Obstacles: Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones?

by Dick McCann

Copyright © Team Management Systems. All rights reserved.

This article has been reprinted from the Team Management Systems website. Please visit for further information or to contact the authors direct.

Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless.

– Edison

So it didn't work out, what are you going to do about it? Nothing? Try a different tack? Cry? The way people deal with obstacles has been part of my recent research into behavior in the workplace. It is an extra dimension in leadership assessment which has previously been confined mainly to the world of clinical psychology.

Dealing with Obstacles

Successful executives have five common ways of dealing with obstacles:

  1. They have high levels of MTG Energy.

    This is the energy people deploy in moving towards their goals. It is the energy that gives us the determination, enthusiasm and resilience to formulate and achieve our goals in life. People with a high MTG energy are those who see opportunities and are often prepared to take risks to seize them. People with a lower MTG energy will often see obstacles in the way of any goals they have and when the going gets tough they will give up earlier than those with higher energy.

  2. They are optimistic.

    Optimism is a characteristic that is the basis of positive thinking. It is a psychological resource that gives people a generalized expectancy that they will succeed in their endeavors. Expected success will in turn give people the will to expend more effort to realize their goals.

  3. Obstacles are stepping stones, not stumbling blocks.

    When an obstacle arises, successful executives are able to generate lots of possible pathways and ultimately select the best one to effectively remove the obstacle. People without multi-pathway skills tend to follow a single pathway to achieve what they want. Often their catch cry is, 'There is only one way to do things well and that's the right way'.

  4. They spend time on 'fault-finding'.

    While it is important to expend considerable effort in looking for the opportunities, it is equally important to 'look for Murphy'. Murphy's famous law, 'If anything can go wrong, it will', seems to abound in this age of rapid change. Time spent on looking for all the potential pitfalls and preparing contingency and preventative action plans is the hallmark of the successful executive.

  5. They are future-focused but remember the past and learn from it.

    For successful executives the future is a 'rosy place'. Somewhere they want to be. They are full of hope because they know that things will be better than they are now and better than they have been. However they can also look back and see how the organization has moved from where it was to where it is now. They will build on this journey and link past success to the future.

A Question of Balance

These five concepts form the basis of a new measure which can determine the balance of energy people allocate between seeing the opportunities and seeing the obstacles. In business a balance is needed between these two. As Zen wisdom says, 'Nothing is possible without three essential elements: a great root of faith, a great ball of doubt and a fierce tenacity of purpose'. Leaders certainly need that root of faith; it helps them look for opportunities that match their vision. A tenacity of purpose gives them the persistence to hang in there and seize the opportunities. However also essential is a measure of intelligent doubt that anchors them in reality and prevents them from making mistakes. With the right ratio between opportunities and obstacles any leader can be invincible.

A New Leadership Measure

A new assessment instrument based on these concepts has just been released by Team Management Systems. It taps into the fifth dimension of the human psyche and produces workplace feedback ideal for leadership and team development. Comprehensive information is available in the book "The Half-Empty Chalice".

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Copyright © Team Management Systems. All rights reserved.

About the Author

With a background in science, engineering, finance and organizational behavior, Dick McCann has consulted widely for organizations such as BP, Hewlett Packard and Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank. Dick is co-author and developer of the Team Management Systems concepts and products and also author of the QO2TM, Window on Work Values and The Linking Leader. Involved in TMS operations worldwide for over 15 years, Dick is Managing Director of TMS Australia, a Director of TMS Development International and President of Team Management Systems Inc.

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