June 2011

Investment Advice for Business Leaders

Climbing the Walls – Investment Advice for Business Leaders

By: Christopher Reese, www.cra-llc.us

All businesses that have been around any amount of time get there. The plateau. The wall.

I’ve been there more than once.

It’s easy to blame the economy or any number of outside circumstances.

Sounds like a good rationalization. By the numbers, the economy is in the tank. However, the reality is that many successful businesses were either started or had explosive growth during economic downturns. Hyatt, Burger King, IHOP, FedEx, Microsoft, CNN, MTV Networks, GE, and HP were all born during severe economic slumps. Other companies like Google, PayPal, and Salesforce.com, while not started during down economic cycles saw explosive growth during the early 2000s laying the foundation for the dominant positions they are in today.

More often than not, the real issue when a business stagnates is that the business has caught up to the level of its leadership. This does not necessarily mean that the current leadership must be removed or reorganized. It does mean that something has to change. It is simply reality that no organization can sustain itself beyond its leaderships’ capacity, thinking, or competence to lead. Whether or not a leadership team must be changed is a matter of an organization’s goals and values, but regardless of the team, a leader must always be growing. If you are not growing, you are the limiting factor.

Einstein said it this way, “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.”

John Maxwell calls this “The Law of the Lid.”

The bottom line is that if the business is to grow again, the leadership must grow first.

So, are you growing? When was the last time you made an investment in yourself or your leadership team? What was the last non-fiction book you read? Been to any leadership or professional development workshops lately? What peer or mentor groups are you a part of? What are you actively doing to grow leaders in your organization?

A wise man once told me, “Success leaves clues.”

There are several sources of good business books. Businessweek publishes their “Business School Summer Reading List.” Inc. Magazine has a monthly book review. I also use the Soundview Executive Book Summaries. If the summary grabs me, I will usually buy the book. While this is not a free service, it allows me to leverage my time and stay on top of potential resources.

Remember not to be selfish. Share a great read or resource with your team. Something I’ve done is a leadership book club open to anyone in the organization. These are typically at 7 AM once a week and last 6 or 8 weeks depending on the book. The day we meet also varies based upon what other projects we have going during that period. Participation is voluntary, but everyone is clear that this is off the clock. Like any other book club, we have a weekly reading assignment from the book. During our meetings we discuss what we read and any insight gained into our own organization. Not only does this get more people thinking like leaders, it broadens their perspective and gives them ownership of ideas we apply. Here are just a few of my standards:

  • NUTS! – Freiberg & Freiberg
  • Good to Great – Collins
  • How the Mighty Fall – Collins
  • Leadership and Self-Deception – Arbinger
  • The 21 Irrifutable Laws of Leadership – Maxwell
  • Making Ideas Happen – Belsky
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Covey

Quality leadership workshops are great too. I’m not talking about motivational retreats. While that is often an indirect effect, the workshops I’m talking about get down to the challenges faced by leaders of any organization. Inc. Magazine has regular business leader summits with keynotes from relevant business leaders. Dave Ramsey’s Entreleadership workshops are also excellent. The Entreleadership program grew out of the leadership gap that developed as Ramsey’s business grew. Dave and his core leaders put together a training program to teach their own internal, budding leaders the principles on which they built their business and develop them into the kind of leaders they want in their organization. Soon employees’ spouses started attending, and before long Dave had more non-employees at the workshops than employees. That’s how the workshop turned into a business in and of itself. Now it’s a great program for any organization. They have an inexpensive one-day intro workshop and a week-long Master Series program.

Get a business coach or mentor. No, this is not a glorified therapist for entrepreneurs. While they may have a background in psychology, many have solid business and management backgrounds. Their job, like an athletic coach or trainer, is to help you define your goals, then guide you and hold you accountable to the things that will help you achieve them. I have never read of an athlete competing at the top of his or her sport without a coach. Why would business be different? Leadership can be a lonely place. If you don’t have a board member you can lean on for advice, encouragement, or just an ear, you owe it to yourself to find a mentor or business coach. SCORE is an excellent starting point to find a mentor or coach in your area, and it’s free. (www.score.org)

Too often as leaders, we allow ourselves to get comfortable. It has been my experience that a person is either growing or getting left behind. By making an investment to grow yourself as a leader, you will gain perspective to evaluate what you need to do or stop doing to grow your business and keep it relevant in the marketplace. You also set the pace for your team.
Put in place an internal leadership development and mentoring program. By investing in your people, you will find they are a rich resource of ideas to keep your organization energized and overcome the challenges that inevitably come up.

You will probably not like everything you hear. I never have. In fact, I’ve had to face some pretty ugly truths that were holding me or my company back. However, if you allow yourself and your team to grow through it, I think you’ll be surprised how surmountable that wall becomes.

Christopher Reese is President of Christopher Reese & Associates, LLC and Cirrus Business Group. www.cra-llc.us