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The Effective CEO for a Small Business

Small Business Podcast: Hello, everybody. Welcome back to Thanks very much for joining us for another show today. We're going to be doing a kind of followup to an interview we did earlier with another author. We're going to be up talking to the co-author of the "Enlightened CEO," Gordon Quick. We're going to talk to him about his part in the book and why he wrote that and why he participated in this and some of the key things that we can learn from the book itself. So, a couple of things first, though, make sure you sign up for our email newsletter, of course, because we send out exclusive interviews available only to our email newsletter subscribers about once a month. We're going to make sure you get those. They're not available on the website or in our RSS feed so do make sure you get signed up at top left corner of every page at and get signed up for that today. So, Gordon, thanks very much for joining us on the show today.

Gordon Quick: Well, thanks for having me. It's my pleasure.

Small Business Podcast: So, one thing I want to start with that I didn't ask your co-author was the fact that the title of the book you called the Enlightened CEO and some of these days, you go to a bookstore and you see the effective CEO, and why that word enlightened? Why did you choose that word?

Gordon Quick: Well, we really struggled with what we wanted to. You know, we just didn't want it to be "Here Are the Roles of the CEO" because one of the principal things that we learned, both of us learned over time pretty much on our own was to lap more about not just what you do as a CEO but how you do it. You have to do it in a way that you understand about yourself, you're aware about your own strengths and weaknesses and things like that, and you create an environment that makes everybody in the company want to participate to the poll. So, it's really a question about understanding yourself on how to make to create an environment where everybody in the company is encouraged and enthusiastic about contributing.

Small Business Podcast: Now, you mentioned a word in the book self-awareness and that sounds kind of touchy feeling for the CEO types. What do you mean by that?

Gordon Quick: Well it's very hard. I think one of the things that you learn over time is that, to be successful it's very important to be clear about what motivates each of us as individual. As individuals, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. We have things we like to do, things that we really don't like to do. We have our own needs, our own aspirations and all of those things shape what we do and how we do them. The problem is that when you accept the role of a CEO, you can't be bound by what it is you like to do or what it is you think that's good for you. You have to assume all the responsibilities of CEO and to do things in a manner that are best for the company. So we're all motivated by our needs and aspirations, but I can't let those get in the way of what I'm supposed to do as the leader of a particular company. And the best way I know to keep your own personal biases from influencing your responsibilities as a CEO, is to be very aware of them, to get them squarely on the table, to sit down and say to yourself, "Gee, I really don't like to do this." Let's say, communicate to employees. I don't like to stand up in front of the employees and talk to them. You really need to bring that to the front; otherwise, you're going to make subconscious decisions that's going to keep you from really being an effective CEO.

Small Business Podcast: I guess, it's all being honest with what you're good at, what you're not good at then trying to work on those things.

Gordon Quick: Exactly. You have to find ways to compensate because our view is that what we talked about in the book is there's this six non-negotiable role and you can't pick and choose amongst them because I like to do this but I don't like to do that because then you're really going to short change your performance and the performance of the company.

Small Business Podcast: Now, are there some favorites though of those six roles that you have even though you've got to concentrate on all of them?

Gordon Quick: Yeah. I've always been personally strong at trying to create a strategy, strong at building a team, and that I've also been pretty good at translating the strategy into action plan. What I didn't do as well personally until, this is something I learned later in my career, is the need for what we talk about as followthrough. Making sure that the plan gets executed, making sure that you have an early warning system in place, so that you can take remedial actions as early in the process as you can.

Small Business Podcast: Yeah. We talked to Bob about that because I thought that was an issue which is important for the book as well because a lot of people talked about grand plans but then what happens after you've got these business plans in place. The followthrough is not exactly the most exciting and most fun part of that.

Gordon Quick: Well, it's not the most exciting part and I can tell you throughout my career I've met CEOs who like to be involved in the detail. In fact to some extent they're going to micromanage, but they like to be they're very hands-on, and then I've met other CEOs who just run away as fast as they can from that role because they just don't like to do it. And the reality is, that is the source of a lot of frustrations of CEO. They think that because I've crafted a great strategy, we even put a good operating plan in place, I've got people signed up instead, it's automatically going to happen. But, the reality is we live in a very dynamic world. Things don't always go according to the assumptions that we made when we put the plan together. People for a variety of reasons don't always perform and live up to their commitment. Do what they said they were going to do. Competitors don't always react in a way we anticipate when we decide on the course of action. So, having early warning system, telling us when we're off track, gives us the most time to react to those things that aren't going according to plan, and in reality is, nothing goes according to plan.

Small Business Podcast: Yes. Because some of these grand plans, they sound great on paper at the moment that they're conceived. They sound like fantastic ideas but then when you try to implement them, they're not working. I can see how some CEOs would say, "Look, that was the plan. It sounded great. Why isn't it working?" But you're going to listen to our employees who are trying to implement this and saying we didn't think about X or Y.

Gordon Quick: Exactly, and you hit on a part of it. You've got to listen to the people that are in the trenches that are dying to give you the feedback and very often we say, you know we get wedded to our own strategic plan. We think we've crafted this great plan, and it's just the question of these people not executing. Well, the reality is that you don't always know what's going to happen in the future, and the best place you can get that feedback is from all the people that are out there, that are having direct interface with the customers, the salespeople who are going nose to nose with the competition. And so, really one of the critical roles I think the glue that really ties all this together is really communicating. In communicating, a lot of people think of it, "Well, I'm re-telling the employees what it is I need them to do and why." And that sort of thing.

Small Business Podcast: And, why for you personally did you feel like this information was unavailable out there, with all the business books that come out? What was it that you thought was missing that you thought this is what we need to focus on?

Gordon Quick: Well, this really goes back. It goes back to when I got my second opportunity to lead a company in 1991. I have by all accounts, a very successful first outing. You know, we were named Business Unit of the Year that sort of thing. But, in retrospect, that company didn't do well after I left and I was very troubled by that. I said, "You know, I did something wrong." So, when I got my second opportunity in 1991, I went out looking for a book that said here's what you do as a CEO and here's how you do it, and the reality is that book didn't exist, and there was no book that captured everything that I should be thinking about I'm doing as a CEO. There where books on leadership. There have always been lots of books on leadership but leadership is whether I'm leading a team, whether I'm leading a company, whether I'm leading a department. It really didn't say, as a CEO, just like the senior vice president of sales has responsibilities, the CEO has responsibilities. There really was no book that told me what those were.

Small Business Podcast: That version of leadership is different you're saying for a CEO that it would be for that senior vice president?

Gordon Quick: Absolutely, because he has functional responsibilities. Let's just take an example here.

Small Business Podcast: Sure.

Gordon Quick: Who's responsibility is it to make sure that every functional department is executing according to the plan?

Small Business Podcast: That would be the CEO.

Gordon Quick: The CEO. So if the CEO doesn't do his job, there's no backup. If that sales guy is not doing his job and I'm a guy that grew up in sales as a CEO, I'll jump in and help him sell. But if I'm not doing my job in making sure that all these functional departments are following through on their commitments to the plan, there's nobody to step in and do my job. And, that's really the key if the CEO comes to the job with roles and responsibilities and the difficulty is, there is no backup for the CEO. The CEO can be the backup for any other functional area, but there's no backup for the CEO.

Small Business Podcast: So for that first company that you mentioned, what did you find from investigating at thinking about that, that you did wrong, that you could have done differently?

Gordon Quick: Well, I didn't really concentrate on building the team. You know, I had a good strategy, we had a good operating plan, but I didn't really worked on shaping the team and making sure that organizationally we fit in with the goals and objectives quite frankly of the larger company. I mean, our entity by itself was extremely successful but I didn't really, it was just too dependent on me. You know, I built it around my own capability and though when you took me out of that, a lot of things disappeared and that's a common problem in small companies.

Small Business Podcast: Yes.

Gordon Quick: You know, CEOs become so integral about everything that goes on that a couple of things happen. One, as the company grows past the certain size, 5 million, 6, 7 million dollars, the CEO cannot physically do it all as he did when the company was 1 million or 2 million, and so you have to put the infrastructure and small business resources in place in terms of people and processes and other things that allow it to go on when the CEO isn't around.

Small Business Podcast: So building that team, you got 30 years in the business, I'm sure you've interviewed your share of perspective managers, employees and that sort of thing. The $64,000 question, of course, is how do you find that person who is independent enough that's going to tell you when they think the direction is wrong but not a yes man either. So, how do you find that balance? How do you find those people to build that team?

Gordon Quick: Well, part of it is you don't just find. In other words people are amenable to guidance or to leadership and so the first thing you say is can somebody sell. Can it manage the details associated with operation? That's the easy part to find that out. The harder part is what are their style of dealing with people. You know, what I call the softer skill. Do they encourage input from employees or do they compete with their employees you know? And the second thing is how well do they work with their peers. Because when you get to the what I call the senior business team, the people who report to the CEO. Your responsibility stops being a functional responsibility, entirely, and becomes very much a part of the senior management team and so your, I don't want to use the word allegiance, but a lot of your focus becomes on the other members of your senior business team to move the business forward, not to just move your functional department forward, but to move the business forward.

Small Business Podcast: The CEO seems to have been in the press a lot more in the last five, six, seven years whether be because of scandals or other things but they seemed to be in the spotlight a lot more. What do you kind of see is just from the media that you see out there, some of the common mistakes that these CEOs are making.

Gordon Quick: I will tell you. I think theres one thing that is the source of a lot of the problem, and I think it's just one thing. When we talked about in one chapter and that is humility. You know, the flip side of that is having too big an ego. I think what happens is, you as a CEO particularly if you're successful, you tend to think that you're totally responsible for that success that maybe if there wasn't success before you got there. You know you have to accept, you have to be humble enough to understand that you have a role to play as does everybody else in the company. And without those other people doing their best, I don't care how good you are as a CEO. You've got to get the contribution from all of the resources of the company and, so I think, what happens is people's ego gets in the way. That causes them to think well, "You know, those rules are fine for the employees but they don't really apply to me or I'm really, I've taken this company from a value of you know 10 billion dollars to 250 billion dollars, and I should really be getting a bigger part of that, you know. I think its when people's ego just dominates their brain.

Small Business Podcast: Yes, and starts to make decisions based on that rather than, I guess, what's good for the company. Gordon Quick: Exactly.

Small Business Podcast: So, how do I keep that in check if I'm starting out as a small business owner of one employee. I am that employee and I'm going. I'm trying to go to the $100,000,000 and 300 employees. What do I do to keep myself grounded that whole time? Because that's a journey that I could be proud of but I don't want to get to my head, I guess.

Gordon Quick: No, and you should be proud as you make that journey, and I think you can be very proud of your accomplishments in everything that you've achieved and in everything that you are going to achieve. But, it's really important to take a good hard look and say, "Could I really have achieved all of that without this person and without that person and without that other people in the company?" You know, I don't care how good you are. I don't care if you're the superstar on a team. I don't care if you're the best coach in the lead. It takes a whole group of people to make things happen. And when you stop believing that, you're in trouble.

Small Business Podcast: OK. Well, let's talk about as we finish up here some of the key points you think that people could take away. There's a couple of things that you think, if I want somebody to read this book to remember these couple of things, what would those be?

Gordon Quick: Well one of the first point is, we talk about you can't just do five out of six. We identify six, what we call, non-negotiable roles of the CEO. And the first thing is, you have to understand that you have to do all six. You can't just do a good job at five out of six. You really need to have all six. Just as we talked about a few minutes ago, you can have great vision, a great strategy, a great management team, a great operating plan but if you don't ensure followthrough, if you don't adapt as new things unfold, that you're going to meet with a lot less success than you think. If you don't communicate to employee and hear from employee, how do you give them a line? And at the end of the day, what were trying to do is to align the efforts of, I don't care if you have five employees, 500,000 employees. You're trying to get everybody lined up in the same direction. And if they don't understand what you're doing and why you're doing it, and why it's important, how do they make decisions in every level in the company that helps move the company forward? So the first thing I would is that in these six what we call non-negotiable roles, you have to do them all. I don't care whether you liked to do them or don't like to do them, you have to do them all. So that's really I think one of the biggest things. The other one that I would say is that you have to create an environment that encourages the best ideas and the best efforts to come to the surface. Unfortunately, that's a long discussion but you got a finite set of resources whether that's people, ideas, patent, capital, whatever the assets are of the company, and you have to create a what I call a culture high performance that gets the most out of every single resource, that encourages people to contribute their maximum to the direction of the company. And it's the CEO's responsibility to create that environment. So, do your job the, six roles, and then create that environment that encourages the best ideas and the best efforts from every other resource.

Small Business Podcast: All right. Gordon, well, I want to give you a chance to talk about your side as well, what do you do there?

Gordon Quick: I tried to work with other CEOs to do exactly what we are talking about here on the phone. You know, I've spent 30 years learning all of these the hard way and my motivation is really to help other people avoid a lot of the mistakes. I've made a lot of missteps along the way and to be able to get there faster with a lot less pain and that really what it's all about. It's very much what's in this book and then just helping. I mean, this is the same reason I wrote the book.

Small Business Podcast: All right. Well, OK. Listeners, we will of course link to the Enlightened CEO. You can check it out there via, and we'll link to Gordon's website as well. So, if you like to get in touch with him, you can do so. Gordon, thanks very much for your time today. I appreciate it.

Gordon Quick: Tim, I really appreciate your time and good luck to all your listeners.