Success doesn’t happen in a straight line. Neither does growth, achievement, progress, wealth, happiness, or any other of the things people often work their entire lives for. Instead, these things often come with a series of forward steps along with a number of setbacks, challenges, and derailments. None of the leaders who I’ve worked with who feel like they have truly achieved any of these things would ever suggest that they got there without a series of both failures and breakthroughs.
The secret of success for many leaders is that they learned early on to create those breakthroughs for themselves when they didn’t happen naturally. Many of us keep running into the same roadblocks over and over again. Whether it’s time, money, communication, the talent on our team, the market conditions, or any number of other obstacles, we allow ourselves to keep fighting the same challenge, often without winning. And when we do win, sometimes it takes us far longer than it should have.
Here are 3 things that many successful leaders I’ve worked with do to break through to the next phase of growth, the next opportunity, or the next level of leadership:
1. Seek Out a Mentor or Coach
We don’t get candid feedback from those who work around us, our friends, or even our family members. Most of those people approach conversations with us with an eye toward keeping the relationship strong, and few, if any, of them believe that being brutally honest (even if we say we want the truth) will accomplish that goal.
When it comes to people who work for us, it’s even worse. We control their careers, their livelihoods, and to some degree, their futures. The last thing they want to do is damage a relationship with someone who has so much power over their lives, so instead of telling you the truth, they often tell you what you want to hear.
There may be a few exceptional people in your life who will tell you the unvarnished, non-sugar-coated truth, but they are extremely rare. To have a breakthrough, you need that truth. You need someone who can help you look at your situation from an outside perspective and discover avenues you simply can’t see with your own frame of reference. A business mentor or coach can provide you with this kind of objective, unbiased guidance.
Go research the problem. Find out who has broken through this particular wall before and how they did it. Their situation might not be exactly like yours, but you may still pick up some new ideas or tactics that you can apply to your situation. The Internet allows us to access so much information so quickly that there’s no reason to try tackling our problem with the same information we had yesterday. Be careful not to try to simply duplicate what’s been done by others, though. Your situation, your talent, and your conditions may be very different, so use your research to stimulate your own new ideas.
3. Step Back
We often get so close to our challenges that we sometimes “can’t see the forest for the trees.” Take a step back, leave it alone for a day or two, go immerse yourself in something else, and then come back to the problem. Chances are that when you do, you will be able to take a fresh look at the issue, allowing you to see a wrinkle or a new approach that you had missed before. I have known leaders who have hobbies or interests that help them clear their minds, and they often use these distractions as a way to force themselves to leave a problem alone for a little while. Whether its fishing or woodworking or just going to a movie, do something to clear your head and make room for new ideas.
The other nice feature of this kind of break is that when we find an endeavor that makes us feel content and balanced, our subconscious keeps working on the problem without our conscious mind in the way. This often creates the opportunity for a breakthrough that we need. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with the answer to a problem or a new idea? That’s your subconscious working overtime while you focus on something else.
Breakthroughs are needed for progress, for achievement, for improvement. But don’t just wait for them to happen. When you feel like you are at a standstill in any area of your life, or with any particular problem, create your own breakthrough. Be a leader, even for yourself.