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Posted: December 16, 2009

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do…

...and other rules for success in life and business

Laurence B. Valant

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from business performance improvement expert Larry Valant's book, Stop Breaking These Rules! 100 Hard-Hitting Truths for Business Integrity and Performance.

34 - Stress is the result of fear.

There is a source of stress that often characterizes those who hold positions of leadership - the fear of losing control. When things are not going my way or I feel unable to control the outcomes of my business, my personal world and (too often) the world of others with whom I work and live, I can become fearful. If unchecked, this fear soon manifests itself in physical and mental stress.

The ability to accept and adjust to results which may initially appear unfavorable is essential for anyone, not just those in a leadership role. I have often had to give up my specific agenda and adjust to unexpected outcomes. In doing so, I have learned to become open to new ideas and directions, which I can then use to further the ends being sought.

When I've been inflexible and closed, the results are increased stress for me and for those with whom I work and live. It has always been my experience that when I behave with flexibility and openness, my productivity and success improve dramatically and my fears and the resulting stress are reduced substantially.

35 - If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.

As it was true for Lewis Carroll's characters in this line from Alice in Wonderland, it is true for companies and their leaders.

Over the years I have been amazed at the number of companies and therefore their leaders who cannot answer the question, "What does success look like specifically in three, four, or five years?" The reason they cannot answer is that having a clear definition of success requires careful thought that - while strategic in nature - has the fundamental attribute of challenging thoroughly existing assumptions, preconceptions, and ideas about their business and their marketplace.

Those who are willing to challenge their existing assumptions and the course they have been traveling perhaps for many years are few and far between. Making these challenges truthfully and honestly and with great introspection requires a high level of courage. However, those who succeed at such a challenge invariably identify the road to be traveled and achieve their objectives.

Defining a road to success is tough duty. Choosing a clear course of action is easier when you are surrounded by like thinking people. When you are in the driver's seat and you aren't sure where you are going, it is nice to have someone along who can read a map.

36 - The CEO's job is to develop and hold his managers and people accountable.

Successful CEOs recognize that a significant part of their responsibility includes developing their management team and holding them accountable for results. But in order to hold people accountable, the CEO must develop commitment between and among every level of management from the top levels of the organization all the way down to first-line supervision.

The commitment made at every level of the organization must be to achieve both the annual and long-term objectives of the firm. This level of commitment only works if each level of management truly believes 1) the objectives are do-able, 2) they have the resources and abilities to achieve the objectives, and 3) the environment supports them and their success.

Commitment occurs when the members of an organization have the perception, which is real, that what they've been asked to do they can most certainly accomplish in the time and under the conditions agreed to. When commitment is achieved throughout an organization, then and only then is it possible for the CEO to hold people accountable.

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Laurence B. Valant is President and CEO of Valant & Co., a Denver-based business performance improvement consultancy that has worked with almost 300 firms to increase their value by billions of dollars. He is co-author of the hot-selling new book, “Make Plan! With Effective Execution” and now, “Lead and Manage!” Valant can be reached at lvalant@valantco.com or at 303-589-3840. If you want more information or would like to order a copy of “Stop Breaking These Rules! 100 Hard-Hitting Truths for Business Integrity and Performance,” please visit www.valantco.com.

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