Your Job is to Create Future Value

I lost an engine in my plane one time, which usually isn't a big deal. The difference is that they I only had one engine to begin with!

I was flying a small PA–28 and had just taken off from MBS after meeting with a client. The day had a low and thick overcast layer and I was in the clouds when the (only) engine lost power. Fortunately we were still fairly close to the airport. I called the tower, asked them to clear the airspace, and glided back in to the nearest runway.

After the plane rolled to a stop, I remember just sitting there, relieved but still shaking. The FAA Examiner pulled up and asked a few questions for his report (they suspected carburetor icing), and then they towed me to the terminal and I rented a car to get back home.

No matter how much you train, an experience like that never leaves you. That’s why pilots do a “max climb” when leaving and only descend at the last minute, too. Altitude is your friend in an airplane because it gives you time, it gives you distance, and you can see so much further out.

Altitude is your friend as a principal, too, but you know how easy it is to get sucked into the lower altitude day to day stuff, right? From high above the daily claims on your time, your job is to see things like no one else can. You have to care about those things, too, even when the folks around you are rolling their eyes at what you always seem to be worried about.

  • A positioning and lead generation machine with a huge flywheel that spins slowly but carries tons of momentum. It’s always dropping fresh opportunity on your desk.
  • A culture that attracts great people so that you have best in breed partners on the team.
  • A stream of solid financial results so that you can hire that rare person who happens to be available or attend that unique event in Lisbon or take a chance on a new service offering.
  • No worries about scope because you can absorb the little hits that come with keeping great clients. That rare thin margin is a rounding error and it doesn’t concern you.

No one can fly higher than you can at the firm. At whatever altitude you find yourself, look down and all the rest of your team is below you. That’s the way it works. And if you aren’t thinking about the bigger picture, your firm will be stuck at its current level of performance.

My podcast partner, Blair Enns, says it like this: Future value creation is one of the primary jobs of the CEO. Where are we going? How will we get there? What are the future opportunities and obstacles that my people–who are focused on today–don’t even see yet? A friend said to me recently that his business can now run without him and I replied, “Yes, but it can’t grow without you, can it?” He readily agreed.

How do you get from here to there? Here are a few ideas that might help you:

  • Take one-half day off every week and create future value. Log it as a repeating event and don’t let anyone steal that time. Work away from the office, take a long roundtrip flight, or build a treehouse in your back yard, but memorialize this time by superimposing a “place” on it. Maybe even a special pen or an older laptop that isn’t connected to social media or your internal servers.
  • Get a group of peers together in your market and do it together.
  • Ask your staff what they think you should be working on. You’ll find that they’d like less interference…and more future value stuff from you, anyway. Their suggestions will help.
  • Find an interesting parallel industry and see what’s happening there. Figure out what you can incorporate.
  • Start writing, on just about anything. Your brain does not work without your fingers.

Finally, those of you most in need of this advice are leading firms where everything is peachy. You don’t see the need and you might be coasting. Your own success has mowed down the danger signs and you aren’t motivated like those of you who are hitting a dry spell.

If you are running a firm that will allow it, I think you should seriously consider pulling out of the day to day over the next month and start concentrating on creating future value. If your firm crumbles around you, so be it. Better to embrace your role and fail rather than merely accept what the business hands you.

Altitude is your friend.

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