Decision Dangers of Target Fixation

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.”  – Paul J. Meyer

Experienced motorcyclists know to avoid one of the most common reasons motorcycles crash – “target fixation.” They look ahead and anticipate unexpected obstacles. Sadly, novices often focus on what is directly in front of them and often steer right into it. Motorcyclists who look past obstacles such as curves, cars in their path or unexpected animals in the road, are better able to navigate around those obstacles and avoid accidents.

Target fixation is also dangerous for leaders who focus so intently on a goal that they inadvertently fail to anticipate unintended consequences or consider decision alternatives. Some waste valuable time pursuing a singular path while ignoring warning signs about dangers ahead. Consider the leader who fixates on production numbers without listening to employee concerns or suggestions. Employees may feel pressured to:

  • Take short-cuts leading to poor quality and fewer orders
  • Skip safety checks leading to lost time accidents
  • Quit to find less stressful or more meaningful work

Rather than fixating on the goal, leaders need to look in the direction they want to go and remain open to alternatives for how to reach their goal. While some argue that target fixation is good because it keeps a leader’s eye on the prize, we’re talking about the reluctance of a leader to pursue equifinality, or alternative ways to get to the same objective.

Under pressure, leaders too often seek closure and are reluctant to pursue paths that temporarily slow them down. Yet, with complex challenges, failure to reflect on alternatives and/or pursue different paths can be dangerous. Smart leaders who want to avoid target fixation consider the following guidelines when approaching a problem, obstacle or challenge:

  • Look past the immediate problem to pursue alternatives
  • Seek multiple points of view from those who may be impacted (key stakeholders)
  • Look at factors that influence, yet do not touch the problem directly
  • Hold the vision of where you want to go as your decision guide

Under pressure, all leaders can experience target fixation. The most effective leaders consider the consequences of decisions and seek alternative solutions to ensure desired outcomes.

For more information on how to help leaders avoid target fixation, contact Kittie Watson.

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