I recently read an article in the Nov/Dec 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review called Stop Doubling Down on Your Failing Strategy. The idea is for companies to recognize when they might be holding on to a losing strategy and, hopefully, course-correct. You may be asking why I’m talking about a business article, but stick with me.
There are a few reasons an organization may keep going with an idea even though it’s no longer in their best interest. Some reasons include sunk costs (money and time has already been put into this), loss aversion (changing direction might mean incurring some immediate losses), preference for completion (psychologically, we like to finish what we start), and personal identification (people’s identities are tied to their commitments). There are more, but you get the idea.
The article goes on to explain how leaders can spot this problem and get out of it – and one of the recommendations really stuck out for me. It’s a question for leaders to ask themselves in order to gain an outside perspective. Essentially, it asks leaders to imagine a new leadership team took over right now and then answer the question, “what would the new leadership team change?”. The question comes from a real-world situation when a CEO didn’t want to let go of a product line since the company was known for it. The co-founder asked him, “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?”
From a business perspective, this exercise is powerful since it forces you to step outside your role and take an objective look. What would someone new do? Given what they know about the company’s performance, mission, strengths, weaknesses, competition, etc, what would they change?
You are the CEO of yourself
In essence, we are all CEOs. We are ultimately accountable for how we run our “business”. That means we are accountable for our outcomes. We are in charge of how hard we work, how we manage our finances, how we fuel ourselves, whether we learn new things. In so many ways, we are running an organization.
So ask yourself – if someone new came in to run the organization, what would they change?
Step outside and honestly consider it. Imagine you had to hand over the reigns to another leader. They take full control of you. And, they want success.
Imagine this new CEO is highly ambitious. They don’t just want you to be good. They want you to be great.
What physical changes would they make?
What developmental changes would they make?
What psychological or emotional changes would they make?
What financial changes would they make?
Chances are good it didn’t take you long to identify what changes another CEO would make. You have probably been aware of some of things you would want to change. Maybe it was a relief to imagine someone else taking control so you don’t have to anymore.
Regardless of your reaction to this imaginary scenario, I think it’s a powerful question to ask yourself. I also think it’s important to remember you are the one in charge. Show up every day and do the work. Treat your body with respect. Treat your mind with respect.
Keep an eye out for any failing strategies and course-correct if needed. Just like a company that should learn when to let go, don’t keep doing something that isn’t serving you.
Start acting like a successful CEO and see what happens.