This is a guest post by Mark Miller. Mark is the best-selling author of six books, an in-demand speaker, and the Vice President of High-Performance Leadership at Chick-Fil-A. His latest book, Leaders Made Here: Building a Leadership Culture, outlines a clear and replicable approach to creating the leadership bench every organization needs.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” -Lao Tzu
I’m guessing much of your life and leadership is devoted to problem-solving.
If you aren’t trying to fix the problems you currently face, you are probably attempting to anticipate, and proactively respond to, problems on the horizon. Maybe the problem you are trying to address is how to continue to fuel your current success – a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. Problem-solving is a part of a leader’s ever-present reality.
I’ve been searching for years for ways to make my investment in this critical activity more fruitful. Today I’ll share some practices that have helped make our team’s problem-solving efforts more effective.
Let’s begin our deep dive on the topic with a mistake I’ve personally witnessed thousands of times. Before I share it, brace yourself for a blinding flash of the obvious! Are you ready?
“Problem solving is a part of a leader’s ever-present reality.” -Mark Miller
Since I have long been interested in helping people push past what’s comfortable, I found his new book particularly intriguing. After reading it, I am sure that you will find his work as actionable as I have. I spoke with Andy recently about his new book.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” -Neale Donald Walsch
What keeps people safely ensconced inside their comfort zones?
I’ve found five specific reasons, and I call them psychological roadblocks or barriers. The first is the Authenticity Challenge: It’s the idea that acting outside your comfort zone can feel fake, foreign, and false. The second is the Competence Challenge: In addition to feeling inauthentic, you can also feel like you don’t have the ability to be successful in a situation outside your comfort zone. The third roadblock is what I call the Resentment Challenge: Even if people logically know that they need to change their behavior to be effective in a new situation, they may feel resentful or frustrated about having to stretch beyond where they’re comfortable. Roadblock #4 is the Likeability Challenge: One of the greatest worries people feel when stretching outside their comfort zones is whether people will like this new version of themselves. Finally, Roadblock #5 is the Morality Challenge: In certain instances, people can have legitimate concerns about the morality of the behavior they’re about to perform. Of course people don’t necessarily experience each of these roadblocks each time they attempt to act outside their comfort zones. However, even one or two roadblocks can be enough to keep people fully ensconced within their comfort zones.
Do most people know which one is their challenge?
When we’re afraid of something, we often just feel “worried” or “fearful.” And not really knowing or understanding where the discomfort actually comes from just compounds the problem. But what I find is that when people can apply this framework of psychological roadblocks to their lives, they have a much clearer way to make sense of their experience – and that gives them a sense of control over something that previously felt confusing or overwhelming.
“The best things in life are often waiting for you at the exit ramp of your comfort zone.” -Karen Salmansohn
The vicious cycle of avoidance is one we’ve all participated in or watched to varying degrees. What’s the best way to stop the cycle and get back on the right path?
So many of us encounter this trap: We avoid something outside our comfort zone – and feel quite relieved. But then the next time around, it’s just that much harder. To stop the cycle, you have to have a deep sense of purpose that the “pain” is worth the “gain” – that whatever it is you’re contemplating outside your comfort zone will contribute to your career or personal development — or enable you to help others and make a difference. And what’s critical is that this source of conviction is authentic and meaningful to you. When you have conviction and motivation, you’ll have the power to say yes when every bone in your body is aching to say no.
Years ago, I was walking down a long office corridor in a nondescript office building. Visiting one of the largest companies in the area, I was being escorted to a conference room. What the purpose of that visit was, I really can’t remember.
But I do remember walking by one room. As I was passing by, I glanced in and saw a man at the front of a room filled with maybe twenty or so people. That would not be in my memory bank except for what I next heard.
“I’m sorry, I screwed that up and let you all down.”
That’s not something you often hear from the front of the room.
I froze, right in the doorway, wondering what he was apologizing for and what was going on. It took me a few seconds to realize that I had no business stopping to watch, so I willed my feet to keep walking.
In those few seconds, I don’t know the details of what happened. But I could discern that this was the boss, and he wasn’t holding back. He had made a mistake and was taking full responsibility for it.
It was impressive. I wonder what the others in that room thought. My guess is that they still talk about this boss of theirs.
“Words can inspire and words can destroy. Choose your words well.” -Robin Sharma
As I said above, this one is powerful because it’s unexpected, and it demonstrates both self-awareness and personal responsibility. That’s not a boss who looks to throw the blame faster than a quarterback about to be sacked.
“Leaders who apologize demonstrate personal accountability.” -Skip Prichard
Many of us love to read stories of the beginnings of Apple or Facebook. We imagine what those early days were like and what it would be like to be a part of a small startup that skyrockets to success.
But, of course, statistically most startups fail. Studies show 90% fail in the first two years.
Why do so many startups fail?
What can the successful ones teach us?
Is there a blueprint for startup success?
Tom Hogan and Carol Broadbent founded Crowded Ocean, Silicon Valley’s top marketing firm for startups. They have years of experience working with some of the Valley’s most successful firms. Their new book, The Ultimate Start-Up Guide: Marketing Lessons, War Stories, and Hard-Won Advice from Leading Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors, is packed with the wisdom of their experience working with numerous startups. I recently spoke with them about what makes a successful venture.
“Start-ups fail because of lack of execution.” -Charles Beeler
Everyone reads about how many startups fail. What are a few of the reasons?
Dog design. According to a recent study of 101 failed startups, 42% cited ‘no market need’ as the reason they failed. In other words, they created their product ‘because they could,’ not because of any perceived market need.
Running out of money. Obvious but it happens more often than you’d think. Because of parsimony (giving away as little of the company as possible) or optimism (I’ve never missed a deadline in my life), first-time CEOs work from budgets and schedules that assume that everything will go right. It usually doesn’t—and so the founders fold shop.
‘Camel Design.’ If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, a camel product is one where the founders listened to too many people, didn’t trust their initial instincts, and built a product that is a little of everything and compelling to no one.
A single, dictatorial founder. It’s one thing to have a strong vision. It’s another to refuse to tolerate questions or input about that vision, especially when that input comes not just from employees but from the market. One way to track how much of a martinet you’re being is by tracking employee retention: this may be your first rodeo as CEO, but most startup employees are on their third or fourth.
Underestimating the competition. Sometimes it’s hubris; other times it’s just not enough time. Either way, most startups don’t respect—or keep an eye on—the competition the way they should. Give the competition their due: The analysts who cover your market—and who have probably had nice things to say about the competition—don’t want to look like they’re stupid. Same for the prospects who either own or are considering the competition. So keep your derisive comments to yourself.
“Data driven marketing is…one of the best investments an early-stage start-up can make.” -Moe Kermani
How can past failures translate to a positive experience?
It all starts with humility and honesty. Virtually every team has one or more scars from failed past ventures. The key is to admit it to other key team members and then use the lessons learned to avoid making the same mistake a second time. The other element is pattern recognition: If you can use your past failures to recognize a mistake in its early stages (say, a bad hire), you can take corrective action before the mistake takes root and does damage.
“Less is more. If you think you have focus, focus some more.” -Jishnu Bhattacharjee
I love this. Many people think diversity is for more mature businesses, yet you argue otherwise. Why is diversity important for startups?
Diversity of multiple types is healthy and invigorating for startups, not only to build a strong culture but to build better businesses. All the survey data shows that diverse teams make better decisions and improve profitability. So, just like startups benefit by being able to start fresh at the whiteboard to design a better product or service, we believe startups should try to build in diversity from their founding. We encourage startup founders to focus not only on gender and ethnic diversity, but also to consider hiring staff who bring both big-company and small-company backgrounds and to consider embracing the oddballs and misfits who represent “disruptive” thinkers. When tech titans like Apple, Google, and Salesforce have heads of HR and cross-functional teams chartered to lead diversity initiatives, you know diversity is a big deal, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it translates into better businesses.
“You never really know what the market really is until you go to market.” -Pete Sonsini