leadership and execution

Last week I had the privilege of participating in a CEO group session led by Dan Barnett.  (Dan Barnett has headed companies for some of the world’s leading corporations including Nestle, Pillsbury, and Constellation Brands.  He now serves as a Vistage chair and speaker.)

I learned a lot from Dan’s talk, “Make of Break Execution — The Core of Success.”  His thesis is that “the best leaders have both a clear vision and an eye for the operating detail that will make or break that vision. Lack of vision will result in a business that spins its wheels. And yet even the best vision will go nowhere in the face of poor execution. The big struggle for most leaders is how to do both.”

Unfortunately Dan’s materials aren’t available online and I couldn’t do justice to the presentation if I tried to summarize the points, but I thought I’d at least share with you some soundbites from the day:

  • Successful leadership is about “no vision too distant; no detail too small.” That is, a leader shouldn’t be afraid to lay out a bold, far-reaching vision; yet, he/she shouldn’t overlook the details that are critical to getting there.  The best leaders drive their company’s “make or break” (the one thing that must be done extraordinarily well to achieve the company’s vision) at the detail level.
  • Do first things first; do second things never. Focus on what’s most important and don’t allow yourself to get distracted by everything else.
  • Once something is a result, it’s over. Dan made this point in reference to the importance most leaders mistakenly place on monitoring results.  Results, Dan explained, look backward — P&Ls for example tell you what happened last month.  Activities, on the other hand, look forward – they’re leading indicators of results.  The focus should be on measuring and managing the activities that cause your sales to happen.  E.g., if your sales team fails to make its target number of calls this week and your business has a 6 month sales cycle, you should be able to predict the level of sales loss 6 months in the future (and do something about it while you still can) — instead of finding yourself 6 months down the road wondering why you missed your sales target.
  • Poor execution will eat good strategy for lunch everyday. No explanation needed.

Thanks, Dan!

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