Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

Moving From ‘Good Enough’ To Greatness

Leadership-greatness-vs-good-enough

Of all the numerous organs that make up the human body, there’s no question that the brain is the most fascinating and least understood. Indeed, thanks to the burgeoning field of neuroscience, we’re not only discovering new insights into how this vital organ functions, but we’re also beginning to appreciate the depth of its complexity and mysterious nature.

Of course, as amazing as the human brain is, the fact is that it’s also quite lazy. A good example of this is the ease by which we create habits, and the corollary of how hard it is for us to break some of these habits. Granted, the formation of habits is our brain’s way of reserving our limited reserves of energy and focus for use in critical thinking and decision-making pathways. In this way, we don’t spend our days consciously thinking about the routine tasks we perform on a given day.

Unfortunately, this tendency of our brain to try and find repetitive patterns in our daily lives is also what leads us to create assumptions – assumptions about others, about how others view us, and about what we need to do to improve a situation or achieve a certain outcome.

Consider, for example, a review of numerous studies looking at the societal attitudes among the various generations which found that – contrary to popular belief or assumptions – the Millennial generation is no less racist than their preceding cohort, the Gen X generation. What’s particularly troubling about this finding is not the fact that the Millennial generation are far from being “the most tolerant generation in history”.

Rather, as this article points out, the danger these findings reveal is how the assumptions we make about ourselves and our communities can distort our understandings of the real challenges our society needs to address in order to ensure our collective success and freedoms.

These findings demonstrate a decision-making process we all employ called motivated reasoning, which brain-imaging studies have shown uses a different physical pathway in our brain than the one we use to analyze data.

Studies have shown that when we have a personal stake in a given outcome – as in the case above where we’re assessing how we view ourselves – our brain automatically includes our desires and aspirations in how we make that assessment.

Unfortunately, as with many mechanisms in the brain, the inclusion of these self-directed motivations in our decision-making process happens sub-consciously. So even though we may believe that our assumptions are unbiased and accurate, the truth is that these decisions and choices we make serve more to validate how we choose to see and understand our world because that helps to reduce uncertainty in our brain’s decision-making process.

In terms of today’s leadership, this impacts how we go about addressing the ever-increasing amount of information and data we’re exposed to on a given day. Faced with increasing demands to simply keep up with everything that’s going on around us, our brain’s natural tendency is to focus on information that supports our perception of reality than data that gets us to question our understanding of things.

And yet, for us to effectively lead others, we can’t abdicate our responsibility to question our assumptions [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter]; to challenge those perceptions which serve only to fuel our innate desire to feel good about who we are as a leader at the expense of appreciating the realities our employees face every day.

And this is something that’s becoming a greater concern for today’s organizations the more we stay focused on short term achievements at the expense of doing what’s necessary to ensure our ability to thrive in the future.

In that singular quest to get things done, we risk losing out on making things happen [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter]; of discovering those opportunities to help our employees and our organization to learn, grow, and evolve. By allowing our brain to limit our focus on what we need to do to get through today, we lose out on discovering what we could achieve for tomorrow.

Again, it’s our brain’s tendency to find that path of least resistance; of assuaging any uncertainty we may have to grapple with by accepting only those narratives or assumptions that serve to reinforce how we choose to view our leadership and ourselves.

But if we are to guide our organization down a path where we don’t simply survive, but thrive in today’s increasingly competitive, global environment, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard than simply aiming or settling for ‘good enough’.

Indeed, to succeed at leadership, we can’t give ourselves permission to accept mediocrity as being just the way things are [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter] or will be going forward.

We have to own up to the truth that no one is inspired or passionate about committing themselves to being ‘good enough’ [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter]. No one wakes up with fire in their belly out of a desire to aim for the middle ground.

It’s why so many organizations continue to struggle with low levels of employee engagement – no one is interested in investing their full selves into strategies or processes where the goal is simply to get things done.

But what people are inspired by is being a part of something that’s bigger than themselves; that challenges them to believe they can be better than they are today. People are inspired when they know that the work they do matters; that it’s meaningful and makes a difference.

We see proof of that in every movement that dared to challenge our social status quo; to get us to debate and question our assumptions about the way things are and why they should be that way.

We see in those moments difficult conversations that made us look in the proverbial mirror and ask ourselves if those things we believe about others are actually true, or whether it is merely a by-product of our innate fears that bubble up to the surface when we’re faced with change or the unknown.

But this is what lies at the heart of leadership today – it’s no longer just about maximizing efficiencies, ensuring compliance, and addressing productivity. Thanks to the technological advancements of the past few decades, managing processes is no longer enough for us to ensure our ability to collectively succeed and grow.

We also need to create a vision of a shared purpose that challenges our employees to rise above being ‘good enough’ because they see their potential to achieve greatness under our leadership.

There’s no question that we’re living in a world where certain groups and individuals are using fear to push self-serving agendas and sow division within various communities. But the history of our shared humanity has proven time and again that fear-driven measures only lead us at best to achieve a standard of ‘good enough’, and at worst, to suffering a decline from what we used to be because we failed to tap into our collective potential to be more than we are today.

In both our past and present, we find reminders of how we are defined by what we’re willing to accept and by what we challenge ourselves to aspire to [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter].

That’s why successful leaders focus on painting a picture of a future that we not only want to live in, but that we want to be active participants in helping to make a reality in our lifetime. True leaders are able to transform those around them from being end-users to contributors; from being passive observers to active participants because they see and understand not only the value they’ll be creating for others, but also for themselves.

Of course, the only way we can create such an atmosphere in our workplaces and communities is if we first be open and honest with ourselves about where we are today. About the real challenges we face and the genuine opportunities that exist for us to not only overcome these obstacles, but to strengthen our resolve and abilities to keep pressing ahead despite them.

Such conversations are naturally difficult, as they should be because they challenge us to question both ourselves, and how we see and understand the world around us.

But this is what successful leaders excel at – they inspire us to embrace this difficulty because we can see what we stand to gain from such conversations and opportunities.

Sure, our brain might prefer the easy route, employing processes like motivated reasoning to reduce the uncertainties and challenges that seem to increase with each passing day.

However, leadership has never been about taking the easy path, of simply relying on our assumptions to guide our decisions, and choosing to accept ‘good enough’ so we can get through our day.

Rather, the hallmark of real leadership is being willing to challenge our assumptions in order to better understand the obstacles our employees face and how we can help to overcome them. In so doing, we can fuel that collective drive to not settle for anything less than being better than we are today.

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12 Comments
  1. On March 31st, 2015 at 2:23 PM @acontinuouslist said:

    Great Article Tanveer! It really is a challenge to work through our assumptions on days we just feel like going into autopilot! It is a good reminder that we need to practice critical thinking and actually exercise our brain like we would any muscle. We cannot be great leaders unless we put ourselves into positions of discomfort and great challenges, and lead with an open mind and critical thought. What do you suggest for good critical thinking exercises or books?

  2. On April 1st, 2015 at 12:31 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Kara; I'm glad you enjoyed it. To answer your question, I think an important first step is for us to increase our self-awareness so we can identify when we're relying more on assumptions than facts. Here's a piece I wrote on how we can achieve that – https://www.tanveernaseer.com/3-strategies-to-use-….

    The next thing we need to do is evaluate whether we're creating an environment where employees feel comfortable bringing to our attention ideas or data that challenge our assumptions. Here's a piece I dug from my archives on how we can better manage mistakes that helps to address this – https://www.tanveernaseer.com/how-well-do-you-mana….

    Hope this answers your question, Kara.

  3. On March 31st, 2015 at 5:07 PM bradley esau said:

    Oh my, Tanveer, I particularly enjoyed this piece. I greatly applaud your efforts and approach here!

  4. On April 1st, 2015 at 12:31 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Brad; I'm glad to hear it. Thanks for the kind words.

  5. On April 2nd, 2015 at 6:14 AM Theodore Nwosu said:

    This is a deeply thoughtful and inspiring article.Very timely for me in that yesterday Our team was involved in a brainstorming session as part of our involvement in our strategic planning process.

    People just used the opportunity to gripe and vent about our current toxic environment with high level administration. In August I will will be leading this group academic group for the next 5 years and I was dismayed and broken at the level of apathy and hopelessness that has permeated our " what used to be a resilient" group.

    As a leader it is essential I recognize and challenge my assumptions to increase the chances of responding to actuality vs perceived realities(which sometimes will miss the mark)

    You have inspired me to gather myself together and lead this group to rise above the melee of the toxic environment by first recognizing the challenges and then the choosing to own a part of the solution and not simply lapsing into accepting we are prisoners of our current circumstances.

    Thank you so much. Any thoughts on how to effectively help guide my group through these tough times?

  6. On April 2nd, 2015 at 3:47 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Theodore,

    I'm delighted to hear that my piece has inspired you to not settle in your current toxic workplace environment, but to challenge yourself and your employees to rise to achieving their full potential.

    To answer your question, it's something that I've been asked before and served as the basis of a piece I wrote this January. The piece is called "How Leaders Can Cure A Toxic Workplace". I think it will prove to be quite helpful with addressing your current issue – https://www.tanveernaseer.com/4-measures-leaders-c

    Good luck with your initiatives and thanks again, Theodore, for the kind words.

  7. On April 4th, 2015 at 10:59 AM Jim Matorin said:

    Interesting post. How many people truly challenge their assumptions in today's world? Sounds risky to most. They would have to give up something and what if they ended getting fired in the process and would then risk losing some of the material possessions they have worked so hard for. Challenging assumptions means stepping outside of one's comfort zone, but for those that do: "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone" – Neale Donald Walsch

  8. On April 5th, 2015 at 3:52 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    It can seem risky at first, Jim. But when we realize that the process of challenging our assumptions involves reviewing facts and ascertaining the realities our employees actually face in our organization, it's clearly a lot less risky than simply relying on our assumptions to guide our choices and decisions going forward.

  9. On April 7th, 2015 at 10:57 AM coolinsights said:

    Interesting perspective on leadership and one which I can certainly agree with. I think the path of least resistance sometimes also apply because many of today's leaders are less willing to rock the boat. Examples of transformational leadership seem to be less prevalent these days.

    One of the greatest challenges I see in leadership is this "sameness" which you have elegantly written about. It gets worse when our online content consumption becomes filtered by Google and Facebook wanting to serve us more of the stuff we want to see. This tunnel vision will only exacerbate the leadership myopia, with fringe and opposing views slowly being filtered out from the consciousness.

  10. On April 7th, 2015 at 5:22 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Walter for sharing your thoughts on my piece. I agree with you that social media outlets can actually serve to amplify the validity of our assumptions, especially when we consider that one of the core needs we all have is to feel a sense of belonging. Obviously, it's far easier to feel that sense of connection with those who share our world-view than with those who challenge or question it.

    Thanks again, Walter, for sharing your thoughts on my piece..

  11. On April 8th, 2015 at 2:12 AM Pritam Nagrale said:

    Great Post…!!!
    Thanks for reminding us how monotonous life we live everyday , I think we don't accept changes in our daily routine , we ignores challenges and we try to find easy way which make our brain to stop thinking out of the box.
    You article is really helpful to make our brain more strong to think on every challenges and opportunities we face in the life.

  12. On April 25th, 2015 at 4:05 PM micheleelys said:

    Tanveer, excellent article, the "Good Enough" how you weave this topic into business and employees, management and inspire others with your Leadership ideals is thought provoking.

    I do admit to thinking on your words regarding the brain being lazy. And the lack of action on some of the population. And I am still thinking upon your views in this area. Thank you

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