Forbes - Leadership

For Companies, The Greatest Pain Is Often Self-Inflicted

We all know the statistics—more startups fail than succeed. So, when a company becomes a “breakout,” what others in Silicon Valley might call a unicorn, it is a very rare, even magical, phenomenon.

But with scarcity comes responsibility. While achieving this greatness is hard, staying great is even harder, and it is the job of a leader to ensure a company can live up to its promise.

Creating a company, building a company, scaling a company—all of it comes with challenges.

Often, obstacles start externally—a competitor launches a new product that grabs market share, the world shifts in a way that makes your service obsolete, a pandemic strikes. In each of these cases, you didn’t cause these problems, but you must figure out what to do.

Those are tough things to face, but in my opinion the most painful problems are the kind that are self-inflicted. And like fumbles in football or unforced errors in tennis, they happen a lot. There was a recent news story about a company that was a breakout success by any stretch of the imagination. It was growing its customer base and there was strong demand for the product. At the same time, there were problems within the culture of the organization, putting a strain on its reputation—and ultimately holding it back from reaching its full potential.

When I started at eBay, we were facing a scalability issue, which was the result of self-inflicted wounds. Sure, you could blame the vendor, but who chose the vendor? Or you could pin the problem on the infrastructure, but who built the infrastructure? Some might even blame massive growth, but that’s not a problem, that’s opportunity!

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Too often, people worry about things out of their control, but it makes much more sense—and you will make far greater progress if you worry about things that are within your control.

What do you do if you find yourself in this situation? You fix it fast! This takes a mixture of awareness and discipline.

  1. Recognize that you have an issue and that it’s not okay to let it fester. 
  2. Do everything in your power to make sure it doesn’t recur.

Self-inflicted wounds are particularly disheartening because you must recognize that you caused them. But the silver lining is that they are also the easiest to fix because they are within your control.

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