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  • Teresa Carey

Five Leadership Missteps that Interfere with Scalability

Updated: Aug 15, 2022

One epiphany for leaders is when they realize they’re often at the heart of what’s ailing the organization’s ability to move forward. As aptly stated by Zig Ziglar, “You might occasionally feel that some people are standing in the way and slowing your progress, but in reality, the biggest person standing in your way is you. Others can stop you temporarily, you can do it permanently.”

Here are five of the main leadership missteps I encounter that interfere with scalability for growing organizations, as well as a pointer or two for each in getting back on track.

1. The Need for Control: The daily anthem repeats itself with, “I just can’t let go.” In spite of hiring talented people to do their jobs, top leaders continue to insert themselves into operational or tactical issues in meetings or projects that capable team members can aptly navigate on their own.

To avoid this misstep, ask yourself, “What’s the best thing that will happen if I let go? What’s the worst thing that can happen if I don’t?” Then, let go. Provide oversight and coaching and remove obstacles to allow your leaders to do what you’ve hired them to do.

2. Misuse of Time: Whether the challenge is getting caught up in administrivia, a.k.a., the small stuff, overanalyzing ad nauseum or consistently going over the allotted time for meetings - protecting this finite resource seems more elusive for some leaders than others.

Hire others to manage the small stuff to allow for focus on the bigger challenges. One client’s rule of thumb for himself and his team is to be comfortable at 80%, acknowledging that covering everything isn’t always feasible in growth. It’s referred to as the small stuff for a reason. We don’t sweat it because usually it’s inconsequential, and fixable. Time is finite. Energy is finite. Start optimizing both like the scarce resources they are.

3. Not Making the Hard Decisions Before Creating an Opportunity Cost: In a recent McKinsey survey, only 20% of the respondents said they or their organizations excel at decision making. During scale, there’s a daily myriad of decisions related to people, structure, systems/processes or culture. Often leaders rationalize not addressing a nagging issue. The story is familiar - there’s a broken process critical to the business with a band aid on it, a team member barely hitting the mark of performance constantly being carried, or, an antiquated structure that’s worked so far, so we keep using it.

The prevailing thought should be, “How much revenue, efficiency or other success factors will be impacted over time by not taking action now?” If the issue is a frequent topic or continues to take bandwidth, take action in addressing, then move on.

4. Lack of Communication - especially on the Vision, Purpose and Strategic Priorities: The assumption is made that everyone in the firm keeps the vision top of mind daily. Yet, as new team members are added and growth objectives accelerate, it becomes even more important to repeat the purpose and key priorities. Leaders often forgo this imperative practice.

Leaders intentional about keeping others focused on the vision block the time needed for communication and even err on the side of overcommunicating the bigger vision and priorities. They authentically and passionately tell the story repeatedly through multiple platforms. Emails, weekly voicemail updates, everyday conversations and bullet messaging work to make sure the story is being rinsed and repeated.

5. Forgetting to Align Day-to-Day Behaviors against Organizational Values: In the pursuit of monetization or the next event, values may get lost in the mix. As the heart and soul of the culture, values are not only worth consistently reinforcing, but worth fighting for.

Look no farther than JP Morgan Chase, Google or Adidas to find organizations that live their values daily. Building values into one-on-one conversations and meetings, as well as rewarding performance based on values are just a few best practices that reinforce “values are what’s most valued.” How they’re consistently modeled from the top-down matters – every moment of every day.

How important is one misstep?

In the world of aviation, a plane only has to veer one degree off its course to miss its target by one mile for every 60 miles flown. In 1979, a mere two degree miscalculation made by the pilot flying 257 passengers to Antarctica resulted in a crash into an active volcano, just miles from the intended destination. It’s uncanny how one or two seemingly minor missteps can cause us to miss the mark.

What one misstep do you need to adjust to get out of your own way in achieving your desired growth trajectory?

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