Who is your worst enemy?

The answer may surprise you. When I worked at Hallmark, we loved to trump American Greetings. I imagine they felt that same way about Hallmark. So, you might be surprised to learn that, as leaders, our worst enemy is not our biggest competitor, but rather ourselves. Huh?

In any aspect of our lives, we become our own obstacles of success. Why? The simple answer is we just believe we can’t. The old adage says “If you believe you can or you can’t, you are right.”

It is a shock for most of my clients to hear that they are the cause of their own company’s stagnation, usually due to one or more of these factors:

  1. The economy: it has us frozen so we believe we can’t act. But now is the best time to re-tool our businesses, figure out how to be more productive, tweak our marketing message and improve our performance. The old ways will probably never work again. We can’t just wait it out–we have to get better. As Warren Buffet has said, “when the tide goes out you can see who was skinny dipping”. That doesn’t mean operating on too little resource, that means able to make money in spite of the business approach. Now is the time to step up and earn it.
  2. Success: It has a way of breeding habit and slowing change when it is time to do so. The publishing industry can attest to this.
  3. Time: Take a simple test and ask yourself how much of your leadership time is spent thinking about the company’s future and what it should look like in 3, 5 or 8 years from now. If you answered 10% or less and you are a key leader in the company, ask yourself who you expect to be thinking about it. Because if you are not, likely no one is, and you are on a merry go round of status quo and fire fighting.
  4. Resource Allocation: The single biggest reason most companies underperform their potential is the inability to reallocate resources when new ideas or solutions are in the works. Taking money away from something to fund something new is very difficult. So difficult in fact that few do it. So those great new ideas either come out in a substandard way or not at all. Only 25% of investments in new growth initiatives actually generate a return. This is within your control.
  5. Fear: This one may be one of the biggest right now. Most companies just don’t know what to do right now. Should we invest in A or B? I constantly hear from leaders that they aren’t sure which path to take. That tells me that they have no strategy. Strategy is a choice which by definition excludes other options. A clear strategy guides leaders in deciding which investments make sense and which don’t and allow them the appropriate time to focus on new ideas, because they are not wasting time on things that don’t support the strategy. No clear strategy in place for next year? Now is the time to change that!

As you plan for a better year next year, with a recovering economy and some positive signals about growth, don’t take the wind out of your own sails by not addressing the “enemies” above.

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