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5 Tips for Knowing When to Stop

February 4, 2011 22 comments

LeadershipKnowing when to stop is the hallmark of a great artist. Whether you’re painting a picture, seasoning a dish, or writing a story, knowing when to stop can mean the difference between a masterpiece and a mess.

The same is true of exceptional leaders. They always seem to know when to stop talking, when to stop checking in, when to stop working on a particular project. It’s easy to recognize when someone makes the mistake of carrying on when they should have just stopped. But when they stop right on time—not too soon and not too late—we hardly notice. They make it look effortless.

Here are 5 tips to keep you from jumping the shark as a leader:

1. Understand the law of diminishing returns. In most endeavors there comes a point when the more effort and input you add produces less and less benefit. You enhance a dish with a dash of salt; then you add more and ruin it. You make a bold statement that grabs everyone’s attention; then you restate it multiple ways and dilute its power.

2. Get feedback from others. Many times you’re too close to yourself to know if you’ve gone too far. Afraid you’re over-managing your team? Ask them. Give them multiple ways to let you know how you’re doing—town hall meetings, one-on-one sessions, anonymous surveys, etc.

3. Take a break. Step away from whatever you’re doing for a while. Take a walk. Work on something unrelated. Go for a run. Sleep on it. Then come back to the project and look at it with fresh eyes. Ask questions. How close is it to solving the problem or serving the purpose? What needs to happen to finish it and get it out the door?

4. Experiment with stopping. Don’t be afraid of failing—it’s part of the process. If your tendency is to go too far or stuff too much in or talk too long, experiment with stopping before you’re comfortable. Make a conscious effort to produce something simple and excellent—no more and no less.

5. Trust yourself and others. Stopping takes trust. Trust your talent and stop tinkering with that project—ship it already. Trust your staff and stop riding them about every little detail. Finally, trust that you’re enough and stop trying to be someone or something you’re not.

What helps you know when to stop?