Important versus urgent, or how to be a better CEO?

About 5 weeks ago I wrote about my trip to Asia, and how I loved to travel, and promised you all some of my beauty travel tips. I’m sorry, but these will have to wait another week. The travel theme is still here – I am typing on the plane back to DC from Halifax. But what is top of mind, rather than beauty rituals, is the concept of scaling my business.

I have been thinking about this since the last Network of Entrepreneurial Women Breakfast Brainstorm during which Kathy Korman Frey spoke about women’s responsibilities for not just being business owners, but striving to grow our businesses to be bigger, better, more profitable. 

As the owner, founder, and CEO of a small business I am constantly pulled into a thousand directions. My greatest challenge is to remember to be the CEO first and foremost, and not just to put out fires and deal with urgent but non-important issues. After all, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to delegate more (link to New Year’s post please). This all comes back to the same issue – finding the time to strategize and scale.

And this all comes back to an airplane. I do some of my best thinking on airplanes (well, and some of my best sleeping!), probably because at 35,000 feet, none of the urgent but unimportant issues can bother me. So here I am on the plane, thinking about how I spend my days, and catching up on my reading. And in the March 2010 issue of Smart CEO Magazine, I find an article that I think is personally written for me, with me in mind, with my concerns of this morning in mind.

In this article (p. 24), Kenney Wexley of Wexley Consulting LLC and Douglas Strouse of Club of Baltimore have a top 10 list of reminders of what the major responsibilities of an effective CEO are. Thank you for the much needed reminder.

1.  Set the future direction of your business. Be a strategist. Think high-level. Think about the future. 3-5 years from now, not 3-5- months from now.

2.  Motivate your employees. Communicate your vision, be a leader, make them understand where you are taking them, and why.

3. Interact with your customers. Meet with your top 20 clients quarterly at least. Listen to what they need. Really listen.

4. Innovate. Launch new products, new services, do things differently. 5. Champion change. Understand the resistance to change and convince your team (and yourself?) change is for the better.

5. Build a team. Always hire people who are smarter than you are. (To paraphrase Jim Collins in my favorite book Good to Great, “get the right people on the bus”)

6. Execute. Great strategies (if you can at least get through Task #1 of this list) mean nothing without execution. Just like “location, location, location” is the mantra in real estate, “execute, execute, execute” is the mantra of the CEO.

7. Increase market value. Think top line, think bottom line, think about scale, and remember you are the champion of your shareholders.

8. Develop professionally. Hmm. Another thing that to me always seems important but non urgent, and that never takes priority over fighting fires. Maybe if I did better in that department there would be fewer fires to fight?

9. Communicate. Well, I am writing a blog, right? Does this count?

Launching a new business is all-consuming. Being a startup is challenging. But sometimes, being a small business trying to grow is hardest (let’s talk when we are a big company trying to get bigger…).

Today, on the plane, happy to not be stuck in a cloud of volcano smoke, I make the commitment to be a better CEO. And to focus on the strategically important issues, to focus on growth and scale, and to be a better leader.

With love,

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