I have a pet peeve and my guess is you have the same one. We’ve all forgotten our online passwords from time to time. Retrieving them is typically a straightforward process. You hit ‘forgot password’ and then receive an email with a link prompting you to set up a new one.
However, recently, when I have forgotten a password and followed the link to set up a new one, I have been asked to enter my old password before I can set up a new one. Someone somewhere is missing the point. If I knew my old password, then why would I need to set up a new one? Yet, without being able to recall it and enter it in the form, the site forbids me to create a new password.
Frustrated to the max, the last time this happened, I called the company. More frustration, as I sat on hold for a long period of time listening to a recording telling me how important my call was to them. When someone finally picked up and I vented to her, she apologized and told me it was a glitch in the system.
A glitch, I inquired? I reminded her that she worked for a global company whose site was probably frequented by millions on a daily basis. I suggested that their IT people fix the glitch. She said many customers like me have called the problem to their attention, but the IT people said it couldn’t be fixed.
I recommended that her company employ new IT people.
That got me thinking. What kinds of excuses do we make in our own businesses and how do these excuses hold us back?
As a leadership coach, I continually try to push people out of their comfort zones by changing mindsets. As an example, we recently prepared a company for a series of investor presentations. The CEO, a smart innovative man was a dull communicator. He was articulate, but monotone, soft spoken and conveyed no sense of excitement or urgency to invest in his company’s product.
When I shared my observations, he made a lot of excuses. In his country, “we don’t do it that way”. He said, “Investors want more data” before they open their wallets and my personal favorite “I’m not really trying to get them to invest, just educating them.”
It seemed to me that a CEO of a start-up who meets with potential investors on a daily basis, you are always trying to sell your company and raise capital. Without capital, it’s difficult to reach milestones and survive. Additionally, I suggested that he re-shape the way he was telling the story. He began by talking about his company’s product. I suggested he start by helping people understand the enormity of the problem. That way, the solution would be so much more powerful.
He wasn’t so sure. He said he never did it that way before. More excuses.
I also observed that he used weak words like ‘I think’ which is not as strong as ‘we’re optimistic’ or ‘we’re confident’. He also used filler words such as ‘basically’ a market opportunity’. I said it made him sound unsure. Eliminating these words would help him speak with conviction and sound more confident. He said no one has ever pointed this out before, so it was probably fine.
That’s when the CFO, who hadn’t uttered a word, jumped in. He said he thought I was right. He told the CEO they were missing huge opportunities to excite potential investors by learning how to communicate more effectively.
Silence. Then the CEO looked at me and asked, “how might I do this differently?”
That question meant he was open to thinking differently which is the first step to improvement. When you think differently, you back off on the excuses. Through a series of role-playing on videotape, he applied some of the suggestions. When he saw the immediate difference, he was excited. That motivated him to continually adjust the way he communicates. At meetings, people began to hear him differently which ultimately translated to more interest and funding of his product.
All of us make excuses from time to time. We procrastinate. We prioritize other things we’d rather do, and we get distracted. In short, we get in our own way. However, when leaders make excuses, they can risk appearing defensive or unfocused. Instead of communicating positively by sharing their vision and excitement, some get stuck in mediocrity. Mistakenly, that’s what happened in this case.
Several months earlier, the company had a technical issue that spooked some investors away. They fixed it and put it behind them. In fact, the unexpected fix actually substantially improved outcomes. Yet, as the CEO continued to meet with people, he was still focused on making excuses for past problems instead of talking about future opportunities. He sounded annoyed and defensive … inappropriate for potential investors.
A few ways to eliminate excuses:
- Be present. If you focus on the past, you can’t be fully present. It’s like saying I’m not going to the gym because the last time I went I didn’t lose any weight.
- Be honest. If you mislead yourself, you may mislead others. Telling someone that’s not the way people “from your country” communicate may signal you are unwilling to adapt.
- Be accountable. If you surround yourself with “yes” men and women, they agree with everything you say. Instead, listen to people who challenge your excuses.
Leadership is not about titles. Leadership is about behavior. As a leader you set the tone. If your tone is one of excuses, employees may follow your lead and do the same thing. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve given them permission to do so. In the case of this CEO, excuses may have also robbed his company of investors.
The next time you’re about to make an excuse, try thinking differently by asking yourself these questions:
- Are you afraid of trying something new?
- Are you afraid someone else will get credit for a different idea?
- Are you stuck in the past?
Until you become aware of what’s driving your excuses, you’ll have a tough time working through them. However, once you do, you’ll be one step closer to changing your mindset which may help you get rid of those excuses once and for all.
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