More than a century ago, researchers at Clark University did an experiment with a walleye pike, a very aggressive fish. The researchers placed the pike in a large tank filled with water and added several minnows, the pike’s natural food, and watched as the fish immediately devoured the minnows. The researchers then placed a transparent glass divider in the tank with new minnows on one side and the pike on the other. Again the larger fish went after the minnows, this time hitting its head against the glass with each attempt. Eventually, the pike stopped trying to eat the minnows, having learned that the effort would only bring a sore head.
After three months, the researchers removed the glass barrier. Now there was nothing separating the predator from its prey. Yet even with the minnows now swimming all around the tank, the pike made no attempt to eat them. The pike would starve to death before trying to eat its favorite meal.
Such is the power of discouragement (or a sore head!). We may have tried and failed in the past, and because we learned that trying can occasionally bring failure and pain, we assume it will always be so.
Don’t believe it.
When you focus your energy on things you can’t control, your influence shrinks. You may still be worried about politics, about your position with this or that person or who’s getting pro/demoted or who’s up, down, or sideways. But this is debilitating thinking that will only diminish your capacity to contribute.
By contrast, if you choose to focus your energy on the things you can do something about, your influence grows—often dramatically. You can’t control what others do; you can only hope to influence them. You contribute what you can instead of exhausting your energy in futile political games because your allegiance is to the principles, not to the players.
If you choose to focus your energy on the things you can do something about, your influence grows—often dramatically.
The Wall Street Journal observes, “Most managers will spend their entire work life reacting to orders from above, reacting to pressures and problems from below, or simply reacting to the insistent demands of a busy workplace. . . . If all you do is react, you will fail as a manager. You may be good at solving problems that arise. You may be skilled at responding to the needs and requests of those you work for, or the people on your team. You may work long hours, be loved and respected by your employees, and be the very model of organizational efficiency. But you will not be an effective manager.”
Effective leaders are proactive, not reactive. They are passion-driven and resourceful, and they find a way to achieve what matters most. They focus on what they can control or influence, as opposed to getting lost in a world of concerns.
You will make mistakes: All leaders do. You may feel awkward at first, but if you persist, you will eventually feel the excitement of real growth in yourself, your team, and the bottom line.
I wish you all the best as you choose to lead. That choice can make all of the difference.
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a speaker, global leadership consultant, and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.