Why do we do things the way that we do? What was the initial source of those habits and methods? And are they relevant today? And why ask this question in the context of leadership?
A brief story may help to explain this:
A young woman is preparing a pot roast while her friend looks on. She cuts off both ends of the roast, prepares it and puts it in the pan. “Why do you cut off the ends?” her friend asks. “I don’t know”, she replies. “My mother always did it that way and I learned how to cook it from her”.
Her friend’s question made her curious about her pot roast preparation. During her next visit home, she asked her mother, “How do you cook a pot roast?” Her mother proceeded to explain and added, “You cut off both ends, prepare it and put it in the pot and then in the oven”. “Why do you cut off the ends?” the daughter asked. Baffled, the mother offered, “That’s how my mother did it and I learned it from her!”
Her daughter’s inquiry made the mother think more about the pot roast preparation. When she next visited her mother in the nursing home, she asked, “Mom, how do you cook a pot roast?” The mother slowly answered, thinking between sentences. “Well, you prepare it with spices, cut off both ends and put it in the pot”. The mother asked, “But why do you cut off the ends?” The grandmother’s eyes sparkled as she remembered. “Well, the roasts were always bigger than the pot that we had back then. I had to cut off the ends to fit it into the pot that I owned”.
How often, do we take action and don’t even think to ask, “Why do it this way?” Some of our behaviors were learned long ago – and come out of circumstances that may no longer be relevant and belong to another place and time. And yet, we just keep doing the same thing, over and over. We need to stop and ask ourselves, “Why do I do this?” Is this an anachronism; has it outlived its relevance? Do I need to update my repertoire? What might I do differently and perhaps more effectively if I did not feel bound to the way I “have always done it”? Review and change is yet another step toward self definition.
Leadership requires flexibility and creativity. Change is healthy and necessary for both ourselves and in our organizations. In computers, we update our operating systems every few years (months?)! Vital leadership requires that we continually question our processes and behaviors and to adopt those changes that are the best fit for these times.