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Presidential advice: carve out time to think

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By peterurban - January 22nd, 2009

Now that the festivities of the inauguration are over it’s time for President Obama to get to business with the mountain of issues his administration is confronted with. I find it very timely that I came across a Time Magazine interview (‘Person Of The Year’ issue from Jan 5th 2009) where Mr. Obama was asked about “the best piece of advice that you’ve gotten from someone about being President, about how to go about it, about how that feels?”

Barack Obama speaking at a rally with Oprah

Barack Obama photographed by Joe Crimmings (via Flickr)

Obama’s answer hits not just one but several of the oldest entrepreneurial problems at their core. To start off he makes clear who’s advice he is listening to and how he goes about handling that advice …

“…the only people that really know are the collection of ex-Presidents that we have. And I want to protect the confidentiality of those conversations since I expect to go back to them for advice, and I want to feel that they can give me unvarnished advice.”

This short introduction to his full answer (see below) already covers two huge lessons for politicians, entrepreneurs and managers alike:

Lesson #1. He focuses on listening to people that have done what he aspires to do, that have been in the role that he is getting into an have succeeded in overcoming the challenges (at least in part) that he is going to face in the near future. In the business world there is so much advice available that comes from people who have never started a small business in their lives, that were never responsible to close a sale, to get new work in for next month, to get a couple of projects done for next week, send invoices out and make payroll at the end of the month and – of course – have supper ready for the kids every night.

Simple but effective Obama lesson #1: Listen to people that have done it and are willing to share honestly. Everything else is wasting your precious time.

Lesson #2. He makes very clear that he wants to protect and deepen the relationships with the ones who know by protecting their privacy and the confidentiality of those conversations.This seems trivial but when you think of it he could have just talked about the things that aren’t confidential and not mention anything that is. Instead he sends a clear message to his network and his supporters, strongly underlining how he appreciates their support and how he’d never compromise relationships i.e. for a quick headline. This one sentence sends a powerful message: “You can trust me.”

What can we learn from this? Trust is a prerequisite for any successful business relationship. The formula is simple: No trust, no transaction. And yet too many businesses, small and large, choose to compromise their relationships – and by doing so their own lifeline – by jeopardizing the trust of their clients, employees and partners, sometimes for very short term benefits.

Obama’s lesson #2: Never, ever compromise the trust that people have in you, in fact; take every opportunity you have to deepen their level of trust and strengthen your relationships.

So, what has Obama learned form his presidential predecessors?

From the short but insightful introduction above he moves on to let us know what stuck out as a very valuable lesson for him …

“I can tell you that all of them have said that it is important to carve out time to think and not spend your entire day reactive. Because there’s always a crisis coming at you, there’s always a meeting you could be doing, there’s always a press conference or a group of supporters that you could be responding to. And so I think maintaining that kind of discipline is important.”

Wow. This is one of the best lessons any entrepreneur and manager can learn. Every business owner, every manager (including myself) gets sucked into dealing with the daily struggles any business has in store (pun intended) in such abundance. It is so easy to get caught up in doing another task, meeting another deadline, finishing this project and ultimately working IN the business 100% of the time instead of working ON the business on a regular basis. By working ON your business I mean focusing on creating clockwork instead of continuing to tell the time over and over. It means looking at your business form a strategic and tactical perspective and putting measures and activities in place that get you where you want to go. The problem is that too often a business’s development (or lack thereof) heads in the wrong direction because nobody looked at it from and ‘outside’ perspective. By outside, I don’t necessarily mean ‘external consultant’ but outside, as in, not being overwhelmed by a stack of tasks, an endless list of E-mails or a brewing crisis with a customer.

For myself, I will take the advice that Obama received from a list of ex-presidents to heart. My goal is to carve out half a day per week to think and to work on my business. I plan to keep you posted on this blog on how that works out for me and what that ‘protected’ time to think gets me. Stay tuned and watch for posts titled ‘Time to think: …”

By the way, the E-Myth Revisited and all the other versions of this book by Michael E. Gerber explain the concept of working on your business instead of in your business from every angle. I consider it a must read for every active or aspiring entrepreneur, manager, physician or contractor.


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