Stumped, Stuck, and Stymied? Instead of Spinning Your Wheels, Stop!

What is the number one thing not to do when your car is stuck in the mud? Don’t spin your wheels! You’ll just sink deeper in the muck. But if you’ve been in that situation, you know that the natural response is to keep your foot pressed on the gas pedal. It takes an effort of will to pull back, evaluate, and determine how to get out of the mire. In business, it is no different. When leaders find their businesses stuck in the mud, the automatic response is to keep going, going, going … even though they aren’t going anywhere.

In our past two “Stumped, Stuck, and Stymied” blogs, we looked at how to get unstuck by accelerating execution and empowering an Integrator. Here, we examine a third powerful tool to get out of the mud. It can be stated in a single word: STOP.

When what you are doing isn’t working: stop.

When you don’t know what to do next: stop.

When you don’t feel like you can take the time: stop.

Just … stop. Set aside space for yourself. No meetings, no calls, no emails, no texts, no interruptions, no distractions. (Sounds incredible, doesn’t it?) Settle in, clear your head, and spend an hour or two – perhaps even a day or two – thinking things through. This isn’t “time off” to relax. It is 100% “time on” for business.

7 Questions to Gain Clarity

As a leader, your people are looking to you to provide them with good direction – and that expectation is even greater when things are not going well. Good direction, however, is the outcome of clear vision and clear thinking. Such clarity is impossible to achieve in 10-minute intervals snatched between meetings or while sitting in rush hour traffic. You need to block out time on your calendar and reserve it for the purpose of careful thought.

Use the time and space you carve out to ask and answer questions that will help you understand how you got stuck, what the situation currently is, and what you can do to get back on the road. Here are seven questions you can use as a starting point:

1. Is everyone aligned around a well-defined vision? A vision is what keeps people working together effectively and enthusiastically. If you are stuck, it might be because the organization does not have a clear vision or has not communicated the vision well.

2. What issues are you currently facing? List everything that is problematic, from people to processes to performance to profits.

3. Do any themes emerge from these issues? Once you have a complete list of issues at hand, check for themes. For example, you might find a cluster of problems that relate directly or indirectly to operational processes. Themes can be indicative of deeper, more systemic matters that need to be addressed.

4. What is the #1 issue/theme you are struggling with? There might be several issues or themes at hand; assess them to determine what the biggest one is. (Hint: it is often the one you have been avoiding.) This should become your top priority.

5. What does a SWOT analysis tell you? Conduct a quick and dirty SWOT analysis. Are you leveraging your strengths and opportunities? Where have weaknesses and threats undermined the organization?

6. What does success look like? You may have had your head down looking at the road (and now, the mud) for so long that you’ve lost sight of your destination. Picture what success looks like. Describe it. Doing so will help you evaluate the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

7. What changes need to be made? Be specific. Be practical. Be bold. This is where you start to transform your assessment of where you are into a plan of action to get unstuck.

When you re-engage after your time in thought, it is helpful to solicit the input and insight of other leadership team members. Collaborating to hone ideas into a workable plan generates important alignment on the team.

The ROI for Stopping

Be assured that the return on your time investment will be incredible. By stopping, you do not just put a halt to spinning your wheels: you make space for penetrating discernment, sparkling creativity, renewed vision, and much more. Bring that to your organization and your people will catch the inspiration. Before you know it, you will be back on the highway with the “pedal to the metal”!

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