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Successful CEOs do this well. What’s one thing you work on in your company?

CEO Coaching International

A CEO’s daily to-do list is never just about today. Your attention is constantly shifting between “now” and “next,” between what your company needs to hit short-term targets and how hitting those targets is building momentum toward long-term goals.

But until AI actually creates more hours in a day, it’s essential that CEOs appreciate the differences and overlaps between vision and execution. Without that balance, you risk wasting the one resource your company can never buy more of: your time.

1. Focus on the future.

Much more than you’re an executive or an officer, as CEO you’re the company’s visionary. That might sound heady, but thinking BIG is a very real responsibility. Everything your company does, at every level, should be oriented around your vision for success.

So: What do you want?

You can’t Make BIG Happen if you don’t have a clear picture of what BIG looks like. You need to set that target so that you can work backward and develop a strategic plan around it.

You want 10X sales growth in five years?

OK, that leads to our second BIG question: What do you have to do?

What are the specific, measurable, and actionable steps that every level of your organization has to take this year, every quarter, every month, every week, and every day to get you to your goal? How many new widgets or service subscriptions do you need to sell? How many cold calls do your salespeople need to make? How much raw material do you need to buy to ramp up production? How many social media clicks do you need to convert?

In addition to establishing the processes that will be the backbone of your plan, clarity of vision will also help you answer our third BIG question: What could get in the way?

Visionaries don’t just see success, they also anticipate problems, such as potential disruptions from AI or key team members who might not be able to scale their skills to match your ambitions. If you don’t have a plan in place to cope with challenges you can anticipate, then you’re not going to have the flexibility you need to face challenges you can’t anticipate, like a global pandemic or the Fed’s latest move on interest rates.

2. Execute in the present.

To strengthen the bridge between your future planning and your daily execution, CEOs need to answer our fourth BIG question: How are you going to hold yourself and your company accountable?

Start by ensuring you have the absolute best people working for you. As CEO Coaching International’s Jim Weaver once told a struggling client, “You can’t have a company where B- performance is tolerated.” If you can’t coach up B players, they’re just going to drag your A players down to their level.

And Cs? Why are they working for you in the first place?

Those standards are even more important in the C-suite. If you can’t delegate day-to-day operations to your COO, if you can’t trust your CFO to keep the company in the black, then you need to replace them immediately. Again, maintaining a dual focus between today and tomorrow is an essential CEO responsibility. You can’t keep one eye on the road ahead if you spend all day down in the muck, trying to keep the wheels spinning.

The stronger you push accountability as a core company value, the less time you’ll have to spend looking over your employees’ shoulders. Put BIG scoreboards and dashboards in the middle of the office that track progress toward KPIs. Use the company’s meeting rhythm to reinforce the importance of upcoming targets and who’s responsible for what by when. Identify problems early and pivot to solutions quickly. Have daily huddles with your C-suite and key team managers to make sure everyone is charging in the right direction. Schedule regular employee reviews so team leaders can celebrate wins and provide constructive feedback. Offer your support and empower your best people to do their best work. Maintain oversight, delegate the rest.

If, in the planning stages, you and your team effectively identified KPIs and tasks that will propel your company to BIG, then your effective management of operations today is, effectively, managing success for tomorrow. And a company that’s humming on all cylinders doesn’t need the CEO micromanaging every detail. That gives you more time to sit back down in your visionary seat so that you can devote some time to learning, anticipating, and dreaming up your company’s next BIG leap.

3. Adapt to your company’s needs.

CEOs who answer the Make BIG Happen questions and follow our system will almost default to operations where achieving long-term goals is integrated into exceptional short-term execution. Maintain that high level of execution, and you’ll get a little closer to BIG every day.

But there will be times during the company’s trajectory when the CEO will have to shift more time — and, often, more resources — towards either the present or the future.

At the Startup Stage, the long-term goal might be surviving until next month. It’s not unusual for new entrepreneurs to devote 60-70% of their time to present execution and meeting demand to ensure the company has a future to plan for.

At a key Growth Stage, most CEOs aim for a 50-50 balance. As that growth accelerates, present execution might rise to 55% so that the company doesn’t “grow broke.”

And at the Mature Stage, when a company has dependable executives and managers, an expanding customer base, stable supply chains, and sales pipelines, and a strong culture of accountability, the CEO should feel comfortable spending 60% or more of their time on future strategy. This is often an ideal stage for the CEO to conduct tests, identify potential M&A targets, or fill in their next-gen org chart with top talent.

Of course, in between those major milestones, CEOs have to be prepared to react, adapt, and adjust their focus to the business’ needs. In the moment, that can be a major challenge. Born visionaries might struggle to find their footing if they have to pivot to crisis mode and put out a fire. Strong managers might arrive at a major crossroads ahead of schedule and suffer analysis paralysis.

Assembling a team of A players who complement your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses goes a long way toward letting the CEO do what he or she does best when the company needs it the most. Self-reflection, 360-degree reviews, and coaching can also help CEOs improve their leadership in the moment as they prepare to lead in the future.

Of all the investments that you make into your business, your time is the most precious. Evaluate and reevaluate how you’re allocating that investment, and the return that you and your company are getting. Strengthen the connections between what you do today and where you want your company to be tomorrow and you’ll create a sustainable blueprint for Making BIG Happen again and again.

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