“There are plenty of difficult obstacles in your path. Don’t allow yourself to become one of them.” – Ralph Marston
A few weeks ago I found myself in a deep conversation with one of my fellow colleagues on the topic of leadership. Those of you who know me also know this is one of my favorite topics. But this time the topic wasn’t about how to be a better leader, or balancing work-life, or even how to motivate a team. Rather, this time we were talking about why people fail – and in particular, why leaders, teams, and even individuals seem to continue in behavior that ultimately results in the wrong outcome.
“Perhaps it’s because they weren’t properly trained”, they postulated. “You can’t expect them to do the right things if they’ve never been taught what’s right”. Then the theory of work ethic and motivation came up. I’ve been harping on this very subject for months now, so there is no surprise it was top of mind. And then finally it hit us – more than any of these other things, the single biggest reason people fail tends to be that they can’t get out of their own way!
You know exactly what I mean, don’t you? Time and time again, leadership makes those decisions that has everyone scratching their head. “What were they thinking”, you ask yourself. “Are they tone deaf”, others say. “Or do they just not know how to get out of their own way.”
To be fair, all of us fall victim to this very same trap. Trust me, you do. Every day! Let me explain…
We all have weaknesses. And yes, sometimes those weaknesses cause us harm. But that’s not where I see most of us fall short. Instead, it’s our tendencies that hurt us. Tendencies aren’t bad – used in the right way, or at the right time, and those tendencies serve us well (that’s why we have them). But when they are relied upon blindly, they become obstacles. They force us down the wrong path, or suggest the wrong answer, or better yet, require the wrong behavior and ultimately cause us to get in our own way.
I know a lot about this subject, as I am a shining bright example of that very fact. A good friend of mine recently gave me some fantastic feedback – “You know who you are? You are General Patton”, he said. “When given a mission, you will rally the troops, motivate them like no one else, stand in front and lead the charge, and come hell or high water you will make that mission”, he continued. “But in the process, you’ll pull all of the resources from others, align everything behind your purpose, and in the end, the tail will wag the dog”, he explained. Hard words to hear, but never words were spoken so true.
Yes, I recognize that tendency. And I recognize how productive it has been for me in the past. So there is no wonder why I wouldn’t continue to use it today. But in a world where I must balance my mission with that of the larger whole, I can also see where that tendency can become an obstacle – and put me right in my own way.
I’ll bet if you think long enough you’ll recognize the same tendencies that can become obstacles that also put you in your own way. Whatever they are, they have the ability to make you wildly successful. But they also have the ability to completely derail your efforts.
So what can you do? How do you make sure you don’t get “in your own way”? Here are a few simple things to keep in mind to help you recognize when your strengths can become your weaknesses and your tendencies your greatest obstacles:
• Awareness – Perhaps one of the better techniques for ensuring you do not “get in your own way” is to have awareness. Awareness of your own motivations, behaviors, and their respective outcomes. An addict cannot move forward on the path of recovery without acknowledgement and awareness of where they are today, in this moment. Same applies to leadership and success. And the simple fact you are aware means you can begin the process of addressing.
• Purpose – A second point to consider is purpose. What are your motivations? Are they selfless or selfish? Are you looking for the quickest path out or the most appropriate? Do your words match your behaviors, or do they suggest something different? In judging the action of others, we tend to quickly determine what their underlying purpose is. It’s important that it remains consistent with those of the team and/or organization.
• Perspective – And lastly, consider ‘perspective’ to help you in balancing your tendencies and recognizing when they may become a detriment. Use the exercise of “getting outside of your own body” and look at your actions and behaviors from another’s point of view. Would they be viewed as selfish? As pushy? As short-sighted? Sometimes we get so caught up in our own thinking and we can’t see how our behaviors are reflected to others.
There are more than enough challenges we face every day to prevent our success – let’s not make our own efforts another of those!