Change is constant–in business, in the economy, in life itself–and good leaders need to know how to pivot, and quickly.
Here’s the problem: Most people fear change.
For leaders, the situation is even more tangled, as they must not only be prepared to change but to inspire their teams to do the same. Leaders who once made bold decisions can become more cautious over time, changing how they make decisions as well as failing to inspire their teams.
“Particularly when making decisions at pivot points—which by definition call for changing the status quo,” writes Julia Tang Peters, the author of Pivot Points: Five Decisions Every Successful Leader Must Make. “You need to avoid the trap of risk avoidance and make decisions like a leader.”
But over time, even the once-daring tend to move closer to the status quo. That’s one reason why even highly successful managers and companies get blindsided by upstarts. “As you succeed, you become more cautious and focus on incremental improvement, and that means you might miss out on broader, more secular changes going on in the marketplace,” said Sydney Finkelstein, Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and Faculty Director of the Tuck Executive Program, in a recent webinar.
Finkelstein, the author of Why Smart Executives Fail and Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions and How to Keep It From Happening to You, noted that the more successful a company becomes the more likely it is to be blinded by that success when making decisions.
3 Traps Successful Leaders Fall Into
Peters identified three common traps that leaders fall into that keep them from getting the results they want: complacency, keeping busy, and playing it safe. As people have more at stake, they make decisions to maintain the status quo instead of taking risks. “The pattern of behavior moves progressively away from new ideas and toward the status quo, then to less accountability, and finally to having ideas but not holding oneself accountable to make them happen,” she writes.
Once you are firmly entrenched in your comfort zone, you may not even realize how addicted you’ve become to the status quo. New projects or initiatives start to seem like they are more trouble than they’re worth. But the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,‘ mantra isn’t going to turn you into much of a leader.
With disruptive technology affecting just about every industry, and a global economy in constant flux, leaders need to stay aware and stay active. Said Finkelstein: “Leaders almost always know what needs to change. In failing businesses they just don’t do it.”