“We must stop destroying before we can start building.”

That’s the third foundational principle of the Leader Education and Development (LEAD) program created by the Institute for Postindustrial Leadership. We also refer to this principle as Stop vs. Start.

It sounds simple enough. Stop vs Start states that it is necessary to stop doing something wrong before we start doing something right; and that when we start, we must always start with ourselves. But our desire to start doing something new is stronger than our concern to stop doing something old. The problem isn’t that managers or leaders don’t want to do something new; it’s that without profound knowledge, they might try anything.

This explains in part why so many managers and leaders are quick to adopt the latest management fad – commonly referred to as the “flavor-of-the-month” program. It also explains a more impulsive behavior known as “doubling down.” In the absence of something new, we redouble our efforts and try to improve what we are already doing even though it fails to achieve our desired results. Doing the wrong thing better never makes it right.

Stop vs Start also reminds us that principles must be understood before they are applied. Principles must first be internalized at the motive level before they can be integrated into who we are and what we do. When we start applying principles, we must start with ourselves to ensure we personify the principles. Finally, principles do not solve problems – principles prevent problems. The lesson is that starting a principle does not automatically stop a problem.

Start vs Stop implies we know what to stop and what to start. But we cannot always know what we need to stop doing, and even when we do know, it is not always possible to stop. We learn from experience – but mostly we learn what not to do. Learning what to do requires profound knowledge based on principles – and the integration and application of principles starts with the leader.

Profound knowledge is a special kind of knowledge that supplants what we already know. Knowing what to start informs us about what to stop, and this demonstrates and validates the special relationship between the two actions.

In business and in our personal lives, examples of Stop vs Start abound. We treat symptoms before we identify and eliminate root causes. We start a medication regimen before curtailing the behavior that created the illness. We set new stretch goals without changing the inputs and processes. We attend leadership training programs to adopt contemporary leader behaviors before changing our traditional paradigm of leadership.

It is critical to understand the nature of principles and the internalization process to avoid applying principles prematurely. Trying to apply a principle too soon will prove to be counter-productive. When we apply a principle prematurely, we are only using it as a tool or a behavioral technique. If we do not have a deep understanding of a principle, we cannot know why it succeeds or fails. Changing our behavior without changing the basic underlying assumptions and beliefs that determine our behavior results in temporary change, not authentic change.

Unlike tools and techniques which can be put to use immediately, principles must be internalized at the motive level so that they can be personified. In other words, people use tools, but principles use people.

The Stop vs Start foundational principle reminds us to stop thinking and doing things that cause problems and result in undesirable environments and unintended consequences. It teaches us to start thinking and doing things that prevent problems and lead to supportive and challenging environments. For leaders, the essential element of this idea is to start with oneself.

Stop vs Start is the third of five foundational principles in the LEAD Program. The next two, Through vs To and Similar vs Different, will be discussed in future articles.

This is the seventh article in a series by Terry and Matt. They are co-founders and directors of the Institute for Postindustrial Leadership at the University of Indianapolis. For more information about the Institute, go to: www.uindy.edu/postindustrial or email Terry and Matt at postindustrialinstitute@uindy.edu.

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