Dan McCarthy in his blog, Great Leadership, pointed me to the latest issue of Fortune magazine and the cover story on "The Best Advice I Ever Got." Among the business leader comments that he highlighted, this gem from Mark Hurd at Hewlett-Packard stood out to me:
Nine years after starting at NCR, I moved to a head-office job in Dayton in 1988. An NCR executive was giving a presentation; he had great slides and an even better delivery. The CEO, Chuck Exley, listened to the entire presentation in his typically gracious, courteous manner. At the conclusion, he nodded and said something brief but profound: "Good story, but it's hard to look smart with bad numbers." And as I reflected on it, the presenter, articulate as he was, as good as his slides were, simply had bad numbers. That comment has always stayed with me. You have to focus on the underlying substance. There's just no way to disguise poor performance. I've tried to follow that advice throughout my career. Deliver good numbers and you earn the right for people to listen to you.
What a great reminder to me that it is not the delivery of comments that make our product great but the delivery of product that makes our comments great! It's about the bottom line. It's the execution, stupid!
Too often I get caught up in things that don't matter. My calendar does not reflect my priorities. My conversations are about everything other than what helps us accomplish the mission. I'm not focused on performance. I forget that if I don't execute, it does not matter what else I say or do.
Sometimes I need to hear comments like this. I consider myself a good speaker. My presentations are usually pretty solid. But if I want people to hear what I have to say -- I better be able to back it up. I had better be obsessive about execution. I better spring out of bed and act as if my competition was breathing down my neck. I better have a sense of urgency about delivering on promises and about finishing projects -- on time, under budget, etc.
"Deliver good numbers and you earn the right for people to listen to you." That's Leader Business.