How To Recognize Your ‘Circle Of Frustration’

To echo one of Zig Ziglar’s many quotes,

“The first step in solving a problem is to recognize that it does exist.”

As a leader, do you know the tell-tale signs that there is a problem? You can look at falling sales, poor culture and high turnover, but these are more symptoms, not the root cause.
Far more often than not, the root cause is the lack of business alignment.

Paddling in the ‘same direction’

Let’s use a Disneyland canoe ride I watched once to explain business alignment.

The leader—a Disney guide—paddled hard to get the canoe away from the dock. Some of the guests in the boat behind him barely paddled, other more eager guests paddled hard, and still others just sat there.

Then he stood up, faced the new crew, and set out to transform this group of strangers into a team. He raised his “fun stick” (paddle) and, even though it was second nature to him and obvious to most people, he demonstrated how to hold it and how to use it to propel the boat forward.

Then he gave them three rules, and explained where they were going and what to expect. Finally, he introduced his partner in the back of the boat and explained her role.

Disney did not expect the guests to spontaneously align their efforts. Disney had spent time asking essential questions: what was important for paddlers to know and how best to communicate it in order to align the guests’ efforts.

The “business” was aligned, and the Disneyland guests and cast members were able to proceed to enjoy the canoe adventure.

Circle of Frustration

Running an organization without coordinating the efforts of the team leads you paddling in circles, or what I call the Circle of Frustration.

The circle of frustration is a state in which you’re trying to move your business forward, but instead you keep ending up back where you started—and you don’t know why. You know you’re trapped in the circle of frustration when you start hearing the same clichés. These are some I hear most often.

Circular logic

“We don’t have time to make the business better until things get better.” This statement alone can keep a company stuck forever.

Blaming the Team

“If we had A players, things would be different.” When something goes wrong— the business doesn’t win an account, or a project gets botched—leaders often fall back on the refrain of “I just need A players.” They don’t realize that they do get some A players, but those people tend to get frustrated and leave.

BADJ Declarative Sentences

When things don’t go according to plan, many leaders stuck in the circle of frustration react with Blame, Anger, Denial, or Justification. They deal with bad news with emotional responses and rarely ask questions to identify the root cause of the problem.

The “next level” delusion. “We need to take this company to the next level.” The problem with this cliché is that there’s no follow-up. No questions such as “How do we find this next level?” or “What is keeping us on this level?”

An Imaginary Friend: ART

When I went back through all the leaders I dealt with who were stuck in the circle of frustration, I was struck by how many of them had an imaginary friend named ART— what I call their Arbitrary Revenue Target. “If we had this amount in sales, things would change, because then we’d be bigger and we could afford better people and more resources. Then, things would be different.”

Ten “#1” Priorities

“We just can’t get anything done.” When you take a closer look, the leaders who make this statement have 10 priorities without a clear one to tackle first. Nothing seems to get done except another round trip in the circle of frustration, usually among promises that they “will get to it.”

Do any of these signs sound familiar?

Think about the above for a bit. Then, come back next month when I write about those questions leaders must ask and hard steps you must take to get your business aligned.