Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:
Many organizations - whether they're for-profit businesses or not-for-profits, irrespective if they are small or large, start-ups or long-established - stall out for the exact same reason: their Visionary leaders’ inability to get out of their own way.
It’s as if they can’t help themselves.
After their initial success, the Visionary leader slowly, initially imperceptibly, becomes a liability to the organization's greater growth. They seem compelled to meddle, interfere, radically switch direction, and generally act like an arsonist.
All the while, they are subconsciously sabotaging their own success and that of the very venture they sweated blood to birth.
"Many businesses get into trouble because of their Visionary leaders’ inability to get out of their own way." - Les McKeown, Founder and CEO, Predictable Success
Does this sound like you or someone you know?
Do you (or they) have a seeming inability to say no to the next idea, the next bright shiny object?
Do you fear that by saying yes to everything that comes your way you might be getting in your own way and impairing the growth of your organization?
If so, here are the four key steps to getting out of your own way by learning to say no by learning to not say yes.
1. Never say “Yes” Alone.
Ah, yes. The benefits of founding your own venture:
- Unexpectedly meeting a charming individual over dinner and hiring that person for a senior position without consulting anyone else;
- Learning over breakfast that a competitor is for sale and negotiating heads of agreement to acquire same competitor before lunch;
- Spending a week in a beautiful city and deciding to open an office there.
The truth is, most entrepreneurs don’t start new ventures primarily for the financial reward (though that’s obviously important). They do so because of a fierce drive for independence and autonomy, and saying yes to their whims is one of the most important ways of expressing that fierce autonomy.
The problem is, as the organization grows and becomes more complex, what was once a quirky individualism becomes instead a disruptive annoyance.
Hiring people, opening offices, acquiring new lines of business–all things that in the early days fueled the growth and success of the smaller organization – now act like mammoth rocks thrown into a small pond.
Now, perhaps you read the examples above and thought 'I'd never in a million years do something as sweeping and disruptive as that without a lot of consultation with my team.' Well, what about these:
- Saying yes to a massive customization request from a customer that your production team has already told you will overwhelm their already overwhelmed resources;
- Promising a compensation increase to someone on the spur of the moment, without running it by their manager first;
- Directing the whole organization to stop using piece of software A and start using piece of software B because you saw a Youtube video where someone said it was the greatest thing since sliced bread, signed up for their 14-day free trial, spent 5 minutes playing with it over the weekend and think it's cool.
These are on a different scale, granted - but they have the same cumulative net effect: your team are left confused and increasingly develop a sense of learned helplessness.
Discipline yourself to 'consult before yessing'. And yes, it will make your head hurt - because after all, isn't it your intuition and risk-taking that got you here? Yes it is. And no, it won't get you there.
2. Never “Yes” Over Someone Else’s “No”.
Divide and conquer. It’s the oldest trick in the teenage book of parent-manipulating tricks. If Mom has said no, go ask Dad instead, or vice versa.
Organizationally, divide and conquer appears in many guises:
- Personal appeals from key employees to be exempted from the systems and processes everyone else is subject to;
- Big Dogs seeking approval for pet projects they know will be turned down if they go through the regular channels;
- Managers pleading special treatment for their team members.
And because you’re the top banana, you’re the one they go to, knowing that a yes from you trumps anything anyone else may say.
Except that, of course, your yes also creates confusion, annoyance, tension, and a loss of credibility for everyone concerned.
3. Never Out-Yes Your Team’s Yes.
I see it all the time: A senior leadership team puts a strong, creative initiative in place, and hours later, their Visionary leader comes up with another, even more creative initiative for everyone to work on.
Of course, this second initiative doesn’t directly compete with the first–that would look too crass, too petty on the part of the Visionary leader, but the net result is the same.
The team’s resources are stretched, the organization’s focus is diluted, and neither initiative delivers the success it should.
4. Master The “Silent Re-entry.”
The worst time to be around a Visionary leader? Mondays after they’ve had a long weekend, attended a conference or other event, or, worst of all, a lengthy vacation.
With all that time to think and percolate, and possibly hyper-caffeinated by reading the latest fad business book, they return to the office boiling over with new initiatives, new approaches, new passions.
All of which everyone else has to sandbag, smiling enthusiastically while using every trick in the book to avoid actually implementing any of this stuff, knowing as they do from long experience that their boss’s new-found enthusiasms will wear off after a week or so.
Discipline yourself to re-engage after absences in listening, rather than broadcast, mode. Find out what happened while you were away.
Instead of dropping all your new idea-bombs on everyone, identify one or two things that others did in your absence and reinforce those.
If your new-found enthusiasms are truly important, they’ll still have value–and will attain much more credibility–if you quietly introduce them a week or so later, rather than in an all-staff meeting moments after your re-arrival.