These days, with the many Internet articles and new courses available, most new professionals readily cross the gap from lack of business knowledge to knowing, but many never make it over the knowing-versus-doing gap. Investors I know highlight this problem with the mantra that they fund founders and teams who can execute, rather than ones who just talk about their great ideas.
After many years of working in and starting businesses, I’m convinced that implementing new business ideas is much more difficult than coming up with the ideas. The first challenge is to overcome the natural human tendency to equate talking about an idea with actually taking action. The bridge from talking to knowing to doing is all about leadership, confidence, and initiative.
I found a good summary of the dynamics behind personal business leadership, and how to get there, in a recent book “Leadership Rigor!” by Erica Peitler, a well-known leadership performance coach. Here are the key principles she espouses, extended to leadership teams, based on my own background and mentoring new entrepreneurs:
- Learn to trust yourself and your team. Crossing the knowing-doing gap in a startup can create feelings of trepidation, fear, and embarrassing consequences of perceived failure. These are self-imposed barriers based mainly on your own negative self-talk. Learning to trust yourself is critical. Then you have to listen to and trust your team.
- Be patient and let the collective strength grow. Be aware of your anxiousness and practice self-management in being patient with yourself and team members. Resist the trigger of impatience. Slow down and trust the process, engaging the collective input of all. No one is the sole center of attention, so allow strengths to grow and unfold naturally.
- Take an escalation-of-risk approach. Start with a low-risk approach of discussion of your action plan in a one-on-one discussion with a trusted advisor. A more moderate-risk is to offer your plan to key team members, asking for feedback. Finally, the highest risk approach is to push your execution model directly on the whole team, and resolve issues.
- Take the fear out of team player decisions. It is easier to encourage team members to question current business processes and make innovative changes in an atmosphere of trust and safety. Getting beyond known limits requires courage from all, not fear. Driving the fear out of business pivots encourages thinking outside the box.
- Use metrics to support judgment in decisions. Metrics should be seen as guides, helping to direct and support good behavior, but not absolute measurements of good or bad judgment and wisdom. Metrics are necessary to acquire knowledge and turn it into action. What gets measured gets done. What is not measured is not seen as important.
These principles embody an incremental approach to the knowing-doing obstacles that entrepreneurs and their teams have to face head-on:
- Overcoming the resistance of inertia. It’s easy for professionals to convince themselves that it’s okay to stay in the knowing stage a little longer while everyone strives for a greater level of confidence. Sometimes intellectual arrogance drives the conclusion that knowing is the most important thing, and almost the same thing as doing. It is not.
- Taking risks and resolving unknowns is not comfortable. Individual and team leadership is about consciously demonstrating good business actions, in real time, through disciplined practice. Doing this will create experiences from which you and the team can learn and grow. Expertise requires iteration on learning, failing, and growing.
- Fear of showing vulnerability. Every professional and team member has to get over the fear of showing others conscious incompetency in certain areas, and a willingness to struggle through the necessary learning curve to reach conscious competency. This is an important step in self-coaching, and in coaching others on the team.
- Don’t let the memory of past actions limit thinking. Memory often serves as a substitute for thinking. Team members do what has always been done without reflecting. Business problem solving should mean drawing from past precedents, how things have always worked, and standard operating procedures, but not being constrained by them.
Professionals should judge their own competency, and that of team members, based on how well they perform, not how well they talk or how smart they seem. It’s easy to sound smart by being critical of the ideas of other team members, and it’s easy to make excuses about why a new proposal will not work, or why the present process is less risky than a new one.
Starting and leading a business is not rocket science. But is does require continuous decisions and sound execution. Thus the knowing-doing gap is one of the biggest inhibitors to success that I see. It’s time for every professional to take a hard look at themselves and their team to assess how well they stack up relative to the principles and challenges outlined here. All your competitors, investors, and customers are making the same assessment on you.
Image credit: CC by Scott Maxwell