This is good advice if you want to lose weight. It’s good advice for leading a company too.
Seth Godin writes that people and companies often complain they don’t have enough butter to cover “their bread.” As leaders, we look for more time, more money, more people to get the job done. We feel stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. And so do our people.
Most leaders I coach are driven and ambitious. Their ambitions have built great companies, innovated products, created far-flung markets no one believed existed and have created employment and vibrancy in their communities. Their ambitions have been rewarded over and over, with good reason.
Here’s the truth: Most leaders I coach become limited by their drive and ambition. Shockingly, their companies, at a certain point, become stunted by the very ambition that made them successful. Left unchecked, ambitious leaders will stay on a growth treadmill without knowing why.
It’s easier to hide behind ambition than to challenge it. It has been a winning strategy, after all. Under the surface of ambition, a leader will often find they have tied their personal worthiness to winning all the time, which looks like making the bread bigger. It’s a complicated double bind of winning and worthiness all woven together.
Brad Garlinghouse, a senior Yahoo VP, asked colleagues at a management retreat to play word association.
He said Paypal, most wrote “payments”.
He said Google, most said “search”.
He later wrote The Peanut Butter Manifesto which got published in the WSJ. He had the same message as Seth: Stop spreading the (peanut) butter too thinly.
I’m all for large and successful companies that offer needed products and services. I am all for meaningful employment. And I’m all for growth, for businesses and for individuals. I simply stand for being intentional about it all, for constantly right sizing one’s bread.
I offer you this. Start with yourself. Figure out your own raison d’être. Then figure out “the why” of your company. With your purposes clear, keep your own bread manageable by zoning in on the One Big Thing (OBT) that will improve your effectiveness as a leader. Now, pick one behavior you’ll start doing to help your OBT. And find one behavior you’ll stop doing to help your OBT. Now tell key people around you so you cannot hide.
You won’t change the size of your company’s bread right away. With a very clear why, your bread may need to shrink or grow. Either way, this could be the start of something delicious. There’s really nothing more satisfying than bread and butter in proper proportions.
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