Being the leader of a business isn’t always glamourous. More often than not, your time is going to be spent figuring out where your company went wrong.
In the book Great CEOs Are Lazy (Inc. Original Imprint, 2016), leadership consultant Jim Schleckser argues that the best CEOs aren’t the ones who spend 100 hours every week at the office–instead, they are the ones who know how to effectively spend their time. In the following edited excerpt, Schleckser, the CEO of the Inc. CEO Project, a coaching and peer advisory organization, explains why that many executives struggle to find time to address organizational problems.
If you wanted to water plants in your garden and you squeezed the handle on the hose nozzle and the water only dribbled out, you’d quickly realize that a kink in the hose was restricting the flow. Solving the problem, of course, would be as simple as locating and untangling the kink. What would happen if you began to think about your company’s flow rate–the revenues, profits, growth, and service to your customers–in the same way? If you find yourself confronting poor results–a dribble–or even if you are looking for new paths for growth in your company’s performance, wouldn’t your time be best served identifying and removing the kinks? Unfortunately, many executives try to get more water to flow without dealing with the underlying issue–the kink in the hose.
To drive organizational performance to new levels, leaders need to be willing to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones and challenge themselves to tackle tasks that will truly lead to results.
Obviously every business is far more complex than a garden hose is. But the lesson about identifying and removing constraints–anything that prevents you from reaching your goals–holds true. This notion was studied extensively by Eliyahu Goldratt, an Israeli physicist turned management guru who defined the Theory of Constraints, which can be summed up by the ancient adage that no chain is stronger than its weakest link. Goldratt believed that the very best chapter one: Identifying Your Point of Constraint 7 organizations learn to continually identify their weakest links and then restructure to remove these links in a way that could propel the organization forward–unkinking the hose. Most important, all work that is not at the point of constraint is a waste. Yet, thousands of CEOs continue to work all along the hose, hoping that some of their effort is actually useful rather than finding the kink and applying all of their time and effort at that point.
In his research, Goldratt focused most of his early work on manufacturing operations and, specifically within that realm, on finding what one process or piece of equipment might be inhibiting throughput. But the same principles apply regardless of the system or process you study. Your primary mission as CEO is to identify and remove constraints, whether they’re related to quickly designing new products; understanding why you’re not fulfilling orders fast enough; figuring out why it takes so long to hire people, close the books, or acquire new customers; or determining why you can’t keep your customers coming back. Do these sound like tasks a CEO should delegate? Do you think you should be spending more time focusing on things that don’t add as much organizational value?
Not based on our research. The point is that the single most important job any CEO of a growing company can perform is identifying the constraints that are keeping the organization from sprinting forward in the right direction and then allocating as much of their time as needed to remove them, thus freeing up space for the organization to perform more effectively. Using the garden hose analogy, our Lazy CEO will notice the dribble of water, find the kink in the hose, untangle it, promptly hand the hose back to someone in the organization, make sure the system won’t allow another kink at that place, and eventually head back to their lounge chair. After all, can’t harvest the fruits of your labor if your garden dies from a lack of water.