A business is either progressing measurably, or it is
regressing. If you don’t know the level of your business
fitness, or if you are not content with modest progress
or growth, then it is time to re-visit your priorities
and examine them thoroughly. One clear measure is that
when partners, owners, or other leaders report that business
is flat, they are describing a company that is prematurely
aging, a company that lacks fitness.
The most effective way to tune-up and recalibrate your
business fitness is to conduct an annual assessment and
diagnosis. An annual checkup links to most business cycles
and refreshes the strategic plan.
But, this step alone will not create change or address
problems. You must take action to restore and maintain
business fitness. You may be a leader who cites financial
constraints, improper staffing and sheer fear as barriers
to tackling your mission critical and your strategic and
tactical problems. These legitimate concerns can immobilize
most business people, resulting in a failure to pursue
lucrative opportunities. However, entrepreneurs who are
rigorous about fitness will introduce or get help to establish
processes that can convert a seemingly impossible condition
to one that responds to innovative solutions.
In your last honest business checkup, did you properly
identify your most significant strategic and tactical problems?
Were the results prioritized by level of impact? What prevented
you and your organization from resolving the prioritized
issues on a scheduled, measured basis? Interestingly, when
business leaders were asked to identify their most pressing
strategic issues over the last four years, the answers
were predictable. Eighty percent of surveyed CEO’s
from small to mid-sized businesses reports that this year’s
most critical strategic issue was last year’s as
well. A staggering 60-70% confirms that the same issue
was identified two years ago, and 40-60% has faced the
same issue for three or more years.
When you correctly identify your highest impact issue
and embark on a course to address it, you are likely to
encounter resistance from various stakeholders. To minimize
this resistance, you need to engage your stakeholders in
a process of enrollment to achieve the required buy-in.
From the outset, involve your stakeholders in prioritizing
the issues, implementing a disciplined approach to problem-solving,
measuring your progress, celebrating your victories, and
sharing the rewards.
A characteristic of leadership rarely discussed by either
academicians or one-minute management gurus is Endurance,
with a capital E. Endurance is the quality that separates
business leaders who are highly successful in the long
run from those who sweat through cash flow crises year
after year. The latter realize too late that they are operating “lifestyle
businesses,” which means proceeding without a clear
vision or realizing only portions of that vision, content
to accept small growth while margins erode to minimally
The good news is that endurance is a non-genetic dimension
of leadership that successful leaders have developed over
the years by mastering the three critical domains of Leadership
Fitness. Leaders who accelerate their development of endurance
realize their visions more quickly and sustain them. Let’s
examine these three domains.
1. Visionary Endurance. Every dynamic
business operates with a healthy sense of entrepreneurship.
As an entrepreneur, your mandate is to develop, articulate,
and sustain an enduring vision for the company. Over time,
the expression of your vision will change, but the essence
- the spirit - of your vision will endure. Crafting vision
is more challenging to master for some than for others.
For some, it takes practice and permission to be excused
from daily routines in order to spend time in the “rare
air,” imagining the future and considering the possibilities
with unbounded delight. Visionary leaders spend, on average,
30 to 60 minutes a day in the “rare air.” This
activity, emphatically, is different from problem solving.
Some make it a daily activity, some weekly, others periodically
retreat to the “rare air.” How often do you
permit yourself to experience the “rare air?”
2. Personal Leadership Endurance. Business
leaders are expected to “show up” physically,
emotionally and intellectually. Do not delude yourself!
All eyes are on you, constantly. You set the tone for your
business every single day. Your business reacts to your
moods, your considerations, your appearance, and your actions.
Every variance triggers an organizational ripple.
Durable leaders recognize this dynamic which is why they
commit to periodic personal tune-ups. Most maintain a regular
physical fitness regime. If you feel that you lack self-discipline
and/or motivation to stick with a fitness program, you
might consider retaining a personal fitness trainer to
help create focus and rigor. Research shows a direct correlation
between your level of physical conditioning and the resulting
level of energy available to apply to business and relationships.
Durable leaders also monitor nutrition and avoid, or at
least moderate, consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages
that cause sluggishness and mood swings.
Leading a business generates a unique level of stress
which can be better managed with annual physicals and opted
downtime. Leadership durability is advanced by regenerating
energy on a regular basis, by taking time off for weekend
retreats or perhaps by observing a day of silence in the
mountains or by the sea. Durable leaders recognize the
value of periodically taking off several weeks at a time
when, untethered from business, they can embark on a challenging
or relaxing first-time adventure. Notice, this is considerably
different from a three-day conference in Las Vegas. It
can be humbling, yet enlightening, to return from one of
these adventures to discover how well your business survived
your absence. When fit, a durable leader is far more effective
at fulfilling leadership responsibilities, more available
in relationships, and more capable of dealing with shareholders,
employees, and customers.
3. Interpersonal Endurance. Business
leaders need to develop the competence that enables them
to sustain enduring relationships with partners, employees
and customers. Individuals whose skills in interpersonal
fitness are underdeveloped often view dialogue as an uncomfortable,
even unnatural, act. They may feel inept, perhaps delegating
interpersonal contact to assistants, spouses, or to the
HR department in order to avoid engaging in direct communications.
Sadly, there is an epidemic of direct communication avoidance
in today's business environment occurring at a time when
the climate demands potent interpersonal relationships.
Durable leaders generate respect and loyalty in their relationships,
characterized by straight and explicit dialogue. They reveal
their concerns and their considerations, and they elicit
those from others. They constantly facilitate commitment
and agreement, thus inspiring employees to deliver results.
Interpersonal fitness can be challenging for some to acquire,
yet it can be learned and developed.
Not all leaders are born with endurance. Facing and surviving
uncommon challenges strengthens leaders and their organizations.
They attain levels of fitness that equip them to survive
future challenges. Leaders at the helm of fit businesses
attend to all facets of their endurance by developing and
refining visionary fitness, physical fitness, and interpersonal
Whether your business performs like a finely-engineered
machine revving in neutral, a sluggish engine ascending
a never-ending hill, or yes, an engine running on all cylinders,
scheduling annual tune-ups is an essential business practice
for leaders who want to maximize their opportunities for
Richard Yocum is the owner and managing director of
Argosy International, LLC, a consulting firm headquartered
Ellicott City, MD. Mr. Yocum is a nationally recognized executive coach,
facilitator and specialist in organizational development.
He is also an accomplished Himalayan trekker, and has developed
a six-month Leadership Fitness Program that combines business
fitness tools with advanced leadership development, and
a breath-taking trek through Bhutan’s famous Himalayan
Mountains. He can be reached by telephone at 410-461-2998
or by e-mail to richard@ArgosyLeaders.com.
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