As an entrepreneur-turned-business executive who found success at an early age, I’m regularly asked about the leadership strategies I use and the culture I create. It’s these two things that separate the good companies from the great companies. If you employ transparent and transformational leadership, and foster a winning culture on top, you will find success.
Everybody has a goal, and the separation between goals and actual execution is what separates the winners and the losers. People say they want to be independently wealthy, start a business or be an athlete, and at the end of the day, the goals are mostly the same. Simply put, they’ve identified what they want to accomplish.
But there’s a piece many miss: they don’t identify the obstacles standing in their way, or the inevitable hurdles that will pop up. They don’t have a set strategy in place, including tangible steps to execute on every single day. And that’s where people get lost.
1. Identify, Strategize, Execute
A good analogy is a person who is trying to get in shape. This has been the number one New Year’s resolution for decades, so it’s an easy one to relate to in some form or fashion. It’s January 1st, and they anticipate making huge, massive shifts in their life in order to achieve their weight loss goal. They think they need to clean out their entire kitchen or get a personal trainer, but in reality, what’s needed is a strategy. Maybe joining a gym or removing certain foods from your kitchen is a piece of it, but until the plan is written down and the necessary steps are in place, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lose the initial motivation.
The same is true in business, which brings us to my first strategy: identify, strategize, execute. Boiled down to its simplest form, when faced with a problem or challenge, leaders need to identify the issue, strategize to fix it and then execute on the plan.
As a leader, I’m able to compartmentalize, and deal with the stress and challenges that inherently come with being a CEO by implementing this simple strategy. Anything you’re dealing with can be broken down to those three fundamental steps. Once you apply this thinking to a problem, you’ll be able to see a path forward out of any situation. It’s easier said than done, with many leaders feeling overwhelmed, and thus, unable to see the forest through the trees.
It’s important for leaders to separate goals from the strategy. It’s common for executives to get the two mixed up. Forbes explains why executives get confused: “They think to be strategic is to have a list of goals. But while a strategy has goals, the strategy itself is not the goals. The strategy is a carefully designed plan for how to achieve the goals.”
Identifying the goal, and strategizing the plan are important, but until you follow through with the execution, no progress will be made. I love this quote from General Electric CEO Jack Welch: “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”
2. Clean, Design, Build
When a department isn’t working as productively or as profitably as it should, a strategy I use to fix the problem is clean, design, build. If a part of my organization is spinning its wheels, or is just stagnant, it’s time to make a change. I take a good solid look at the team, the processes in place and the technology they’re using. If a technology or platform isn’t being utilitized anymore, it’s time to dump it. If members of the team aren’t hitting goals or are slowing the process down, it’s time to evaluate the process, and coach the team members up or coach them out. Cleaning is by far the most painful part of the process, and for that reason a lot of leaders avoid facing the brutal fact and delay taking action.
The goal is to have departments that are scalable, and in alignment with the company goals.
Once you remove the pieces that aren’t flowing, it’s time to design for the future. It can feel counterintuitive to take pause and reassess, but reaching your ultimate goal requires time to identify what isn’t working, and build accordingly. Take your big audacious goal, and reverse engineer it to create a design that is both practical and scalable.
A common pitfall for companies is that they skip those first two steps, or spend very little time on them, instead only focusing on constant building. We are in full swing of the digital age and there seems to be a new piece of technology introduced daily that magically solves all of our problems. So, companies try implementing every new piece of technology that hits the market, believing it to be the silver bullet that will help them be more successful. In reality, if you don’t get a full adoption rate from employees, or if it hasn’t been designed to fit your tech stack, it’s ultimately going to be a waste of time, effort and energy, ultimately costing you way more money in the long run.
Building the new plan requires buy-in from the team. Once the plan is created, and everybody has agreed to the design, it becomes a self-policing team. They are fully bought in, and protecting the plan is a top priority because everyone is bought in. This is why transparency and simplicity are key. If something comes up that isn’t part of the plan, the team will be able to identify it and shut it down. This type of accountability becomes part of the culture, which only increases employee loyalty and productivity. It also removes higher level leaders from the day-to-day management so they instead can focus on growing the company and pushing towards the overarching vision.
Using these two strategies, I’ve been able to guide organizations to new heights of success, and build an engaged and excited company culture along the way. When your team sees and understands the straightforward—and successful—way you make decisions as a leader, buy-in from the team comes naturally.