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The Bank of Bad Habits

Posted: March 9, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 9, 2014 2:00 a.m.

“… One by one
They’ll do you in
They’re bound to take their toll
The wrong thing is the right thing until you lose control
I’ve got this bank of bad habits in a corner of my soul
That bank of bad habits is worth its weight in gold”

- from “The Bank of Bad Habits,” Jimmy Buffett

The same admirable vices leading to a successful start-up and growth of a business often turn into habits capable of killing not just the enterprise, but the relationships that go along with it.

When you think of a successful business owner, words like driven, determined, stubborn, focused, innovative, and opinionated come to mind.

Those words aren’t always compatible with words used to describe the leader of a successful company: accountable, team player, genuine, strong, and visionary.

The gap between the two lists of words can be reduced and perhaps eliminated when the owner recognizes, accepts and makes a decision to change his or her behaviors.

It’s a tough diagnosis to hear and harder still to deal with: the bad habits that might have been a reason for the success of the firm are now working against the owner and the company as it grows.

In Marshall Goldsmith’s book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” he identifies twenty bad habits that effective leaders must break if they want to take themselves and their organizations to the next level.

Goldsmith and research conducted by the Harvard Business Review mutually recognize that what damages careers are the so-called “soft skills.”

What damages owners are poor interpersonal skills, indifference to personal and professional growth, and a self-belief that the owner knows all they need to know about running and leading their company, despite the fact that the world around them is changing every single day.

I’ve observed that it is a rare owner indeed interested in developing themselves or others. Despite rapidly changing regulations about retirement plans, one owner told a senior manager who attended a short morning seminar to get caught up on recent changes, “If you want to know about that stuff, you ask me! I know everything there is about that stuff!”

Owners aren’t very good team players; yet this is an essential skill in a company that is growing and diversifying.

As an organization adds people, systems, processes, technology, geographically expands, launching new products and targeting new market segments, managing a diverse team of professionals, both inside and outside the organization becomes the new, longer job description for the owner.

Most owners don’t want the new job and continue to do what they have always done, in the manner that they feel comfortable.

On more than one occasion I have heard owners complain about having to praise people. These owners believe that a paycheck should be enough gratitude for employees.

These same individuals fail to recognize that their bias and lack of praise is a very quick trip to a disengaged and frustrated workforce.

The Harvard Business Review’s article entitled “Bad Leaders Can Change Their Spots” provides an example of a man who enjoyed considerable responsibility.

The bad habit deposits made into the Bank of Bad Habits need to be withdrawn and replaced with an asset that will be of more value to your company: a better owner for both today and tomorrow.

Ken Keller facilitates The Wise Owners Advisory Boards, bringing business owners together for education, sharing and on-going success. Contact him at Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.



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