Don’t burn out and plateau…Shift Gears

by | Oct 23, 2020

A good manual car performs at optimal efficiency through acceleration when the driver shifts to the next gear at around 3000 RPM. Pushing well above that consumes more fuel for less increase in speed and causes unnecessary wear and tear to the engine.

At some point in our business we hit a plateau where increased input of capital and energy is rewarded with diminishing rates of return. Our own performance mirrors that of the business. We have hit our limit and can’t pull it forward by brute strength and will power any longer.

Have you considered that the greatest obstacle to your future success may be what led to your past successes?

Many of us have been promoted or our companies have grown to a point that what used to be a formula for success for us became a stumbling block to both the organization and our personal growth. I know of one such professional we will call Lori.

Lori was a bright, motivated worker. She was always thinking of the next idea to implement or a better way to do the task at hand and that coupled with her apparent obsession for the work and perfection produced great results for their small organization and caught the attention of the CEO. In time she was promoted and asked to head up one of the major divisions of the fledgling company. She put her head down and tackled the new task with the same tenacity and ingenuity as before. Now with additional resources and responsibility, her hopes for success were high.

Within a matter of months many of her ideas had been implemented and profits were up, but she was burning out and her team was growing frustrated. She found herself unsatisfied with the quality or style of her team members’ work and spent long hours either micromanaging the employees or redoing much of the work herself. The team was bothered by her hovering and felt less valued as their ideas always took a second seat to hers. The organization was at risk of losing some key talent and the short-term growth lacked sustainability…the revenues flatlines and the profit margins began to decrease.

Lori’s story is not new. She did not lose any of her intelligence nor did she work less, in fact she worked twice as hard. What she never succeeded in doing was shifting gears from an individual contributor mindset to the mindset of a leader or from the idea that “If I work hard enough, I can pull this off” to one of achieving results through others.

Gene Dalton and Paul Thompson in their landmark book Novations: Strategies for Career Management, 1993 found that failure to make the individual contributor mindset shift to manager mindset, what they termed a transition from stage II to stage III, derails the career of otherwise capable individuals. Entire companies have stagnated in their growth because of an insufficient number of stage III individuals and smaller companies failed because of an inability of the founder to move on to the next stage.

So how can leaders ensure that the behaviors that created success for them in the past don’t inhibit their ability to succeed in the future? They need to shift gears and consciously step out of the individual contributor mindset and refocus their energy on helping others to succeed and grow. Clear training on what is expected of a leader coupled with a mentor or coach to hold them accountable for the change, will help the leader leverage their hard work and great ideas to deliver much greater results through their team. Remember, sometimes the most challenging part of succeeding in our new role is to let go of some of what brought us success in the past so we have the time and focus to see the requirements of the new opportunity.

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