Top CEOs focus on five things: Vision, Cash, People, Key Business Relationships, and Learning. In this five-part series, I’m going to explore why these five focal points are the best uses of your valuable time, and how each can help Make BIG Happen for your business.
In business, taking time out to learn isn’t a luxury – it’s a matter of survival.
No matter what your company sells or what services it provides, the new global economy and the rapid pace of technological innovation put you at risk of being disrupted, sooner rather than later. If you’re not voracious in your appetite for learning, you won’t see what’s coming next until it eats you up and spits you out.
Here are four ways that successful CEOs keep their knowledge, and their businesses, on the cutting edge:
1. Unplug from your daily grind.
When he was still in charge of Microsoft, Bill Gates scheduled two “Think Weeks” every year, private retreats for him and him alone. No employees, no friends, no family – just total seclusion, and a stack of books and scientific papers covering a wide range of topics. Gates spent the entire week reading, learning, taking notes, and dreaming up the next big thing for Microsoft. Reportedly, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerburg picked up on this habit as well.
Maybe you don’t need a week in isolation, but you do need to step away from the daily grind of your business from time to time, take in the 30,000-foot view, and study what’s on the horizon.
Does that sound indulgent? It’s not. Vision for the company is your responsibility. If you don’t take time to refine and expand that vision, your company will stagnate, and eventually, flatline.
Does that sound impossible? Are you afraid your business can’t survive without you?
Bill Gates didn’t worry about leaving Microsoft for a week, because he had a team of A+ players working for him. You’re not running a startup totally dependent on you anymore. Micromanaging day-to-day operations isn’t your job. If you really can’t trust your employees to handle things while you’re focusing on top CEO responsibilities, then you don’t have the right employees.
2. Join organizations and attend conferences.
Groups like Entrepreneur’s Organization, Young Presidents Organization, Vistage, and The Executive Committee all help CEOs and entrepreneurs network, sharpen their games, and learn from their peers.
Think tanks can also be a great resource if you’re looking for new perspectives. Recently, I spent a week with YPO at Singularity University, whose mission is “to educate, inspire, and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.” Their insights on global tech trends really opened my eyes to how important it is that CEOs disrupt or die.
3. Break bread with your peers – including your competition.
As he grappled with the 2008 economic downturn, Rick Sapio of Mutual Capital Alliance (and now an advisor at CEO Coaching) bid on private lunches with six Texas billionaires to learn how they grew wealthy, and planned to stay that way during tough times. Rick was so blown away by what he learned that he kept seeking out these conversations; to date, he’s sat down with more than 40 billionaires.
My buddy Mohnish Pabrai bought a lunch on eBay with Warren Buffett for $650,000, figuring that the chance to learn and build a relationship with one of the greatest financial minds of our time was worth far more than that.
These examples might seem extreme, but the lesson is simple: successful CEOs are a great resource for other CEOs. These are men and women who have been in the trenches, just like you. Schedule a few lunches or coffee breaks every month with other CEOs to share war stories, lessons learned, best practices, and find ways to apply their successes to your own business. I even recommend that my clients meet up with their competitors for a friendly chat. A $100 dinner can turn into a golden ticket that helps you learn something new about what’s going on in your business space now, and what you need to do to stay ahead tomorrow.
4. Find a mentor or coach who will keep you on target.
As CEO, you have five jobs: creating a BIG vision for your company’s success, managing cash, hiring the absolute best people, cultivating key relationships, and learning as much as you can to keep your company ahead of the curve.
Your mastery of these five jobs sets the tone for your entire company. You will channel these high-level activities into a Huge, Outrageous Target (HOT) you want your company to hit. You’ll create actionable, measurable steps towards that HOT, and you’ll hold your employees accountable for their progress, or lack thereof.
But who holds you accountable? Who makes sure you’re putting your valuable time to the highest possible use? Who’s pushing you to do the hard things, like replacing a popular longtime employee who just doesn’t cut it anymore?
Your peers can offer you valuable perspectives they’ve gleaned from their own hits and misses. But you also need someone who’s right there with you, holding you to the same high standards to which you hold your team. You need someone you can learn from in the moment, not just after the fact.
If you don’t have a mentor or C-Suite colleague who keeps you on the ball, then hire a CEO coach. Working with a good coach is like looking in the mirror at who you really are. The coach will point out your blind spots and help you become a better leader who executes and performs more efficiently.
Most importantly, a coach can do for you what you do for your company: keep you focused on the activities that will hit your HOT, and make BIG happen.
About Mark Moses
Mark Moses is the Founding Partner of CEO Coaching International and the Amazon Bestselling author of Make Big Happen. His firm coaches over 150 of the world’s top high-growth entrepreneurs and CEO’s on how to dramatically grow their revenues and profits, implement the most effective strategies, becoming better leaders, grow their people, build accountability systems, and elevate their own performance. Mark has won Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and the Blue Chip Enterprise award for overcoming adversity. His last company ranked #1 Fastest-Growing Company in Los Angeles as well as #10 on the Inc. 500 of fastest growing private companies in the U.S. He has completed 12 full distance Ironman Triathlons including the Hawaii Ironman World Championship 5 times.