7 Steps to Creating the Ultimate CEO Fortress of Solitude
I’m not sure if it was Peter Cetera or Kierkegaard who said, “Everybody needs a little time away.” Regardless of who said it, that statement is certainly true, especially for business leaders. In this 24/7, constantly-connected world we live and do business in, there will come a time that you have to find that spot that you can go to and be truly alone.
Even Superman had a place to go when the rigors of defending Metropolis got to him and made him feel less than super. For CEOs, there are a number of tasks that you will not be your most effective in solving if you attempt them working in a standard office environment. Maybe it’s annual reviews, terminating an employee, deciding whether or not to launch a new product, or even something as simple (yet, mind-numbingly complicated) as a customer issue. At some point, we all need our own Fortress of Solitude. You need to find a spot that will allow you to truly embrace the beauty that is complete solitude, a place that allows you to really focus on an issue, re-energize yourself, and go back to being super.
Here are 7 Steps to finding that perfect spot:
1. Embrace the beauty of being alone.
Even if you are the most gregarious person in your office, sometimes you want to enjoy your own company. In your fortress, one of the most important things is to be comfortable with yourself and only you. No Lois Lane, no Jimmy Olsen, and definitely no Lex Luthor.
Achieve Faster–Nobody Lives Forever!
Goals are great, in fact they are paramount to actual success. Every single successful business in the history of time started with a goal, achieved it, and went from there. The only problem is, why do they take so long? Here’s a very simple, two-part process that will help you rocket to the finish line.
Part 1: Understanding the Path
- Declare the goal. The best definition of a goal is a dream with a deadline. So declare not only the dream, but the deadline as well. What do you want to do and when do you want to do it by? These two very simple questions can help you to measure progress along the way and to know when you’re winning.
- Create the path. The major difference between most goals and dreams is that a goal not only has a deadline, but it has a plan. What’s your plan? How do you intend on reaching that finish line and achieving that goal? Do you have everything you need to get you there? Have you anticipated roadblocks and pitfalls along the way? Do you have a plan to sidestep the landmines that you won’t see until the last minute?
- Set mini-goals. Be sure you have measurable milestones–mini-goals along the path to let you know that you’re on the right road. The most important part is that they are three things: applicable, measurable, and attainable.
- Define winning. The mini-goals and the major goal have to be tangible, specific.
4 Ways to Manage Slippery Customers and Be Sticky
Nothing is more frustrating in this competitive, hyper-commoditized world in which we live as businesses than working with a customer and believing you have developed a value-based relationship with them only to be tossed into a bidding war every year to keep the business.
As I approach this idea of being “sticky”–which means not being so easily removed from a customer as a provider because of a lower priced competitor–let’s make a few assumptions:
- You provide a good product or service at a market-relevant price. Not necessarily the lowest, and maybe the highest, but logically justifiable.
- Your customers are regularly being approached by competitors who encourage your customers to “try them out” or switch entirely based upon promises of equal or better performance at same or lower prices.
- Your customers can switch with relative ease, (or what they perceive to be ease), from you to you competitors.
If these assumptions fit for you, and you have felt some “slippage” with your customers, here are some things you can do to become stickier.
Expand your connection net. Often in customer relationships, once the agreement has been made to work together, the management of the relationship thins. The sales person or account manager becomes the primary and often singular point of connection to the customer. On the customer’s side, they also thin their points of contact to only transaction processors. If you want to be sticky, you need more touchpoints in the relationship. We recommend that you look at a minimum of three connections that are occurring between your company and your customer’s company on at the bare minimum of once or more per month.
How much do we tell the employees about the money in the business? For small and mid-size business owners, there is often a lot of anxiety about sharing too much information. For employees, there is a strong desire to understand the business and its prospects for the future. If you are a privately held company, balancing this is tough. Here are some general guidelines:
- Don’t give information without education. Providing any financial reports regardless of whether they are summaries, or complete traditional reports like your balance sheet, P/L and budget, should always be provided with a thorough education as to how the employee can read the data. It is possible that your employees do not have the background or training to fully understand these documents, so giving them the documents without education can be little more than distracting.
- What’s it mean to them? When looking at the information that you provide, there needs to be a clear summary telling the employees what it means to them. They will likely have lots of relevant questions:
- Is our company getting better or worse? More stable or vulnerable?
- Is my job at risk?
- What are we investing in to make us more successful in the future?
Employees look for context and relevance to the numbers.
- What can I do? Along with providing context for the numbers themselves, it is also important to provide a road map for what you are doing as a company with the information and an ask for the employees. The ask during positive periods is simple–Keep doing your great work!
Speaking with Daniel Waldschmidt, author of “EDGY Conversations” is very much like drinking from a fire hose. His high energy and direct style have given him international success as an entrepreneur, investor, adviser, and now author. I had a chance to speak with him to get his perspective on what leaders need to do to be effective. Here are a few of his key ideas:
- The old road map to success is broken. Waldschmidt believes that the old road map to success– get a degree, work hard, and success follows–is broken. For him, this represents a model that is a false promise. The vast majority who have followed this model have fallen well short of their dreams and their potential. The core problem is the principle that “doing” is the key rather than “being.” “Doing” is a prescription of activities, while “being” is about embodying your goals and drive. For him, establishing a clearer picture of who and what you are and what your intentional life outcomes are needs to come first. The road map changes as your life changes and there are no guarantees. It is the drive from your being that gives you what is necessary to adapt and succeed.
- There is still time to change the road you are on. For people who realize they are trapped in an activity-based mindset, they need to break that mindset through being brutally honest about who they are with themselves. One way to do that is through intentional quiet moments of reflection.
I want to teach you a system for rapidy reading business books. It’s something that has helped me a lot over the course of my career. I learned the basics from my great mentor and friend, Dr. Tom Hill, and have made my own modifications. By following this system, I am able to read 100 business books per year and keep current on many of the best thinkers’ ideas and approaches.
Like most people, time is a constant challenge for me. I have young children, an active social life, I workout, as well as spending time on the road building a business that is growing every year. Toss in broader family obligations and a commitment to my church and it is very difficult for me to find time to read. You probably feel the same way. Here is the key secret: Almost every business book can be read completely–and with strong comprehension–in less than one hour as long as you have a system.
A couple of guidelines:
- Business books are often written in an easy-to-digest format. They have internal outlining, call-out boxes, diagrams, and end-of-chapter summaries to aid readers in consuming the book material quickly. This is a huge help.
- Many business books are broken into thirds. The first third focuses on the context and core ideas, the second third provides an application, and the final third give examples and case studies.
- Your mind will not remember more than 3-5 highly influential ideas from any business book within about a week.
My wife is a scrapbooker. She has done some amazing projects of our family. Thanks to her scrapbooking, we have a remarkable record of our lives and some interesting insights. As a creative person, she also takes on projects such as the One Word project.
The One Word project challenges a person to select one word and then track his or her life in relevance to that word for one year. Pictures, quotes, and events that reflect that word are then captured into a scrapbook for an entire year. What I like about the One Word project is its singularity. It causes you to choose an area of intense concentration and awareness. With that one frame of reference for performance, I believe that you can make real change in your life by awareness and practice.
For my own 2014 One Word project, I am considering a number of candidate words. My goal will be to look for examples, take pictures, and capture quotes and interactions that reflect the highest quality of that one word. Here are some candidates that I’m considering. They may be good candidates for you as well if you chose to take on the One Word project:
- Focus–Try to limit the list of things that will receive your attention and time. So much of our work is squeezed in between the interruptions of our lives. What would a focused life look like? I see athletes, parents, inventors, and other great exemplars of focus accomplish amazing things. Focus is part exclusion and part attention.
We recently evaluated a sales team on how they felt about money by using a standardized test. A big part of the test was to determine each individual’s sense of worthiness of money and how their thinking patterns compared to the thinking patterns of people in various income brackets.
The sales people who believed themselves worthy of money had the same patterns of thinking of people in higher income brackets and were statistically kicking the heck out of their peers in sales. Combined with observations made by their direct supervisors, a picture emerged of people who discussed money, price, and value with the same natural confidence as weather, sports, and traffic.
Another group of people emerged from our study–self-saboteurs. These were people on performance plans, (HR code for “on the way out the door”), who often had a big disparity between how much they made (high), and the way they were wired to think about money (low). We noticed that if someone has the thought patterns of a $50,000/year earner and is making $100,000/year, they start to implode. Those people do not feel they deserve to be at the income level they are and so they do things that will get them back to where they believe they should be.
So, what does this mean for sales people and executives who hire sales people?
Being candid, my experience with thousands of sales people has taught me to look for certain thought patterns in sales people. Those who have them are more likely, though not guaranteed, to be more successful.
Ask sales people and executives what they could use more of and most would simply ask for uninterrupted time. Time to write proposals, create strategy, read important documents, and, God forbid, THINK. The most precious of our talents, our ability to make decisions and choices, is often negatively impacted by the urgency of others. When I ask people what they like about travelling for their jobs, no one says, “The airport food is SOOOO good!” or “It’s the luxury of it all…” or “It’s relaxing.” Instead, the answer that I get is, “I get so much done because I am uninterrupted.” Of all of the ways to get time with your own mind and creativity, few are as exhausting and inefficient as travel, yet that is what is most valued. There has to be a better way to get the time needed to meet with one of your best counselors…YOU.
Here are a few recommendations for getting uninterrupted time:
- Go to Your Study Nook–You can’t stay uninterrupted if you leave yourself in a high-interruption zone, namely your office or cubicle. Move. When you were in school, you probably found a study nook for when you were preparing a paper or for a test. You need that nook now more than then. Some use a Starbucks or other coffee houses. The only problem is that if you become a regular, then you have a new set of interrupters. The point is, find a place that you can get heads-down work successfully completed and book yourself that time and space.