‘If you want to go to places you’ve never been before, you have to think in ways you’ve never thought before’
– Ken Blanchard
In his book The Art Of Possibility, Benjamin Zander recounts the story of two travelling shoe salesmen who ventured to Africa from Manchester in the early 1900’s to discover whether or not they could sell shoes.
Both independently sent a telegram back to England to report on their observations and findings:
First Salesman: ‘Situation Horrible. They don’t wear shoes!’
Second Salesman: ‘Glorious Opportunity. They don’t have any shoes yet!’
Both were in exactly the same circumstance and had witnessed the same conditions, yet they seemed to be operating from parallel universes. One salesman saw nothing but roadblocks and hurdles, the other nothing but opportunity. Or as Zander suggests, one views possibility as luck whilst the other views it as the norm.
How often have we witnessed this happen amongst our own teams and businesses or even in our own careers? No doubt we’ve all breathed a sigh of relief when someone has come to us with excitement and energy about the opportunity to do something differently rather than an explanation of why it wont work. Or maybe we’ve recounted what we felt was a hopeless situation for ourselves to a friend only to have them look through a different lens and see a prime opportunity to change directions and explore a new path.
The reality is people who embrace the world of possibility are capable of accomplishing things that previously seemed impossible simply because they believed in solutions. It doesn’t mean that they don’t encounter hurdles, issues or even failure whilst exploring what could be. It also doesn’t guarantee a pain free or easy ride. Invariably though people who are open to the world of possibility avoid the pits of complacency and mediocrity and instead find themselves in situations that embrace potential and purpose.
Leaders who are focused on a world rich in possibility send a very clear message to their businesses and teams that regardless of their current situation there is hope for something more in the future. They see the potential for greater success and fulfillment and are focused on effecting meaningful change and or outcomes for their people, their clients and their customers. They use a different language and even walk and talk in a different way. They see the positive in situations (even if is just learning) and in each other.
John Maxwell who is a well regarded leadership expert advocates seven reasons why we should all seek to adopt a possibility mindset. Not only are each of these beneficial for leading and growing high performing teams, they also significantly impact what we believe we are capable of with our careers. I would encourage you to think about how you they apply to the contribution you are making in your current role today and how that contribution can open the door to new possibilities in the future:
- Possibility thinking increases your possibilities: When you succeed at achieving something you didn’t think you or your team were previously capable of, new opportunities unfold. You feel more confident undertaking them and you actively go looking for them.
- Possibility thinking draws opportunities and people to you: Believing that something can be better than what it is and can deliver greater impact and/or results is attractive. People want to work and collaborate with others who are prepared to take the risk to achieve new levels of success.
- Possibility thinking increases others’ possibilities: It is quite literally, contagious. You can’t help but influence and impact those around you. Confidence, visionary thinking and positivity are easily recognisable and empowering to others.
- Possibility thinking allows you to dream big dreams: Regardless of what you do, what position you hold, industry or city you work in, the belief that you could do something more or different allows you to not only see it as an option but know that you are capable of it.
- Possibility thinking makes it possible to rise above the average: To rise above the average and move out of the rut of status quo, we need to embrace the possibility of what could be. Believing that things can be greater increases our drive, focus and commitment to achieving new levels of success.
- Possibility thinking gives you energy: The correlation between positive thinking and energy is widely documented. Not only is it known to provide greater energy, it also helps you channel your energies into things that are more productive.
- Possibility thinking keeps you from giving up: Possibility thinkers believe they can and will succeed. Their forward thinking focus and belief that they can achieve despite circumstances provides the fuel required to last the distance.
As leaders our challenge is to help our teams see and believe what is possible. Without it we will never realise our potential and we are likely to miss the ‘golden moments’ of thinking creatively, truly connecting and enjoying the feeling of breaking down the barriers of what we had previously believed to be so.
We and our teams need to understand that it isn’t t the circumstances around us that are crucial but rather what we tell ourselves, believe and say out loud about them is. As leaders we have a choice to open the door or slam it shut. What will yours be?
As always I would love to hear your thoughts below.