By Joelle K. Jay
With the economic hardships of the past few years, many leaders have grown discouraged. It seems like success used to come so easily. Now it’s more challenging. Executives everywhere have to do more with fewer resources, lower budgets and smaller staffs.
It’s hard to gain momentum when everything feels so hard. You can start to fall into the trap of just getting by. But as a leader, it’s your job not to accept the status quo. How can you break out of these difficulties and rise to a level of ease and prosperity?
One way that might surprise you is letting it be easy.
Letting it be easy is a mindset that can break you out of the toil and struggle that so many leaders experience. It’s an acknowledgement that sometimes things just work out—and that we have little control over them. We get a golden opportunity. The answers simply appear.
Good fortune often seems impossible to attract—as if all we can do is wait for it to happen. On one hand, that may be true. On the other hand, you have to be willing to open up to the possibility that maybe, if you become more trusting and relaxed, you’ll see those breakthrough opportunities all around you.
A friend and mentor once taught me this:
* If things are going your way, go that way.
* If things aren’t going your way, don’t go that way.
To act on this advice, you have to pay attention to what’s working and do more of it. Notice what’s not working and do less of it. Easy.
Here are a couple of examples of how letting it be easy can resolve some of the tough issues facing leaders today.
Executives at a mattress company were struggling with the decision to cut staff, but the chief executive officer was committed to avoiding layoffs. What was working? He had loyal employees who were dedicated to the success of the business. What wasn’t working? The company was overstaffed. The CEO decided to start simply by asking which employees would accept early retirement or work part time. The response was surprising, and he was able to reduce the budget without widespread layoffs.
Another company wanted to cut costs, but its leaders faced hard choices about which reductions would have the least negative impact. What was working? It was an energetic, creative company with lots of innovative ideas. What wasn’t working? It didn’t have the sales volume to operate the way it had in the past. Finally, executives decided to do something easy: They asked their employees for their ideas on cutting costs. The brainstorming meetings revealed clear themes and the answers to their cost-cutting woes became readily apparent.
In both cases, leaders were faced with impossible choices and the decisions seemed hard to make. Opening up their minds to new possibilities, they found the answers came to them. They let it be easy.
Taking the right path
This strategy is especially helpful for making difficult decisions or finding your way through confusion. It’s important to remember, however, that letting it be easy is not an excuse to be lazy, accept failure or give up. Persistence and courage still are important. Letting it be easy shouldn’t be confused with:
* Rash decisions. Quick decisions might be easy to make, but they’re not always effective. For example, slashing budgets across the board without thinking about their effects can be devastating. The immediate satisfaction you might feel by suddenly quitting your job or closing your business usually doesn’t last. You can let it be easy and be thoughtful at the same time.
* The status quo. While sometimes the easiest thing to do is nothing at all—to keep going along the same path—the status quo doesn’t help you achieve your vision and goals. The tricks to letting it be easy are to remember what you’re striving for and find easy ways to get there.
* Giving up. There’s a fine line between something being challenging and something being hard. You can learn to recognize the difference. When you feel challenged, the results may not be easy, but they’re energizing, exciting and positive. When something is hard, the opposite is true. Nothing is working. You feel like you’re beating your head against the wall. Your intuition tells you you’re going the wrong way. Letting it be easy is not about giving up—it’s about recognizing the right path when you’ve found it.
Letting it be easy is an approach you can use to see new possibilities. It enables you to work smart and let the current of your life carry you in the direction it wants to go.
Answer these questions to help you get in the mindset of letting it be easy:
* What’s going your way?
* What’s not going your way?
* What do your answers tell you to do next? How can you let it be easy?
Take a step back every so often. Notice where you’re struggling and recognize where it’s easy. Even if only for a while, try going the easy way. It may be the path to success.
The Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu put it simply: Easy is right.
Joelle K. Jay is an executive coach specializing in leadership development and the author of The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership, which shows leaders how to improve their effectiveness by learning to lead themselves. Her newsletter, Inner Edge Insights, offers articles, exercises, tips, quotes and success stories from real leaders to help you excel. To receive the newsletter, visit www.theinneredge.com and click on “Newsletter” or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Jay’s work, check http://joellekjay.com.