There are many common challenges to growing a thriving mid-size company. There are solutions to every one of them (as I’ve shared in this 5 Minute Growth Tip article series). But sometimes it doesn’t seem that way.
It can feel like we’re stuck, like there are no options to address our deepest concerns and frustrations.
We may even hide those thoughts and feelings from others, or even deny to ourselves that we have them. Yet, they still remain in the background of our thinking, gnawing away at our focus and energy.
This is an opportunity to check our thinking.
Our thinking drives our actions. And our thinking can cause us to not take action.
When we think there’s nothing we can do about a problem, we’ll naturally stand still on that issue. When we believe we can resolve it, we’ll find a solution and drive forward.
Organizational psychologists have researched these two ways of thinking extensively. They are part of what’s called our “locus of control”.
One way of thinking is that our situation is controlled by things that happen outside of us. We believe we are a victim of circumstances or of what others are doing.
This is an external locus of control.
The second way of thinking is that our situation can be influenced by what we do. We believe we can always do something that will make any situation we face better.
This is an internal locus of control.
Think of the word “locus” as “location”. Is our thinking putting the “location” of control of the situation outside ourselves (external) or within ourselves (internal)?
As human beings, we tend to grow up with a tendency toward either an internal locus of control or an external one.
We don’t exclusively think one way or the other, but rather predominantly.
However, we don’t necessarily think one way about everything. There can be areas of our lives and facets of our business that we treat with an internal locus of control mindset, and other areas that we tend to treat with an external locus of control.
As entrepreneurs and business leaders, we often predominantly have an internal locus of control: we believe we can make things happen.
However, we can also have an external locus of control in certain areas.
For example, we might have an internal locus of control about getting more sales. We know that our actions directly influence our company’s sales volumes, and we look for and find ways to increase them.
Yet, we might have an external locus of control about being able to hire A players. We may believe that there just aren’t any really strong employees out there, or none of them are looking for work, or they all want too much money, or they all hide their faults in interviews, etc.
By switching our thinking to an internal locus of control in this area, we can find solutions.
We can ask ourselves, “what is it that I’m doing that is getting in the way of hiring A players?” And from there, we can ask “what can I do differently to find A players?”
For example, do I have a clear description of what an A player will produce so I know exactly who I am looking for? What am I doing to network with A players I know in my industry who likely know other A players? Have I shopped around for an excellent recruiting company who can help me find the right people? Have I bolstered my interviewing skills to discover candidates’ true strengths, abilities and qualities? Have we captured on paper the advantages of working at our company, and do we sell great candidates on those virtues?
Believing we have influence over the situation causes us to look for solutions we can act on.
There’s also a way that an entrepreneur’s strong internal locus of control can actually create an external locus of control mindset in another area. I often see this struggle with CEOs and owners I meet.
They complain that they don’t have enough time.
This complaint is coming from an external locus of control mindset: the belief that their lack of time is happening to them. (Note that every complaint is really a form of external locus of control).
When I invite a CEO or owner to flip their mindset to an internal locus of control, and ask themself what they are doing that is causing them to not have enough time, they realize that they are causing the problem.
They often are attempting to jump on every problem and opportunity that comes up, and they are not delegating tasks and roles enough.
In this way, as entrepreneurs, our internal locus of control about solving problems can cause us to have an external locus of control about time.
Our tendency to think we can take control of any situation actually causes us to be so busy that we think we don’t have control of our time. Yet we do. We just need to change how we tackle problems: by equipping others to take care of them rather than solving them ourselves.
This mindset is a key linchpin in growing a thriving mid-sized company. The only way to grow and grow profitably, is to implement the structures, systems and processes to enable that growth. This then requires a leadership team that handles the day-to-day and can help with implementing many of those systems. These systems need to be guided by a solid strategy for competing in the market. That strategy needs to be executed efficiently. And efficient execution requires an A player leadership, as well as efficient buy-in to support accountability. And all of these business practices take time.
As a result, a CEO or owner will want to shift their mindset more fully to thinking about what they are doing, or not doing, that is causing them to be too busy to do these essential things. By doing so, they will get clear on what they need to do differently to free themselves up to shift increasingly from doing to leading.
And, more generally, the practice of internal locus of control will help any leader, and their top team, look at how they’re contributing to a problem, and what they can do to influence it.
But what if we’re faced with a problem where we just don’t know how we’re contributing to it, and we don’t really know what we should do differently? We’ll tackle that topic in my next article.
What can you do to grow your mid-size company?
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