Aug 5th, 2018

Should-a / Could-a / Would-a

One of the most imprisoning believes one can hold is the “should-a / could-a / would-a” fallacy. Doing things because you “should” do them nearly always gets you off your chosen path. It regularly leads to engaging in prolonged mental debate about all the possible “coulds” and bogs you down in a mental state of “woulds.”

I see this all too often play out with people all around me – we operate on models which serve a useful and valuable purpose (don’t engage in unethical behavior, treat everyone with respect, do not discriminate based on any perceived factor). However, every so often these models create guardrails and ceilings which don’t serve us – and yet we are stuck in them as we believe we “should” act in a specific way or do a particular thing.

It starts with the benign – new managers emulate the behaviors imposed on them from the elders; thus we end up in meetings nobody needs, evaluate performance using broken systems and engage in rituals which don’t serve us.

The beast rears its ugly head when it comes to your fulfillment – when you are doing work which is aligned with your purpose, and you hold back or choose different options because you “should” – not because you made the conscious choice to do so.

The remedy is easy to do (and of course hard to act upon – as pretty much everything meaningful in your life as a leader): Every time you hear yourself say or think “I should,” ask yourself “Really?”. Frequently you will find yourself with a strong “Yes” – as it is the right thing to do. In which case you can safely replace “I should” with “I will.” And every so often you will stop dead in your tracks and find yourself saying out loud: “No. There is a better path.”

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