How Leaders Can Get Out of Their Own WayBeing a leader is challenging in the best of times. Leaders are only as good as the information they receive (which is rarely complete or conveyed in a timely manner) and the resources they can marshal (usually, it seems, never enough). In the midst of execution, communications with the team can sometimes be misleading, imprecise, and just plain wrong.

Given all that, says Les McKeown, a contributor to Inc., why do so many leaders compound the difficulty “simply by getting in their own way?”

It happens when leaders add “self-imposed—albeit unconscious—constraints on their ability to lead well,” he adds.

According to McKeown, a bestselling author and CEO of Predictable Success, three scenarios in particular occur with such frequency we should look more closely at how we sabotage our own best efforts.

Victims of False Assumptions

Executives gather to address a pending key decision. Their discussion is candid and straightforward. People are engaged and forthcoming with ideas. So what’s the problem?

The problem is, as McKeown puts it, the discussion only covers “about 20 percent of the waterfront.” One or more of the leaders involved come to the discussion burdened with presuppositions that grow out of their personal experience and preferences, “some or all of which may or may not be relevant to the matter under discussion,” says McKeown. As a result, a range of potential solutions never get brought up at all.

Assumptions lurk in our subconscious, meaning we don’t usually hold them up for examination (even though we believe deeply in them).

McKeown suggests this corrective action: The next time you face an important decision, take a few minutes to think about all the presuppositions you might have concerning this issue. Write down your thoughts without editing or defending them. Share them with your colleagues at the meeting. A “much deeper, richer and effective discussion” will likely ensue he adds.

Make Your Plans Based on People, Not Roles

Rather than take actions based on the proper response to market demands, many leaders make key strategic decisions based on what they think their team can deliver. McKeown warns against lowering your standards and expectations because of your team’s limited range and abilities.

“If you have people in roles that aren’t capable of delivering what that role should be, your first priority is to upskill, coach, mentor, or hire that skill into your organization,” says McKeown.

If this sounds too intimidating to pull off, remember your competitors have no such hesitations. If they’re beating you in the marketplace, it’s because they’re tapping into their team’s best resources and they refuse to compromise on their strategic goals.

Delegate Only to Those You Trust

Trust is hard to come by, but when a team member has earned that trust, he or she falls into your mental “go-to” category. When an important task needs to be completed, leaders tend to assign it to that trusted colleague, regardless of the situation. This tendency “makes leaders lazy and teams weak.”

There’s nothing wrong with relying on a person you can trust, but this person can’t do everything. Others on the team will become resentful and demoralized, particularly if they don’t see a way to break into your trust-system.

When you fall back on one person to get things done, McKeown says, “You’re subconsciously abdicating one of the most important tasks of leadership: The hard work involved in building and spreading trust in your team as a whole.”

Leading isn’t always easy, and we often get in our own way. They key is to recognize when we make our already stressful job more complicated.

What assumptions are getting in your way as a leader?

Thanks to Ego Friendly for the image.

Why It’s Risky to Bet On One Big CustomerSometimes a small business has to be careful what it wishes for. Say you’ve finally snagged a big customer with a huge contract. Great news, right? Not necessarily.

According to Les McKeown, president and CEO of Predictable Success, “Most small companies that land mega-contracts with massive companies end up badly damaged and have their growth stunted over the long term as a result.”

In this article, McKeown describes how this happens:

Betting On One Big Customer It's Risky Business

One client generates more than 20 percent of revenue. In McKeown’s view, “unhealthy things” begin to take place when one client reaches 20 percent or more of total revenues. No one client or customer should be allowed to “dominate the top line.”

Meetings are all about one customer. A red flag is raised when you realize nearly every meeting you hold focuses on the needs of that one client. These meetings turn into “little more than a punch-list of their outstanding production or delivery issues.”

Your employees are getting burned out. A single big customer can easily come to dominate the small business that’s serving it. When this occurs, the atmosphere grows tense because this is the one client you can’t afford to lose.

As McKeown notes, “Your employees lose the ability to work at their own pace, and are increasingly yanked from pillar to post.”

Deadlines go haywire, internal priorities are constantly shifted and superseded and workers are stretched to the limit. “Net result? You have an exhausted, unhappy, and increasingly disengaged workforce.”

Creative employees go unfulfilled. Sometime after the initial honeymoon period is over, a big client begins “turning up the volume when they think they’re not getting what they want.”

This tends to frustrate the most creative employees in your business, because their ideas and suggestions get drowned out in the frantic rush to meet the client’s constant demands. Without creative input, you run the risk of further failing to satisfy the client’s needs.

You lose focus on your target market. With all your efforts geared toward the one big client, you lack time and energy to stay on top of your target audience’s needs and challenges. When this happens, your competitors are only too eager to rush into the vacuum.

New client acquisition gets low priority. Along with a lack of focus on the target market, your small business simply lacks the resources to do what’s most important to long-term success. As McKeown says, “It dawns on you you’ve developed an in-built dependence on the contract that can’t easily be given up.”

The effort it takes to meet your big customer's needs become so “all-consuming” that new client acquisition efforts get placed on the back-burner.

No small business can afford to put all its eggs in one basket. Watch for these warning signs and keep working to expand your client base.

What do you do to avoid the big customer trap?

Three Ways to Make Good Decisions as a TeamThe best business decisions are often made with input from others, but even the best leaders sometimes struggle with making good decisions in a team environment.

Les McKeown, president and CEO of Predictable Success and a frequent contributor, discusses how to be more successful in team-based decision making.

Teams that operate at a high level do three things very well that ensures they keep making decisions efficiently and confidently.

Three Ways to Make Good Decisions as a Team


High-performing teams start with data, says McKeown.

“Not anecdote, not pain points, not speculation, not opinion — data. Once something gets on the agenda, the only place to start is with consideration of hard data.”

When making strategic decisions about the structure of your organization or looking for new product or service opportunities, it’s important that clear, concise data leads any discussion.

It keeps team-based decision-making focused on moving quickly and efficiently from task to task.


Once the data has been presented, structured debate and discussion encourages a team of colleagues or senior executives to focus on the data and only the data, thoughtfully considering how the organization will be impacted.

For McKeown, it is important that high-performing teams debate the underlying data on its own merit, “dispassionately, objectively, and with only the good of the enterprise at heart.”

Team-based decision-making can be brought to a halt when executives allow personal biases and emotion to get the better of them while considering potential business changes. By carefully setting the rules of discussion to only consider the data before them, leaders can make decisions that support business goals for the organization.

Decide or Defer

Too often, executive teams get stuck when it’s time to make a decision. The data has been presented, analyzed, and discussed – but nothing is resolved.

McKeown encourage leaders and their teams to put hard deadlines on any discussions, to ensure that decisions are actually made.

His simple tip: “Agree in advance on the precise time at which the decision will be made. If you’re starting the discussion at 10 am, agree in advance to move to a decision at 10:45 am.”

It’s a powerful technique that brings discussion to a conclusion, and outlines specific action items.

He notes that if a decision can not be made after time expires, an important data point may be missing. Encourage teams to deter making a decision until that needed information is available to them.

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