When people ask me what I do for a living, I say that I help business leaders get what they want from their business. But I’ve found that most business leaders don’t really know what they want—other than some vague concept of growth, passing something on to their kids, or getting acquired. Maybe that’s why people look at me with a mix of bewilderment and intrigue when I tell them what I do.
Why is it so hard for leaders to know what they want to get out of their business? The answers are as varied as the leaders themselves, but the truth is that there is a direct correlation between the clarity of answering this question and the level of focus and cohesion that exists within the organization. A street-smart friend of mine has a saying that has always stuck with me. She says, “The key to anything in life is knowing what you want and what you’re willing to pay for it.”
What Is It You Really Want for Your Company?
Gaining clarity doesn’t come from gathering the leadership team in a room and crafting a nice set of Mission, Vision and Values statements. It requires a raw and vulnerable exploration of what we call “answering the 8 questions” which defines the organization and its leaders as their authentic selves. I’m speaking of a journey to discover who and what we are at a deep emotional level that guides and challenges every person to behave and perform consistently.
How many leaders do you know who are creating cultures based on the latest leadership book they’ve read, seminar they’ve attended or advice that they’ve gotten? In many cases these are examples of other people’s definition of clarity but there is only one “them” and there’s only one you.
What’s needed is a level of authenticity that cements the leadership team and ultimately the entire organization around a common understanding of why they have chosen to build their particular enterprise. Clarity comes from reaching a level of intentionality in every decision with absolute authenticity.
Why Do So Few Companies Succeed?
Another way of viewing this is through the lens of business failure. You’ve probably seen the dismal statistics: 50 percent of all businesses fail in the first five years; 66 percent of all businesses fail within ten years and 90 percent of all businesses don’t survive the second generation. Businesses fail at alarming rates because they get distracted by all the opportunities to fill the needs of potential markets. They have a vague understanding of who they are and what they can do so they try to be and do things that they’re not.
Successful companies operate out of a defined core set of Values and a Core Focus that allow them to be great in some defined way. This removes vagueness and drives out complexity. It provides an intentional way to add value by focusing very specifically on what they can do better than anyone else.
To succeed, clarify and define who you are as leaders. Surround yourself with people who share your values and passion to be great. Be intentional about every decision that you make through the lens of who, why, and what you do at your core.
I think my street-smart friend is on the right track, but I would modify her statement. Know who you are and what you want. The price we pay is our unwavering focus.