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Small Business Digest


How to Avoid the 5 “Laws of Defeat” of Business Leadership

Even the most successful business leaders make mistakes, sometimes minor missteps, other times poor judgment which sends a business reeling and forces them to play catch-up to recover.  Organizational strategist and business consultant, Steven Feinberg, who has helped companies such as Wells Fargo, Visa and Sun Microsystems, says mistakes don’t “just happen,” but are the direct result of poor timing, interaction errors, perceptual problems, and organizational deficiencies.

“These mistakes are based, in one way or another, on what I call the 5 Laws of Defeat,” says Feinberg.  “Knowing what to avoid when it comes to leading is just as important as knowing what to do.”

In his new book, The Advantage-Makers: How Exceptional Leaders Win by Creating Opportunities Others Don’t (2007, FT Press), Feinberg has identified these 5 laws as:

  • Opportunity Knocking – do not disturb – “Opportunity myopia,” notes Feinberg, happens when narrow thinking rules behavior. Leaders get so focused on established goals, they often miss opportunities because they don’t understand the strategic context in which they can see a way to win.” Feinberg cites Sears as a classic example.  Sears passed on the opportunity to purchase the Home Depot chain because of their own financial problems, without seeing the value of the proposal to acquire Home Depot.
  • Perceptual bias – we think we are thinking, but are we? – “One of the easiest mistakes leaders make is confusing perception with reality; they don’t see what they don’t want to see,” says Feinberg.  “Stepping back, removing oneself to see a true picture of your decision making is difficult to do.  In my work, I make leaders aware of perceptual biases and errors that cloud clear, accurate judgment.”
  • Competing against yourself – at cross purposes – “Businesses shoot themselves in the foot by competing against themselves, and they are rarely aware of it,” adds Feinberg.  “Some examples include pushing for growth while pushing for cost savings; promoting innovation but punishing mistakes; giving mandate to people in your organization, but not giving them adequate decision-making authority to carry it out.”
  • Stuck in your persistence – making sticky problems stickier – “The adage: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ isn’t always good business,” note Feinberg.  “We can get stuck in our own persistence, whether repeated interpersonal conflicts or pushing projects we believe in, even though they are not working after multiple attempts.  The road to hell is paved with mishandled interactions.  Recurrent problems leave clues – the repeated attempted solutions that don’t work. Changing the game, by first stopping the game is a good initial move.”
  • Reactive tendency – playing to avoid losing – “When a leader is outcome-oriented, the emphasis is on achieving the outcome; you play to win rather than complaining or blaming circumstances,” says Feinberg.  “Reactive mishandling of situations almost always guarantees lower outcomes.”

“What I call ‘Advantage-Makers’ are those rare leaders who win more often because they know how to consistently transform challenging situations into best possible outcomes,” notes Feinberg.  “They see opportunities where others see problems, influence outcomes where others are stuck, create advantages were others are challenged, and move forward when others are stuck.  If you are not an Advantage-Maker, you will probably lose to someone who is.”

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