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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • June 11, 2023
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Six Ways To Achieve More By Doing Less 

Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:

Marshall Goldsmith is an excellent, insightful business writer – no surprise, really, as he is a protégé of the most “Predictable Success – positive” ‘guru’ of them all, Peter Drucker.

In Marshall's best-selling book (which I highly recommend), What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, he prints a quote from Drucker that is one of the core principles of Predictable Success. Here it is:

Marshall goldsmith

We spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do. We don’t spend enough time teaching leaders what to stop. Half the leaders I have met don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop.

When I first read that quote many years ago, it resonated then (as it does even more so now) with my personal experience in coaching leaders to Predictable Success.

While most often leaders develop by looking for something to do – some skill or behavior to add to their already well-equipped toolkit – the reality is, the most successful growth leaders become so by learning to do less - specifically, by no longer doing those things that are no longer (or never were) effective.

"Most successful growth leaders become so, not by doing more, but by learning to do less" - Les McKeown, Founder and CEO, Predictable Success

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I'd go so far as to say that perhaps 80% of my coaching with growth leaders is focussed on helping them move away from behaviors that are clearly hindering  progress, rather than developing something new.

Here are the most common “You need to stop this now”'s that I encounter – most of us suffer from at least one these, myself included – which resonate with you?

1. Managing by event, not process.

In other words, managing short-term and reactively to whatever is going wrong at any one point in time, rather than building a long-term, dependable Predictable Success ‘machine for decision-making’. Doing 'the next indicated thing' is a necessary skill in times of triage, but it won't (to go back to Marshall's book title) 'get you there' in the long-term

2. Torpedoing the system.

Many otherwise excellent leaders and managers expend large resources in building a scalable infrastructure, only to regularly ‘opt out’ of that infrastructure to go back to (comforting) previous, ‘gut-based’ ways of doing things.

Partially this is because of well-grooved synapses developed during the Fun stage of growth, but at it's core, leaders do so simply because they can - because their drive for a sense of freedom and autonomy is so strong that they are prepared, at least subconsciously, to torpedo their organization's growth to  get the endorphin rush they can only get from flying without instruments.

3. Pandering to the Big Dogs.

It's a very common pattern: As the organization grows, the maverick big-hitter who helped deliver huge success in the early days eventually becomes a liability as they struggle to resist change and hold on to their power base and independence.

Where once their very bull-headedness was a genuine competitive advantage, now, as complexity grows and internal interdependencies multiply, each maverick act reverberates down a longer and longer line of crucially-linked interactions, like a toppling line of dominos (for which see: Predictable Success book cover :-).

Continuing to give your Big Dogs their head without establishing clear boundaries is a guaranteed way to keep your organization out of Predictable Success.

4. Fixing things.

In the early growth stages, the most time-consuming role of the top banana (the founder, owner, senior pastor, managing director, Madam Chairman - whatever you call the most senior person) is in fixing things. Time spent on all the other, very much more important stuff (like 'thinking strategically) pales into insignificance compared to the time spent fixing, well..., everything.

Service problems, customer issues, staff concerns, comp plans, the holiday calendar, your tech stack - they all have issues, and you're the one who has to decide what to do about them.

The problem comes when you've fixed so much for so long that you're now trapped either by 'the curse of knowledge' (it's become far, far easier for you just to 'do it yourself' than to show someone else how to do it) and / or by a sense of identity that now revolves so much around you being seen this superhuman super-fixer that you've become an enormous bottleneck to your organization's growth.

One of the most important transitions every leader has to make at some point is to stop being 'the person who fixes things' (eventually, to even stop being 'the person who decides things'), and instead to be the leader who builds the team that fixes (and eventually, the team that decides) things.

5. Squelching bad news.

It’s hard to spot when you're in the middle of it, but gradually a healthy ‘can-do’ attitude can be transformed into a negative ‘Don’t bring me bad news’ culture.

And guess what happens when you tell people not to bring you bad news? Well, mostly they stop bringing you bad news. I think you can write the third act of that movie script yourself.

Note, I'm not saying that raising the performance bar isn't important, or that asking someone to explain why they think something can't be done, then helping motivate them to overcome self-imposed restrictions isn't a great leadership skill, but that's different from simply telling people to lift the corner of the nearest rug and brush anything negative underneath.

Are you getting all the facts, good or bad? Or are your people scared to tell you the truth if it's not all rosy? To a great leader, information isn't 'good' or 'bad' - it's just dispassionate data. What is 'good' or 'bad' are the decisions and actions we take once we know the data - and I for one don't want to just be hearing one side when I make those decisions.

6. Fad-grabbing.

Do your team bite their collective lip when you start enthusing about the latest, great business book (or concept) you've happened upon? Do they studiously try to avoid you for the next few days after you return from a conference laden down with exciting new initiatives to implement? 

If so, it might be a sign that one of your greatest strengths - openness to new ideas and a creative approach to problem solving - has morphed into a problematic obsession with the next 'shiny new thing', giving your team whiplash as you jump from A to Z and back to M, with barely a stop for breath.

Of course, what with people understandably concerned about keeping their jobs, that even if either of these things (the lip-biting or the studious avoidance) is occurring it's unlikely that you will be aware of them - so why not just ask your team straight out:  "On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means I'm the boring-est most predictable steady Eddie ever, and 10 means I'm an out of control crazy-maker, where would you score me?" At least it will make for a fun discussion 🙂

How’d you fare? Spot any candidates you’d like to eradicate in your behavior?

Let me know in the comments below!


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