Anchors can be good, or they can be bad. When a ship uses one, it is designed to hold it in place so it doesn’t drift away. But when it sits firmly in the rocks and sand below, it isn’t going anywhere either. Not much use in a boat that doesn’t move.
The same is true in our lives. We all have anchors, things in our past or present, or even fear of the future that make it difficult for us to progress. Moving past these things is critical if we are to be effective in jobs and in our relationships, and in finding true meaning and purpose in life.
On the other hand, we’ve also had moments of awesomeness, things that we like to go back and relive because they bring us joy or a sense of accomplishment. Mine, for example, happens to be Asia. I learned more about people, culture, my own spirituality and vision during my travels there, and it literally changed me forever. I had always been well traveled, even in my own country. However, the perspective I gained made me more understanding, tolerant, and accepting. I haven’t been back since about 2004, and sometimes I feel like I could use a little more of it, even if just so that my family can experience it. That is a good anchor.
The Problem with Stagnation
I write a lot about how negative thoughts hurt us and hold us back. They create fear, erode our confidence and even our self-esteem, and they can be perceived by others in a very bad light. No one wants to be around someone who constantly dwells on what didn’t go right or what could go wrong. Most of us want to be inspired and driven by vision, which by definition largely discounts the possibility of what can happen in favor of what can be. We make plans on the way to accomplishing our vision to address possible consequences and build better strategies, but the classic leadership adage is that we should solve for them, rather than not pursuing great ideas because of them.
The business world is filled with some pretty big examples of why this is true. Think Sears, think Toys-R-Us, and think GE. Sears is pretty obvious, since they may not exist as a brand for very long. Toys-R-Us doesn’t fundamentally exist as a brand anymore. GE just got removed from the Dow Jones Industrial Average, as it divests businesses at an alarming rate, and its future is uncertain. All of these companies were leaders in their respective spaces, but they failed to innovate, holding too long onto their anchors in both their models and their solutions. It wasn’t so much a failure to adapt (it was, though) but a failure of imagination.
Business can be a tremendous analogy for our personal lives to. When we focus on the negative thoughts that plague our thinking, we can’t easily redefine ourselves to tackle the problems of today. Society evolves, people evolve, and methods evolve. So we too, must evolve. The reasons we do things at all change over time, as does how we tackle our current problems and questions. The point is, the world always moves on. You can be Sears, or Toys-R-Us, or GE. Or you can be Amazon.
Weighing Our Anchors
The solution lies in knowing when to weigh our anchors. It isn’t a bad thing to cherish our cores and use them to guide us into the future or to make decisions in the present. But we must effectively recognize when resting on those things make sense and when they do not. We also have to stop listening to those little voices in our heads that constantly tell us why we can’t do things. I have worked with many people, and in more than a few organizations, that hold themselves back because they lack the tools, the drive, or the leadership courage to make the change despite all the evidence that demands. The consequences for people can be catastrophic – stress, anxiety, and depression to name just a few. Some of that is chemical, to be sure, but a whole lot of it comes from being anchored in the negativity that plagues us. It’s time to try to get out of own heads.
Business is little different. Failure to drop anchors – the belief that “we have always done it that way,” or that some constituency won’t accept it – is not a reason to stagnate. The consequences for those organizations are poor financial performance (poor any performance, really), higher costs, and low morale. No one wants to work for a company that is stuck in the past. It’s time to get out of our own way.
When to Drop Our Anchors
For all of non-sailors, that means to slow our momentum. Think about my story about Asia. Imagine a world in which I was able to go back there every year or two, soak up the things I love about it and learn new things along the way. It has a way of being like mental floss and can perform emotional and spiritual cleansing as well. Going back – anchoring – to the positive things in your life in that way can make a tremendous difference in our moods, our outlooks, and the solution sets we bring to whatever it is we do in this world. It is also an amazing thing to share.
So, make the commitment to change. Work to ignore or challenge the negative voices, built from our previous experiences and our current fears, and learn to find the courage to move forward. Anchor yourself in things that bring you joy and fulfillment, things that might surprise you from time to time. That’s what good leaders do, and your organizations and your connections will benefit from it.
So will you.