“I’m making course adjustments,” a good friend and colleague told me the other day, smiling as he spoke.
Fascinated, I listened as he went on to provide perspective on what “adjusting course” meant for him. The genesis of the conversation had arisen from a chat we were having about strong convictions he once held which had been tested over time by his life experience. “I’m not the same guy as I was then – I need to be open to seeing things from a different perspective,” he said, adding, “If I don’t do that, then I stop learning.”
As I am prone to do, I mulled his comments for a long time after we finished talking. I thought about the many clients with whom I work who are constantly confronted with choices and decisions. They adjust course in small ways every day, and then reflect on how those course adjustments work for them – and then they adjust again. They cope with managing businesses and leading people – making nuanced and creative decisions along with critical financial judgments.
The most successful leaders are those who recognize that their viewpoint is powerfully informed by their own experience and where they are in their personal and professional journey. For instance, a new leader who is untried can make a decision early in a career that they might make differently later in life. The key for that leader is to understand what they learned from the experience. Why did they make the decision in the first place and why was there a course correction later on?
A critical point is that we need to know how and why we are adjusting our course. As complex as it might seem, adjusting a course when you’re piloting an airplane, for example, is easy to understand. If you’re not going to arrive at the destination you planned, you can change speed and heading. Adjusting course in life is infinitely more complex. A leader’s decisions are not based on the same kind of data and understanding of navigational techniques used by aviators. Instead, decisions are often informed by a variety of sepia-toned information analysis and intuition, which depends on both knowledge and experience.
But, as an aviator or a leader, course adjustments cannot be made in a vacuum. And they need to be deeply understood. Leaders can best serve themselves and their companies by asking personal questions:
- How has my perspective changed?
- Why am I feeling differently about my (or the organization’s) current course?
- Am I stuck in a way of thinking that no longer supports me the way it used to?
- What are my intentions?
- What do I want to change?
- What choices can I make?
Being curious about one’s own motivations and exploring the why, how, and what of our personal evolution can inform the adjustments we naturally make as part of growing. Curiosity can also help us know where we can confront our own assumptions and realize that they may no longer serve us. Andy Cohen explores challenging assumptions well in an article in Duke Corporate Education.
Growing, learning, and expanding our range as human beings – and understanding how those concepts inform our own worldview and the course we set– are such fascinating parts of life’s journey. Appreciating that adjustment to our course is such an important part of leadership – That is the joy and a challenge for each of us.
My thanks to a dear friend who helped me with my own course adjustment!
Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches is an ICF-certified coach who was trained at the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC). He is a former U.S. Army officer and senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout American industry.