As a natural process of a ship being in the water for extended periods of time, barnacles and other marine life grow and attach themselves to the ship’s hull. If left unattended, the barnacles can increase drag up to 60%. This can decrease speed by 10% and result in the ship using 40% more fuel. In essence, the ship works harder, spends more energy, and performs worse over time.
The same principle applies in our leadership journey. Over the course of time we accumulate habits and practices that increase drag on our performance. Everything seems to take more time and energy than it should require. It builds up almost imperceptibly until one day we wake up and feel like we’re burned out. Just like ships are periodically removed from the water to have their hulls cleaned, leaders need to regularly remove the barnacles that are holding them back from performing at their best. Here are six common barnacles that weigh you down over time:
1. Meetings — Let’s face it, even though meetings are the bane of our existence, they serve a vital purpose in organizational life. It’s a primary way information is shared, relationships built, and work is accomplished. However, we too often let meetings run us instead of us running meetings. Review your calendar and examine each of your regular meetings. Are they still serving the purpose for which they were created? Do the meetings have specific agendas with desired outcomes identified? Are the right people involved to make decisions? Are there alternative ways to accomplish the goal of the meeting without bringing everyone together? Those are all valuable questions to ask. If the meetings aren’t providing the return on investment that makes them worth your time, cancel them or reshape them to be more productive.
2. Policies, Procedures, Processes — We institute policies, procedures, or processes to handle new activities that arise over the course of time. When money, staffing, and time isn’t an issue, we don’t give much thought to adding new work into the system. But when resources become scarce, it can prove very difficult to reduce or eliminate activities or services that have become the norm. It can be helpful to apply the Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule, to your leadership practices. What are the 20% of your activities that produce 80% of your results? Focus on the 20% and remove the 80% that are barnacles.
3. Committees — Collaboration is an important and valuable practice but sometimes we take it a bit too far by trying to do everything by committee. It slows down the process and frustrates everyone involved. If a committee is truly needed, make sure it has a clear purpose, goals, and clear decision-making authority. If you’re a member of a committee that doesn’t have a clear purpose and goals, reevaluate your membership. Maybe it’s time to remove this barnacle.
4. No-No People — Every organization has naysayers; it’s a fact of life. However, there is a big difference between people who express doubts or ask questions in a genuine effort to understand the proposed change and make the best decision possible, versus those who are No-No’s—their answer will always be “no,” no matter what. No-No’s are huge barnacles that cause tremendous drag on your leadership. They require enormous amounts of emotional and mental energy that distract you from more important priorities. Removing this barnacle will dramatically increase your productivity and personal satisfaction of being a leader.
5. No Vision or Goals — In a paradoxical sort of way, the lack of something, in this case vision and goals, can actually be something that weighs you down. A clear vision and specific goals help to focus your energy and streamline your efforts. When you know what you’re striving for, you can pare away all the non-essentials that get in your way. Without a clear vision or goals, your leadership energies are widely dispersed and less effective. If you feel like your days are consumed with fighting fires and you go to bed at night exhausted from chasing every squirrel that crosses your path, then chances are you don’t have a clear vision or goals driving your actions.
6. Seeking the Approval of Others — You will always be unfulfilled as a leader (or person) if your self-worth is determined by the approval of others. Striving to please all people in all circumstances is a barnacle that will slow you down to a crawl. Leaders sometimes have to make decisions that benefit one group of people over another and that inevitably leads to conflict. The best thing you can do as a leader to remove this barnacle is to act with integrity in all circumstances. Not every decision you make will be a popular one, but as long as you consistently live your values you will earn the respect and trust of your colleagues.
The buildup of these different leadership barnacles is inevitable but it doesn’t have to be final. Perform a regular cleansing to remove the barnacles and restore your leadership performance to its full potential.