As CEO of your business, you arrive at your desk to find a supplier has stopped your account. You failed to pay him for the third time according to his terms. You have plenty of cash in the bank but you were being just a little too smart with the cash flow management. The sales manager approaches you about John, the salesman who performs erratically and is if off sick again. Your HR/admin person pops by with a letter from an ex-employee who is suing for unfair dismissal. The sales report on your desk is telling you the new product sales suck. Your marketing dashboard has good news and bad news on it.

How do we allocate our time as leaders? How do we work on the right stuff? It’s so easy to get blown off course – to get tied up in the weeds. You could be a CEO of a $5m business, a $100m business. You could be a sales manager with 20 staff.

I think the key is to go first.

The key is to write down the questions that define your priorities. Only then can you really justifiably own, delegate or hand off the plethora of issues flying at you.

Let’s take a real example – imagine you are CEO of a $10m manufacturing business. You might list these questions:

  1. Are the marketing and sales teams in alignment?
  2. Do we have an effective onboarding system including implementation?
  3. Do we need to better define the organization structure and the roles of the key players? Do I have the right people in the right roles?
  4. What is the Product Road Map over the next 12 months? Could we dominate a niche? Is the product range too wide, too narrow?
  5. What is the next 6 months recruitment plan?
  6. Should we consider acquisitions?
  7. Should we develop stronger overseas reseller partners?
  8. Is the business scaling efficiently?
  9. How does our performance compare with the market leaders?
  10. Are we generating quality content, telling our story to the marketplace?

We are so often defined by the questions we ask. Working on the right stuff is determined by a standard. The standard is what should we be working on? And as aggressively as you can, push all those “side shows” to other people because all issues have a proper home. Of course you can always work really hard on the wrong stuff but don’t complain next year when the progress you craved hasn’t happened.