Business leaders take chances. They don’t always have crystal balls to predict the future. They pay attention to the pros and cons to mitigate the risk, they make a decision and act on it. Often courage is called for. Risking lots of money on developing a new product based on existing market research is not a slam-dunk. What if the current market doesn’t like it? What if the costs that we’ve estimated don’t work out as we’ve planned? What if our overseas manufacturers copy our idea? There are all kinds of risks.
In a growing company delegation is a strength that many leaders develop under duress. It’s easy to do everything yourself until you realize you’re the bottleneck. Then you have to train other people, delegate and give up control. To grow you need to grow the company infrastructure and see your own role evolve. This brings up fear, fear of loss of control, fear of failure in a new role, fear of change. This can keep the leader stuck.
Whether it’s about a product or a personal leadership issue, we are told to ‘face the fear and do it anyway.’ “I miss 100% of the shots I never take.” There’s an easy way to think about change that mitigates the power of the obstacles. Instead of thinking about fear, needed courage, obstacles and other negativity, phrase your language positively around ‘the growing edge.’ Picture a plant leaf. It starts out small and it grows bigger and bigger, fed from the center veins. It has an outer edge that keeps expanding. It seeks sunlight and overcomes possible problems with lack of water or nutrients. It doesn’t pay attention to the obstacles. It just keeps focused on its job to grow and handle the possible bumps in the road along the way.
I have a growing edge. I continually take risks to expand my business, be bold, take on unreasonable projects, challenge myself as a leader, spend money to make money. I look at these decisions to proceed as my ever expanding ‘growing edge’. I create the outcomes I want by stepping forward and creating growth experiences on my growing edge.
I told this to one of my clients. She said ‘edge’ makes her think of the edge of a cliff. I thought about this and expanded the metaphor. When you’re on the edge of a land mass, and you want to expand, can you extend the land mass? Yes, in two ways.
You can do it in inches by adding more and more dirt. I’m thinking now about Holland building a canal system that reclaimed their land mass from the effects of erosion. They could extend the landmass by trucking in dirt and adding inches from the existing land.
The other way is to pick a spot further out where you want the land mass to extend to and build a bulkhead, and then backfill between the bulkhead and the existing land. Explaining the metaphor – you can take baby steps over a long period of time to inch your way to the results you want to achieve. It’s less risky as you never step off the existing land. Or you can move forward quickly by declaring an unreasonable outcome, drawing a line in the sand, and then leading your team to develop the skills to make it come true. An example is when John F. Kennedy declared that the USA would put a man on the moon in ten years. Afterwards government and science did the ‘backfill’ to make it come true.
That’s really extending your ‘growing edge.’ Leaders who want superlative results use the second method to take leaps and bounds. More risky? Yes. The first way is slower, less risky and may never get to superlative results. Both ways get you to focus on the outer edge of your growth rather than on the obstacles blocking the path.