Leaders setting goals or New Year's resolutions tend to focus on what they need to start doing: tracking more data, investing in better software, establishing a new annual review process.

While implementing new tracking or setting clearer review standards likely would make an impact, it's what leaders are already doing that's often the biggest barrier to their success.

Customer feedback, employee pushback, or failed marketing campaigns sometimes send signals about what you should stop doing. A lot of what you do, however, feels like forward motion but really keeps you in place. Your ideas about running your company or changing your industry are sometimes misguided, but that feedback's a lot harder to gather.

How do you know, for example, if your goal-setting methods are effective? What tells you whether your risk-taking philosophy works? You'd need to make it through several quarters before you could tell whether your outlook was paying off. But there are three ways I'm sure you are hurting yourself and don't even know it.

Adopting One Outlook Is Dangerous

We tend to absorb the thoughts we're surrounded by. It's not a weakness. It's human nature. A 1969 study by French psychologists found that people who discuss ideas with others develop stronger attitudes than they'd held on their own. Their viewpoints intensified as they found more people with their perspectives, and human psychology hasn't changed much in the intervening five decades.

The psychologists concluded that group consensus leads people to "adopt more extreme positions." That phenomenon isn't isolated to political discussions like the ones the researchers started. Our thoughts and behaviors are reinforced by what we come in contact with.

Don't get trapped in an echo chamber where you're only exposed to outlooks that affirm your own. It's hard to see that something isn't working. Worse, it's difficult to come up with new ideas with only one perspective in mind.

3 Things You Can Stop Doing Today

Ditching a long-standing mindset is hard work, and that's especially true if a leader's viewpoints have been reinforced by policies or processes. But in my experience, there are three things leaders can stop doing today to make a new start:

  1. Stop hustling. "Hustle" has become a buzzword, shorthand that someone's an endlessly hard worker. But hustling prevents thinking. If you're always hustling -- and trying to get your culture oriented around hustling -- you're leaving no space for creative ideas. Hustling is meant for execution, but creativity takes space.

    My best ideas don't come during the hustle. Most come when you are not thinking about the issue like when you are on a run or in the shower. When I get away from the computer screen, my mind begins to think about problems differently. When I write speeches, I need space to think about stories and their key points.

    You can't force the creative process; doing something unrelated sparks fresh approaches.



  2. Stop the complexity. Companies try to tackle too many strategies and find themselves making things too complicated. It's hard for bosses to explain to employees what's needed, and it's even harder for customers to understand. Simplifying strategies doesn't dilute their effectiveness -- it helps them stick.

    Changing my sales flow to a two-step process impacted new clients enrolled. Over the years, I'd listened to experts' different strategies. I found that first having a short qualification call was a rapport builder. Only in the second step do I dive into defining the problem and offering a solution. It's simple, and I vow not to break this process after seeing how much easier it's been to enroll new clients.

  3. Stop following others. Fast-growing companies don't follow others. Imitation results in blander results for the copy, who can't duplicate the excitement of the original. It's good to remember that no matter how dominant a brand is, there's always room for a competitor doing something different. MySpace was once the No. 1 site in the U.S., outpacing even Google, but that didn't stop it from losing out to Facebook.

Rather than overwhelm yourself with all the things you should start doing, consider what you should quit. While some leaders have a hard time admitting they're wrong, that can hurt their chances of success. And failing is a lot more painful than quitting.

Published on: Nov 14, 2018