Lisa Messenger, Author, Daring & Disruptive
When describing the life of a CEO, ‘busy’ doesn’t cut it. Be they at the start of their business journey when every dollar counts, or helming a team of hundreds, a CEO is usually spread thinner than that precious last scrape of Nutella. Budgets, reports, legal issues, people management and operational issues make up the day, escalating as you grow. What you invest in personally becomes crucial to success and here are three things I’ve learnt not to skimp on along the way:
Your most valuable asset is your mind – that buzzing mass of matter that jolts into gear at 3am with a brilliant idea that could spell creative breakthroughs, fresh innovation and fist-pumping success for your company, but won’t get off the ground without the learning you took from that seminar, the connection you made at that conference or the consultant you just brought on board. Continuous self-improvement of you, as CEO, is what will propel your business forward but when life (and work) gets busy, we often put ourselves to the bottom of the pile and this is where many CEOs go wrong. Instead, it is crucial to prioritize yourself and your own learning. Let curiosity be your guide and invest in education, courses and any chance for solid, helpful peer-to-peer interaction.
As an early-stage business owner with barely any semblance of a client base or income, I wrote a cheque for AU$1200 to buy myself a spot at a conference. At the time, I really couldn’t afford it but I held true to the notion that to invest in myself was the best investment I could make for the future of the business. The conference not only inspired and empowered me more than anything I had attended to that point, but it also threw me into a room of my business’ exact target market and I was able to convert a handful of them to clients, each bringing in around AU$50,000, making it worthwhile on many levels.
Years before, with even less cash in my pocket, I somehow scraped together the deposit for a personal development course called The Hoffman Process – a week-long retreat tackling anxiety, relationships, grief and leadership issues and it completely changed my life. The lesson here? Don’t be stingy when it comes to your mind, body and spirit. To this day, I never hesitate to spend money on things I think will positively impact the business or myself, knowing that I set the culture and the course of my business.
As entrepreneur and thought leader Tom Peters says, “The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.” As leaders, we know we should invest a bucket load of TLC and strategic thought into our people. I often smile on the stark contrast between two office visits I recently made: Martha Stewart’s pristine, orderly New York offices and Zappos HQ, where CEO Tony Hsieh encourages staff members to make the space their own (it’s the most glorious tangle of functioning chaos complete with half-blown up balloons and oddly-shaped streamers!). Google boasts an indoor slide, while over at The Muse, the team holds a weekly ‘things that suck’ meeting. Other friends send staff on “inspirational days” every month, we always stop on a Friday and talk about what we’re grateful for in that moment, and I’m personally a huge fan of empowering the people within your company to be the best they can be in a role that excited and energizes them. Big players know that culture is key to success, and that even as your companies grows, that this pillar should be preserved even in the face of disruption and change.
Creating a culture of inspiration and empowerment is about many things – but something that is important to me personally is the space in which my team works. I wanted to create a space they enjoyed being in – and thriving in. I always seek out a space abundant in fresh air, natural light and plants (numerous studies have found that greenery in the office increases employee productivity) – ultimately a beautiful space that feels like home. For us, that means a well-stocked fridge, chairs you can sink into, yoga on the deck, without a corporate suit or stuffy boardroom in sight. We throw in some animals and kids to create a fluid, fun environment where people can excel in. What does your space – and more importantly, your culture, look like?
From my first day in business, I made a resolution to always help others, even if I had little cash in my pocket in those early days. Today I’m so grateful to have a platform from which to give back, and as a company, we’ve made it part of our philosophy. Whenever a charity asks us for collateral for functions, goodie bags, what have you, our answer is almost always a resounding “yes”. I’ll do my best to invest time for charitable events, and dedicate much of the content we produce online and in print to raising awareness of companies and brands that bolster social change, or to causes that touch our hearts.
CEOs the world over are purposefully weaving social responsibility into their business models, along with setting an example in themselves. GoPro CEO Nicholas Woodman donated US$500 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and back at camp Google they’re matching up to US$3000 of any employee’s contributions to non-profit organisations. But, whether your company has a lot of money for CSR (corporate social responsibility) or not, I believe the key is ensuring that we as business leaders always focus on this area – at work and also as individuals. It is important to create businesses that make money so they can make a difference, but it’s also important to never lose sight of your personal responsibility to do good in this world. There’s no greater return on investment than the change you can bring about from this. Good luck!