Get out of the rut!

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought.  –Matsuo Basho

Matsuo Basho was a Japanese poet who lived in the 1600s. Even though he lived over 300 years ago, he recognized the tendency we have to want to do things in the same way as those who have gone before us, i.e., follow in their footsteps. In life and in business, we often concentrate on doing things the way they have always been done rather than, as Basho said, stepping back and see the vision for where we need and want to be and then pursue that vision.

Change is hard. We are creatures of habit. We like our ruts. Management is easier than leadership because management prefers the rut. Management is easier because there is a degree of predictability and order involved and it produces the short-term results that we have convinced ourselves everyone is interested in.

Change requires leadership. Most people prefer to be led as opposed to managed. Leadership establishes the direction we are headed. It gets people on-board with the vision because they see and accept the validity of the vision. Leadership motivates and inspires people to overcome the barriers en route to realizing the vision.

But change is difficult. Many organizations do not have much leadership. When problems occur we like to point to a problem with management. So we create management programs and training. We think that past successes dictate that we do what was done then, i.e., follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before. When we do this, we are looking inward.

Leadership, on the other hand, forces us to look outside ourselves, to lift our heads and see the vision that has been cast – or in the case where no vision has been cast, to cast one. We then seek the best way to realize the vision and inspire others to achieve it. We don’t worry about the footsteps of our predecessors; what we want is to realize the vision they had – to seek what they sought.

Leadership is the only thing that will get you to the vision – whether it’s the vision you have for yourself, your career or for your organization. While it is commendable to honor the path, or footsteps, of those who have gone before, it is even more honorable and transformative to seek what they sought and then blaze our own trail.