I'm working with a company that has been nibbling around the edges of its potential - in a huge market - for several years. Its limitation has been the people it talked to: nibble-sized customers within large corporations. To move to the next level, it has to start selling to the people who can take bigger bites... at the C-level. Within a couple months of re-focusing on the people it needs to talk to, not just the people it's easy to talk to, the company won its first breakthrough in the form of a large enterprise sale.
We're a little like water: our nature seeks the path of least resistance. But it's not just in selling that our nature leads us to limited potential.
The critical lifeline for any leader is insight, a steady drip of clear visibility into what's happening in the organization and the market. But it's easy to continually move in the same circles. Usually this consists of some peers, some direct reports, perhaps a boss and the few others that somehow fit into our orbit.
Often that approach grows stale. Those that suit us comfortably probably think like us, probably work like us, probably have ideas like ours... and sharp insight can easily be replaced by dull reiteration.
That's why Churchill had unofficial advisors outside his executive circle. It's why Lincoln often struck off to mix it up with low level Union troops when visiting camps in the field. It's why JC Penney and Hewlett and Packard and Walton managed by "walking around."
They knew that clear perspective was critical, despite the unpleasantry and inefficiency. Some are gripers, some are pedantic and some are hard to connect with. But many will help us see more clearly, and both they and we will be better off as a result.
Who do you need to talk to?