Ron Karr, Author
New York Yankee catcher and philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” In the quest to become a great leader, you’ve probably found yourself “someplace else” often enough. I know I have. It’s easy to lose track of our original objective or be reluctant to set an audacious goal in the first place. Our natural, human tendencies and habits draw us into situations where we have plenty of speed but no direction, which is only a recipe for burnout.
Thankfully, there are ways for ordinary humans to recognize these symptoms and regain the right combination of speed with direction (velocity) and alignment with one’s ultimate objective. By doing so, we learn how to become even better leaders, no matter what our job title or official position.
So, here are three examples of obstacles that too often block our path to successful leadership—and what we can do to overcome them and achieve greater velocity.
Not Realizing the Objectives of a New Position
We are creatures of habit. We all tend to repeat actions that brought us success or reward in the past. The problem is, when our job responsibilities change, we don’t always alter our behavior. A classic example happens in sales. A top performing sales rep gets results by going the extra mile with every customer—doing whatever it takes to close the sale and ensure repeat business. Being the sales hero is satisfying—both financially and emotionally.
The problem happens when that same rep is promoted to management. They are no longer the star player but the coach; the objective is different. Success for a sales rep is based on their individual efforts. For a manager, it’s based on the combined productivity of all team members. The manager’s job is to make every individual team member insanely successful.
But if the former sales star doesn’t realize the new objective, they can remain in “firefighter” mode, micromanaging team members and even taking over at critical sales moments. Being the star feels good emotionally, but not acting like a coach results in poor team performance. Micromanaged sales reps often experience stress, demotivation, or both.
Rather than continuing to do their old job, a true leader needs to PAUSE and ask, “What is my job? How is my objective different now than what it was?” A leader should always ask what success means—not just for them but for those they lead. With that end in mind, they can measure team members’ performance and find new ways for them to achieve the best outcome.
Telling Yourself Limiting Stories
We all tell ourselves stories—the inner narratives we use to process the world around us. When they’re positive, that’s great. But when the stories are negative, they’ll hold you back, add stress, and prevent you from achieving or even attempting an ideal outcome. Even with a track record of success, we often experience Imposter Syndrome—the feeling that we somehow don’t deserve success. We may not even be aware of our limiting self-talk, especially when it comes from a past difficulty or trauma. Without even realizing it, we’re letting our view of the past limit our ability to lead in the present.
It often starts with us interpreting what we think other people mean. As those negative stories accumulate, they create drag and resistance, allowing past experiences to color the future and preventing us from attaining velocity.
The leadership solution is not to ignore or stuff those limiting thoughts back down, but to PAUSE and ask, “What’s the story I’m telling myself? Am I letting some past narrative or assumption tell me what I can or cannot do?” If the answer is yes, then remember that only you can re-write the story for yourself. True leaders never have all the answers up front. But they do have the power to change what the story means, take responsibility for the present, and create a mindset that is outward-focused, not self-focused.
Pursuing Tasks Without Purpose
Most of us can identify with the saying, “Too busy mopping the floor to turn off the faucet.” We even pride ourselves on the fact that we’re busy all the time. It feels good to accomplish something on our to-do list, so we’re emotionally primed to be task-oriented—even when the tasks do not have a connection with a meaningful outcome or purpose. To put the problem in terms of sales, we focus on the “how” part of the equation—the features of a product or service—without thinking about the “what” part, namely the objective or need that the product or service fulfills.
Being a leader in these situations means we must continuously ask the important questions about the tasks we and our team are doing:
- “Is the vision itself still valid?” As the COVID pandemic proved, what was once an ideal outcome may have changed entirely. Altering course is always an option.
- “Are the present tasks the right ones?” It’s easy to let “urgent but not important” tasks creep into the mix. Always PAUSE and prioritize.
- “Are we executing these tasks in the best way possible?” A true leader must be open to new ways of doing things that meet the ideal objective.
Aligning tasks to meet a clear objective is never a one-and-done process. Things can change overnight, and human nature often is at odds with the need to change our habits. But there is hope. Exceptional leaders learn how to cope with unexpected change, stay on top of their team’s goals, issues, and roadblocks, and above all maintain a velocity mindset.
About the Author: Ron Karr is a leading sales leadership expert and author of The Velocity Mindset® (Amplify Publishing, May 2021). Learn more about how you can lead your sales team with a velocity mindset at VelocityMindset.com.