I often say that you are the only one who can make something happen, and it’s true. As a startup founder, you are the single person who can ultimately control the destiny of your vision, product and company. That does not mean that you can – or should – be trying to go it alone, or doing everything yourself. I can tell you what will happen if you try: you’ll be pulled apart by the competing demands of your personnel, investors, board, and customers – not to mention your personal life. When it comes to deciding to take notes in a meeting (or even attending the meeting), spending time with an employee that may be having a hard time, or being on a sales call, you need to be able to decide instantly what is most important and focus your attention there. The trick is, each of those things may be the most important thing – just not all at the same time.
I’ll admit, I misplace things; I’ve lost cell phones, I’ve left computers on planes, and I attribute my forgetfulness to the fact that those are things, replaceable things. Where I am laser-focused, on the other hand, is on what will have the greatest impact towards something I’m trying to move forward. You won’t often see me taking notes in meetings. I’m very present and aware, and I can quickly select and summarize the very few (often just one) most important action items needed. It’s not that I’m not paying attention or taking the meeting seriously, I’m just always prioritizing.
Here are three simple ways to radically change your focus for the better.
- Know the difference between urgent and important.
This may be the most difficult thing for founders, who have often built their startup up from a truly solo operation, to learn. Just because it is urgent, does not mean it is important. Even if it is both urgent and important, it still does not necessarily mean that you are the only person on the planet that can handle it or that it’s going to have the biggest impact on your growth.
My advice: if someone else can do it, let them do it. Trust them and empower them to do it. If you are messing with colors in a Powerpoint, something has gone very wrong. If you’re spending time on busywork, ask yourself why. Is it insecurity? Get coaching. Is your team incompetent? Probably not, but, if they are, isn’t your time better spent fixing that problem than debating embossed vs debossed logos on your corporate stationary or reconciling expenses? You will always be able to find a reason to start messing with spreadsheets, the key is handing that to someone far better suited to that task than you in order to free yourself up for the truly important work of taking a game changing technology to market and growing your business successfully. Stephen Covey, author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” created a matrix to determine whether something is urgent or important, because it can be that hard to tell. Strategic work never seems urgent and, if you stay so busy you don’t have time to focus on strategy, you will never get to the real work – the strategic, inspired work that only you can do, the work that will ultimately take your business to the next level.
Entrepreneurs wear a lot of hats. Get rid of some hats.
- Stop. Listen. Then Act.
When you’re a founder CEO, your survival depends on your success and you feel driven and focused on that every second of the day. That’s a lot of pressure – and it can make you afraid (and fear will always make you focus on the wrong things). Being scared is good, if you can drown everything else out and focus on what you know needs to be done to fight another day. Too often, though, our instinct is to react and do, instead of engaging in the critical act (and business skill) of listening first.
So, stop. Stop moving so fast. Stop doing unnecessary tasks. Stop doing other people’s jobs. Stop making excuses. Stop worrying about things that may be out of your control.
Start listening to your customers. Start selling – even if you think it’s too early. Start listening to your teams. Start listening to mentors and executive coaches. Start listening to the market and what it’s trying to tell you about improving your offering. Start listening to your intuition, which will lead you in the right direction if you just slow down and pay attention.
Then, quickly make your move. By taking the time to listen and be strategic in your response, you’ll make less mistakes and deliver a more valuable product to market, position your company for resilience, and not allow emotion to dictate your actions. There are enough obstacles in the path to success, don’t create new ones for yourself by getting in a hurry.
Sometimes the best thing to do is not to do anything – for a moment, at least.
- Focus on what you’re great at (and then also be good at sales).
You didn’t launch a startup because you had a passion for payroll. Focus on what feels big and exciting about your organization. It takes confidence to lead towards success. The world is harsh, the market is tough, and the cold, hard truth is: you could do everything right and still fail. You have to be willing to walk forward with resilience and always be selling (internally and externally) so that your team, your investors, and your board of directors will follow you into the void.
Passion is a critical component of success for entrepreneurs because it keeps you engaged and agile. Staying passionate and excited about your product puts you in a more resilient mindset to hear feedback and make changes, to survive challenges, and to be constantly learning in ways that will allow you to improve. Passionate entrepreneurs are better at clarifying and delivering their message, their Wow! Factor for important stakeholders like consumers and investors. Keeping your focus on the areas that build up your confidence and expertise will have a direct impact on the health and prosperity of your company. And, best of all, passionately and knowledgeably speaking about your product will help you network, attract investors and customers and make you a hell of a salesperson.
Be the best you can be at the things you do best. That’s enough.
Control What You Can
As a startup founder, you know as well as anyone that there are a lot of factors that are out of your control. Your customers, investors and internal teams are looking to you to provide confident, resilient leadership towards success. The best way to stop feeling overwhelmed is to focus on what you can control and control it. If someone besides you can handle a task or initiative, you’re still handling it by empowering them – and, frankly, the people on your payroll should be better than you at handling most things. Your mind needs to be given the space to think bigger, to look into the future, and to get ready, so you can lead your team into what’s coming for you. They are counting on you, and so are your existing customers (and your potential customers that aren’t even yet aware that they are counting on you). Ready to change the world with your tech vision? I’d like to hear about it.
Enjoy the ride.