168. 2000 Miles and Running A Business
Lead how I say, not how I do
I ran 2000 miles in my last pair of running shoes. If you’re not an avid runner, let me fill you in: running shoes only last for ~500 miles. After that distance, you really should get a new pair of shoes otherwise you’re at risk of getting injured.
I’m more than happy to explain to you the reasons why I ran 2000 miles in those shoes. Here is the abbreviated version: I’m an idiot.
There were holes in the shoes when I threw them away. I literally ran until there were holes in my shoes.
About two months ago, my ankle began hurting after some of my runs. I didn’t want a hurt ankle so I ignored the pain.
If I ignore the problem, it will go away, right?
The pain continued to worsen after each successive run. Soon my ankle began to hurt so much I couldn’t run anymore. I couldn’t even go for a walk without discomfort. In fact, going up or down some stairs was an act of excruciation.
I’m writing this from the couch with an ice pack on my foot because now…well…I’m an idiot.
Had I just bought a new pair of shoes 1500 miles ago, I wouldn’t have been in this frustrating situation.
The longer we ignore a problem, the longer it will take to recover. If the problem is never addressed, eventually it will get to a point where it does so much damage that you may never return to normal again.
Have I slapped you in the face enough with this analogy? Can we move on from my ankle yet?
Swept Under The Rug
Humans are not perfect. Companies are made up of these imperfect humans.
Ergo, companies are not perfect.
Every company has its weak spots. Sometimes those weak spots are glaringly bad. For instance, maybe a highly disgruntled employee has been spewing their bad juju at a company for months - or even <gulp> years. Their toxicity can spread like a pandemic
In fact, think of toxic employees like a COVID-infected cell: the more they interact with others, the more their disease contaminates the company until eventually the culture is decimated and the good people have departed.
On the other hand, sometimes there is a meaningful problem in a company that senior leadership doesn’t have a clue about.
Remember the Iceberg of Ignorance?
Senior leadership may only know 4% of the company's problems. That leaves 96% of painful ankles hidden from the people most likely to fix them.
Problems fester. When a weak spot is detrimental to the organization, it could compound quickly.
So what’s a leader to do when they don’t know what they don’t know?
How is a leader supposed to fix a problem if they don’t even know what it is?
It turns out, there are two things to do.
The Two Things To Do
In order to ensure the ongoing health and wellness of your organization, you have to understand that nothing is perfect. If you believe the company is flawless, that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems - it just means you’re not aware of them.
Step 1: Learn to Know What You Don’t Know
It’s possible people just don’t want to tell you about the problems. Maybe you just don’t want to acknowledge them.
Maybe the problem is you.
As we discussed before, open-door policies are a sham. All they do is allow the leader to play the victim and blame issues on other people. Don’t base your leadership communication on an open door policy.
You’re not going to understand your company’s major problems if you’re just expecting them to walk through your door and present themselves
Life doesn’t happen that way. Take those pigs in Italy as a for instance. It’s not like the truffles just jump out of the ground and onto their noses. Those pigs need to dig through the dirt for those truffles with focus and intensity. You, too, have to proactively search for the issues in your company.
I’m a big fan of periodic surveys - oftentimes anonymous ones. With the right questions presented in the right way, they can quickly give you a clear assessment of employee satisfaction and percolating issues, while also quantifying the effectiveness of your leadership.
Over the years I have developed a proven process for this. If you’re interested in knowing more, drop me a line.
It’s a core component of what I do.
Step 2: Acknowledge, Action, Accountability
Once you uncover the problems from the tactics above, determine which are the most important. Then follow these three simple steps:
Acknowledge the problems to all key stakeholders. Acknowledge how long it’s been going on and how bad it is. Acknowledge your role in it.
Create an action plan to address the problems and turn them around.
Hold yourself accountable and have other people also hold you accountable. Set a timeline and follow your action steps to address the problems. Verbalizing the timeline and action plan will help everybody to hold you accountable.
This requires a continuous effort of exploration, acknowledgment, and resolution. But these steps are critical to maintaining a healthy, vibrant culture. Incredibly critical. In fact, if you don’t do this, it’s like running 2000 miles in a pair of running shoes - and only idiots do that.
“Problems in a company are like cockroaches in a kitchen - you will never find just one."
- Warren Buffett
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This Week’s Book Review
by Helen Naylor
My rating: 7 of 10
For fans of: deeply dysfunctional family dynamics
My baseline comparison for any memoir of crazy family life is "Running with Scissors." As far as I'm concerned, any see-how-crazy-my-family-is type of novel is judged relative to that Augusten Burroughs classic.
Unfortunately, there are few family memoirs that can live up to that standard. Helen Naylor's debut novel, however, is one of the few.
In the early part of this book, I thought that the author was being overly critical of her mother - perhaps even translating her mother's behaviors in a way that played into the author's own… read more