While attending the School of Infantry, my fireteam and I were given a simple task: Navigate through unfamiliar terrain and reach the designated objective. Bursting with energy and zeal, we plotted our points, verified for accuracy, got our final direction of travel, and marched. Six miles in, I was hit by a sinking realization as the leader: not only were we off course, but we’d gone in the opposite direction. I made a simple and preventable mistake; the navigation tool was used upside down, a decision was made in haste, and I missed verification checkpoints.
Often, we can get so engrossed in moving forward that we neglect to ensure we’re headed in the right direction. The drive to progress can cloud our judgment, making us resistant to reassessing or changing our current path. But motion and progress are two different things. In my example, we’d moved forward but made zero progress and wasted time, resources, and energy doing so.
This experience, though frustrating, taught me invaluable leadership lessons about mistaking movement for progress.
So, how can you ensure you’re heading in the right direction?
Establish Regular Checkpoints: Just as in navigating terrain, having set points where you pause and assess is critical. These could include monthly reviews, quarterly strategy meetups, or even daily team huddles. The frequency isn’t as important as the practice itself.
Foster Open Feedback Channels: Be a leader who is radically open to feedback. Encourage a culture where team members, peers, and external partners can provide insights. Often, those not in leadership positions can offer a unique perspective, identifying potential pitfalls or better routes.
Cultivate Adaptable Thinking: Train yourself and your team to think adaptively. This means being open to change when beneficial. Hold brainstorming sessions, encourage innovative solutions, and be willing to adjust your strategy if a better one is offered.
My unintended six-mile detour was a stark reminder that progress isn’t just about moving forward. The terrain of life and leadership is filled with unexpected turns. While the enthusiasm to forge ahead is commendable, it’s equally important to ensure that our steps align with the destination. The journey is far more rewarding when we’re on the right path.