Four Ways to Energize Your 2007 Business Growth
by Lisa Nirell

As a business leader, what would your life look like if your growth strategy were clear, focused, and exciting?

Despite the amount of industry consolidation, globalization, margin erosion, and talent shortage, the dream of doing more of what you love is alive, and it's doing well. It simply takes time and patience to learn how to get it. After spending one year interviewing top performing CEOs, I found that leaders running energized growth companies ruthlessly ask three questions throughout the life of their businesses:

  1. What are we passionate about?

  2. What can we be excellent at doing?

  3. How well does it fuel our economic engine, and can we be paid well for it?

    Source: Jim Collins, Author of Good to Great, "hedgehog concept"

How often do you honestly answer these questions? More important, how swiftly do you make needed changes to your company's growth strategy?

If you answered "seldom" or "never," you are not alone.

Five Energy Drainers

Effective entrepreneurs plan for growth. But great ones know how to energize growth. What separates the two? We discovered five common obstacles:

  1. Saying "yes" to too many things. How many times have you been stuck in your office at midnight, working on some volunteer project, and missing another moment to enjoy your children? If this has happened to you more than once, perhaps obligation, guilt, and "should do" lists are ruling your life.

  2. Discovering that former best-selling products do not make money like they used to -- yet they stay on the product list. Every month becomes a contest to see whether these products will be profitable. This often leads to employees not knowing the behaviors and measures that drive profitable business. Therefore, non-selling employees cannot explain how their jobs tie to the financial success of the company.

  3. Not knowing what ideas are worth pursuing. Every idea seems valid and equally exciting. Should you do them all at once or one at a time? Which ideas will pay off? Most over-committed entrepreneurs avoid using any feedback system to separate "good ideas" from viable business models. (If I had a dime for every good idea that had no passion behind it, I would be a billionaire!)

  4. Having more tasks to do than hours in the day. Too often, entrepreneurs let themselves get distracted with every "ring" on their computer telling them another e-mail has come in. Other people's priorities rule their day, and many of them are not customers. These leaders typically say they are overwhelmed and exhausted. As a recovering high tech professional, I can now admit it: I allowed myself to be seduced by the allure of 24 x 7 voicemail and "urgent" emails.

  5. Trading hours for dollars. Few founders have discovered the passive income route in their companies. Often, they think "hours for dollars" is the only method to generate revenue. During one of my interviews with Dr. Stephen Covey, I learned we are living in the Wisdom Age. We have surpassed the Information Age. Today, lifelong learners want to share knowledge. They will pay handsomely for that knowledge. Yet entrepreneurs often stay stuck in the "hours for dollars" trap. They miss new opportunities to grow their businesses because they're overly focused on product delivery and firefighting.

Switch on the Energy

Great things happen when entrepreneurs shift their view of themselves to an expert who surrounds herself with technicians and specialists. These four steps can help you avoid these strategic growth maladies, and focus on high-return activities that energize you ...

  1. Eliminate hidden roadblocks getting in the way of your growth. Develop a set of ruthlessly honest questions and share them with your team. If they are well developed, they will reveal an area of your business that is draining you of profits and opportunity. The Five Focused Questions I share with business owners took me months to develop, and they work every time.

  2. Know your style, natural gifts, and blind spots as an entrepreneurial leader. Invest a few thousand dollars in personality assessments (such as PDP, MBTI and Predictive Index) for new hires and potential top performers. Have you ever measured the impact of one bad hire? Applying this strategy will cost a fraction of that hit to your bottom line.

  3. Develop a feedback system to ensure that your company's "hedgehog" honors your financial and personal goals. If you are a private or family owned business, you answer to yourself and your family, not Wall Street. Hire an objective outsider to gather the feedback. Your built-in human filters will block important information if you try doing this alone.

  4. Create a custom dashboard to communicate, guide and measure growth in your company, and focus more on what is of highest value to your employees and customers. If you are currently using only trailing indicators to lead your business, chances are you have made costly strategic choices in the past. In his newest book, "Corporate Canaries," seasoned serial turnaround CEO and author Gary Sutton cautions, "One of the three ways to kill your company is to have fuzzy direction. Even while Fortune, Business Week and all the others were naming Enron 'Company of the Year,' nobody could describe what they were doing. If you don't have two or three forward indicators, your controls are incomplete."

Clarity and focus create freedom - freedom to do what you love, and what your customers will handsomely reward you to do. When you practice these energized growth habits, your life is guaranteed to look different!

Lisa Nirell is Chief Energy Officer of EnergizeGrowth, a strategy consulting and publishing firm based in Sunriver, OR. She helps successful entrepreneurial leaders who have not yet reached the level of achievement they know is possible. Visit for additional resources. To request your free 35 Page Strategy Field Guide (a $37 value), email

Many more articles in Creative Leadership in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2006 by Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

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