When people ask me what I learned doing an MBA, my response is that one of the key things I gained was a better ability to look at a business through different lenses. What do I mean by that? Well, when sitting in a human resources class, the filter was people, whereas in a finance class, the filter was money, and in a marketing class, the filter was customer perceptions. None are more important or more correct than the others and all play vital roles.
The problem is that none of us approach business with a balanced view (and even a business course separates the different functions into different silos). Depending on our backgrounds and preferences, we all come with our biases that tilt our approach in a certain direction. As a business owner, this is problematic.
Find a Partner with Complementary Skills
One solution is to have a business partner and/or trusted team members that compliment your own skills and biases. I’ve seen this approach work well – in this case, one partner was all about big ideas and grand marketing plans, whereas the other was carefully watching daily bank balance to make sure all commitments could be paid. These two had a great relationship so could have a robust discussion to argue their points of view, and usually come out with a fairly balanced approach to moving forward.
This can work well, but only to a point. In the long-run, you can’t really rely on a partner or other team members to counterbalance your biases. You can (and should) certainly outsource or delegate certain tasks/functions where you’re not strong, but as the business leader, the decision making still comes down to you. And self-knowledge is the key to getting the most from yourself.
Recognise Your Own Biases
A better approach is to have a cold, hard look at yourself and understand your natural tendencies.
For instance, where do you sit on the spectrum of risk? Are you a risk-taker, constantly betting the whole company on a new idea? Or are you risk adverse and stifling your business’ growth? It’s easy to see how either extreme can be problematic, but knowing your own tendencies can help you edge a bit in the other direction.
Where are you on the planning versus doing spectrum? Are you spending too much time analysing and planning and not enough actually putting your plans into action? Or are you constantly in action-mode and never putting your head up to see if you’re going in the right direction?
Where are you on the sales and marketing versus product / service development spectrum? Are you all hot air and self-promotion, constantly networking and selling your service/product (which is probably under-developed)? Or are you stuck in the depths of perfecting and delivering your product/service, never stopping to let anyone know about it?
How about the people versus systems spectrum? Are you a strong leader always motivating, encouraging, coaching your team to do better? Or are you focussed on improving the systems and taking people out of the equation?
These are just a few of the spectrums I’ve noticed but no doubt there are others. The important thing is to proactively decide how to behave and be deliberately choosing where we focus our energy at any particular time, rather than responding with our default positions.
Fight your Tendencies!
It’s easy to say, but it goes against the grain. It’s like swimming upstream because it means doing the opposite of what you feel you should be doing. By being mature enough to know that your own feelings are skewed, you’ll be able to counteract them and balance yourself out.
Is there a tendency you hold that might be preventing your business from moving to the next level?
- Schedule in a recurring time slot that will move you in the opposite direction. For instance, set up a weekly meeting with your team to check in and motivate, set aside half a day per week for product development, or limit your planning time to 1 hour per week (obviously this will vary depending on your business’ needs and the bias that is holding you back).
- Think of someone who is the extreme opposite to the particular tendency you have that might be holding you back. Pretend to walk around in their shoes and think their thoughts? What would they do in your situation? Is there something that you can incorporate?