What if YOU’RE the growth trap?

It’s a horrible thing, but sometimes we are our own worst enemies. We desire growth in our businesses. If only we can change our systems, processes, and technology then it will all be perfect. We’ve been successful so far – so can’t we go further without change

Strong people have strong weaknesses

Peter Drucker

One of my colleagues had a boss who was so single focussed on success, the people in his team didn’t matter. This colleague was excited about opening up the east Asian market for the business and looked forward to working as a team. We saw him again a few months later, and he was frazzled. He discovered his boss had no home – only living from hotel to hotel with suitcase at hand, and a different city each weekend. The whole week was meeting people, and life was full of superficial, work based conversation. His bosses’ growth trap was that his business goal clouded any sense of the business being team. Any questioning of the workstyle was a question of their loyalty to the business.

A key part of business growth is personal growth. It is understanding the weaknesses that go with your strengths. Don Clifton, in his book talks about focussing on your strengths whereas so much of business psychology focusses on weaknesses. I believe it’s a balance of four elements:

  1. Know who you are
  2. Delegate your weaknesses
  3. Understand the impact you have on others
  4. Break through the habits and behaviours that hold you back.

Know who you are

This is not as simple as it seems. My friend, Charles McLachlan, talks about finding freedom and joy at work. This often comes from shifting from a human doing to a human being – knowing what gives you joy and focussing on that.

A good way of getting to know yourself is to try two or three personality profile tools taking different perspectives on yourself. Examples might include:

This gives you a rich feedback of what makes you, you. You can play up to those strengths and recognise where other people have strengths

For example, I have worked in technology change for 20 years. I have looked at business cases, system selection, implementation and one are that makes the most impact is people and organisational change. Although I know the theory, and some practices, my personality type is around process and strategy. So I enjoy and succeed in that space, and draw in others for the implementation of people and change.

For one business lead, his joy came from networking and bringing people together. He took that into running a business about match making consulting firms. He didn’t like the detail with consulting – and so delegated that … which brings me to…

Delegate your weaknesses

If you are a big ideas person – then find someone to do the detail. For me, I am a visual person, and often sloppy with words. I need someone to check my work before it goes out (and possibility this post too!). So I work better with a grammar pedant. For another business the leader is an ideas man, an initiator. For years he had kicked off projects and plan or just pipedreams. For his business to grow he surrounded himself with a good administrator, a number two – operations person, and that gave him the freedom to focus on what he was good at.

The second part of delegating your weaknesses is around diversity in the team. If you are a dominant style, then you will need a people and community style person in your overall team – without it staffing issues start to stack up. This is particularly the case in digital businesses – where you might have technology and business networking styles leading the team, without someone to think about building the community, and connection with the staff. The drive works for a time, and then staff turnover increases as the wider team doesn’t feel connected and part of the whole.

Understand the impact your have on others

One of my friends suffered in a car crash. She had a near death experience, and felt being asked two fundamental questions ‘with what you have, did you do your best?’, and ‘did you realise the impact you had on others?’. This was the most raw experience, as she flashed back to all those moments in life – of joy, but also the unintended remark, the cut off, the moments of arrogance. This transformed her attitude to life when she recovered.

What impact do you have on your staff, customers and suppliers? Is this what you really intend?

A good way of getting that back is to ask for candid feedback, with no consequences (reprisals). It’s difficult if you are a leader in a small business, or where a strong character ends up surrounding themselves with people who are too eager to please.

Find ways to ask for feedback, and accept that this is their perspective at regular points. Which leads us to..

Break through the habits and behaviours that hold you back

This is the crux of each of those steps. This can be the decider for growth or stagnations. You have the processes, tools, technology and team, and yet growth is not working. For one company I worked with, they had a charismatic leader, and he knew his stuff brilliantly, but he struggled to delegate. In his mind his capability to solve a problem meant that he could do it. So he became a bottle neck. Key decisions always stopped at him, and his working hours extended and extended. Unfortunately the long hours became a badge of success. Another leader who’s business scaled up well, spent less time doing, and more time pushing others to succeed.

By asking others of your impact, you’ll get some insight. Other ways are to look at your patterns and self-limiting beliefs. Dr Jeffrey Young’s book ‘reinvent your life‘ looks at a range of patterns or ‘schemas’ that we fall into, and most of them end put pushing into business life. Another dimension is ‘transaction analysis‘ where you look at whether you are having healthy connections with colleagues and customers. Are you going into a sales meeting pleading for work, unable to believe your value, or do you go confident of what you offer, and if it works it works, and if it doesn’t then it’s not a failure.

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom


For one client I worked with one of the founders felt he needed to be in charge of everything. This was different from delegating – but more of second guessing. It meant that he wasn’t open to ideas except for his own, and as the business grew, it meant that colleagues felt unable to contribute, or spend inordinate time persuading him, rather than doing and growing. He became the arbiter of everything, and that affected the fields of technology he didn’t know. So the business made mistakes, and was slower to market that it could be. It was as if his experience was the only experience – so his mistakes were discovery, whereas others could see them coming.

What now?

One of the 8 Scale up Growth Traps is about team. When thinking about team don’t just think about organisation structures, roles and responsibilities and recruitment. Think also about the behaviours that might be holding the team back.

  • What might be the patterns that your leadership hold onto?
  • What might be the self limiting beliefs that prevent you operating a business working at a larger level?

My experience of this is that behavioural change takes time. It takes multiple conversations, and an external sounding board to help you reflect back on the process. It’s not a PowerPoint diagram, or a checklist. That’s why we recommend finding that regular coaching conversation that means your beliefs or behaviour don’t hold you and the business back.

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