Monday, July 28, 2008

"I Feel Guilty When I'm Not at The Office" -- 4 Things to do When You're Not There

At a recent meeting of Chief Executive Boards International, a member was reporting to his Board on his objective (stated at a previous meeting) to "work from home one day a week." Despite his resolve to do so, a day a week away from the office just wasn't happening.

Then he said something really interesting. "I feel guilty when I'm not at the office." This is a recurring (and disturbing) theme among business owners. It's a peculiar "work ethic" that emotionally rewards activity, rather than effectiveness. And it gets in the way.

When a business owner is immersed working in the business, it's easy to forget that the best and highest use of his time is probably working on the business. Working on where the business is going, what that's going to take, and how can we get there faster? In most cases, the answers to those questions aren't "you'll need to work harder". Working harder (or working more) is not a sustainable growth or success strategy.

It's hard to work on the business at the office. There are a million reasons for people to interrupt you, phone calls to take, etc. It's almost essential to get physically away from the office on occasion.

One business owner actually gave this reason for declining to allocate time to working on his business: "Our small company has grown rapidly, and I find that to meet my profit margins I must undertake tasks that I normally would delegate to someone else. I have seen too many of my peers in our business fail because they over-delegated, resulting in a downward spiral of sales and profits."

This is a strategy that might be good for a week -- probably not for a month or a year. It's not sustainable, and it's not in the best interest of the owner, the business, or the customers. Yet it sounds good and feels good to him. He doesn't see that if the business will fail because he's not working harder, it will also fail when he runs out of gas, and can't work any harder. In the aviation business, they say "Never run out of airspeed, altitude and ideas all at the same time." Good advice -- especially the ideas part.

So, what would be worth doing, other than working in your business, to make it more successful, sustainable and scalable? Here are some ideas:
  1. Read -- The right book or magazine article at the right time will change your life. I can think of a dozen or so books from which I extracted a life-changing (or attitude-changing) idea or strategy. Don't discount this important source of ideas.
  2. Explore -- Look for sources of ideas beyond yourself, your company and your industry. Attend a conference or a seminar. And don't set your sights too high. If you attend a 1-day event, and just get ONE good idea that may be valuable to your company, that's a decent investment. It may have cost you a day, but it's an idea you probably wouldn't have hatched on your own. And could be worth millions.
  3. Surround yourself with "thought leaders" -- people whose businesses you admire and would like to emulate. Better not in your industry than within your industry. People beset by exactly the same problems tend to know too much about "what can't be done". Look for places such people congregate, and go there regularly.
  4. Surround yourself with "curious" people -- There are those who value ideas and knowledge for their own sake. This is more of a personality attribute than a skill. These are people who can help you connect dots that aren't apparently that close together -- at first. Check out The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures, by . Curious people tend to be the "Connectors" and "Mavens" described in The Tipping Point, by Malcom Gladwell. They see connections where you won't.

Most of these things you have to do outside the office. And they're worthwhile and important to the business. Give yourself permission to do something you know will matter, and ignore that little voice that says "You ought to be at the office." It will quiet down over time.

The Chief Executive Boards International experience is designed to leverage ALL these ideas. We can't read for you, but we do regularly use book reviews as a platform for discussions and presentations. CEBI events give you an opportunity to get away from the office and explore, as well as surround yourself with both thought leaders and (other) curious people.

We have no corner on the market for ideas, however. There are lots of good places to get them. And when you do, apply the CEBI mantra "We Share Ideas". Pass it along to someone else.

Would you click "Comments" below and share with us a place where you get ideas? And maybe some examples?

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Terry Weaver

Chief Executive Boards International

Chief Executive Boards International: Freedom for business owners & CEOs -- Less Work, More Money, More Freedom to enjoy it

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