February 28, 2019
Taking Some Me Time
There’s an old business adage in which a CFO is discussing the expenses for team development with his boss, asking, “What happens if we invest in our employees and they leave?” The CEO responds, “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”
This juxtaposition in perspective is meant to highlight the great importance of developing your team over time. Companies have to stay competitive, and while cost is always an issue, I know very few business owners or executives who would dispute that developing their team is a key driver to maintaining and growing your business. But what about developing yourself?
Putting one’s self last is a natural inclination for many leaders. And for those to whom it does not come naturally, there are a host of best-selling books telling how to develop the skill. I am a fan of Simon Sinek myself, as well as the book “Leaders Eat Last,” which makes many valid points about culture and situational leadership. But, like anything, if taken to extremes, the tendency to put one’s own needs last can at times be counterproductive, especially when it comes to training yourself and developing your knowledge and skills.
Just as marksmanship skills can dull without trigger time, so can leadership and management skills. But, if you don’t have someone to look to who has something to teach you, it is very hard to learn. So, what kinds of things can you do to raise the level of your game as a business leader, and stay on top of it?
By the Book
Ray Bradbury, the author of “Fahrenheit 451,” said, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture, you just have to get people to stop reading them.” As it relates to this conversation about leadership, this translates directly to “don’t stop reading,” something that can easily fall by the wayside when we are busy with work, family or just plain dog-tired at the end of the day.
The easiest and most customizable way to make sure to develop yourself is simply to make and take time to read. Non-fiction books on business leadership are available by the truckload, as are those that cover an area of technical expertise. There are also professional journals and industry magazines, and while if you’re an experienced business leader these types of tomes may not tell you a whole bunch of things you don’t already know, you will get something out of it — be it a factoid or a different perspective. Even works of fiction can provide inspiration or some turn of the story that prompts you to look at a real-life problem in a different light. Can’t find 30 minutes between your daughter’s soccer game and dinner? Then look to audiobooks or one of the many streaming services for them out there and turn your commute into educational time. Don’t let your world shrink to the limited perspective offered you by your daily interactions, network news and Facebook. Read to keep your eyes (or ears) open to constant learning.
Beyond the Watercooler
The old saying “It’s lonely at the top” can ring very true if you’re the owner or leader of your company. You may feel like no one on your team completely shares your perspective, just as it may not be practical to be completely open with them and throw your management instincts on the table for a frank conversation.
But you are not alone. As of the last census, there were 27.9 million small businesses in the United States, and over 18,000 with 500 employees or more. Every one of those has an owner or a top executive. Network with your peers — business clubs, networking organizations and trade associations are fantastic ways to meet people who have been through what you’re going through — be open and honest, and it is possible to build educational friendships or even mentorship relationships that will pay dividends both to you personally and to your business.
Get a Coach
At a company in which you were trying to work your way to the top, or especially at the first few jobs you had in your career, you were constantly learning. You had a boss or a more experienced co-worker who, even subconsciously, you were learning from every single day. When you own your own business or have reached the top spot, that dynamic changes, though, and you become the one teaching everyone else — and there is no one left to teach you.
Well, at least it might seem that way. But the reality is there are people out there, most successful former entrepreneurs and executives, who make a business out of “executive coaching.” The enterprise central to their careers might not have been the same as yours, and the technical aspects may differ, but these coaches can provide a lot of value in simply being a peer to speak with confidentially, discuss ideas and gain perspective. It’s no different than Tom Brady and Bill Belichick — you still need your coach to show you the right play sometimes.
Practical Application Questions
To apply the lessons in this article, here are some questions to ask yourself.
Immediately After Reading:
- When was the last time I felt I truly learned something that improved my professional skill set and made me a better business leader, and where did I learn that?
- How can I seek to replicate that experience, and how do I fit that into my schedule?
- Could I benefit from the advice of a peer, mentor, or coach?
Three Months After Reading:
- Have I increased the amount of time I invest in personal/professional development?
- Has the frequency with which I experience learning moments or new perspective increased?
- How can I facilitate continuous improvement in my professional development?
About the Author
Josh Fiorini is the former CEO of PTR Industries, Inc. He spent the first decade of his career in finance, holding positions as an equity analyst and portfolio manager before starting his own hedge fund. This experience, along with a deep background in manufacturing, banking and private equity, has made him a sought-after contributor on numerous boards and discussion groups on political and economic issues for media outlets, corporations and community organizations. Fiorini currently invests his time and resources with non-profit initiatives and acts as a contributor and management consultant to various firms in the firearms industry as the founding and Managing Partner in the firm Narrow Gate Management.