Lessons from The Little Engine That Could

By Ann Elliott

“Yes, but that will never work here because…” is the frequent answer to the thought of making a change or launching an initiative. Mental malaise keeps you and your company stuck. Worse still, you may be unaware of this pervasive way of thinking. The Little Engine That Could focused on how to meet the challenge, not the obstacles. Limiting thinking patterns impede improvement. You are missing opportunities. You are creating a culture of mediocrity upon which your competition is eager to capitalize. Not only are you missing opportunities, you are supporting a mindset that quits when obstacles or challenges arise. train To move beyond the “Yes, but…” focus on these guidelines: 1) Refuse to accept blindly what appears to be even a plausible reason why “It can’t be done.” Be especially wary when a chronic naysayer tells you this. 2) Be clear on the shared vision for your organization and be the town crier at every opportunity. Let there be no mistake about what you are up to and your commitment to it. 3) Be willing to let people go who would rather spend time telling you (and others) why something can’t be done than looking for ways to get it done. 4) Remember that you depend on others to achieve the shared vision. Make sure everyone is clear about what the value is not only to them but to the organization and the customer. If they have ownership, they are more motivated to look for solutions to achieve the vision. 5) Acknowledge that moving from here to there will have its challenges. If your team shares the vision and embraces the benefits, this will be easier. 6) Expect people to be able to find solutions. Consider solutions from all levels in the organization. Employees deep in the trenches and on the front lines have a valuable perspective. They are often overlooked as a resource. Ask them! Create new think tanks for new ideas. 7) Demonstrate with your action that you are personally willing to do what it takes. Getting your hands dirty speaks volumes. Recently I attended a celebration to honor a small business owner. He runs a market and deli that caters to customers who want, appreciate, and need healthy food choices. His business has weathered the storm of relocation, high gas prices, and big competitors moving into his backyard. He has attracted loyal employees who have worked there for decades. Some customers drive great distances to shop there. You can find him stocking shelves, sweeping the parking lot, or listening attentively to a customer’s request. His employees find ways to serve not offer excuses. Instead of “We don’t have any,” the reply is often “Let me see if we can order it for you,” “We expect that shipment on Wednesday and this product is a good alternative,” or “Let me show you where it is located now.” This “can do” attitude comes from the top. Excuses remind me of Geraldine, who bemoaned, “The devil made me do it.” Excuses put the blame on something or someone else. Excuses don’t accept responsibility for getting something done and especially when getting it done looks a little difficult or impossible. What are you doing as a leader to redirect the thinking of your team to “How can we do this?” It’s amazing what solutions you can create when you open the possibility file instead of the excuses file in your mind. Take lessons from The Little Engine That Could.

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Ann Elliott

Ann Elliott, founder of The Berkana Company, excels at leadership strategy

An expert at helping business leaders enjoy more profits and improved productivity with less stress, she blends fun and excitement with executive coaching and training to yield results for her clients.

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