This post is also the subject of a “leadership minute” video at http://bit.ly/1HvapKi.
Many of the companies I’ve worked for suffer from a common ailment: lack of focus. It surprises me that businesses manage to survive without it. Yet many do, and because they hadn’t failed yet, they assumed that what they were doing was just fine. One tech giant was proud of their choice of evolution instead of strategic choice. Evolution may lead to a solution if it doesn’t lead to death, but it is not an optimized path (credit to Jason Hoffman, founder of Joyent). Even with focus, many startups fail; without focus, precious resources are wasted leading to higher probability of failure.
One of the guys I worked for once said something like “Imagine how good it could be if we worked on it like it really mattered”. It was his usual way of teasing us to do the right thing, but I think it points to focus. What matters? You can’t work on everything, but if you focus on what matters most, you can accomplish great things. If you don’t think it matters, you don’t focus on it, it gets done poorly or not at all.
The corollary is that if you jump from one shiny object to the next, your team will know that you don’t know what’s important. They probably won’t tell you either. The sad part of being an unfocused leader is that your team is less likely to tell you that you need to change. Stay the course unless you are confident that the course you are on is inferior to the one you propose. If you make that shift regularly, your team is going to rightfully assume you’re not a good navigator, and they’ll start to focus on other things that they think are better.