As a leader, you know that your company can be tripped up by a host of unexpected events–a sudden economic shift, a new global competitor, a huge new market that you’ve somehow overlooked, an environmental disaster, or a technological breakthrough you haven’t foreseen.
What you may not realize is that there are some less obvious–but equally treacherous–leadership traps that can ensnare you. Here are three traps that are all too common, along with tactics to help you avoid them:
Top executives are besieged with requests for attendance and attention. More than ever, they are inundated with work-related events and tasks and external invitations. Everything seems important–and to some degree, everything is–so you may fail to focus on what’s most critical.
Here’s what you can do to avoid this trap:
Establish a laser-like focus. Though it’s difficult to eliminate all distractions, it is possible to ignore them for a period of time to focus on a matter that requires your undivided attention.
Use the calendar review method. When I coach leaders, I sometimes ask them to review their calendars for the last year and ask them how their various activities match up with the company’s critical business objectives. When you do this, you’ll easily see that you spent half of March on meaningless lunches, meetings that others could have attended, and items that could have been delegated. You could have used that time to focus on a big problem confronting the business, interacting with customers, identifying future trends, or coaching your people.
Ask yourself a series of tough questions about how you’re spending your time. What key business decisions or issues have you been neglecting? Why have you been neglecting them? Is it that you lack the time to concentrate on them? Is it that you prefer the glamour and fun of other activities to hard choices involving subjects that you’re not an expert at? Are you willing to make a commitment to shut yourself off from other responsibilities to deal with mission-critical issues?
Your company probably has a natural leaning toward certain functions and work styles. While there’s nothing wrong with that, there is something wrong when the organization can’t deviate from that leaning, even when circumstances dictate that it should.
For example, when an innovative, marketing-oriented culture has trouble shifting to a more operations and detail-oriented mode as the business changes, then the company is caught in a favoritism trap.
To avoid this trap, you need to find the right balance point. Here are a few strategies:
Manage the tensions between two opposing camps. Marketing may feel that regulatory is nitpicking, while regulatory believes that marketing is ignoring the rules, to the company’s peril. Savvy leaders acknowledge and celebrate the natural tensions. The real lesson is to value both the creative tasks of a business and the more mundane, but no less essential, execution requirements.
Make sure your team makes situational, rather than functionally biased, choices. People take their cues from their leader’s behaviors. If you seem to favor decisions by the numbers, everyone will be numbers-obsessed. The behavior to model is situational–be sufficiently agile to choose sides based on what’s needed at the time.
Many leaders are capable of personal growth and change, yet choose to stick to what they know. But these self-imposed limits are a trap.
As your organization transforms, you need to evolve with it or you’ll be leading from a position of weakness. Most leaders today are working in businesses that will change significantly from the time they’re hired to only a few years in.
To escape this trap, take this bold step:
Rebrand yourself. This doesn’t mean talking a new game, but actually crafting a new substance to back the style. You may be limited by your abilities and time: you’re not going to segue from 20 years as a sales pro to a tech expert or global mastermind overnight. But everyone is capable of rebranding, as long as you’re realistic about moving from point A to point B. Identify the work experiences, educational options, and other factors that can help you bridge the gap.
Awareness of these traps, combined with use of the tactics offered, will help you sidestep at least some of the common snares that could otherwise cause you serious problems.
Excerpted from Beauty Queen by Deborrah Himsel. Copyright © 2014 by the author and reprinted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
—Deborrah Himsel is the author of Beauty Queen: Inside the Reign of Avon’s Andrea Jung. From 1999 to 2005, she worked alongside Andrea Jung at Avon as vice president of Global Organization Effectiveness. Himsel is a leadership consultant for such Fortune 500 companies as Johnson & Johnson, KPMG, Exxon/Mobil, Bain, Citigroup, and Walmart, and she teaches at Thunderbird School of Global Management and The Helsinki School of Economics at Aalto University.