Nothing endures but change.
I read a story not long ago about the standard railroad gauge. That is the distance between rails – 4 feet, 8 ½ inches. One might wonder why such an odd number but also what is has to do with them personally. As a student of leadership and as one who looks closely at organizational leadership; you might be surprised.
The reason for the odd number is because that is the way they were built in England, and American railroads were built by British expatriates – that is, people who used to live in Britain.
They used that particular gauge because the pre-tramways used that gauge. They in turn were locked into that gauge because the people who built tramways used the same standards and tools they had used for building wagons, which were on the gauge of 4ft., 8 ½ inches.
Why were the wagons set to that scale? With any other size, the wheels did not match the old wheel ruts on the roads. So who built the old rutted roads?
The first long distance highways in Europe were built by Imperial Rome for the benefit of their legions. The roads have been used ever since. The ruts were first made by Roman war chariots. Four feet, 8 ½ inches was the width a chariot needed to be to accommodate the two rear ends of war horses.
Maybe “that’s the way it’s always been” isn’t the good reason some people believe it is. The causes of ruts are varied and complex. Be it boredom, the trap of falling into the monotony of a routine, or lack of vision or inspiration, it can happen to the best of us.
In order to remain relevant it is important not to allow ruts that you find yourself in to be your grave. Are you stuck in a rut? Here are three questions to answer to help you get out of it.
Are you too comfortable? In other words, are you too reliant on the traditions of the past? The easiest trap to fall into, in part, is based upon familiarity. The mind set of “this is the way we’ve always done it,” are the reins of the plow that digs the rut.
Tradition not only shows us our history, but if we are entrenched in it, shows us our future. While I do not advocate dishonoring a sound work ethic and morale that propelled you to where you are today; neither do I advocate holding on to it at the expense of your future progress. Find the balance between the two and move forward.
Comfort zones inoculate us from that which we perceive as a threat or from embracing new ways of thinking and leading. While you might feel safe there, you will not fully grasp the measure of your potential if you stay there.
Are you afraid to take risks? Herodotus said, “Great deeds are usually wrought at great risks.” In this economy it is not wise to throw caution to the wind and make uninformed decisions. Simply put, risk taking is a calculated decision based on all the facts that tend to trend in your favor of a desired outcome.
What does General Electric, Hyatt Corporation, HP, FedEx, LexisNexis, CNN, and many other companies all share in common? They were start-ups during times of recession. They succeeded because leaders at the helm recognized a market need and filled it.
What risks are you afraid to take? What is the worse thing that can happen if you take it and fail? What are the regrets you will have if you don’t? John F. Kennedy said, “There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”
Is your thinking too small? Ruts have a way of making us feel secure in mediocrity. Ruts lull us into a sense of satisfaction in believing that as long as we are moving forward then all is well. Ruts box us in and provide us with few options. Ruts limit our vision.
As you answer the previous questions you can emerge from ruts that have held you back. Christopher Reeve said, “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they become inevitable.”
Ruts make you comfortable, afraid to take risks, and kill your dreams. What ruts do you need to break free from?
© 2011 Doug Dickerson