Achieving “the right thing” tends to be tougher than it should be
So how do you win?
Let’s say you’ve been blessed with seeing exactly what your organization needs to achieve something awesome…now what do you do to make it happen?
Throughout my career, there have been so many times when I’ve gotten all fired up about some new idea for creating something I knew would make a difference, only to find a whole bunch of people who weren’t nearly as excited as I was. Sometimes because they didn’t see what I saw in my mind’s eye about what was possible. Or maybe they did but saw things I didn’t that might make it not as compelling as I thought it was. Or perhaps they realized obstacles or downsides that I missed or was unwilling to accept.
Yet here you still are with what you know is the right thing and you’re absolutely determined to champion and achieve it (thank goodness—the world needs “Over-eager’s Anonymous” peeps like you and me ☺). So what do you do next? I’m going to go with my own version of the five Ps on this one:
Here’s what I mean by each of these:
Productize: Even if it’s just an idea, it’s important to pull together what you’re thinking—the “x” you’re trying to solve for—into some sort of package that will make it tangible and “real.” This enables you to help other people see what you see and understand what you’re trying to do. It creates a piece of content that you can use repeatedly to tell a story and rally people behind it. Get as creative as you can about making it interesting, unexpected, visual, compelling. Ask someone you love and respect who knows nothing about it and has nothing at stake to brainstorm it with you—you’ll be amazed at what they’ll come up with that you wouldn’t have considered.
Partner: The most important next step is to make it not about you as quickly as possible. And the only way to do that is to figure out the best people to collaborate with to make it a “thing.” My experience is that if you’re going to look around at, let’s say, ten people in your ecosystem, there are probably two who will immediately “get it” and want to join forces. Meanwhile, there will be two others who will NEVER see what you see, understand what you’re trying to do, or get on board. So, it’s then all about the other six who could go either way—you can get them there, but it will require the next three “Ps.”
(Be) Patient: I included this one because it’s probably my biggest weakness. It’s so hard to be patient when you see an opportunity. It’s so frustrating when you have an idea that might be ahead of its time. It’s maddening when people are standing in your way for no good reason. And yet, you must be patient. Why? Because you’ll otherwise cut off your nose to spite your face like I have a few times, acting like (and maybe even saying) “why is everyone else so f’n stupid?!” ☺ And once you do that, you’ll lose your way and your momentum. If you get angry, others will shut down and refuse to hear what you have to say or see what you’re trying to do. It’s not enough to be right, so never forget how critical it is to package everything you do with persuasion, create empathy and self-interest on the other side of the table, and make it an opportunity that they’re just as determined to tackle as you are.
Pivot: To get things through the gauntlet of people, places, and things, you’ll inevitably need to be flexible and willing to let you living-breathing idea evolve. Maybe some of the changes will be “wow, that’s so much cooler and better!” kinds of adjustments while others might feel more like compromises that you’d prefer not to make. In the midst of all of those twists and turns, remember not to let the great be the enemy of the good and that done is better than perfect. Your ability to absorb and endure a myriad of variables and changes will be absolutely central to realizing your vision and goals. Some people are wired to be linear and like predictability while others relish in the chaos and see all sorts of opportunities in it. If you’re the former, you’ll need to push yourself outside of your comfort zone to get to the right place.
Persevere: You will be told “no” so many times. You will encounter constraints in various forms. It will take longer than you anticipated or than it should. But you will prevail—you absolutely can and will win if you’re truly onto something that’s the right thing for the organization (i.e., not just you) and the greater good. People will start to see it, good ones will get on board, others will own it the way you do—picking up the ball and pushing it up the hill when you’re tired and/or frustrated and need some space. They’ll become “voices” and champions for the cause—maybe even better ones than you are.
Most importantly, keep in mind that as your idea starts to realize success, the best possible outcome is that you become increasingly irrelevant in the endeavor. This might seem counterintuitive and maybe even a bit uncomfortable, but as you grow in your leadership skills and see the opportunity you have to drive change and improvement in an organization, the best reward is being able to sit back and relish the fact that others have made it their own vs. feeling threatened by their engagement. It’s truly the ultimate sign that you’ve succeeded when your idea, your “baby,” has outgrown you and can live and thrive and fly on its own.
Now it’s time to find your next hairy, ugly, thorny, vague challenge or opportunity to take on and win. Go get ‘em, girl. ☺
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Christina Van Houten is the founder of Women at Work. Based in Boston with her husband and two teenage sons, she has spent the last 20 years of her career as a senior executive in the enterprise technology sector. Prior to evolving into tech, Christina founded a women's athletic apparel brand and served in several public interest roles focused on community and economic development. She started working at age thirteen and hasn't stopped since. She’s eager to help women find their way to the best possible life they can achieve.