As we headed into the holiday season, I encouraged the CEOs, presidents and owners I work and interact with to make time to rest and recharge.
2020 was a strange and especially stressful year for many of us. And I think we can all benefit from making self-care a higher priority as we start off the new year.
This will benefit us certainly, and also our leadership teams, companies and communities.
One excellent resource is a book I use with CEOs that represents, what I believe, is the missing link for CEOs of mid-sized growth companies.
Written by my colleague, senior Gravitas Impact coach, Kevin Lawrence in Vancouver BC, Your Oxygen Mask First is a breakthrough in the art of leadership, self-management AND self-care.
We can find dozens of fantastic books and tools to learn the nuts and bolts of growing a successful company. And there are a few methodologies, like our Scaling Up method and 7 Attributes of Agile Growth, that bring many of those essential tools together to make them more accessible for mid-size companies. However, the missing link is the CEO factor: the leader themselves and their skills for taking care of themselves first, so they can take better care of their people and their business.
Your Oxygen Mask First makes clear that it’s a myth that CEOs can build successful companies sustainably by putting everyone else first. In truth, this leads to burn-out and tragedy. It’s a dirty secret we need to talk about.
Kevin wrote Your Oxygen Mask First based on the experiences and tools he gained over 20 years as a coach and advisor.
The book covers the 17 habits Kevin has tried and tested for leaders to lead well AND take care of themselves, so they have a great company AND a great life. I highly recommend it to any CEO, president or executive leader.
Book: 231 pgs, 3h46m audio. Find the book, ebook and audible book here.
Are you ready to grow a great top team, company and life?
Try our complimentary Growth Fitness Self-Assessment to find out where you, your leadership team and company shine and where you could improve in order to grow, improve profitability, consistency and your quality of life.
2020 will go down in the history books...the world’s history books, and our own business and personal history books.
We navigated a pandemic, an early lockdown, a reopening, a summer season where we made the most of being outdoors, the anxiety of kids going back to school, a partial lockdown, and now a uniquely isolated holiday season...all while readjusting every few weeks to the evolving requirements of staying safe and keeping others safe.
It’s been tough on your family, on your leaders and your staff. And, let’s face it, it’s been tough on us as owners and CEOs as well.
Prolonged, intense, invisible stress
All that stress flowing through our bodies for extended periods of time - hours, days, sometimes weeks on end - is hard on the body.
We may not realize it. We may be numb to it.
That’s by design. When we’re in a state of intense stress, our body fills us with the chemicals needed to keep going and fight the battle - adrenaline and cortisol.
This can also numb our emotions and our body sensations. So we don’t even know what toll it’s taking until we slow down.
For some of us, myself included, slowing down is hard. So we maybe haven’t yet actually felt how we’re doing.
Here’s the rub. We can’t keep it up over the long haul.
Our bodies only have a limited amount of adrenaline to draw from. As we use it up, it contributes to aging. We lose energy and our ability to respond in challenging situations.
There’s a name for this: Adrenal Fatigue...also called exhaustion.
And here’s the thing. The battle isn’t over.
2021 won’t be magically better
Obviously, we all want to continue to move our businesses forward, improve, grow, and build something great.
But this pandemic also isn’t over. Yes, a vaccine is starting to be distributed in Canada. Yet, the process and the uncertainties that go along with it means there’s still a long road ahead until we’re out of the woods.
McKinsey & Company’s latest report of their ongoing meta-study forecasts that “the United States will most likely reach an epidemiological end to the pandemic (herd immunity) in Q3 or Q4 2021”. There’s no real reason Canada should expect it any sooner.
There will be more challenges, more evolving restrictions to adjust to, and the continuing need to manage the risk of COVID-19 in our workplaces and homes.
This means demand uncertainty, supply-chain variability and internal operational risks will continue for some time.
So, while we may be happily turning the page on a tough year, the brutal facts are that 2021 is likely to be pretty challenging as well.
We have to recharge!
This holiday season is that time to slow down, feel how we’re actually doing, and give those adrenal glands a break to restore their proper function.
We may be disappointed that we won’t get to see extended family or friends over the Christmas break. But there’s a silver lining. That gives us the space to get some time to ourselves.
The best cure for fatigue...sleep! And lots of it. Naps. Quiet time. Long baths or dips in the hot tub. Leisurely walks. Or just sitting still.
This is hard for us A types. But it’s essential. Our bodies, minds, resilience, effectiveness and strategic thinking depend on it… not to mention our families, businesses and communities.
This means putting everything off that isn’t absolutely necessary, including odd jobs around the house, personal research or getting our finances in order.
And what’s really necessary over the holidays?
Certainly, we’ll have family time, give gifts and connect with loved ones via video calls. But the work at the office will still be there when we get back after New Year’s Day. It’s not going anywhere. We won’t misplace it or forget what there is to do.
Let’s take this time between Christmas and New Year’s to put ourselves first, so we can be at our best for 2021.
Happy holidays to all my clients, colleagues, friends and acquaintances.
And above all, Merry Recharging!
Are you ready to grow a great top team, company and life?
Try our Growth Fitness Self-Assessment to find out where you, your leadership team and company shine and where you could improve in order to grow, improve profitability, consistency and your quality of life.
In the 9 years I’ve been an independent coach and advisor, I’ve seen many companies that grow to a certain point and, despite all their best efforts, can’t seem to grow beyond that.
I’ve also seen companies that do continue to grow but become less and less profitable, and more and more stressful for the owner or CEO.
Turns out this isn’t just my experience. It’s a very common pattern.
Growth isn’t common
Out of the roughly 28 million firms in the US, only about 1.1 million (4%) have surpassed a million in revenue. Only 112,000 (0.4%) have gotten past $10 million. And only 17000 (.06%) have grown beyond $50 million.
The reason is that companies need to operate differently as they grow. Companies that don’t adapt how they operate will tend to grow to the limits of that way of operating.
Owners, presidents and CEOs who have had success getting to a certain point often tend to repeat what they know, thinking “well, it got us here.” But as the title of a book by coaching master Marshall Goldsmith goes, “what got you here won’t get you there”.
The structures, systems and processes to grow
The changes needed for a growing company are driven by the added complexity that comes with having more employees. Think simply of how going from 1 to 4 employees makes the number of relationships between individuals increase from 1 to 10. This complexity continues exponentially as the company grows from 10 to 25 to 50, 100, 200 employees or more.
To predictably achieve results within this growing complexity, a certain level of order is needed. Structures, systems, processes create that order in companies. And the systems needed to create order in the complexity of a 200 person organization are different than that of a 100, 50, 25 or 10 person organization.
Some examples of structure and systems changes needed at different stages include*:
Hitting the ceiling, valleys of death
Any company within one stage will usually hit a ceiling if they keep doing things the same way they have until now.
Companies that don’t make the right changes, or aren’t successful in making those changes, will fall into what we call a “valley of death”.
Valleys of death are where the leadership makes big investments, but they don’t work out. So the company doesn’t move beyond that stage. It can also fall backward in terms of revenue and often profitability because of the failed investments. Worst case, it can lead to company failure if its strength in the market is compromised as a result.
Some companies grow despite not making the changes needed for the next stage. With dramatic demand growth, or sheer grit, they’ll grow. However, these companies often become more and more inefficient with the increasing complexity and resulting disorder. And so the company’s profitability will decrease, sometimes significantly.
Unless exceptionally well funded, with investors willing to accept short to mid term losses for a longer term windfall, the decreasing profitability and resulting cash flow challenges will eventually prevent the company from investing in the systems to grow and grow profitability. And so growth will stall. And one can count on drama, stress and headaches being the overarching theme for the leaders in this scenario.
So what stops a company from making the right changes and improvements to grow successfully and profitably?
The leadership team is the linchpin
From these stages and examples of key changes, we can see early in a company’s life - by about 25 employees - that an owner or CEO has to learn to get results from people through other managers. That means the changes and improvements they make will depend on the managers working with the owner or CEO… the leadership team.
And, very often, leadership team members in mid-size companies are working in silos and at cross purposes. They are also often too focused on the day-to-day and the big projects to move the company forward often don’t get done or aren’t done right.
The result is the company doesn’t identify or successfully implement the right structures, systems and processes to handle the increasing complexity of a growing company.
An always-evolving leadership team
The challenge of having an effective leadership team continues through the life of the company. New leaders come and go. Markets evolve. Systems need to change. And therefore the capabilities of the leaders as well.
The CEO's crucial underlying challenge to profitable growth is therefore to build, maintain and continuously improve a great top team (management team, leadership team, executive team) that is highly capable, aligned, leading and executing effectively and efficiently, and therefore minimizing silos and strengthening execution between and across departments. Essentially working as one unit to move the company forward. Because it's too much for the owner CEO to do it alone, or at least effectively and sanely. More about that in my next article.
What structures, systems and processes do you need to work on?
To find out what structures, systems and processes you and your leadership team could improve or implement to grow more easily, quickly and profitability, try our complimentary Agile Growth Checklist. This self-service questionnaire takes 5 to 10 minutes to complete. You'll receive the checklist with your responses immediately. Within 24 hours, you'll receive a compiled report highlighting how your company is doing in each of the 7 areas needed to produce more rapid, profitable and sustainable growth - including what areas to improve. This report is complimentary and involves no obligation.
*These examples of structures, systems and processes are drawn my own experience over my last 16 years coaching, facilitating and advising, and from the 7 Stages of Growth research: a 6-year study of entrepreneurial companies in the Front Range and Silicon Valley including interviews with over 700 CEOs to understand and decipher the patterns, the behaviors and the characteristics of growth in entrepreneurial enterprises. This research was led by James Fischer, Founder of Origin Institute, a research and consulting company out of Boulder, CO.
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