Last week in a leadership summit, a participant admitted at the end of day one that, while he had gotten value out of the day, he felt the stress of being out for an intensive two day session and was anxious to “get back to important business goals.” One of the team members masterfully responded by acknowledging how he felt, sharing her perspective (“If we don’t invest in developing ourselves as a team, we will continue to struggle, especially long-term.”) and then asked him a powerful question (“If we all keep operating in our own functions, how possible is it for us to realize our company’s ambition?”).
The next morning, he shared his insight about how he must work completely differently. “Yesterday, I was focused solely on my goals, as if I were driving on a highway and wanted to take the first offramp to get back [to my function]. I realized we will only successfully get work done with our leadership group [the top 50], which is staying on the highway, working together.” He realized that collaborating cross-functionally vs working hard in his silo would be key to his and the company’s future success.
This participant had a breakthrough in shifting collaboration FROM ‘waste of time, nice to have, extra’ TO ‘essential to meeting our objectives’.
In BOLD leadership sessions, when we ask what do you think of when you hear the word ‘Breakthrough’, we often hear comments such as aha, realization, insight, transformation, in a moment, never the same after, and moving through obstacles.
The Difference Between Change and Breakthrough
CHANGE is to make different, alter or modify. It is often slow, incremental, and focused on behaviors and actions. Baby steps toward change can occur whether or not you change your mindset.
BREAKTHROUGH is defined as a sudden, dramatic, and important discovery or development. It is instantaneous, begins with changing your mindset. Breakthrough is created when there is a stronger, compelling context, a clear consequence or a disruption.
For many years, a CEO’s wife encouraged him to eat healthier and exercise. He largely ignored her, with the exception of walking the dog. He continually said, “Someday, I will.” (CHANGE) One day, his daughter got his attention by asking if she could tell him something important, which alerted him to pay full attention. “Dad, I want you to start working out because I don’t want you to die of a heart attack. I want you to be around for a long time and I’m scared you won’t be.” (This is a great example of priming someone to listen to what you have to say.) The context his daughter had created for him disrupted his mindset instantaneously about what mattered most. He replied, “Wow. yes, I will.” (BREAKTHROUGH). Since then, he has lost 25 pounds and continues to exercise daily.
When people have a breakthrough, their mindset changes, making behavioral changes possible, immediate and long-lasting. Conversely, behavior change without mindset is often finite. For example, according to a study conducted by Strava, the second Friday in January is when New Year’s resolutions typically crumble. Only 55% of study participants stuck to their resolutions for a full month, because people didn’t have a breakthrough in why exercise mattered.
My mother-in-law smoked her entire adult life despite four kids begging her to stop. She always had an excuse for why it wasn’t compelling to modify her behavior (CHANGE). Yet, on the very day she was diagnosed with lung cancer, she stopped smoking cold turkey. This devastating context of the cancer diagnosis immediately changed her mindset about why it was important to quit. The behavior change of stopping occurred immediately (BREAKTHROUGH). When asked how it was to stop, she casually remarked, “It wasn’t hard at all.”
Company logos provide a visual example of breakthrough. There are elements in some well-known logos many people have never noticed and yet, when you see them, you can never “not see” them. Examples include:
- FedEx (notice the arrow between the E and the X?)
- Amazon (see the arrow linking the A to the Z?)
- Baskin-Robbins (did you catch the “31” in pink?)
- Goodwill (realize the smiley face above is part of the “G” below?)
The next time you see one of these logos, you will always notice these nuances. That is how breakthrough works. BOLD leaders create breakthrough for those they lead by disrupting the lens through which they see the current state and creating a new context to see what is possible.
How to Create Breakthrough
There are two ways to have a breakthrough:
1. Be Proactive. This can include reading a blog or a book. Participating in a breakthrough leadership session. Hiring a coach. Or having a trusted ally pose a thoughtful question or comment that inspires you to identify and address areas you want to learn and grow proactively, on your own terms.
2. Get Whacked. For those of you who have been, you know what this means. It’s when we get the metaphoric wind knocked out of us. Something that completely rocks our world and changes our life forever. It’s the diagnosis, job loss, divorce, death or other uncontrollable event. This option is laced with waiting. It is the ‘wake up’ moment that shakes us to our core, and we can no longer operate as we always have. It’s often jarring, wildly uncomfortable, terrifying, sad and disruptive.
Every day you choose which path to breakthrough to take. You can choose NOW or SOMEDAY. It’s up to you.
If you choose now to strive for a breakthrough, one thing you can do is add one simple word to a question you invariably (consciously or unconsciously) ask yourself often. Instead of asking does this apply to me?, ask how does this apply to me?
By adding how, you open your mind to question how you’re feeling, to challenge your comfort zone, to examine your satisfaction with the status quo, and to actively seek insight and opportunities that are all around you.
This is Growth Mindset in action. Remember, people with a growth mindset believe their abilities can be developed, they have a love of learning and their resilience ultimately allows them to create great accomplishment. Fixed Mindset is when people believe their basic qualities (like intelligence or talent), effectiveness (as leaders, parents, etc.) or situation (job, money, etc.), are fixed, and there is nothing they can do to impact it. They think, that’s just who I am or that’s just how things are.
In short, breakthrough happens when you have a growth mindset, are dissatisfied with the status quo and are committed to create a new possibility. It is where transformation lives. Our brains are wired to resist change because change is perceived as a threat. We often start with resistance or, reluctantly, we take baby steps.
It’s like getting into a cold ocean: we can stay on the beach and not go near it; we can wade in slowly to our ankles, or we can dive in. We only take the plunge when the dissatisfaction of the current state (staying on the beach) is greater than the pain of changing (taking the leap). Like the participant above, his breakthrough was the realization that working hard in silos and complaining about other functions (staying on the beach) was not working and the payoff of candid, cross-functional collaboration (jumping in), however scary and hard, was well worth it.
- WHERE is an area in my life where I am less effective, satisfied or inspired?
- WHAT does it cost me to continue in the current state?
- WHICH breakthrough do I want to create for myself, my family and/or my team that will matter most?
Please feel free to reach out to me and my team if you’d like to connect about how to apply these ideas, to help members on your team navigate these conversations, or to discuss the biggest current challenges you are facing today.
Wishing you good mental, physical, emotional and social health.
Remember to find resources to inspire you here.
Yours in practice,