One magic ingredient makes it possible to achieve much. Obstacles can be overcome, the reluctant engaged, despondency banished and energy continually renewed. The magic ingredient is, of course, enthusiasm. The etymology of enthusiasm is illuminating. It comes from the Ancient Greek en theos, having a god inside, and then enthousiázien, to be inspired by a god.
Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)
If Emerson‘s dictum is true, then an enthusiasm check might be in order before taking action in a messy situation. Here are some questions for checking that you have enough enthusiasm for the challenges of creating change in a messy situation.
• Are you enthusiastic about acting to improve the messy situation?
Enthusiasm is likely to come from two directions: enthusiasm for improving the situation and enthusiasm for the action you have decided on. Which of these is strongest for you, in this context?
• If you have more enthusiasm about taking a particular course of action than for improving the situation, are you the right person to initiate the changes you have identified?
• If you have less enthusiasm for the particular course of action you have chosen:
• What are the risks inherent in the changes you propose?
If you have not already done so, now is a good time to itemise risks. The systems-thinking ideas already described should have alerted you to some of the potential pitfalls but, in a messy situation, unforeseen consequences may still emerge. Unless you identify the things you fear, they can undermine your enthusiasm. Expect the unexpected and take steps to minimise the impact by providing yourself with support. Someone with whom to talk things through, safety nets and long-term recovery plans may all help to build your enthusiasm.
• What will life be like when the messy situation is no longer a big worry?
Sometimes ‘owning’ a big insoluble problem is almost addictive. It provides an excuse for putting off other tasks and a blame story.
Taking action to improve a messy situation may not be unconfined joy but enthusiasm can be a powerful indicator. Watching your own and other people’s level of enthusiasm can alert you to things going wrong, emerging worries, or a need to change direction. Changes in enthusiasm provide feedback before people are able to articulate, even to themselves, a sense that things are not as they should be: so enthusiasm becomes an early and sensitive form of feedback.
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The Search for Leadership