A friend commented this week that the tone of my writing has changed. They’re right. I’ve been challenging your leadership and decision making skills more than usual recently. I don’t mean you specifically… or maybe I do. These two responsibilities are the differentiators between “ok companies” and the good/great ones. Along with thinking, they are your other important job.
When I write on these two topics, I’m not only challenging you, but myself as well. They’re the topics I regularly consider during my nightly 90 minute dog walk. More often than not, that’s when these words begin to take shape. It’s definitely when much of my critical thinking gets done.
These walks are when I decide to discuss difficult topics you need to hear. They’re when I decide to suggest paying attention to something that might be off your radar. These are rarely topics a staff member will mention to you. Sometimes, it’s because they aren’t on your team’s radar. Frequently, it’s because you’re the owner.
I decided it was time to call more attention to them.
Should be obvious
The importance of these two responsibilities should be obvious. Yet they often get set aside for urgent but not important matters. I suspect you’ve read about what Eisenhower, Covey, et al said re: “urgent but not important” work.
I remind you about these responsibilities because I know how easy it is to get tangled up in the day to day. The urgent but not important is always lurking outside your office door with a “Hey, got a minute?”
When that happens, whatever you were doing falls off your radar.
Hopefully when it’s complete, you get back at it, but sometimes it can be hours. What were you working on six hours ago when your coffee was still hot?
I had to build systems around me to bring me back where I belong work-wise after the “interruption” ends. My observation over many years is that I’m not the only one who needs this.
I don’t mean your time as salesperson, bookkeeper, and/or payroll clerk isn’t important. Many of us spend time wearing other hats. When the work appears, professionals get it done (or delegate it). And yet, we need to circle back to the most important job and get it done. Whether you have zero or 500 team members, your most important job is leading your company.
Discovering the important job
It’s the most important work because everything else depends on it.
I don’t mean that other work isn’t important. It is. Product quality is important. Quality service and support are important. Having your numbers under control is important. It’s easy to get sidetracked by all these demands.
We can’t forget what’s most important: the business as a whole. Jack Stack, CEO of SRC Holdings nails this thought.
Asked what he’d teach his younger self, Stack said: “There was so much emphasis on products and services that there was no emphasis on the company. When you teach people how to build a successful company, you get better products and services.”
His former employer built quality products, yet still went under. His takeaway? The CEO’s most important responsibility is to build a successful business.
Start and end your day there
When operating a business, it’s hard to stay focused at that level.
On any given day, you might be working on a product or service problem. You might be juggling cash so you can make next month’s payroll. In the crisis of the moment, that feels like the most important work. Maybe it is – until it’s completed.
If your company is small enough, you wear a lot of hats. Many of us are in that mode from time to time, sometimes a lot. I have those days too.
I find one of the most useful tactics to stay focused on this role is, at the very least, to start and end my day in that role. When I start the day in this role, I make progress on my most important work every day. Ending the workday in my leadership role re-aligns me, no matter what else happened that day.
The company, our customers, and the team have an implicit expectation of us. That is, we’ll show up in that role and take care of the business that takes care of them. Isn’t that what we promised?
“A professional keeps a promise whether or not they feel like it.”
– Seth Godin