Changing external/bureaucratic/or even organizational systems is not a task for the faint of heart. It is a process that often happens in fits and starts, and rarely if ever follows a predictable path. As an encouragement to my team in the midst of such journeys, I have often reminded them, “No doesn’t mean no, it means not yet.” (Of course, I have warned them that no one is allowed to repeat that to my sons . . . but that is a topic for another day.)
No doesn’t mean no, it means not yet. That has long been my philosophy, the way I’m wired as a leader. So you can imagine how pleased I was to run across Carol Dweck’s Ted Talk highlighting her research on the power of “not yet.” She contends that “not yet” is part of a growth mindset that gives an individual confidence that there is a path forward, as opposed to someone having a fixed mindset that is more of a pass/fail perspective.
According to Dweck, not yet provides a source of encouragement that “we can do this!” as opposed to “we tried that and it didn’t work.” It is a reason to keep going rather than an excuse to stop. Very few of us hit a home run on our first at-bat, which is not the same as assuming we will never hit a home run. Unfortunately, today it seems far too many people want a guarantee of success before they will even step into the batter’s box.
Leadership doesn’t come with guarantees. It is about sticking with a worthy endeavor, even if it is hard, and frustrating, and isn’t working out the way you hoped. Leadership is about the long view. Sometimes today’s answer is not yet, and then tomorrow is a chance to pick up where you left off and try a different path. Sure we all get tired, and it is tempting to just walk away. Not yet. Rest if you need to. Recharge. And then reframe that no into a not yet.
Not yet is not a new idea. Thomas Edison, got it. When trying to create the light bulb he noted, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And oh aren’t we happy that he hung on for number 10,001. Sure, not every task is worth that kind of effort, but as a leader shouldn’t you be focusing your energies on those that are?
My challenge to you is to be the kind of leader who fosters a growth mindset in your organization. Sure, that means there will be good days and bad days. But at least you’ll know that no is not permanent. And when someone tosses a no your way, you can smile knowingly and correct them with a simple “not yet.”