What’s the biggest business obstacle you’re facing?
Obstacles are a part of business. Some are external, like the snow storms that hit the country this winter. Businesses scrambled to make the best of a difficult situation.
Some obstacles are internal, like employee conflicts that make getting work done next to impossible.
I’ve always contended that the most dangerous and difficult obstacles are the ones in your own mind. Your own thoughts and beliefs have power to do good or do damage.
As Henry Ford said, “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”
But problems occur when the obstacle is ignored.
You have a better chance of dealing with the issue if you acknowledge it.
Acknowledge the obstacle, but don’t fixate on it.
Sometimes the obstacle is elusive.
You thought you had it all figured out, but you missed an important element. For example, the problem may not be the bad hire you made. It could be your selection process.
Or you might be looking at symptoms, not the real cause.
Sometimes the obstacle is complicated.
Why aren’t you making enough sales? Is it poor strategy? Is it the market? Is it the economy? Is it the capability of your people? A combination?
Too many executives are quick to identify what they think the issue is.
I challenge their assumptions and assess the issue from different perspectives.
The best breakthroughs occur when clients shift their focus from the obstacle to the outcome they want to see.
It’s simply a better starting point to achieve the results you want.
If you focus too much on the obstacle itself, you risk slowing down the process.
My dog won’t get near the vacuum cleaner, even when it’s turned off and standing perfectly still. She won’t go in the same room with it. But if you offer her a treat on the other side of the room, she’ll run by the vacuum cleaner to get her reward. It’s no longer an obstacle.
The more you focus on your desired outcome, the better chance of going around or eliminating the obstacle in your way. Even if you can’t go around it, you’ll be more motivated to work through it.
What the dog sees as an obstacle is something we think is a good thing to have in the house. People (and dogs) have different perspectives about problems.
I’m often approached by executives when they sense something’s wrong in their business. They keep bumping up against something that impedes their progress.
They are weighted down by it. Losing sleep. Stagnated.
Often they are so consumed by the obstacle that they have difficulty articulating what it is they really want — their ideal outcome.
Although it may sound cliché, where there are obstacles there are opportunities — opportunities to improve, grow, learn. And the more you focus on opportunities, the better the outcomes.
Even without visible obstacles, confirming desired outcomes at the start helps you achieve better results.
When I’m working with clients who want to help employees perform best in their jobs, we don’t look at the job descriptions. Those descriptions often look like formalized “to-do” lists.
Instead we start by clarifying the most important desired outcomes for the positions. Although they may be clear to you, employees may be in the dark. Everyone gets on the same page from the start.
You can choose your focus. Catch yourself when you’re dwelling on a problem.
For example, you can obsess over the dysfunction of a team, OR you can commit to creating a high performing team. That’s the ultimate outcome you want. Right?
Once you commit to what you really want, you increase the probability of achieving it.
What outcome are you fully committed to?
Obviously you want to create a profitable business. Or you want to grow your business. Or you want to advance the mission of your organization.
Be more specific. Quantify the outcome to the extent you can.
Whatever the obstacles are in your business, answer this question:
What role can leaders play to improve the situation?
In many cases, you can trace the issue — whatever it is in your firm or business — back to leadership. Whether you have a challenge related to client service, financial issues or employees, there’s likely something that leaders are doing, or not doing, that affects the situation.
I observe co-workers spending too much time behind closed doors ruminating about a “problem employee.” They complain, gossip, criticize. The problem isn’t necessarily the employee or the co-workers. It could be that the leader is allowing the behavior.
Obstacles hold clues. They may point to areas of your own performance that need strengthening.
They may point to the need for you to brighten the vision so that people move toward it more easily.
Obstacles are a wake up call to focus more deliberately on outcomes. When you do, you’ll find a variety of ways to achieve results.
Instead of thinking, “I have so much to do this week” …ask:
“What are the three most important outcomes I want to achieve this week?”
As a leader, strengthen your outcome thinking, and help your team do the same.
Make sure you’re not your own obstacle!
Become more outcome oriented.