Sometimes leadership and management jobs just feel ugly and impossible.
I can remember feeling at various points in my career, that the mission just didn’t make sense, or that it was unsupported. I felt like I was out on a limb owning all of the risk, and with not enough resources to succeed.
Or, I felt like the corporate bureaucracy — the board, or another group or particular adversary –, was blocking me (or sabotaging me) from doing the right things that I knew desperately needed to be done.
Welcome to being a leader.
“Impossible is part of the job”
As an executive, this sort of thing is just part of the job. There are always big, ugly, seemingly impossible problems, annoying people, and exhausting obstacles in the way of getting your job done.
Once you embrace the fact that:
YOUR JOB = Your job description …
PLUS — All the crap that gets in the way of delivering on your job description…
You will feel (and BE) in a lot more in control.
In a parallel universe …
When I find myself in this situation, I do what I refer to as my “parallel universe” thought exercise.
I imagine that a parallel universe exists which replicates the same situation exactly…
In that universe, all the same problems and pressures are there. All the same people are there. Everything about the situation is exactly the same — except there is a version of me in that parallel universe who is better and more capable than me in every conceivable way.
The parallel universe Patty is smarter. She is a faster thinker, better problem solver, better negotiator, better communicator, better networker. She is more experienced, kinder, braver, and with better hair.
I then ask myself: What would that person do?
New and better thinking
The parallel universe Patty has never failed to help me come up with an idea to get un-stuck, feel less victimized, and start moving forward.
The Patty with the better hair always instructs me to step up an be better in some specific way that will help. She encourages me to try stuff. She shames me into being braver.
Here are a few ideas that the better Patty would often come up with.
1. Never suffer alone
When you are struggling to solve a problem, never suffer alone. Go get help. Find an expert.
Remember, the desired outcome is to get the business result, not to solve everything all by yourself.
You can read my story about when I thought I was going to get fired for not being able to do my job, and the crazy thing that happened when I got help.
You should also not attempt an executive or management career without mentors. It’s like attempting to climb Mt. Everest without a Sherpa guide. Sure you could try, but why would you?
When I felt really stuck, I was always so grateful to have mentors I could go to, that cared about me, and could help me see the things I wasn’t seeing, and find a way forward.
There are five (5) articles on my blog about mentors. The first one is about being a mentor, the rest are about getting and using mentors.
2. Move something small forward
Find something today, right now, that you can move forward — no matter how small.
Moving something forward will create positive momentum that you lack when you stay generally stuck on the main problem.
It will lead to another idea and another action.
When things feel impossible, it’s often about unreasonable expectations, conflicting priorities, or lack of resources.
Instead of being frustrated with these conditions, see them as your top tasks to solve, and negotiate a more do-able outcome. Remember YOUR JOB = your job + dealing with all the things that get in the way of doing it.
One big idea here is to not promise great when the budget is only set up for mediocre. Instead show the cost difference and negotiate a do-able level of the work.
And of course, the braver Patty with the better hair always made me better at negotiating Ruthless Priorities.
Consult your better self
The parallel universe Patty always had more energy than I did to keep fighting, and offered a new angle to try.
So next time you feel thoroughly discouraged and stuck, ask yourself, “In a parallel universe, that is exactly the same as this, but has a better version of me: What would that better version of me do?”
You’ll always get a new idea.
This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.