“On the Road of Life there are Passengers and there are Drivers. Drivers Wanted.”
– Volkswagen Slogan, c. 1995.
Several years ago, I was speeding down the freeway with my wife. Truth be told, driving my car faster than the speed limit could be any day of my life. On this occasion, however, she had become unnerved enough to ask me, “Why are you driving so fast?” My response was immediate: “Because we’re going somewhere.” No sarcasm was intended.
I’ve never been one for waiting: lines, freeways, restaurants, you name it. Miss Manners’ advice aside, you might say that I’ve lived as if “Impatience were a virtue.” Within the bounds of reason and ethics, I’m a firm believer that when something is deeply important, you ought to charge toward it free of unnecessary hesitation.
I’m aware that this carries risks: (A) Not everyone prefers to move as quickly as me, and it can alienate the good people on my team; (B) Even those who like to move fast need to understand where we are going and why; and (C) There is always the possibility – however slight I might think – that my fast pace is unwarranted, that the “destination” does not warrant my speed, or that I may be headed very quickly in the wrong direction.
Below are some of the practices and tools that I have deployed over the years to allow me to live as if “Impatience were a Virtue.”
Articulate Your Vision
My wife laughed when I said, “because we’re going somewhere,” but in business, flip responses don’t work. If you don’t describe your destination, your employees might abandon ship.
Vision is one of your chief responsibilities as CEO. This doesn’t apply only to the attractive job of defining the Vision. Rather, it equally encompasses the obligation to describe it fully to the people upon whom you rely for success. They must be able to visualize the steps you will encounter along the way, what it will take to achieve your Vision, and why the destination is worth the effort.
Those who have worked for me know that I am a believer in setting big goals. Goals that sometimes made the sales force say, “Ugh.” I never pulled these out of thin air – there was always a solid financial justification for them, and a handsome reward for those who helped get us there. I was always careful, however, to explain why the goal was important and what attaining it would mean for them and us.
Furthermore, I didn’t just tell them what I needed them to do, I’d show them how. For example, when I committed my last business to achieving KPIs and attachment rates on key products that no company in our market had ever yet attained – something that would make us AT&T’s highest-rated Authorized Retail Chain by a long shot – I walked the leadership through the logic and what I thought it would take to get it done. Finally, I made sure they appreciated the tremendous financial and strategic benefit to them and the company, and made it meaningful to them.
It was a fast, bumpy ride, but before we embarked everyone understood why we were acting so boldly. Knowing the path, the amount of traffic to expect, and why the destination was so desirable made our speed more palatable, and maintained the team’s confidence through repeated rounds of success.
Surround Yourself with Drivers
There’s a caveat here, of course. When tasking someone to clear a minefield, you probably wouldn’t choose your fastest driver.
You should, in fact, have more deliberate, measured individuals in key roles throughout your organization – where attentiveness to detail and accuracy are in high demand. If, however, you aspire to rapid growth – if you want to arrive somewhere you’ve never been – you need plenty of “drivers.”
Race car drivers probably don’t complain about the speed their vehicle is traveling when they’re the passengers. They are used to going somewhere quickly, and they know what a car feels like when it’s being capably steered.
In your company, rapid growth will always involve some degree of upheaval, and no shortage of what Jim Collins called “calibrated risks.” Planned and executed correctly, the headwinds won’t hurt you, but everyone will feel them. Some people can more naturally handle this, and you need them in key roles, especially your sales leadership. If you have ever found yourself being tugged away from your “Huge Outrageous Targets” by your own salespeople, you may not have drivers in these critical roles.
At CEO Coaching International, we use a special diagnostic from TTI Success Insights, rooted in the behavioral sciences, that helps us align the right people with the needs of any given role. It provides invaluable insights into which people on your team are Faster-Paced (“Drivers”) vs. Slower-Paced (“Passengers”), and therefore more or less open to risk and change. The tool similarly reveals who is Task-Focused for getting things done, and People-Oriented for opening new customer doors or encouraging others to join. Surrounding yourself with the correct mix of Faster-Paced Task-Focused and People-Oriented leaders in key positions will ensure that you have a team that will stay with you for the ride.
Have a Navigation System
This ought to be obvious. In my example from the beginning of this article, I would not be exceeding the speed limit through thick fog on an unfamiliar freeway.
However, our Faster-Paced profiles will sometimes cause us to drive on unfamiliar roads as if it were part of our everyday route. We may think that “we’ve seen this story before,” but as Game of Thrones taught us, sometimes the main character is unexpectedly killed in the second-to-last episode of the season. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that every story ends the same as the last one, or the last one hundred.
The best navigation system in your business is a scorecard that tracks your outcomes, the leading indicators/KPIs that measure your trends, and the frequency and consistency of the leading activities that produce those indicators and outcomes. If your company is performing the activities and producing the indicators, you are likely on the road to your outcome and should feel comfortable with your fast pace. However, if your company is not performing the activities or they aren’t generating the needed KPIs, you need to slow down and ask questions. This scorecard is your “early warning system.”
Another important point here: once you build your navigation system, hire the right navigator. Hint: if you believe “impatience is a virtue,” it’s not you. This person should be similarly Fast-Paced and share your sense of urgency, or else there will be tension between you. However, your navigator should be slightly more Task-Focused than you, and therefore likelier to be more attentive to details.
Ensure Effective Communication
As suggested above, you can’t have drivers everywhere. Your team needs more detail-attentive members – those who avoid risk and mistakes – in key roles like finance and operations. However, if you are moving quickly, expect them occasionally to be unnerved. They may also frustrate you as they communicate information less quickly than you prefer. If your tendency to move fast causes you to avoid interaction with those who slow you down, or causes them to avoid giving you news or information because of the difference in your paces and styles, you are putting yourself at a serious disadvantage.
As a leader, I used the same TTI tool to guide my communication with those who didn’t naturally operate at my speed. A case in point was Dinesh, an excellent employee and highly valuable member of the operations leadership, responsible for store readiness at 600 locations. Every morning, Dinesh would come to my office and proceed to share a story that felt like him taking 10 minutes to tell me that he “had no news.” My Faster-Paced nature was agitated, yet I couldn’t afford to demotivate a key member of the team. Dinesh’s Slower-Paced, Task-Focused orientation was a perfect match for his responsibilities, and I couldn’t risk allowing my active mind to drown out what might be important news.
Being familiar with Dinesh’s TTI profile, I offered him some advice. “Dinesh, when you come into my office,” I told him, “start with the headline.” This gave me options: I could tell him, “Interesting, tell me more;” “Interesting, but I’m slammed, can you come back after 2pm?” or “Don’t worry Dinesh, I didn’t expect you to have an answer so quickly.”
If something is important to you, if you truly believe it is attainable and you are able to craft a vision, strategy and plan around it, why would you pursue it slowly?
Impatience is a virtue. It can impel you to think big and work hard to achieve your goals. It will also frequently get you there before your competition, and therefore give you a big advantage.
Impatience can come with blind spots, though: it can make the good people around you uncomfortable and demotivated; it can cause communication breakdowns within your company; and without an “early warning system,” driving at anything too quickly can lead to costly mistakes. Follow the straightforward tips in this article, and feel more secure about keeping your “Drivers Wanted” mentality.
Chris Larkins is a Partner at CEO Coaching International, a long-time active member of YPO, and has led large and complex businesses in retail, consumer services and manufacturing.
About CEO Coaching International
CEO Coaching International works with the world’s top entrepreneurs, CEOs, and companies to dramatically grow their business, develop their people, and elevate their overall performance. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 500 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 25 countries. Every coach at CEO Coaching International is a former CEO or President that has made big happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $1 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight and nine figure exits. CEOs and entrepreneurs working with CEO Coaching International for three years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 66.4% during their time as a client, more than five times the national average. For more information, please visit: https://www.