For instance, do you ever find yourself repeating behaviours such as; recruiting the wrong people; having key people leave unexpectedly; getting yourself overloaded?
We all have patterns that keep coming back – good or bad. It’s worth investing some time in self analysis – taking that long hard look in the mirror – to check out whether we’re really as good as we’d like to believe – or even need to be to take our businesses forward in these challenging times.
When strengths become weaknesses
Let me share a personal example. One pattern I’ve recognized is my optimistic streak. In many situations it’s a great strength; I have had superb results overcoming major challenges ranging from a recovery after a factory fire through to managing tight cashflow situations. However, at other times it’s been a weakness as it’s meant I’ve missed things. For instance; overly focusing on the opportunities, I got involved far too hastily with one company five years ago and ended up having to put it into liquidation.
In other words, our greatest strengths overextended become our biggest weaknesses. I’ve seen clients who are complete perfectionists, yet find it hard to get employees who can match their standards; others who are very focused on short term results, but find longer term strategy more difficult; or others who are really creative with new ideas, yet find it tough to make hard choices in the day-to-day business.
The solution is to find people you can work with in some way that will counterbalance your qualities. For instance, personally I now check out ideas with other contacts I have who, to my optimistic way of thinking, are “negative”; they will see things I would overlook or dismiss. This process brings out its own challenges, such as keeping an open mind whilst hearing things one doesn’t want to, and being able to communicate with people with different values. But it will make you a better leader.
So ask yourself – what are my strengths? What weaknesses do they create? What am I doing to mitigate those?
Why business owners sometimes can’t see the obvious
We like to surround ourselves with people like us, which fuels a natural tendency to recruit in our own image when it comes to business. It makes life easy. We can anticipate more accurately how people will react; we feel comfortable. However, as we view the world through our own sets of values and beliefs, it means we are more vulnerable to missing things which might be very obvious to others with a different background or experience.
It takes effort to get out of one’s comfort zone, get new perspectives and find people who aren’t in our normal circles. Networking is one way to do this, but even with that one can end up in a group with similar mindsets (e.g. entrepreneurs) – and miss people from very different backgrounds.
What hobbies could you take up that could expand your network? How could you benefit from better use of your contacts through family, friends or existing activities? Some people like to keep work and private life completely separate – however I’m suggesting using them more as an intelligence source. Be interested in their perspectives on the world; what are they noticing, what impact might that have on you and your business? How would they deal with your challenges? What alternative approaches could you generate?
Don’t manage your staff – manage yourself
People issues seem to be the bane of many business leaders’ lives. Issues with Senior Management team performance or particular “problem” people are not unusual. Rather than get stuck in complaining how bad everything is, I’d recommend taking full responsibility and assuming that one has caused the issue oneself. For instance, the reality might be that you recruited the wrong person, got the wrong role profile, or are mismanaging them. There is always an action to take oneself – this helps to avoid the victim mentality, as there is always something one can do.
As one works through the steps and systematically eliminates them, it may in the end come down to the person being the problem, but by then, you’ll have given them a chance and been seen to be fair, which will make any tough decisions much easier. The only snag is the time this might take. Depending on the impact and consequences of the issues on the table, the steps and depth of each step can be tailored to the time available – from hours to months.
Whenever you find yourself blaming others/the economy/the government, it’s time to take a long hard look in the mirror and assess your contribution to the situation. Your journey of self analysis will undoubtedly have generated new opportunities and solutions en route – and ensure that you’re a stronger, fitter leader as well.
About Hilary Briggs
Hilary Briggs is a management consultant with over 15 years of industrial experience having held senior management positions at Rover Group, Whirlpool Corporation and The Laird Group plc. For the last 10 years, she’s worked with SME’s to improve their performance. Hilary is Managing Director of productivity specialists R2P Ltd.