Merge's Blog

Exceptional leaders know when to change course

change course

Normally, persistence and tenacity are good characteristics in a leader.  But sometimes they can actually be a weakness.  There are situations when it is more important for leaders to observe and listen, and if the current path is not taking them where they need to go, to make a deliberate decision to change course.  Let me give you an example of what I mean.

You need to get to the other side of town and your fastest option is the B-line train.  So you descend into the subway system and see that there is a train on the platform about to close its doors.  One mad dash later, you are on board and settled into your seat for the 45-minute trip to the west end of the city.  Except that it’s the wrong train.  In your rush to get on, you did not notice that this is the W-line that will actually take you north to the airport, nowhere close to where you need to be for your doctor’s appointment this afternoon.

You boarded the wrong train!

change courseYou made a mistake.  Errors like this happen all the time – at work, at home, at play.  But the bigger misstep would be to stay on the W-line train.  Staying on the W-line is the mistake that will cost you – whether it’s time (you’re going to be late for your appointment now) or outcome (who knows when you’ll be able to get another appointment with this specialist), or perhaps even money (you might be billed as a no-show).

I know riding the subway isn’t easy for you, it’s your first time and things are unfamiliar.  I know you had to sprint to catch the train, and that’s tough on your already painful knees.  I know your seat provides a comfortable respite as your heart rate settles after the sudden surge.  But if you’re on the wrong train, staying on it isn’t going to make it the right train.  If you want to get to your medical appointment, you’ll need to get off this train and find the right one.  But before you can do that, you need to first realize that you’ve made a mistake.

Why it’s important to be willing to change course

As it can be in your role as a leader.  There are lots of reasons why staying on the current course is familiar, and easier, and more comfortable.  But if it isn’t going to get you where you want to go, then it’s time to change your approach and strategy, it’s time to change course.  Which you can only do if you have the awareness and willingness to admit that you’re going in the wrong direction.

So pay attention to the signs that tell you that you’re on the wrong path.  Are your staff raising the warning flags?  Are your clients telling you that what you’re proposing won’t work?  Are you carefully weighing evidence that suggests your plan may be flawed, or are you dismissing it without consideration?  And then, when you get these clues, be open and flexible enough to change course as needed.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.  Is there a case to be made for sticking to your plan and seeing it through to the end, despite possible obstacles and roadblocks?  Please comment below.

P.S. Back in April 2014, I wrote about the persistent and tenacious spider who was unwilling to change course.  To his detriment.


  • Merge, one of the most important attributes of a leader is the ability to deal with reality. When a change of course is required, it needs to be made. That’s a function of another important attribute of a leader, having the courage to take action when needed. Leadership is about change; having the courage to recognize that a change is needed is a differentiator between being a manager and being a leadership.

    • You are so right Jim. Not just openness and flexibility to pay attention to the clues that tell you that a change in course is required, but perhaps more importantly, the courage to do so, even when it may not be a popular decision.


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