A Message For Executives

Robert L. Veninga, Ph.D.

This is a tough time for Executives. According to a recent study, Chief Executive Officers have five fiscal quarters to prove themselves. They have eight months to develop a strategic vision, nineteen months to increase share price and twenty-one months to turn a company around. That's a lot of pressure. It's hardly a wonder that the proportion of senior executives answering "no" to the question: "Would you want to be a CEO today?" doubled in just one year from 26% to 54%. What can you do to make sure that you are up to the challenge? Here are four suggestions:

First, take care of your health. Now more than ever you need to hit the gym, take a walk, be mindful of your diet. For you are not going to do your company good if you are mentally or physically burned out.

Second, be productive, but not busy. As Henry David Thoreau noted: "It's not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?" Focus on that which is important. Be wary of answering every e-mail, every question. Stay focused.

Third, have a sanctuary. "Leaders need a sanctuary, a place where they can go to get back in touch with the worth of their life and the worth of their work." States Ronald Heifetz, a leading authority on leadership. A sanctuary might be taking a walk over the noon hour. It might be having lunch with a friend. It might be quietly reading a book that nurtures your soul. Everyone needs a sanctuary. The result when you have a sanctuary? You become focused on what is important. And your sense of vitality is restored.

Fourth, say thank-you. According to Gallup research, 65% of people polled indicated that they are not recognized for good work. And the #1 reason people leave their jobs is because they don't feel appreciated. There is power in a "thank-you". And there is punishment when thanks are not given.

One of my adult students at the University of Minnesota looked despondent. She asked me to read a performance review given by her employer. The review listed all of her accomplishments with a pay raise of only 1.4%. I said, "The small increase in salary must be disappointing." Her reply: "Yes - but what bothered me most was not receiving a thank-you." She paused and said: "Just a simple thank-you would have meant so much." A heartfelt "thank-you" means the world to employees.

Fifth, don't worry about striking out: You can't hit a home-run without taking a swing. In baseball you can "lose" 70% of the time and still have a .300% batting average and be a success. What is the best response when you lose? The novelist Paulo Coehlo said it best when he noted: "The secret of life is to fall seven times and get up eight times."

How best to deal with disappointment? Don't let critics control your life. When Robert Fulton first introduced his new invention the steamboat, critics crowded the river bank. They yelled: "It will never start. It will never start". Fulton proved his critics wrong. After many false-starts, the steamboat started to move down the river. The critics were momentarily quiet but then they yelled: "It'll never stop! It'll never stop!" Be wary of trying to please your critics. Because you never will.

Sixth, be as concerned about your family as you are about your business. Two executives were quoted in the Wall Street Journal about their relationship with their family. One stated: "I wish I had known sooner that if you miss a child's play or performance or sporting event, you will have forgotten a year later the work emergency that caused you to miss it. But the child won't have forgotten that you weren't there". Said another executive: "I can remember some blurry choices when my children were younger when I may not have attended a play or a soccer game because I had some conflicting business commitment. It's ironic that 25 years later I can remember I didn't go to that event but I can't remember what business thing I did and in some cases I have to stop to remember where I was even working." You will never go wrong by putting your family first.

Seventh, be cheerful. As Emerson, the Philosopher of Cheerful purpose states: "This time, like all times, is a very good one if we but know what to do with it.Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense." In other words - cheer up!

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