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  • Brett Simpson

In my experience…limitations are opportunities

In a recent conversation with a colleague I realized my natural tendency is to look for limitations in ideas, strategies and operations within teams and organizations, before I look for strengths.  It’s likely I recognize strengths subconsciously but instead focus on limitations because I think (or hope) I may be able to help in some way…regardless of if help is being requested.

In my experience, limitations are opportunities or starting points.  Too many times I’ve seen them used as stopping points by leaders.  In every team or organization there is a cultural leaning toward either ‘glass-half-full’ or ‘glass-half-empty’.  That influences how limitations are approached, which is important because it impacts risk tolerance, innovation, cohesion, satisfaction and performance.  

Limitations as Stopping Points (Weaknesses)

Leaders that treat limitations as stopping points generally refer to them as weaknesses.  When limitations are equated to weakness and used an excuse to stop or hinder progress, the game is lost before it even begins.  This should be a red flag to stakeholders who depend on those leaders.  I’ve always liked the quote, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”.  If leaders don’t take a shot at overcoming limitations, they’re going to miss every time.

Scarcity and protectionism are the prevalent attitudes when limitations are considered stopping points.  This leads to retrenchment which prevents progress and results in the self-fulfilling prophecy of limitations being unavoidable and unaddressable.  When this happens, teams become less effective because leaders manage from a perspective of fear and self-preservation, resulting is misalignment and disengagement.

Limitations as Starting Points (Opportunities)

Leaders that treat limitations as starting points view them as opportunities.  This isn’t to say all limitations can or should be overcome, rather that the leader’s mindset is one of persistence and optimism.  Limitations are challenges that can and should be explored as opportunities for improvement and progress.

When limitations are viewed as starting points, leaders use motivation and encouragement to move their teams forward.  This promotes teamwork and the confidence that the individuals and teams possess the capabilities and capacity to overcome the limitation.  Optimism and confidence aren’t guarantees of success, but they create a much more desirable environment in which limitations can become opportunities.

Limitations will always exist within teams and organizations.  Leaders that treat them as starting points or opportunities, rather than as weaknesses or stopping points, put themselves on a better path to success.  In the process, they empower teams and create environments of growth.  This is a necessity for highly effective organizations.

Special thanks to Gayle Meyers, whose ability to help others identify limitations and turn them into opportunities is tremendous, and to Jerry Glazier, who is a master at connecting the dots of opportunity when he sees limitations.

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