I am very fortunate to coach some amazing Executives and companies who have a desire to dramatically accelerate their business. Of course every situation is different, and these Executives and the shareholders who own these companies have different end goals. But all want to grow their companies and to grow them fast. Few individuals and companies I work with are accepting of their current growth rates -the pressure therefore to figure out HOW to grow (strategy) and then to implement it (tactics) is constant. I therefore often start at a place that has both a science attached to it and also a lot of highly experienced Executives who have learned the hard way (and that includes me!). It’s the science and practice of leverage - of using whatever options are open to you that allow an acceleration to take place. So, lets investigate this most influential of business topics.
Leverage is often overlooked by inexperienced Executives. I recall when I took on the role of worldwide VP of Sales for a highly visible publicly traded company. I felt great and wanted to impress (as well as make a lot of money). I knew this would come through by continuing the rapid growth the company had experienced in its short life span. I worked hard, then harder, then longer. I relinquished my morning and afternoon breaks, and started to work through lunch. I then shortened many of my meetings so I could have even more meetings in a day. I travelled around the world on business trips at the weekends to ensure I could maximize my time with staff, customers and partners during the week.
I wore a big “S” on my chest since miraculously I thought I was being Superman.
There seemed no end to the amount of hours I could work, and as the business grew alongside continued growth demands, I simply worked more hours. Relaxing weekends came and gone, replaced instead by working weekends. I booked my dentist appointments as early in the morning or as late in the day as possible so as not to interrupt my business meetings. Eventually,through coaching, I figured out that I was completely and utterly out of time control, and to be frank likely completely out of control. A very sobering realization. Should I resign now and save my health, since the pressures was relentlessly increasing. No! I decided to figure out a better, more sustainable, more wisdom-biased way - and that’s when I found leverage!
So consider these top tips that, when you are ready, can be embedded into your leadership role and really become the catalysts for some serious business acceleration!
1. “Only do the things that only you can do”– simply put, the best coaching advice I ever received. Try this simple exercise for a day and I guarantee it will get you to stop in your tracks! For every action you do today, email, telephone call, meeting or other, ask yourself a simple question - “Could someone else in the company do this action or I am the only one who can?” If you are the only one then of course tackle the action. If you are not, then STOP! Figure out how not to do the action and instead delegate, action or empower someone else to do it. If you apply this religiously you might be able to reduce your workload by about 60% in a week. I know I did!
2. Balance and re-balance using time-buckets - this entails allocating suitable time for each of the important time-buckets in your life. Consider them to include work time, family time, hobby time, vacation time, etc. The trick is simple - if the insatiably-hungry time monster called work calls for more time in a given time period, then ensure that wherever you take the time from (normally the family time-bucket incidentally!), then you re-balance at the earliest possible opportunity. For example if you have to work 4 hours more than expected this week and take it from your family time-bucket, then re-balance next week by working 4 hours less at work, and giving back 4 ‘extra’ hours to your family. It sounds aggressive, but through personal experience I can say that it actually works, and works well. I learned the necessity to implement this the hard way however!
3. Spend more time on strategy - as a leader it is your responsibility to apply whatever amount of time is necessary to strategy creation and deployment. The more experienced I became as an Executive the more I realized the necessity to increase the amount of time I allocated to this key function. The more I did, the more I was able to think about, and find novel ways of applying leverage. The business accelerated accordingly!
4. Learn to say “No” as often as “Yes” - and believe that saying “No” is a strength that needs to be developed in all executives. When your strategy is clear, and you are operating under a clear time-bucket system, then saying “No” (when appropriate) actually becomes easy and obvious. Of course learn to say “No” with some explanation, otherwise you might just alienate yourself quickly from your teammates.
5. Take proper vacations - you might be wondering how this is related to leverage. Simple - you are leveraging your vacation time to recharge you, which in turn will give you much more energy, creativity and vigour to maintain your high performance when you are back at work again. The most talented Executive leaders ALWAYS take periodic, planned and timely vacation!
6. Build your arsenal of levers - for example real-estate savvy investors know well the massive lever of using OPM (Other People’s Money) to grow wealth through leverage. This might sound shady, but consider going to a national bank and getting a mortgage for an investment property. Totally ethical, and evidence of leverage in action. Now carefully and periodically think of all of the potential levers that you have access to. They can include leveraging other people’s time, money, expertise, relationships, partnerships, networks, etc. See if you can come up with a list of 20-30 leverage categories in your own business - since surely they are there!
7. Look for leverage opportunities in everything - and this means everything! Similar to the exercise you did in step 1 above, consider asking the simple question BEFORE actioning every action, “What leverage potential exists here?” It will get you thinking pro-actively about leverage, and with a little patience and practice, you will come up with some really amazing ideas and opportunities. You don’t need to action every one, but try implementing more and more, and you will surely be heading towards becoming a leverage master!
All of the above points will directly or indirectly help you along the path of leverage.
It’s really about using your brains and not your brawn.
It’s about using the science of leverage and applying it to business. It’s about realizing what many successful Executives before you have realized. Leverage really is one of the very few factors that differentiate the winners from the losers. The doers from the talkers. The great from the good. So, master leverage and take control of your destiny! And start now!