Category Archives: For CEOs & Board Members

Do You Suffer from Legacy Thinking?

Change is hard work. It is usually preceded by a crisis or challenge and represents a defining moment for each of us, especially if we are in a leadership position. Why? Simply put, effective leaders are responsible for results. And, in order to achieve the right results, they are often called upon to challenge the “status quo”. When that happens, the need to change is right around the corner.

When a leader is reluctant to challenge the status quo because they are “comfortable” with where they are and the results they are achieving, they are positioning themselves and their company to a future disaster. They mistakenly think that their current status quo will continue into the future “as is”. This is usually referred to as “legacy thinking” and a failure to recognize it can be deadly to any business—big or small. Continue reading

Putting Downtime to Good Use

Last Monday – July 14th – I was faced with the challenge of what to do with 4 hours of down time. My wife and I were trying to return home from a weekend in Jacksonville where we celebrated our identical twin granddaughter’s 1st birthday!

We arrived at the airport and learned we were scheduled for an “on time” departure at 11:40 am. At 4:10 pm, we boarded (for the second time) our plane for the trip home – wheels up at about 4:30 pm with our arrival in Newark at about 6:35 pm. All of this was weather related and to their credit, the United ground personnel in Jacksonville did a very good job keeping us informed.

So, while sitting in the airport, periodically checking e-mails I reverted back to my proven “old school” approach and took at my pad and began to think with pen in hand. During my “downtime” I was able to put together some thoughts for this Wake-Up Call dealing with (as you might suspect) making best use of the time you have to be successful. Here’s my (preliminary) list: Continue reading

Are You Hiring the Best Employees or Your Future Problems?

As the economic recovery begins to gain traction, employers – both big and small – will be in the hunt for new talent at all levels within their companies, up to and including the executive suite. The question is, will they hire the best people or future problems?

When hiring at any level, an employer – before they even sit opposite a prospective job candidate – should have the following information completed: Continue reading

Getting Back in the Game

Around this time of year, business owners are knee deep in summer fun (and they should be because they work hard). There are times when you have to take a break, recharge, and begin to plan for the future. It’s a proven fact that when you change your exterior surroundings and activities, your mind gets renewed!

Chris Ruisi Leadership Quote Business PlanningThe dilemma that many face is when they’re ready to “get back in the game”, they ask themselves, “Where do I start and what do I do first?” In most cases, they have no clear answer or path. The result: they waste valuable time and money doing the wrong things. Here is a list of steps that a business owner or leader can take to get the momentum going in the right direction to plan for their future and build a stronger business.
Continue reading

Are You a Confidence-Building Leader?

Back in March of this year, I wrote about quiet confidence. In that Wake-Up Call, I stated that quiet confidence means that you consistently believe in yourself – 100% – to the point where you know that success is the only outcome. Individuals who possess quiet confidence know exactly what they have to do to achieve their goals. In other words, they don’t talk about what they’re going to do; they let their actions (and results) speak for them. In many cases, individuals who practice quiet confidence possess a healthy dose of self-confidence and are in leadership roles.

Leadership quote self-confidence Chris RuisiSelf-confidence is the most important element of success. When you have it, you’re bold and are willing to take smart risks to keep moving forward. You are willing to question the “status quo” and try new approaches if that’s what it will take to be successful. When you are self-confident, you compete with yourself and avoid “trying to look good” at the expense of others. You are driven to do what’s right for your department or company.

However, if you’re a leader, then you have the responsibility to instill self-confidence in each of the members of your team – if you want your team to perform at an effective and productive level.  Unfortunately, some leaders don’t see instilling self-confidence in the members of their team as a necessary part of their role. This is too bad because individuals who have doubts about their abilities do not perform at 100%. Collectively, when individuals are not performing at their best, it drags down the performance (and results) of the entire team.

People gain self-confidence from not only their personal, but work experiences as well. It’s in how the leader responds and uses the work experience that gives them the greatest opportunity to build confidence within their team members.

Here are some of the ways a leader can pump up their team’s self-confidence…

  1. Create a meaningful vision and explain in the clearest possible way, where each team member fits into it so they know their “purpose”. When people know their purpose, they gain confidence in doing their job.
  2. From the vision and their understanding of their purpose, the leader can then set challenging yet achievable goals. When people see themselves getting things done, they gain confidence in what they do and position themselves to do greater things.
  3. The leader needs to make it known that mistakes are not necessarily a bad thing and makes certain that when they do take place, everyone learns from it.
  4. The leader also must regularly and sincerely acknowledge good performance on an individual basis – people like the recognition and that gives them confidence for the next time.
  5. Finally, they need to make a regular and sincere effort to acknowledge the right actions on the part of their team. When the leader does this, he is encouraging his team to continue to repeat those actions in the future. The right recognition builds self-confidence within each team member.

The key to success is that the leader needs to be genuine, honest and sincere in this effort. If they offer meaningless feedback, it will be obvious and will result in loss of trust and respect. This in turn will cause a business to lose its edge and eventually perform at a sub-satisfactory level.

Remember this one point: the best leaders never stop looking for ways to instill self-confidence in their team members. 

A Sense of Urgency: Do You Really Have One?

Some people, when they hear the phrase “a sense of urgency” immediately think that a crisis is brewing and the pace needs to be stepped up to get back to normal, or what we commonly call the “status quo”. However, in today’s business climate and the ever-changing priorities that come with it, can any company really afford to “get back to status quo” for any extended period of time? I don’t think so.

Leadership quotes from Chris Ruisi sense of urgencyDeveloping and maintaining an ongoing sense of urgency should be the norm for any company wanting to take a competitive lead in their marketplace. In fact, a sense of urgency should become part of the company’s daily culture and be reflected in everything that they do. This will give them an edge over those who cling to a “business as usual” strategy.

Creating and maintaining a sense of urgency culture in a company doesn’t happen without a great deal of effort to bring about this change, and an even greater effort and commitment on the part of its leader to get the process started, as well as have the courage to stick with it. In essence, the leader needs to take bold action to set the expectation for a sense of urgency culture, and then set the standards for how accountability to it will be measured. Make no mistake, a sense of urgency culture starts with the leader.

To get started creating this sense of urgency culture within your company, consider the following:

  • You have to create an orientation towards decision making and action. While reviewing data on which to make a decision is important, you don’t want to get so caught up in data review that you end up studying all the sides of a circle. At some point, a decision needs to be made and action taken. If you make the wrong decision, make another to make it right. Customers and clients want fast action; if you can deliver it correctly, you have a competitive advantage.
  • All of the processes within your company must be results driven. Sometimes as companies grow they create layers and layers of rules and procedures. Eventually, they put too many in place and find it difficult to undo them because they have become deeply engrained into the company’s daily operations. The result is that the company becomes slow and cumbersome in the delivery of its service promise – it loses any hope of having a competitive advantage. The leader needs to cut through this bureaucracy (and all of the obstacles that it creates) and eliminate anything that slows down the decision making process and impedes the achievement of the company’s goals.
  • The leader needs to re-focus his team’s attention on achieving measurable outcomes – real and measurable results. When companies exist just to maintain the status quo, their teams focus on and measure the wrong things. To them, checking off items on a project list is how they define successful. They become lost in the weeds of tasks and don’t give the desired outcome the attention it deserves.

All around us, every day, we experience what the lack of a sense of urgency looks like. As such, it stands to reason that if you make the decision to create and nurture a strategy built around a dynamic and ongoing sense of urgency, you will earn a competitive advantage. Am I right?

So what are you waiting for?

Does Your Team Give You a Competitive Advantage?

Leadership quote on competitive advantage from Chris Ruisi

Every business has a team. The question for the business owner or leader is whether or not they are functioning as a “competitive advantage” or just “doing the work”? In today’s challenging marketplace, it is critical that business owners look for and use every competitive advantage they can. In many cases, the “team” does not get the attention it deserves. You disagree? Well, just think about all of the less than satisfactory customer service experiences you’ve had in either a B-to-C or B-to-B situation. I’m sure you would agree that bad service does not give a business a “competitive advantage”!

A basic fact of business is that in 99.9% of the cases, your team is your primary point of contact with your customers. If your team performs badly, your customers vote with their feet and go elsewhere. Eventually, if this continues, you will lose your business. Conversely, if your team performs well, your customers buy more often and refer others to you. The result: your business grows and prospers. In this instance, your team is giving you a competitive advantage.

Wanting your team to give you a “competitive advantage” will not take place by accident or by the flip of a switch. It’s a process that takes some time and needs to be organized around a plan. Here’s a 10-point checklist to get you started on building the winning team that gives your business a significant competitive advantage:

  1. Make sure that there is a common, specific and measurable goal(s) that everyone is working towards. This goal should be directly related to, and supportive of, your vision for your business.
  2. Every one of your team members should understand their individual role and the roles of others in their department/company; no one should ever say, “I really don’t know what they do.”
  3. You should communicate the “rules of the game” in the clearest way possible (so everyone understands them) and how these rules relate to the way you want your business to operate. The rules should set boundaries – like on a typical field of play – where boundaries are needed. The boundaries should allow enough flexibility for your team to make decisions on their own; decisions that will help your business.
  4. Everyone on the team knows what they are supposed to do; how they are supposed to do it; when they do it; “why” they do it; and “how” it fits in. When a team knows this information, they have a clear purpose and that in turn helps them to stay motivated and engaged in the “task at hand”.
  5. From the boundaries you set, you encourage “risk taking”. Nobody likes mistakes, but you can use mistakes as an excellent learning tool. You want your team to know where you stand on this issue. No organization will move forward without taking prudent risks.
  6. You encourage 100% involvement in the work to be done and you communicate consistently to your team to keep them informed and included in all company matters. When this happens, your team is “in the know” and this also helps them to stay engaged and focused.
  7. You are committed to providing your team with every appropriate opportunity to maintain their skills and learn new ones to help them – and the organization – continue to meet the needs of your customers and grow.
  8. You make it consistently clear that their primary focus should be on offering your customers “quality” and a hassle free transaction regardless of the product or service you offer.
  9. You also make it consistently clear that that you want them to give their best in a consistent and deliberate way and, when needed, demonstrate a sense of urgency when solving customer problems.
  10. You never let them “look back”. As the leader you drive their focus on the present and where you want to take your organization as reflected in your vision.

There you have it: a 10-point checklist to guide you in creating one of the best competitive advantages your business will ever have – your team! If you just have a typical “boss-employee” relationship, your salary and benefit dollars are doing nothing for you or your customers. Conversely, if you operating under a “leader-team” relationship, your salary and benefit dollars are working for you and returning to you and your business positive financial gains. Your choice is to keep getting “nothing” or build a sustainable and financially successful enterprise.

Do you need any help with this decision?

“What We’ve Got Here is a Failure to Communicate”

At the risk of dating myself, “what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate” was a classic line from the 1967 hit movie “Cool Hand Luke” starring Paul Newman. The line was used over and over to summarize, at any given time, relationships between spouses, employees, friends, and most frequently between parents and their children.

Leadership quote on communication by Chris RuisiCommunication is a critical skill in every aspect of our personal and professional lives. How you communicate plays a major role in how well you do – in anything. Poor communication causes frustration, anger, misunderstandings, mistakes, friction, and broken relationships. Nothing good comes from poor communication. Good communication, on the other hand, keeps everything moving forward as smooth as possible. When good communications exist, the right things just happen on a consistent basis.

How a leader communicates is critical to the relationships and trust he or she builds and maintains with their team, peers, superiors, and customers. It’s like the lubricant used in a high performance engine to reduce the friction between all of the moving parts to ensure smooth, reliable, and long lasting operations.  Bottom line: how a leader communicates has a very measurable effect on not only his or her personal performance, but on the performance of their organization. Yet, despite its importance, many of you can do a better job at how you communicate.

Take a hard look at how you communicate, especially if you are a leader, and consider the following effective communication tips.

A “good communicator”…

  • Confronts things as soon as possible and doesn’t let issues fester. Any delay in addressing an issue adds more clutter (and sometimes emotion) to a discussion.
  • Takes the time to prepare before they talk or write. They never “wing it”. Winging it when one needs to communicate is a guaranteed way to get “lost in the weeds” and send the wrong message, making the situation worse.
  • As part of their preparation, starts at the end – what they want to accomplish as a result of their communication, and works backwards identifying all of the points they need to cover, in the right order to accomplish their goal.
  • Always does a “mental check” before they start. They stay focused on the issue at hand. They don’t let other issues or challenges distract them or affect their perspective. They start from a positive mental position.
  • Knows that the quality of their communication is directly related to the individual relationships and trust they have built with their team members – especially when an unpleasant issue needs to be addressed.
  • Listens – they get the other persons input and makes sure that everyone is on the same page and working towards a common outcome.
  • Never lets a difficult “personality” get in the way of communicating the right message. If they know the outcome (and have prepared properly), they stay on course when dealing with a challenging team member.

Leaders get paid to use their best judgment at any given time based upon the situation at hand. An important aspect of their judgment is how they communicate the scope of an issue, what needs to be done, and by who, when, and why. That’s a fair amount of critical information that needs to get out, and sometimes it needs to happen within a pressured timeframe. If the leader hasn’t developed his or her communication skills or habits, the situation is going to be tougher than it needs to be. Yet, if they have worked at developing their communications skills, they will be able to successfully adapt to the task at hand.

Don’t Get Too “Content” – It Can Be the Beginning of the End

Leaders who choose to “Step Up and Play Big” have two important and common characteristics. First, they regularly question the “status quo”. The second is that they recognize that their habits define them and, as such, they are always looking for ways to enhance existing habits and learn new ones to help them elevate their game. By striving to elevate their game, they are able to use their full capabilities and continue to move forward.

The reason that successful leaders challenge themselves to question the status quo and strive to keep moving forward, is that when one gets “content”, it’s a surefire way to put the brakes on any future success they might achieve. Why? Simple really: success is a dynamic concept and never a permanent destination or status. To properly maintain it, or build upon it, requires action.

When you achieve one level of success, it’s okay to celebrate what you’ve accomplished. In fact, I would urge you to do so! You’ve earned it; you worked hard to achieve it. However, some folks either keep on celebrating or decide that they can now “ease up.” When this happens, it’s just a matter of time before they lose their focus, purpose, passion, and drive – and that’s when the “beginning of the end” starts.

As I stated, success is never a “permanent” status. You work hard to achieve a certain level of success within your company, industry, or profession. Once you get to that level, you have to keep working hard or harder to stay at that level. Some folks think that they can stop doing the “things” that made them successful – like:

  • They stop reading or learning about their industry or company.
  • They allow their leadership skills to get stale.
  • They don’t think it’s necessary to plan as well as they did before.
  • They start to accept less from themselves and others.
  • Their communications get sloppy; they don’t pay as much attention to them now since they achieved their “goal”.

Leadership Quotes from Chris RuisiThe list of mistakes goes on and on – the end result is they lose their edge, and sadly, it’s a result of their own actions or lack thereof. They mistakenly think that they have nothing further to prove. After all, “they’ve made it!” Well, let me share with you the following: if you like the view from the top of the mountain, you have to work even harder to stay there! If you fall into the trap of getting too content, you better improve your listening skills to hear the footsteps of the next leader who is closing in on you to take that view from the top away from you!

So what can a leader do to avoid this “too content trap”? Here are some important leadership qualities to consider…

First, they must make certain that they have a vision for where they want to go. In addition, they have to update it based upon what has been achieved so that it is not only current, but also relevant. Addressing their vision is an excellent example of questioning the status quo.

Next, with an updated and relevant vision, they need to develop new plans to make the vision a reality. This means doing the same things they did that made them a success in the first place.

Finally, to keep themselves on a consistent learning curve, successful leaders are always looking for every opportunity to learn from their past experiences – both good ones and not so good ones, and to apply that knowledge to their current challenges. Every team – especially the champions – watches their game films to learn something about their performance. They then use that knowledge to prepare for their next game. The great teams are the ones who focus exclusively on learning what they need to do to get better.

Getting better is a constant goal of every successful leader. If you want to avoid falling into the trap of getting too content and resting on your past achievements, make “getting better” your driving purpose.

How to Know When You’re Not Having Fun as the Leader

Each of us in a leadership position get to carry the brunt of the problems and challenges we face every day. In most cases, we serve as the “buffer” between the problems and our teams. Once we have confronted the problem, we have to sift through the emotion and clutter that comes with it to determine what caused it and – more importantly – how to solve it while still doing everything else you’re supposed to do! Events like this are usually classified as “having a bad day”. Working through and managing bad days comes with the territory if you are a leader, but when the number of those bad days start to take place on an ever-increasing basis and the severity intensifies, you’re then experiencing days that “you don’t want to go to work”.

Leadership quote Chris Ruisi

However, as a good leader you pick yourself up and go to work on those days even though you really don’t want to be there. You fool yourself into thinking that “it’s what you have to do”. Now you’re no longer having fun and your day-to-day activities can be summarized by any one or all of the following:

  • there is never enough time; you feel your work is never done; you experience “endless days”.
  • you are easily distracted, frustrated, and agitated.
  • you are busy making no progress and you do not have a good sense of how you are doing.
  • you feel that you have no control over what the outcome will be.
  • everything seems harder to do and you are the only one doing it; you are putting too much pressure on yourself to get everything done.

If you’re experiencing any of these five symptoms (and hopefully only one, but more than likely you’re experiencing most of them), it’s time to come to a complete stop and put yourself in a time out! You need to give yourself some time to catch your breath and think about what you are doing versus what you “should” be doing. Why? Because if you don’t stop the madness, you’ll “burn out” physically and emotionally, and run yourself – and your business – into the ground permanently.

With the possibility of the demise of your business staring you in the face, you should consider taking all of these key steps:

  1. You need to have a clear direction of where you want to go. In other words, you need a vision. With a well-constructed vision, you not only have a direction, you have a purpose. With direction and purpose, you are better able to decide what you need to do and when to do.
  2. From your vision, you then need to put together a weekly plan – not just a “to do” list. Many over-worked leaders mistakenly think that managing their list is their salvation. Wrong! Managing their priorities is the goal. With a vision, direction and purpose it’s easier to regain control and work on the right things at the right time.
  3. Time to sharpen your delegation skills and start sharing the work that you’re doing with those on your team who have the skills and knowledge to perform the tasks correctly. If their skills are lacking, do two things. First give them smaller tasks of a larger project to work on. Smaller tasks minimize the risk of errors and mistakes. The second thing you need to do is to put training in place so that they acquire the right skills and knowledge so they can continue to take on more responsibility.
  4. Next, spend some time with your team to make sure that they understand their roles; what’s required; why they do what they do; where it fits in; and how they contribute to the company’s results. When your team understands the “why” of what they do, they have a purpose and structure. This will positively impact their motivation, engagement and performance.
  5. Lastly, once a week schedule a one-hour appointment with yourself. That’s right, just with you – no e-mails, phone calls, or distractions. During this “self-meeting” review your weekly plan and progress; make adjustments if needed and then spend some time on a task that only you can – and should – handle. Preferably, something that falls into the category of working “on” your business.

All of these steps are key parts of the plan you need to get you back in control – you know, to become a master of your circumstances as opposed to being a victim – unless you like not having fun. The choice is yours.