I can always tell the true interests of a company leader by their focus. Often that focus isn't the best direction for the company. Learning to strike a healthy balance in your focus is key to driving your company to the success you want and envision.
Leaders fall into three categories:
If you are a leader that is internally focused, you follow the agenda of your staff. Their priorities are your priorities and you never seem to get around to your own to-do list. You find yourself buried in your e-mail box late into the night and there never seems to be enough time to think about the steps you need to take to move your company to the next level.
While caring for and attending to your employees' needs is noble, it's easy to get caught up in the day to day weeds and never really focus on your most important role--creating and sharing the strategy for the company.
What can you do? Start by establishing boundaries--standing meetings with agendas, a known escalation path, and insisting that employees bring you solutions to the problems they believe are present, are all a good start. Ask yourself if you are empowering your employees to make decisions on their own, or are you suffering from control issues.
You have a team for a reason. If you find you are doing their job for them, you need to seriously consider why and address it head on through training, giving up some control or making a change.
Strive to figure out ways to recapture precious time throughout the day.
An externally focused leader is driven by all of the outside forces pressing in on the company. You are concerned with what the latest competitor is doing, how the economy is performing, whether or not your customers are happy. You are willing to sacrifice your internal resources and your time in pursuit of addressing these outside forces and you often use them as an excuse for your lack of success. If you were honest with yourself, you would realize that you have very little control over these things.
What can you do? Realize that companies have succeeded against huge competitors and in less than stellar business environments. In fact, some of today's most successful brands were started and have grown substantially through the great recession of 2008.
Competitors will always be innovating and you should certainly pay attention, but don't let them distract you from your goal. New companies are inclined to take bad deals or build inferior products in an attempt to unseat a competitor only to suffer later because of issues with performance and the ability to finance projects signed.
And while the customer "is always right", make sure it's the right customer. Whole Foods doesn't look to compete against Wal-Mart on price. They understand their customer expects a different level of selection and experience. The worst thing you can do is to dilute your brand by trying to be all things to all people.
As a child, I spent many hours on the lake. I learned that the secret to driving a boat in a straight line is to focus on a point far in the distance and aim the boat toward it. Yes, I had to pay attention to the boats around me and make sure that I didn't go too fast to throw someone out of my boat, but my focus was consistently in the distance.
The same is true of a company. You must find a beacon in the distance for your company and drive your organization passionately in that direction.
A strategically focused leader finds a healthy balance between servicing internal needs and external threats. It is your job and your energy that will lead your organization to the destination you see.