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Agility and innovation are two words you see all the time in relation to business.

Today’s leaders must be ready and willing to recognize opportunities for innovation.

Because we live in an era of rapid change, succeeding in business requires a willingness to adapt – sometimes quickly. And while one quality of Intelligent Leadership is a commitment to see things through even when the going gets tough, an equally important quality is recognizing when it’s time to change or correct course.

Correcting course isn’t easy, because change isn’t easy. But when you recognize the need to change course and act on it appropriately, you’re far less likely to find yourself having to rise from the ashes of a status quo that’s collapsed under its own weight. In my book The Intelligent Leader, I discuss four components of the psychology of adjustment. Here’s a brief introduction to them.

Attending to Your Hunger for Opportunities to Improve

Opportunities for improvement abound. Knowing where the best opportunities for improvement lie requires understanding what’s going on in the larger context of your industry, the economy, and society. When you can see which direction your industry (or demand for it) is headed, you can more easily identify opportunities for change and improvement. Knowing the “why” of change is a great motivator for the “how” of change.

Gathering the Actual Facts of the Situation

Sometimes the actual facts differ from what we think the facts are. A product we gave little thought to may take off, while one we backed with enthusiasm tanks in the marketplace. To know when and how to pivot, we have to know the real facts of the situation. We need to know the actual sales figures, not just what we think they are. We need to know what clients actually want, rather than what we imagine they want.

The road to successful change is paved with facts, not conjecture.

Following Through on Your Willingness to Change

Willingness to change is great, but it doesn’t mean much unless you actually affect the change. Genuine course correction may require difficult decisions. People’s roles may need to be reassigned, or a pet project may have to be put on the back burner. Making the changes to correct course doesn’t mean you have failed, especially if you have learned from past actions. Following through on change is perhaps the hardest step, but ultimately, it’s the one that delivers actual improvement.

Improving Your Skill at Operating Outside Your Comfort Zone

All of these steps require operating effectively outside your comfort zone. Correcting course by definition takes you in a new direction and requires you to adjust habits and think differently. While your comfort zone will enlarge, it will never encompass every scenario, and change will always require that you accept a certain amount of risk. But if you think of yourself and your organization as a perpetual work in progress, you can get better at operating outside the margins of comfort.

Learning to read the conditions accurately and change course on your way to where you’re going is a fundamental skill of leadership development. In The Intelligent Leader, I include it as one of the seven key dimensions of Intelligent Leadership. Correcting course doesn’t always mean you were on the wrong track because the “track” has ways of changing underneath you. It means you’re willing to recognize the need for change and put in the hard work of change to make yourself, your organization, and the world better.

It’s not easy being a leader in today’s fast-paced world. We’re simultaneously expected to show commitment and follow-through as well as agility and innovation. They’re not mutually exclusive but knowing when and why to stick to the course and when to pivot takes experience, skill, and a willingness to sometimes confront uncomfortable facts. Master the art of correcting course while maintaining stability and you’re well on your way to becoming a great leader.

Are you interested in learning more about Intelligent Leadership? I invite you to check out my books, including my latest book The Intelligent Leader.

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