Leadership Mistakes

Being Satisified with Hiding Problems Leads to Fatal Inaction

Donald Mitchell asked:

Still water breeds mosquitoes, not progress. You have probably seen many stagnant ponds. The lack of movement on the pond’s surface makes a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, and makes it easy for unattractive debris to cover the surface as well. Put a little movement into that pond, and you’ll have many fewer mosquitoes and a much more attractive pond.

A lot of leaders and managers don’t understand this point. Instead, they like to focus on getting back to basics.

New CEOs coming into stagnant companies understand this lesson very well. They also know that their own movement will not stir the waters nearly as much as the movement of all the people in the firm.

A corporate officer in a newly-invigorated company, led by a new CEO brought in from outside the organization, shared this experience. The company had had almost no revenue and earnings growth for many years, and was doing little about it. The company had been the industry leader five years earlier, and now was half the size of the rapidly-growing current leader.

The new CEO called a meeting of all the corporate officers the first day on the job, and asked each of them to outline what needed to be done to get the company moving again. The CEO indicated that he wanted the answers no later than five days hence. Then he waited.

In the next few hours, the executive recounting this story wrote and turned in her report to the CEO. The CEO later told her that no one else produced a report until five days later, and some people even missed that deadline.

The CEO excoriated everyone except her for taking the company’s needs so casually. News reports indicated that almost every one of the executives who waited five or more days to report left the company within a few weeks. The replacements were told that their futures depended on both results, and sharing rapidly what they were running into.

The company soon began to make progress again. Making mistakes and reporting them were okay, as long as the risks were understood and shared in advance.

Irresistible growth enterprises should seek effectiveness, rather than personal perfection for its own sake. Most companies will make much more progress by doing a lot more and having some of it not work out, than doing almost nothing at all and making few mistakes.

What are you doing to stir up greater ferment, ideas, and action among your people?

How will you assist people in overcoming their desire to avoid embarrassment and making mistakes?

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