Five universal principles
Almost every leader I know would love to see growth.
The question, of course, is how.
While growth has a certain mystery to it, and there are nuances that vary depending on your context, there are some principles that, in my experience, are nearly universal.
Here are five of them.
1. The Status Quo Has Got to Go.
If you think about it long enough, you realize that one of the things that keeps anyone from future growth is the status quo.
Because the status quo (even if it’s helping now) is responsible for your current state. And your current state is producing the results you’re currently getting.
This means, quite naturally, that if you’re plateaued or declining, your current results are frustrating you.
But even if you love your current results, the status quo is eventually going to be your problem because nothing lasts forever. Just ask AOL, Blockbuster, Sears or Yahoo. The status quo only helps anyone for so long.
Smart leaders start challenging the status quo before their growth slows down. Average leaders wait until they see the momentum wane before rethinking what they’re currently doing. Below average leaders wait until things have been stagnant for a while before they disrupt things. And, of course, sometimes it’s then too late.
Your job as a leader is to challenge the status quo, rethink the status quo and change before it’s too late and your current growth slows down.
Here’s your choice in leadership. Disrupt the status quo, or be disrupted. Just ask Kodak or MySpace.
If you want to grow, the status quo has got to go.
2. Focus on New and Different More Than Better.
While better isn’t a terrible goal in itself (see No. 5 below), over the long run, new and different beat better.
There are several reasons for this.
In a situation of decline, new is a far better option than better. Once the smartphone was introduced, better home phone systems became irrelevant. Adding another handset to a home phone set or reducing long-distance costs on landlines wasn’t going to revive the home phone business any more than better saddles for horses was going to stop the car from becoming the dominant form of transportation.
Better only works if you’re improving something with growing demand.
But over time, better always brings diminishing returns.
Eventually, the amount of money and time it takes to improve things eventually gets out of sync with the returns you see.
Making the website load 5% faster probably isn’t going to double your traffic. Adding more lights to an already well-lit stage isn’t going to grow attendance by 30%. Tweaking an already awesome logo might be fun, but your newly awesome logo probably isn’t going to usher in a 50% growth spike.
For sustained growth, new and different beats better.
When better isn’t working, try different. When different isn’t working, try new.
3. Breakthroughs Are Often Accidental.
Most leaders spend a lot of time looking for breakthroughs. And sometimes you find them by asking how you’ll find a breakthrough.
But often that’s not how breakthroughs happen at all.
A surprising number of innovations and breakthroughs happen by accident.
Penicillin, Post-It Notes and the microwave are three examples of accidental discoveries. They were all discovered as a by-product of other experiments and projects scientists were working on.
Multisite church wasn’t a strategy for growth, it was a by-product of overcrowded services that were frustrating church leaders at the time. So, they thought, why not run a video into an overflow room? No one had any idea that 5,000 churches would adopt that practice within two decades because it was such an effective method for outreach.
The principle here is simple:
By regularly trying new things, trying new approaches, and experimenting on the side, you’ll likely discover some things that resonate more than you realize.
For example, I developed my first online course as a stopgap to solve two problems. First, I didn’t feel like I had the bandwidth to write a book. Second, I had far more speaking requests than I could say yes to, but I still wanted to help leaders I couldn’t get in front of live.
So three years ago, I created my first online course. When the initial response was 10 times anything I imagined, I realized I’d stumbled on a method to deliver content that really met a need.
And sure, I didn’t invent the online course. But embracing it has been a breakthrough as a way of bringing my best content to leaders.
Second example: When I do speak live, I love to experiment with creating new content. One of the new talks I developed in 2019 is about how to attract and keep high capacity young leaders based on some insights and approaches I’ve developed over the last decade-plus working with young leaders.
After I gave the new talk a few times, I realized I’d hit a nerve. In every city, older leaders came up to me with an Oh crap, now I know why I struggle with young leaders reaction (apparently I had diagnosed their problem) and younger leaders came up and told me, “So, you understand how to motivate and lead us, not just complain about us.”
The reaction has been so positive it led me to create my next course called the High Impact Workplace, which releases next month. Completely accidental breakthrough.
You can join the waitlist for the course and download my new free staff Coaching Guide I’m giving away as a bonus here.
Experimentation leads to innovation. And innovations lead to (often accidental) breakthroughs.
4. Execution Crushes Ideation.
Leaders love ideas. I do.
I talk to so many leaders who tell me one of their chief strengths is ideation. All of which is wonderful.
But in the real world, execution crushes ideation. Here’s why: The B+ execution of a B+ idea beats an A+ idea no one acted on any day.
Way too many leaders research, rethink, overthink, imagine, design, plan and fail to execute.
Dig a little deeper, you find two things lurking behind a failure to execute: fear and laziness.
Execution is hard work, and implementation can be deeply frightening. As long as your idea is an idea, it’s safe.
But put it into operation, and you people can criticize it, ridicule it, reject it and abandon you.
Or, they may do just the opposite.
The only way you’ll know is to ship it. And shipping means problems, headaches, delays, hustle and redesign. It requires courage and perseveration.
Ideas are so much easier.
Remember all the great ideas from the 20th century that no-one executed? Yeah, nobody else does either.
Ideas, by themselves, accomplish nothing. Minimum viable products beat beautifully structured ideas that never ship.
5. Quality Produces Quantity.
In today’s leadership culture, so many people are focused on quantity. Double your growth. Spike your sales. Triple your numbers. Explode your influence.
Often the hype around hypergrowth, if it sparks anything at all, makes you a flash in the pan. You grow—and when everyone realizes the emperor has no clothes—you fade away as quickly as you shot up.
Real leadership plays the long game. Or at least leadership worth following does. And if you want to play the long game, focus on quality.
If you can provide real value to people, you’ll never have much trouble finding people.
It’s so easy, though, to get distracted by quantity or to try to rush into it. How do we get these numbers up? is a natural question to ask, and I ask it far too often. A much better question to ask when all you want is more growth is this: How do we help more people?
One of the fun things about quality is that these days it’s an easy game to play. When everyone else is cutting back, cutting corners, cheating, skimming and moving toward the superficial, focusing on what’s real, authentic and lasting gives you a lot of uncrowded space to play in.
You might be wondering if this principle competes with No. 2 above, that new beats better. Not really. There is eventually a diminishing return to better, and a certain point at which your quality is (honestly) beyond good enough. Then it’s time to move on.
But not until you’ve made something of real quality. And once you’re there, focus on the next good thing until it’s good enough for you to move onto the next good thing.
If you want to increase your quantity, increase your quality.
This article originally appeared on CareyNieuwhof.com and is reposted here by permission.