Posts by Gretchen Anthony

Gretchen Anthony is the President and Founder of the communication consultancy Tilt. Online at

Where the Focus Goes, the Business Goes


I’ll venture to guess that a book narrated by a talking dog named Enzo isn’t on your list of go-to business books.

I won’t even argue that it should be. But there is one important lesson to be gained from Garth Stein‘s novel about a rising-star race car driver, The Art of Racing in the Rain.

The lesson is this:

Where the eyes go, the car goes.

This is a fitting metaphor for business, wouldn’t you say? Your results are a direct result of your focus.

Keep it Between the Ditches

We’ve learned some variation of this lesson first-hand, every one of us. We set grand goals for our businesses, we lay a course to achieving them, we even get the right people on the bus.

And somewhere along the way we get lost and, worse yet, find our plans hurtling full speed ahead toward the ditch.  Out of breath we ask ourselves, “What just happened?”

Where the focus goes, the business goes.

Pick a Lane

Let me share a few examples of what happens when leaders “pick the wrong lane” in driving their businesses.

Example One: Lost Focus

Car in DitchFor several years my firm worked with a large corporation whose senior executive team passed down a series of ill-fated decisions. Each decision was, in all likelihood, considered and made in the business’ best interest. But on the whole the decisions appeared reactive and impulsive.

Worse yet, they lacked follow-through; decisions with serious organizational implications were announced and subsequently left unimplemented for months.

Programs launched with grand fanfare and died quietly.

During that period our firm collected employee engagement data that demonstrated a serious lack of confidence in leadership. Also during the period, profits fell despite deep and ongoing cost cutting efforts.

The two results are not coincidental. The executive team’s focus on quick fixes drained the business. Not until they settled down and drove with focus on longer-term solutions would their business turn around.

Example Two: Lost Messaging

Beggars Can't Be ChoosersA colleague leads a nonprofit organization who, like so many organizations like it, struggled to build a base of volunteers sufficient enough to achieve its work.

Their communications team, he told me, began to sound like beggars on the street corner.

“We need help! Please help. Every little bit of your time helps. Please? Pretty please?”

They needed to drive in a different direction to get to a different place. They needed to stop communicating like beggars and refine their messaging to something that would work effectively with their audience. They needed to refocus the message.

“We needed to quit begging and start talking about everything we accomplished with the blessings we already had.”

Once they focused on their successes — you guessed it — they got more volunteers. People want to be a part of a winning organization, not a struggling one. Perspective, internal and external, really is everything.

Life in the Leadership Fast Lane

There are four immediate steps you can take to identify the distractions drawing focus from your goals.

  1. Like any agency or law firm, track the time you spend on specific tasks. Do this for the next week or two. To do so takes nothing more technical than a spreadsheet. Be specific and be honest.
  2. Assess the gap between your activities and your goals. If you’re not spending the majority of your work day on tasks directly related to your business goals, you’re out of focus.
  3. Identify the culprits that steal your productivity and results. And be honest in doing so. It’s easy to blame distractions on others, particularly our direct managers. But how many tasks did you take on that you should have or could have pushed back on in favor of work directly supporting your business goals?
  4. Use your data to manage up. Once you’ve gathered real data on where your time is going, engage in a discussion with your direct manager about the implications of your focus. If your leadership truly supports your business goals, together you will find a way to allocate appropriate time to achieving them. If not, engage in a discussion about how to rewrite your business goals appropriately. In other words, de-clutter your focus and get buy-in in of doing so.

Where has your focus been lately? Where has that focus gotten you? Are you on the right road? Are you in the correct lane? Are you going in the right direction. And how has your business responded? We’d love to hear from you!

Gretchen Anthony is the President and founder of Tilt Consulting
She helps with communication planning, development & change communications

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Leadership Competition in Your Own Backyard

A few months ago the president of the board told me I wasn’t good at my job.

Well, he didn’t verbalized his thoughts with words to me. What he did was actually more hurtful to me.

He “told me” I wasn’t doing a good job at my work by stepping in and doing my job for me. Ouch!

The Backstory

I was attending the monthly meeting for one of the boards on which I sit and we were planning a major asset acquisition. We had the financials in place, but everything wasn’t yet complete. We had some major hurdles to leap. We had some internal and external selling to do and we needed to gain the buy-in of the critical mass of everyone involved.

There were stakeholder meetings to convene, presentations to compile, key messages to construct – all the typical elements a change communication strategist like me gets her hands dirty on. We were playing in my sandbox. I was in charge of the tasks and was ready, willing, and capable to make everything come into place.

But rather than being involved in my job, it was done without me! I wasn’t consulted on any of it.I went home and steamed.

“What good was I doing on the board if my skills aren’t utilized? Why was I bothering to invest my time? Who does he think he is, anyway?”

I couldn’t believe that I was “dissed” so badly. I was angry, hurt, and felt targeted. But the biggest source of pain comes from the fact that I was clobbered from someone on my team!

Competition Doesn’t Come Just From Competitors

In addition to being on a board, I am also a small-business owner. I’m accustomed to keeping an eye on my competitors so that I can continue to do what I do. This concentration toward competitive forces has always been directed outside of my firm or team. What took me by surprise with the incident at the board was that  competition came from members of my ownteam.

Surprising? Yes! But it reminded me of one salient point about the nature of competitive forces:

Competition is based on interest, not on title, market share, or position. Let’s face it, if someone – friendly or not – has an eye on the same interests as you, you’ve got competition.

Competition Everywhere

Not long after my board encounter, I sat in a client’s office as she worried that key responsibilities were slowly being stripped from her organization by the leader of another business unit. The evidence appeared to support her claim.

Later, a colleague vented about a decision his client made to allow a competitor agency to attend one of his meetings. The client had an ongoing relationship with both agencies and hoped that by allowing mutual access, both consultants would gain insight into the company’s needs.

Instead of sitting quietly and observing, however, the consultant from the competitor agency chimed in with opposing views, nitpicked my colleague’s approach and created an uncomfortable atmosphere.

I was heckled in my own meeting!” he told me.

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise…

Unexpected competition can lead to unexpected reactions.

When competition takes us by surprise, when it sets up a lawn chair and heckles us in our own backyard, things can get nasty.

There are three typical responses to an unexpected backyard visitor.

1) Paranoia

We’re often so busy as leaders that we lose site of the influences outside our ranks. Why, for example, would the president of our board want to take on the communications responsibility when he had expert resources at his disposal? Had I done something wrong? Was my work to date unsatisfactory? Where was this coming from? When we are blindsided, we cannot help but begin questioning.

That barrage of self-doubt can make us a little crazy. And crazy thinkers are rarely clear thinkers.

2) Sell the house, we’re moving

If we can’t protect our own territory, what’s the sense in staying? As leaders, we’re quick to blame ourselves, especially when  we feel we’ve failed. As my client told me about the responsibilities she was at risk of losing, she blurted out, “Let them have what they want. I’m done!”

Real leaders aren’t quitters by nature, but we can be too quick to cut our losses.

3) Friendly neighbors becomes nasty neighbors

The saddest reality of “backyard” competition is that it can make us less cooperative, at least in the short-term. It’s a natural response. If “playing nice” leads to a sense of being invaded, why play nice anymore? My consulting colleague certainly played nice by allowing a competitor into his meeting.

He’s not likely to allow it again.

Keep Your Cool

Handle unexpected competition “without losing your cool” is they to keeping your effective leadership on track.

So what to do when you come face-to-face with the competitor sneaking into your yard? Let yourself go through the shock and then ask yourself three questions.

1) What are the needs that I’m not fulfilling? When competition enters your yard, it’s found an opening. It’s your yard. You must close the gaps.

2) Is there even a problem that needs fixing? Often competitors strengthen us in unforeseen ways. Consider the prospects in your situation beyond the temporary setback.

3) If there is a problem, what is required to fix it? Competition can be a wake up call that the landscape in which you work has changed. Do what it takes to understand the new landscape. Then draw a new map.

Competition happens. Without it we’d grow stale, bored, and worse. When it sneaks into the safest sanctuaries of your life and career, find opportunity. Not division.

What competition have you found in your backyard? How have you handled it? Let us know! I’d love to hear your stories.

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Gretchen Anthony is the President and founder of Tilt Consulting
She helps with communication planning, development & change communications
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Edited by Mike Weppler

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