I walk for about an hour every day. Some days I’ll take multiple walks. A portion of my route is walking around a couple of baseball fields. Unless teams are practicing or playing, the gates are always locked. There’s fencing around the whole complex, including a pitching area and batting practice area. The city doesn’t want just anybody going onto the fields. The infields are quite nicely manicured. Even though the fence is higher than 6 feet tall, I could easily hop over if I wanted. But I’m law-abiding so I don’t.
On the back side of the fields are a number of pine trees responsible for dropping tons of pine cones onto the ground. They’re sort of like obstacles. You can’t possibly walk in a straight line through that area. Navigation requires dodging and parrying through about 75 yards of pine cone strewn path.
Fences. Gates. Locks. Walls. Doors. These are common obstacles we intentionally put into place. Like the city’s ball fields, we want to keep folks out.
Pine cones. Fallen limbs. Mud puddles. These are also common obstacles we encounter. Natural impediments that force us to navigate more carefully.
Some obstacles stop us. Others just slow us down.
Organizational obstacles do the same thing. Some stop us. Others slow us down.
Every leader, entrepreneur or small business owner has a big obstacle right now. This very minute.
It may not be the one you had yesterday. Like those pine cones, I encounter, within a few months (or less), those will be gone. They won’t remain obstacles for long, but right now they’re a major pain because there are so many of them.
Some obstacles happen overnight, like a Texas thunderstorm. We had a storm blow through a week or so ago and the neighborhood looked like a pack of wild tree urchins had knocked limbs off every tree around here. Everybody was out cleaning the debris for a few days. We weren’t expecting what we got.
Some obstacles are opportunities. I’ve had buddies who love to go mudding. They have their jacked up Jeeps hot-rodded out and nothing pleases them more than to see some big mud to drive through or some terrain that can show off the prowess of their vehicle with about 3 feet of clearance!
Whatever your current obstacle…let’s think about it for a few minutes. It’s a problem that needs a solution. Something you need to figure out. That doesn’t mean it’s something that needs to be fixed…like a clogged toilet. It may mean that it’s something to be taken advantage of…like a big mud hole to your 4-wheel drive Jeep. But something about it is making you afraid. The fear (or whatever else you’re feeling) is the real hurdle or obstacle. Not the thing itself.
THAT’S the answer to the question, “What’s your big obstacle?”
Wrestling that down can provide clarity as you work to resolve what you should do. So look past the pine cones, the locked gates, the walls, the doors or the fallen limbs. What’s really going on with you?
Some obstacles are so minor they’re merely inconveniences. Pine cones, for example.
Other obstacles are still somewhat minor, but they’re bigger aggravations. Fallen limbs that require a chain saw demand more time and attention. They don’t pose any real risk, but they’re big enough you can’t ignore them by walking around them (like pine cones). You have to remove them. Obstacle removal can be quick and easy or long and expensive. It depends.
Most small business owners use a single word when describing their big obstacle. Frustrating.
Fear is another popular word I hear. “I’m afraid if I don’t (do this particular thing), then it may be a mistake.”
Let me tell you what your biggest obstacle really is? It’s your habit of how you think. It’s your default thoughts about challenges or opportunities. That doesn’t mean it’s how you ALWAYS think, but it may be how you mostly think. Or how you think often enough that it doesn’t serve you well as you try to grow and move forward.
He’s operated his business for a little over a decade. Ray, his right-hand guy has been with him almost all of it, going on 8 years. Now he’s leaving and the owner is near despondent. He’s tried to convince the guy to not leave, but it’s out of his control. The right-hand man’s wife has accepted a great job 2 states away. There’s no negotiating with this obstacle.
The business has been growing steadily about 5-7% each year for the last 8 years. The owner has no clue what he’s going to do. He’s in full-blown scramble mode. Most of us can relate.
Enter a shift in thinking. Questions help.
What if you could hire somebody capable of helping you accelerate the growth of the company?
What skills have you long wished Ray had?
What negative traits have you wished Ray didn’t have?
What if this wasn’t a bad thing? What if it was an opportunity for you to bring in new talent even more capable of achieving better results?
The owner rifled through a file of unsolicited resumes. “I’ve got a pretty short list of people who have impressed me along the way. I’ve kept up with them, but I have no idea if they’d be interested in working with me or not,” says the owner.
Very quickly the conversation changes the framing of the situation. What was a big obstacle is now seen as a possible opportunity. Before Ray walks out the door, taking his 8 years of experience with him, the owner had Ray’s replacement on board. Ray spends time walking the new hire through the nitty gritty of the work. Ray’s happy to help because the circumstances of his leaving have nothing to do with him being unhappy. The big obstacle was a loss. Ray was very good at the job. But it was also an opportunity. Ray’s replacement will go on to bring some new things to the job.
So it goes with frustration and fear. We need to stare it down and see it for what it really is. Or for what it could be.
YOU make the difference. That’s right, you the leader, make all the difference. How you choose to view it…how you choose to tackle it…that’s what will determine the value or the cost of the obstacle.
Don’t give the power to the obstacle. Give yourself the power to see it in a different light. Or to minimize the threat of it. Or to maximize the opportunity of it.
What I see as a major mud hole where I’d most certainly get stuck…a Jeep loving buddy sees as a big fun!
What I see as a hassle to navigate (a path strewn with pine cones) is a school kid’s dream…or Joanna Gaines’ dream decorating idea.
What I see as a time-consuming task of tree limb removal could also be seen as nature’s way of pruning dead branches from the trees in my yard. Have you priced tree services lately? Money saved.
Flip the obstacle around. View it from every angle. Question it at every turn. Figure it out.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!