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Smart Growth

Spotlight Effect - Paralyzing Business Owners From Leading with a Plan

By Mike Gomez
Free Coffee Meeting

Over the last three months I’ve been talking with a business owner ($3-5M annual revenue) about the power of planning. How setting his company on a course towards a specific measurable destination will do a lot to address some of his more pressing management challenges. Chief among these challenges he said is getting out from under the overwhelming stack of 'stuff' that seems to always overfill his plate but fails to produce any real tangible business or performance changes. A common issue with business owners.

He has yet to commit to launch this analysis of his business and the market in which he competes to define his company’s very first 3-year strategic plan. (They've been operating for over 20 years.)

At our last meeting he confided that he fully understood the value and importance of plotting a course for the future. Of letting that course set the priorities for initiatives and actions he should be undertaking. He went on to say that the price for the service to assist him and his leadership team through this process was reasonable. So you can imagine my puzzled look when he said he still wasn’t prepared to launch the engagement. There was something in his body language that told me the answer as to, why, was just a little uncomfortable for him to admit. So I waited him out. And he eventually told me.

The reason was not a total surprise but it’s paralyzing effect on this owner/CEO did surprise me. The reason?

He knew that once he commits to this undertaking, and measurable goals are established, he himself will forever have to change the way he runs the business. No longer will he be able to ‘get away’ with his casual management style or failing to meet unspecified sales, marketing, financial or operational goals. The spotlight will be on him to perform, to lead.

Published and transparent goals will force him to hold himself and his staff more accountable. And to take action when they fail. This is the kind of encounter he dreads. But he knows in his gut is important in growth oriented companies.

I am familiar with this spotlight effect on employees of companies who have undergone the transformation from a ‘winging-it’ to a plan-based leadership style. For example, I am no longer surprised to witness as many as five employees will leave or be fired within 9-months of completion of a new strategic plan and the initiation of a more accountability-based management style. These are employees that elevated to an art their ability to look and sound busy when the boss is around but actually accomplish little. Ironically, everyone in the company knows about theses slackers. The spotlight is now on them to accomplish specific contributing tasks at a specific time. The sweet gig of dodging accountability is up.

So after 15 years of consulting I learned something new.

That the spotlight effect on business owners, the fear of exposing your leadership skills to scrutiny by having actual and numerous business yardsticks from which you will be measured, can be palpable and cause inaction.

So how do you overcome this real fear. First acknowledge it. Then forensically analyze it. Are your fears justified or out of proportion with reality. In a piece about The Spotlight Effect, in Psychology Today, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton Ph.D. wrote:

"This is not to say that people don't notice you at all; only that people do not process information about you as deeply as you do. In other words, while you're stuck ruminating, people have likely moved on. No big deal."

After analysis give this fear some sense of weight. Is it a 1 or a 10? Place this on one end of a decision scale.

The second step is to acknowledge the fact that, though you have 'gotten away' with running your business by the seat of your pants, it has likely come at a cost.

These are just a few that have been shared with me over the years. Now place this on the opposite end of the scale.

Which way does it tilt?

If it is any help in your deliberation, the message I hear most from clients after completion of the process and delivery of the plan is one of relief NOT one of intimidation (to perform) or fear (of failure). Here is one quote,

"I had the best night sleep in a long while because you got everything out of my head and onto paper. Now I know where I'm driving the business and have a script for what I should be doing to lead us there".

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