Who Needs an Executive Coach?

Executive coaching is hot. What was stigma (“You’re so broken you need a coach?”) has become status symbol (“You’re so valuable you get a coach?”). Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps have coaches. Even President Barack Obama has a coach, if you count David Axelrod. Microsoft ‘s young high-potential leaders get coaches. If elite athletes and organizations think they need coaches, shouldn’t you have one too? Shouldn’t we all?

No. Executive coaching–personal training in leadership from someone who provides it for a living–should be used like a powerful prescription drug that works best under certain conditions. When employed as a cure-all, it is less effective, too expensive and has negative side effects.

Executive coaching is not aspirin. It’s interferon. So when should it be prescribed for an executive? When should it be avoided?

Based on the latest research and 25 years I’ve spent coaching senior executives and high-potential young leaders, here are five diagnostic questions you should ask before making the decision to hire a coach.

1. How valuable is this person’s performance and potential to your organization?

When done right, executive coaching is expensive and time-consuming. It should be reserved for people who are critical to your organization’s success, or will be in the future. In general, this includes everyone at C-level, heads of major business units or functions, technical or functional wizards, and your bench of high-potential young leaders.

Just how expensive and time-consuming is executive coaching? Although there is tremendous variation in fees and arrangements among coaches, be prepared to pay a C-level coach what you pay your top attorney. If this seems excessive, consider that a coach must have the experience and expertise to quickly grasp a leader’s situation, challenge assumptions and choices, and bring credible, fresh ideas to the table. Doing this with your best and brightest is not easy. And given the influence a coach can have on an executive’s decisions and actions over the course of a typical six-to-12-month engagement involving bimonthly meetings, regular phone calls and e-mail check-ins, a bargain coach whose sophistication does not match the client’s is a big mistake.

2. What is the challenge the person is facing right now?

People, relationships, organizations and behavioral change are what executive coaches know best. When an executive is struggling to learn how to best manage herself and engage others, you’ve found the sweet spot for executive coaching.

He might be a chief executive officer trying to figure out how to work with his board chair. Or a regional vice president scaling up to global responsibility, learning how to lead her former peers. Or a technical wizard who destroys teams with his resistance to all ideas but his own.

But be warned: An executive coach is not a consultant. He may have technical or functional expertise. But he should not be used as an answer person, an extra pair of hands or a bolster for a weak leader. He helps executives think through and tackle their own problems. Self-reliance, not dependency, is the goal.

3. How willing and able will the executive be to work with a coach?

The client has got to want to change. A bright, motivated coaching client can step up to most challenges. A bright, unmotivated one will waste everyone’s time and money. Working with an executive who has been pressured into coaching by his boss or human resources department is an uphill battle, though it’s not impossible.

Coachability is important. Look for a track record of unusual growth under the guidance of teachers and mentors. Coachable executives readily share their experience. They are realistic about their strengths and weaknesses. They learn from others but do it their own way, taking responsibility for whatever happens. They know how to leverage a coach.

4. What alternatives to coaching are available?

There are many ways to help executives grow as leaders. High-level training, mentoring, reading, job rotation and special assignments are just a few. The most overlooked alternative is attention from the individual’s own manager. As coaching has become more fashionable, I’ve seen too many managers abdicate their own coaching responsibilities, turning a struggling executive over to a professional. Sometimes the problem is beyond what the manager can handle. But often managers hand off executives because they’d rather not deal with messy people stuff.

The manager is already being paid to coach. Don’t incur an executive coaching expense if the problem is within that manager’s capabilities.

5. Are key people in the organization ready to support this person’s efforts to grow and change?

Changing the way you think and act is tough even when you have support from others. But when key leaders above or beside you are indifferent, skeptical or hostile to changes you’re trying to make, things get exponentially more difficult. Coaching works best when key people in the executive’s world stand solidly behind her. They need to provide tailwinds, not headwinds. Coaching relationships in a vacuum of support fall apart before any goals are achieved.

When conditions are right, executive coaching can be one of the best people investments you’ll ever make. But it is not a panacea for every executive development problem. Answer these five questions, and you’ll make better decisions about who is likely to benefit from coaching. And who isn’t.

Douglas McKenna is chief executive officer and co-founder of the Oceanside Institute. Formerly head of leadership development at Microsoft, he coaches senior executives around the world.

7 Reasons You Can't Learn Leadership on Your Own

By Brian Evje via @inc

Very few entrepreneurs, board members, or investors give much thought to leadership development. That's a huge mistake.

Very few founders, startup CEOs, board members, investors, and others supporting the entrepreneurial community actively pursue and advocate disciplined, professional leadership development. This is an enormous missed opportunity.

Entrepreneurs, especially founders and startup CEOs, need not wait to be encouraged to do this work. They should not consider their own development as a nice-to-have, an indulgence, or an unnecessary expense. They certainly should not delay until their jobs are threatened by their poor performance. 


Here are seven reasons (among many) that every founder and entrepreneurial CEO should actively develop their leadership, and a question about each.

1.     Leadership development works

Studies consistently demonstrate that organizations with a developmental mindset and holistic leadership programs out-perform organizations that do not. (See the Center for Creative Leadership for some excellent research.)

In which category would you like your company to be?

2.     Leadership is learned and can be taught

The question is not whether leaders are born or made. Rather, we should ask what leaders have made of their attributes (inborn and otherwise), and which experiences they’ve had or missed. Leadership is learned because leaders are not born with special powers. They are made over time through challenges, personal courage, setbacks, self-reflection, and an ability to grow. 

Many leadership lessons require us to unlearn old habits, default reactions, and assumptions about human nature in order to adopt new and different choices and behaviors.

This is not to say that anyone can lead; it is to say that true leaders learn over time. Entrepreneurs need to start learning about leadership, and never stop. 

What are you doing right now to learn about your leadership?

3.     Observing leadership is not the same as developing leadership

A certain amount of learning takes place through observation, and a number of leadership elements can be demonstrated by good role models.  However, there is a massive gap between seeing and doing. Too few people and organizations address this with deliberate, consistent, and constant leadership development.

One particularly stubborn myth is that leadership is something one naturally gains over time, like graying hair.  One survey of 17,000 global leaders found that the average age for their first leadership training was 42, “about 10 years after they began supervising people,” and almost 20 years after they started experiencing leadership in organizations. That’s a long time to observe leaders who are figuring it out on their own, while picking up their bad habits. A better approach is to take charge of the proper way to learn about leadership. 

What is more formal and serious than developing yourself, and what are you doing about it?

4.    Many board members and investors are not good leaders

In truth, many boards don’t know enough about leadership.  After all, boards are comprised of the same representative 17,000 people cited above.  Some are pure investors. Many have experience as executives, and yet are not adept at helping someone else with leadership. Many see themselves as tremendously effective leaders, but they are actually tremendous egotists.  (When you find Board members who contradict these categories, hold onto them with both hands.)

Board members and investors have specific agendas. Helping you grow as a leader is rarely one of them, especially if it interferes with their primary objectives.  Also, learning requires vulnerability, which is not the relationship you want to have with your board.  So, solicit their opinions, listen to their experiences – and then talk about the personal implications with your coach. 

How do you demonstrate your leadership growth to your board without involving them in the direct process?

5.     Leadership is about power

Many entrepreneurial CEOs are surprised by, and uncomfortable with, the intense power dynamics of leadership. They often focus on the personal responsibilities of leadership (“I am now responsible for the livelihood of all my employees”) without recognizing that they must demonstrate their fitness to lead by exercising, balancing, and containing the power of their role. This means making difficult decisions and tradeoffs that may be unpopular and contrary to the ethos of the earliest days of the organization. In a high-growth company, the shift from a happy band of co-founders to an organization of dozens of people can happen in a flash. 

How are you preparing so that the weight of your power does not break you?

6.     You can’t always see the ice cracking beneath your feet

Boards play power games, too, and take power from those who are weaker. You are not immune to these attacks.  Lori Mazan, a Leadership Advisor at Leading From Center, points out that many boards and investors of early-stage companies seem to think that leadership “just happens.”  When they don’t see the CEO embodying their unrealistic version of leadership, they read it as an absence of leadership and a signal to replace the entrepreneur CEO.  This drama often plays out unbeknownst to the CEO -- until it is too late. 

What are you doing to increase your awareness of how you are perceived, and how will you make adjustments?

7.     The future is not the past

Many entrepreneurs approach the founding and leading of a company with the same mindset they engaged before they were entrepreneurs.  Wanting to hold onto the past is an understandable reaction to change, but not terribly useful for the forward-looking challenges of leadership. 

A very hard element of personal growth is the awareness, discipline, and courage to set down the skills, activities, and identity of the past, in order to pick up new things for the future.  You can’t carry both.  You must listen for what the past is telling you to stop, and learn what the future requires you to start.

Nothing complicated is learned casually, and leadership is nothing if not complicated.  Every leader needs help learning about their leadership. 

From where do you get help?

Are You Working on Your Business, or FOR Your Business?

by Gina Abudi

Too often, CEOs’ time is spent on everything but what it should be spent on — working on the business. Our tendency — especially for smaller to medium-sized businesses — is to do the workof the business in addition to trying to work on the business.


Certainly, there are good reasons for doing this in those very early years as you are trying to get the business off the ground and you have limited staff; but I’ve seen this occur even when the CEO has other executives on board to manage key areas of the business. Let’s assume for this article that the issue is not that you can’t tear yourself away from overseeing every part of the business, but rather, the issue is that you need to slice out more time in your day to actually work on the business.

Let’s look at some things you can do to be sure you are better able to manage your own time by delegating more effectively to others; and then let’s look at what you should be doing as the CEO.

Hire the right people. The people you hire to join your team — at any level of responsibility — must be “go getters.” While certainly training your employees is necessary, they should be individuals who are motivated to take on responsibilities and get things done without constant handholding or oversight.

Develop your employees — from senior leaders to individual contributors. Provide your employees with training and professional development opportunities. This may be anything from workshops to attending conference to participating in, or leading, strategic projects to help the business meet its goals.

Clear roles and responsibilities. Ensure that all employees have very clear roles and responsibilities. Too often, we do not provide clear roles and responsibilities to our employees. Without this information there is no clarity around expectations. Roles and responsibilities should include decision-making authority levels (for example, the ability to make a decision to refund an unhappy customer up to $x dollars.)

Autonomy to do their jobs. It’s hard to let go of aspects of the business — there is a feeling of wanting to be involved in everything simply because it is your business. But you need to learn how to let go. Provide employees autonomy to do their jobs. Set an end goal — they can get to the end goal as they see fit. Feel free to put parameters around how they get there if that makes you more comfortable; but there is no need (and certainly you can’t spend the time!) to tell an employee every step they need to take to get from point A to point C.

Now let’s discuss how you should be spending your time as the CEO.

Setting strategy for the organization and communicating vision. Your strategy shouldn’t be set once and then tucked away. You’ll need to revise your strategy on a regular basis to keep up with changes in the industry, with your competitors and to meet customer needs. Have key employees take the lead in updating components of your organizational strategy, with you being responsible for setting strategy and communicating your vision to them.

Being the spokesman for the organization. You are the face of the organization! On a regular basis you should be meeting with partners, vendors, customers and others to communicate your vision for the organization, understand the impression they have with your organization, and determine how to better serve their needs. This helps you in developing an appropriate strategy for the business.

Serving on boards. Serve on boards — whether for private companies or non-profits. Share your knowledge, be seen and establish strong relationships with other business owners.

Keeping up to date with the industry. Regardless of your industry, there are always changes to keep up with. Keep up to date with what is happening in your industry and others through conferences and industry events. By understanding what is happening in your industry you are better positioned to be prepared for when changes occur without being in reactionary mode.

Finding partners for the business. You should be looking at ways to grow your business and continue to find ways to serve your customers. On a regular basis, be on the look for partners, vendors and others who can help you in this endeavor. You’ll meet potential partners in a variety of places, including Chamber meetings, networking at Vistage CEO meetings and through conferences and industry events.

Keeping tabs on the global economy and its effect on your business and strategy. In today’s world just knowing what is going on nationally is not sufficient. Every business — no matter how small — is impacted by the global economy. On a regular basis know what is going on in the world around you, and consider how it may impact your strategy and business plans. Certainly through Vistage, Chambers of Commerce and industry groups you’ll be able to share information with others and plan for managing your business in a global environment.

The bottom line: You must be focused on your business — its strategy, vision, growth potential, partnerships, and products and services offered to meet the customers’ needs. You can only do this effectively if you are working on the business and not in the business. You set strategy and provide the vision; tactical operations are the responsibility of your employees.

Gina Abudi is president of Abudi Consulting Group, LLC; providing strategy around projects, process, people and technology to businesses of all sizes. Gina can be reached via her website,

You Shouldn't Be Bored at a Board Meeting


Most entrepreneurs view board meetings as somewhere between a total waste of time and mildly annoying.  Outside board members are often similarly frustrated that they are unable to get the information and analysis they desire from these meetings. This shouldn’t be the case. Board meetings should be valuable for both management and outside board members. How can you make that happen?

Last year, I spent more than 600 hours in board meetings and have developed theories on how to make them more productive. For simplicity, I’ve created a series of “do’s” and “don’ts” for both management and board members.

Management dos

Tell a story with the board deck. A well-designed board deck should communicate how the company is doing and the core issues facing the company. The most common mistake I see are decks that are simply data dumps, a bunch of information without any analysis or coherence. For most companies the deck should be 12 to 15 slides. For complete financial statements or other more granular information, that can be put in an appendix that is distributed to the board members and discussed if requested.

  • Send out the deck well in advance of the board meeting. You want your board members to read it beforehand, but it’s not reasonable to expect that if you provide it the evening before a meeting.
  • Note variations from your plan and reasons why. It’s not uncommon to miss goals. The most important issue to explore is why you missed.  With lower than expected sales, there are a numerous causes: Is your sales team not that good? Are you not investing enough in marketing? Is your product not solving a painful enough problem for customers?  Is your product poorly designed or engineered?
  • Keep the meeting on schedule. This can be difficult and you can’t be too rigid, but most board members have calendared an end time to your meeting. If a section runs over, you will have less time to cover other sections. Don’t be afraid say, “This is a good discussion, but we need to keep the meeting on time. We can follow up on this later.”  This can be particularly useful if the discussion has devolved.
  • Keep a list of follow-up items for yourself (and the board members). Distribute the list afterwards so everyone is clear on next steps, then report on the status of those items at the next meeting.

Management don’ts

  • Hide bad news. A board meeting is not a pep rally. If news is bad it will likely get worse. Far better to start discussing “issues” before they become problems or, worse, crises.
  • Put information on slides you don’t want to discuss. If you put it on a slide, you should expect that board members might have questions about it.
  •  Have every VP present at every meeting. You want to give your team members airtime with the board, but it is better to rotate them because there is typically not enough board level information to justify a report from each VP.
  • Put the key points about the meeting in the first slide.  It starts a conversation on the most important issues without any context. Once that conversation starts, it’s difficult to stop it and creates a disjointed conversation that makes the remaining material seem irrelevant.
  • Argue every point. There’s nothing wrong with healthy debate. It is a sign of a high functioning board. Ultimately, though, the CEO is charged with running the company. S/he will have to decide what course to chart. Better to listen to the feedback than fight over every point.

Outside board member dos

  • Read the deck beforehand. It will permit you formulate questions beforehand to help sharpen the conversation.
  • Challenge assumptions. The best board meeting questions introduce a new point of view. If sales are slower than projected has management considered whether they are investing adequately in marketing? A different perspective can be extremely valuable to entrepreneurs who are busy fighting in the trenches every day.
  • Share industry benchmarks or best practices from other companies. It his very helpful to compare a problem the company is facing to a problem that has been encountered before. Surfacing past successes and failures is particularly useful.
  • Keep your powder dry. Undoubtedly you have a lot of good suggestions to help the company, but management will not execute on all of them. The best board members pick two or three important points and focus their comments on those items.

Outside board member don’ts

  • Rely on your own experience with the company’s product as a focus group of one.  Suggestions about the product based on your own use case are likely not helpful.  There are more statistically significant ways of acquiring user feedback.
  • Repeat yourself. I often hear board members say, “I hate to repeat myself.” There’s no need for self-loathing. If you’ve made your point, everyone around the table has probably heard it. Perhaps a single reiteration is in order if you feel quite strongly, but beyond that, you are being a bore.
  • Ask obvious questions. It just wastes time and tries people’s patience. For example, if the CEO says, “We’re trying to recruit this candidate but he really wants a high salary” a board member shouldn’t chime in with ”Did you try and sell him on the value of our options?” Assume that management has considered the most apparent tactics.
  • Ask questions because you’re curious. There are busy people in the room who may not share your thirst for this particular bit of knowledge. If there’s something you would like to learn more about, write your question down and ask the CEO later.

Remember: Never lose sight that everyone attending a board meeting has the same objective – to help make the company successful.

A good way to structure the meeting is to divide it into three parts: progress reporting, strategic discussion and administrative items.

1. Progress Reporting – The objective of the “reporting” section is for management to tell the board how the company is performing. This is the meat of the meeting and is typically divided into three presentations: (a) key performance metrics, (b) functional areas of the company (e.g. marketing, engineering, and product), and (c) company finances.

It is critical for the company to have a plan of record against which performance can be measured. Many entrepreneurs are hesitant to create a board plan for fear that there will be repercussions if plan is missed. Having no plan means that the board will make their own decisions about how the company is performing and this is far worse. For early stage companies, more it is common to miss plan by wide margins and that’s to be expected, but for later stage companies more rigor on both the planning and execution side is expected.

For the functional areas, it’s a best practice to have one or two VPs report per board meeting so that there can be a deep dive into these areas. The CEO can then lead a brief review of the other areas. In these deeper dives: VPs should avoid a laundry list of accomplishments and focus on key issues:

  • What are the key objectives for the year (and how are they doing against such objectives)?
  • What are they doing differently than their competitors, prior companies or industry norms?

The board meeting is not a super-operating committee review in which tactical decisions are examined. It is a strategic session in which priorities and resource allocation against those priorities is assessed. Presentations should be geared to facilitate such a discussion.

For the financial reporting, as long as the company is burning the cash, the most important financial metric is: When does the company run out of money? It should always be reported. I suggest using awaterfall for cash burn as well as other key metrics. It is also important to establish consistency in both format and data presented. When metrics are changed again and again it makes it very difficult for the outside board members to understand how the company is doing.

Another best practice is a dashboard, which is a single slide that displays trends for a few key metrics. A good dashboard enables the board members to look at progress against these metrics over time and quickly get a sense of the company’s performance.

What is the point of all this reporting? First, it gives the board members a chance to help in a variety of ways:

  • offering suggested approaches for problem solving,
  • recognizing certain recurring patterns from prior experience,
  • challenging key assumptions and
  • making introductions to potential customers, partners or new hires

In order to do any of these things effectively board members need to be presented with a clear picture of what’s going on with the company.

Secondly, management is typically heads down fighting one fire after another in the hectic pace of startup life. Having a routine check up from people looking at the business from a higher level can help management identify issues that might be lost in the daily grind. Third, it allows a common understanding of the business that sets the stage for the next part of the meeting, the strategic discussion.

2. Strategic Discussion – Startup companies are continually facing critical strategic issues:

  • Is now the time to start ramping up the sales force in order to gain market share?
  • Will a partnership with a more established player solidify the company’s market position or will it consume company resources without delivering any real benefit?
  • When is the right time to start the fundraising process?

The strategic discussion section of the board meeting provides an opportunity to discuss these important issues with the board. The goal of these conversations is not to arrive at a vote in which the board approves some key decision, but rather to seek input on the issues facing the business so that management can understand and benefit from the board’s collective experiences. Best practice in this area is to discuss one or two of these issues at each meeting as it is difficult to cover more.

3. Administrative Items – Administrative items are the things that the Board actually needs to vote on. I prefer beginning with the administrative section to get it out of the way quickly before people are tired and cranky. For early stage companies the items are typically limited to the approval of options and minutes.

For stock options, it’s important to have all of the relevant information for the board members to make the grants (e.g. fully diluted capitalization, number of shares left in the pool). I have a template slide for options here. When an unusually large option grant or one with a peculiar vesting schedule is coming up for approval, it shouldn’t be presented to the board for the first time in the meeting. It is far better to surface these items well in advance of the meeting to avoid a long debate during the meeting itself. This is a good model for any issue that is coming up for approval: provide adequate information for the board to make the decision and raise issues ahead of time to avoid surprises.

A properly structured board meeting enables management to get the most value from the board and gives the board members the ability to understand and provide assistance to the business. If you follow this structure and the dos and don’ts, you can ensure that nobody is bored at your board meeting.

10 Reasons to Pick Up the Phone Now

By Kevin Daum via @inc

Today fewer people get on the phone, preferring to text, chat, and e-mail. Here are 10 scenarios where a live voice is still the best option.


I've noticed recently that the Millennial generation's trend of phone avoidance is quickly spreading to people of all ages. It started with smartphones. Texting replaced leaving voicemails and whole conversations now take place with our thumbs. Calling someone has now become low on the communication priority list and even frequently disparaged.

Certainly written communication has its advantages.

  • You can get your message out whether or not the other person is available.
  • You can respond without concern for time zones or sleep patterns.
  • You don't have to waste time with unwanted chatty gossip.

But the phone has benefits that text and e-mail will never overcome. It's still an important tool for business etiquette and should be considered equally in today's communication environment. Here are 10 scenarios where a phone call does the job best.

1. When You Need Immediate Response

The problem with text or e-mail is you never know when someone will get back to you. You like to think the other person is sitting there waiting for your message, but it's not always true. These days when someone sees your name on the ringing phone, they know you are making an extra effort to speak to them. Of course if they are truly busy, in a meeting, sleeping, or hiding from you, the caller ID will tip them off and you go to voicemail, which they rarely check anyway. At least now you can express yourself with heartfelt emotion.

2. When You Have Complexity with Multiple People

My wife Van was recently coordinating an overseas engagement for me and there were six different people in multiple time zones involved in the logistics. After five cryptic e-mail conversations that created more confusion, she was literally screaming at the computer. Finally I suggested a conference call. In 30 minutes, all questions were answered, everyone was aligned, and Van went from frustrated to relieved. She is now a newly recruited phone advocate.

3. When You Don't Want a Written Record Due to Sensitivity

You never know who will see an e-mail or a text. True, phone calls can be recorded...but not legally in most states without prior notification or a judge's order. Unless you are absolutely comfortable with your message getting into anyone's hands, best to use the phone for conversations that require discretion.

4. When the Emotional Tone is Ambiguous, But Shouldn't Be

Sometimes a smiley face is not enough to convey real emotion. Emoticons help broadly frame emotional context, but when people's feelings are at stake it's best to let them hear exactly where you are coming from. Otherwise they will naturally assume the worst.

5. When There is Consistent Confusion

Most people don't like to write long e-mails and most don't like to read them. So when there are lots of details that create confusion, phone calls work efficiently to bring clarity. First of all, you can speak about 150 words per minute, and most people don't type that fast. Second, questions can be answered in context so you don't end up with an endless trail of back and forth question and answers.

6. When There is Bad News

This should be obvious, but sadly many people will take a cowardly approach to sharing difficult news. Don't be one of those callous people. Make it about the other person and not you. Humanize the situation with empathy they can hear.

7. When There is Very Important News

Good or bad, if there is significance to information, the receiver needs to understand the importance beyond a double exclamation point. Most likely they will have immediate questions and you should be ready to provide context to prevent unwanted conclusions.

8. When Scheduling is Difficult

After going back and forth multiple times with a colleague's assistant trying to find an available date and time, I finally just called her. Now I didn't have to worry that the time slot would be filled by the time she read my e-mail. We just spoke with calendars in hand and completed in five minutes what had exasperated us over three days. Later that day I watched one of my foodie friends spend 20 frustrated minutes using Open Table and finally suggested he simply call the restaurant. In three minutes he had a reservation and a slightly embarrassed smile.

9. When There is a Hint of Anger, Offense, or Conflict in the Exchange

Written messages can often be taken the wrong way. If you see a message that suggests any kind of problem, don't let it fester--or worse try and repair it--with more unemotional communication. Pick up the phone and resolve the issue before it spirals out of control.

10.  When a Personal Touch Will Benefit

Anytime you want to connect emotionally with someone and face-to-face is not possible, use the phone. Let them hear the care in your voice and the appreciation in your heart.

Six Simple Questions For Strategic Planning

Whether you are developing a corporate strategic plan or setting your department’s strategy, there is a direct correlation between the simplicity of a plan and the chances of adhering to it.

Why stack the odds against yourself with an overly complex or unclear plan? A sound plan and a simple plan are not mutually exclusive.  If you are going to work on a plan, your plan should work for you.

Cut through the clutter by answering six simple questions about your business or team:

  1. Why do we exist?
  2. Where are we going?
  3. How will we conduct ourselves?
  4. What will we do?
  5. How will we measure our success?
  6. What improvements or changes must we make?

Don’t be deceived by the simplicity of the questions. They require deep thought, good supporting data, and honest discussion in order to articulate concise answers.


Now that you’ve seen the questions, let’s take a look at how a worldwide manufacturer of golf clubs might answer the simple six questions to develop a strategy:

1. Why do we exist?

To bring confidence and winning strokes to golfers across the globe.

2. Where are we going?

We will be a trusted club in the golf bag of 75 percent of the world’s ranked professional golfers.

3. How will we conduct ourselves?

• Innovate in all we do—the big ideas and the little ideas.

• Respect our teammates and the profession we serve.

• Pour our hearts into our work. Every club is a reflection of us.

4. What will we do?

• Penetrate new markets.

• Boost brand exposure.

• Drive organizational efficiency.

5. How will we measure our success?

• Penetrate new markets.

  • Increase sales from $5 million to $10 million in China and Japan.
  • Increase sales by 15 percent in the European market.

• Boost brand exposure.

  • Achieve number 1 or 2 ranking in all professional player surveys of best brand of clubs.
  • Triple the number of brand impressions in Asian markets by year-end.

• Drive organizational efficiency.

  • Reduce manufacturing waste by 10 percent by year-end and by 20 percent over three years.
  • Reduce expenses as a percent of sales by 5 percent by year-end and by 15 percent over three years.
  • Improve average employee engagement score to 4.5 by year-end and to 4.8 (top 1 percent in industry) in three years.

6. What improvements or changes must we make?

• Penetrate new markets.

  • Hire new sales leaders for Asia and Europe.
  • Double pipeline of player endorsements in Asia and Europe by year-end.

• Boost brand exposure.

  • Sign three new sponsorship deals with top 100 ranked players by year-end.
  • Double the number of tournaments for which we are a primary sponsor.
  • Sponsor 10 junior golfers’ clinics in each geography.

• Drive organizational efficiency.

  • Train all employees on innovation techniques.
  • Review lowest-performing products.
  • Implement passionate performance engagement model to drive employee engagement.
by Lee Colan

Answering these questions (and making corresponding budget adjustments) will get you started with a solid plan you can adhere to.

Bio: Lee J. Colan, Ph.D. is a leadership advisor. He co-founded The L Group, Inc. in 1999 to equip leaders to execute their plans and engage their teams. Colan has authored 12 books. This article is an excerpt from his soon-to-be-released book, Stick with It:  Mastering the Art of Adherence (McGraw-Hill, April 2013). It’s an enhanced and expanded 10-year follow-up to his bestseller. Learn more at

How Do You Pick the Right Business Group?

Thinking Entrepreneur

There are many variables to consider before you join a business group. The harsh reality is that whether you spend $100 per year or $13,000, business groups can provide a mediocre experience. If you’ve read my other posts, you know I’m a veteran (and a dropout) of four groups, which I think leaves me well positioned to suggest some questions you should ask yourself and the group before you decide to join:

1. Why exactly are you joining? There are no good or bad groups — just the right or wrong groups depending on your goals and your needs. Are you looking for people to compare notes with, to do some networking with, to commiserate with occasionally? If so, a Chamber of Commerce group might do the trick. But please don’t think this is the same as a professionally run group that spends an entire day examining all aspects of a business from its financials to its sales plans. There is also a huge difference between running a $1 million business and running a $1 million business that you want to turn into a $10 million business. Try to be honest with yourself about whether you will be comfortable spilling your business guts to a group of strangers. Do you really want input? Or do you just think you want input?

2. Who, if anyone, will be running the meetings? Does the person have the right background, experience and training to do a great job? Are you comfortable with the person? Is there a one-on-one component?

3. Will there be outside speakers? Are they paid? How are they chosen? What topics have they covered in the past?

4. Are there any events, Webinars, or other opportunities to meet other people and see other things?

5. Where and when are the meetings? Are you confident that you will be able to attend on a consistent basis? I have seen numerous problems with people who planned to attend but frequently had to miss meetings.

6. How many people are in the group? How often do they add new members? What are the qualifications to join? How many meetings can you miss before it becomes a problem?

7. What do they do, if anything, to ensure that all of the members contribute? This can be ugly. A nice person shows up at every meeting but has nothing to contribute or for whatever reason doesn’t participate. What do you do? Remember, you might be spending about $1,100 and a day of your life to sit through a meeting with this person who has little ability to help anyone else, or doesn’t take anyone’s advice and continues to make the same mistakes year after year. Maybe you are nicer than I am, but I have a problem with this. Business can be cruel. I want to be in a group that has some mechanism in place to maintain the quality of the experience. I have seen first hand what happens when the expertise of a group gets dragged down. The better people leave. Just like a business. And that’s the point: to be well run, a group has to be run like a business.

8. How much will this kind of feedback be worth to you? I cannot emphasize this enough. If you can’t make back the $13,000 cost many times over, you are in the wrong group. If your company is small and you can’t handle $13,000 per year, there are cheaper options that are available that are probably a good start. But again: a networking group is not a business advisory group. Sure, there can be an element of networking, but the primary function of an advisory group is to educate or advise the chief executive on how to run a better company.

I know there are many groups around the country that people are very happy with. Please feel free to give us your 2 cents.

Jay Goltz owns five small businesses in Chicago.