Have you ever wondered how certain uber wealthy high-profile,
executives became so successful? Executives who made it big probably
don�t have more powerful brain cells than you � but what he (or she)
probably does have are three non-glamorous but crucial qualities:
focus, discipline, and follow-up.
�These three qualities might not sound extraordinary, but they can
truly set you apart,� says Michael Feuer, cofounder and former CEO
of OfficeMax and author of the new book The Benevolent Dictator:
Empower Your Employees, Build Your Business, and Outwit the
�The truth is, there isn�t a simple magic bullet that will propel
you straight to the top. Success in any endeavor, especially
business, really comes down to specific character traits and habits.
If you have those qualities, you�ll excel. And if you don�t, you
Feuer speaks from experience, having launched a number of successful
business ventures, including OfficeMax and his latest business
Max-Wellness, a unique health and wellness chain. He insists that
making sure that you consistently work with focus and discipline,
and always follow-up are crucial ingredients of getting the results
you want. This is true whether you�re launching a start-up, leading
a team of employees, or going after that big promotion.
�Before you ever craft a sales strategy or walk into a client
meeting, whether or not you have a chance of success has already
been decided by how you think about your work, what you have to do,
and how you do it,� Feuer asserts. �Outcomes are shaped by your
focus, discipline, and commitment to follow-up � or lack thereof.
It�s important to remember that achievements are often less
dependent on your technical know-how and more dependent on how you
organize and think.�
Learn what these three qualities look like in practice, and how you
can make them work for you:
Take good notes.
Taking notes in business is just as important as it was in your
advanced economics class in college. Your brain isn�t always as
powerful as you think it is, and having a written record of your
boss�s project analysis or your colleague�s sales strategy can save
you from having �oh darn� moments. It can set you apart from the
pack, putting you on a straighter path to success.
�I�ll frequently dictate the notes from a meeting the second I walk
out, or appoint someone to act as a scribe beforehand,� Feuer
shares. �I keep all of my past notes in a folder on my computer, and
I also always make sure to jot down next steps. These habits ensure
that nothing falls off the radar unintentionally, and that I always
have a good idea of what needs to happen next.
yes, I often shock new team members by writing the letters �FU� and
a date at the bottom of my notes. New people are always relieved
when they learn that those letters aren�t a pejorative, but a
shorthand I use as a reminder to �follow-up� by a specific date!�
Do what you say you
In today�s dog-eat-dog environment, a person�s word isn�t always his
or her bond. And that�s a shame. When you fail to follow through on
promises and commitments, you imply that you lack discipline and
perhaps shouldn�t be trusted with more important tasks and
objectives. However, if you cultivate a reputation for being
completely reliable, you�ll enjoy more responsibility and success as
well as better business relationships.
routinely tell my employees that I�m not their father and won�t
babysit them. If they tell me they�re going to do something, they�d
better make good on that assurance,� Feuer says. �I can�t afford to
have people on the team who are undependable. However, I do provide
alternatives by giving everyone three acceptable excuses:
they can tell me that they can�t finish on time,
or they don�t want to do it my way, because they have a better idea,
or that they think their assignment isn�t worth the effort and can
convince me why.�
A leader�s job is to make people think and discover alternatives.
It�s a great way to determine who on your team you can rely on and
who is capable of taking a project to the next level. You can afford
to invest in developing someone who is interested in developing.
�When I give assignments, I keep a running tally of what happened or
changed from previous sessions on the same topic or project,� Feuer
elaborates. �No matter if you�re on the giving or receiving end of
homework, remember that the way these assignments are handled is a
great way to gauge attitude, commitment, potential, reliability, and
whether or not someone is a player.�
Scrap your iron-clad five-year plan. Being able to work with focus
and discipline is generally a good thing, unless you�re focusing on
things that won�t help you or propel you forward! To help prevent
this, Feuer recommends developing a short-term plan with a six- to
nine-month outlook. This plan will help you get through the year.
also recommends creating a longer-term plan with an eighteen-month
strategy. It will encompass the goals and benchmarks you need to
achieve during this time period. Why have two plans instead of one?
Well, the world is simply evolving too fast to rely on a
one-size-fits-all five-year plan.
�I�ve found that many organizations spend too much time thinking
about what�s going to happen way down the road, when all they�re
doing is guessing. And when their predictions turn out to be
inaccurate, they find out too late that they�ve been focusing their
efforts on the wrong things,� he says. �You must always be ready to
modify your plans when necessary, change quickly, and deal with the
unexpected. That�s what will make the difference between a company
that might get by and one that is good or even great.�
a rifle, not a shotgun. When you fire a shotgun, your shot hits a
wider area, but it lacks focused precision. In business, a shotgun
approach gets the job done � but usually without outstanding
results. A rifle or laser-sharp approach will take more planning and
forethought, but in the end you�ll probably save time and resources.
It pays to identify exactly what needs to be done, and then focusing
relentlessly on accomplishing those objectives.
you take the time to focus, have discipline, and require follow-up,
whether you�re a business owner, a manager, or an employee moving up
the ladder, you�re creating a road map that documents what has to be
accomplished and by when,� Feuer concludes. �Few things ever fall
through the cracks when you follow this process. It is the most
direct way I know to set yourself up for success!�