmas while shaping company culture. He knew it was up to him to set the right tone and example, and he asked my advice about choosing the best option and moving forward with the right steps. In particular, he felt stuck between two choices — Plan A or Plan B. How could he possibly know which one to choose and ensure it was the right one? Ultimately, I told him not to be afraid to mess up.
In reality, you may not know the correct answer at the time. You learn the right option by taking action and evaluating how it works for you and your company. When you “get stuck,” you’re often overanalyzing the plan and focusing on the concern that you’re going to choose the “wrong” option. To me, this is a mindset issue. If you have two options that are both smart choices and based on the facts you have at the time, you can’t go wrong. You simply need to take action and change your plan based on what you observe from there. It’s through the implementation of your decision that you’ll ultimately create the success you want. As I told my friend — make a choice and implement. You’ll learn the next best step along the way.
Here’s how to set yourself up to do this:
Create a dynamic plan. When equipped with a plan that’s allowed to evolve, you’ll never get stuck between a formal Plan A versus Plan B. You can move through the implementation as it develops in real time. As Carol Dweck explains in her book Mindset, people either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. With a fixed mindset, people believe they’re born with innate abilities and “you are who you are.” With a growth mindset, however, people know they’re continually evolving and can train themselves to adapt and be better. At our company, the senior managers know to encourage dynamic, collaborative processes to make decisions and carry out projects. Everyone’s input is valuable, and our employees must have the courage to voice their opinions. If we try a new plan, we do it together, and if it fails, we fail together. Then we collaborate to rectify the missteps and move forward again together.
Drop the perfectionist tendencies. When you’re concerned about making the “right” decision and not looking foolish, you hinder yourself at every move. Don’t be ideological with your role as a leader and imagine that you can choose the option that will result in every perfect outcome. In real life and real business, our choices never play out exactly as we want anyway. A curveball will always require some type of pivot, and the growth mindset allows you to be adaptable to the circumstances that pop up in front of you. To shift quickly, you and everyone around you needs to have this similar mindset, which creates the opening and opportunity for your employees to be creative and think outside of the box.
Encourage growth. Ever an eternal optimist, I’m dispositioned to look at a cup and see it as half full rather than half empty. This may be an inherent part of who I am, but anyone can learn how to think this way. If you’re a leader or manager, you’ve already done this by taking a risk, believing in an idea or company, and moving forward without all of the resources or circumstances in place before you took action. It’s important to continue this lifelong pursuit of growth — both within yourself and among your team — by creating the ecosystem for it to happen. Look to books, podcasts, coaching, peer groups or whatever you enjoy that influences your ideas and thoughts. For me, it’s been vital to meet consistently with a peer group that models the tendencies and behaviors that I want to exhibit. Find a mentor or two, and you’ll pick up on their beliefs and actions. We’re always evolving, always “becoming,” whether that’s a better or worse version of ourselves. Ensure that you’re moving in the positive direction.
Know it will work out. From a young age, we were taught to avoid failure. Even in school, we were told that if we took an action and it didn’t work out, it was wrong. If we encountered a barrier in our plan, it was better to write it off quickly. It’s Plan A versus Plan B again. That’s the wrong perspective. This doesn’t mean that I haphazardly leap into action based on assumption — instead, I gather as much data as possible to make the first step. Then I pause, reflect, and put the next step in the plan into place. As you learn more data, you can move forward confidently. As an example, instead of putting some of our marketing dollars into traditional avenues such as direct mail, we invested in social media ads. Although it was counterintuitive in our industry at the time, we knew it was important to start it and learn how to improve the content along the way. Instead of putting pressure on making the creative “perfect,” we focused on learning how to use LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram first, and then we improved our posts based on the engagement we saw. We knew we were going to make mistakes and learn. Taking action itself was invaluable for our next steps.
In the end, it’s vital to exchange the word “failure” in your vocabulary with “experience.” You’re not failing — you’re experiencing. It might sound like wordplay, but the mindset shift about the definition is an important psychological process. The sooner you can experience the effects of a decision, the sooner you can learn and grow. That experience is a vital part of the learning and decision-making process, and ultimately, your mixture of experience, reflection and action is what creates success.