The 5 Most Important Strategic Challenges facing Austin CEO’s

Monthly, I am honored and privileged in coaching and facilitating 2 dozen Austin business leaders in two day long meetings. Collectively, their revenue exceeds a billion dollars with upwards of two thousand employees around the globe. Over the past couple of months we have been discussing leadership traits and here’s what they say ranks highest with them.

The 5 components of “good to great” leadership are:

  1. Hindsight being perfect, it starts with creating your companies culture and hiring to that culture. Ann Rhoades, past VP of People ( for Southwest Airlines anrd author of Built to Last spoke to one of my CEO groups at the end of 2012. She strongly suggested pulling together a cross section of your leadership team, managers, supervisors and employees and identify and select your 5 or 6 core values – a few examples are: Accountability, Authentic, Brand, Caring, Challenge, Excellence, Fun, Growth, Integrity, Quality, and Trust. If you can afford to do so, have an offsite retreat because this is that important. Have each department develop culture related questions so your talent acquisition and hiring process is driven from your core values and company culture. Rhoades shared turnover will go down, retention will go up along with your profitability and customer satisfaction.  Once you have your culture and core values you can identify your vision by addressing that everyone is now on the same page. Then you can task yourselves to where are we going and how are we going to get there.
  2. Strengthening your data management should aways be part of your top 5. Most business owners are not numbers people, yet being an entrepreneur first doesn’t have to stop you from “listening’ to your numbers. What are your top 5 KPI’s (key performance indicators)? Does your business model need weekly score carding for manufacturing, sales, or operations? Are you setting stretched yet attainable goals for everyone? What are you key snapshots? Are you finding time to create TTM’s (trailing twelve month graphs & charts) and measuring department-by-department performance and results? Kraig Kramer, Vistage Speaker and author of CEO Tools stresses key indicators and if you are just getting started his book includes a CD with dozens of templates for managing your finances and growing your profitability. Examples are a daily cash report since we all know that cash is king. Do you know what your operating expenses as a percentage of sales – the percentage should be between 12% and 20%. Focusing on revenue growth, what are the one or two components that contribute the most to revenue growth?
  3. Creating a cohesive leadership team is essential. Probably more important than strategic planning. Hiring to your core values and getting the best talent your money can afford will go far in developing a sustainable engine and setting yourself up for success. Assessment tests, like Birkman for individual and team building compatibility, CPQ for hiring sales talent, ETS for measuring recent college or MBA graduates mastery and DISC as part of your pre-screening process before you start interviewing come to mind and should be part of your talent acquisition process.
  4. My members to the individual felt focusing on their people are one of your most important ways to spend time. Doing monthly one-to-ones and developing a 1-2-1 “mind set” throughout your organization is essential. Creating a 1-2-1 template, with both business and personal areas for discussion and have your key directs report up to you their key projects, performance, results. I see this as their time to share what’s most important to them. Discussing what’s most important, what’s working and what isn’t. Reviewing their key projects, deliverables and what bumps, problems or blind spots are around the corner? When it comes to their direct reports, ranking 1 to 5 with specific strengths or weaknesses identified. Over time you can decide if a PIP (Personal Improvement Plan) or CA (Corrective Action) is needed. One is for those that have the ability, skills and alignment to company values while the other is an exit strategy. Most of my members set aside an hour and find a neutral or safe place to connect this very important connection. If you want to see my template, email me at
  5. Being the Chief Sales Officer is their final take-away. Get out of the office and monthly go see one of your top ten clients or customers. Ian Altman, author of Upside Down Selling ( and Vistage speaker crystallized the importance of asking questions in order to better serve your customer.  Image a doctor hearing that the patient has a sore elbow, immediately discusses surgery or turns the lights down and starts with a 20 slide deck focusing on his or her surgerial team with patient testimonials. The diagnosis’ is our questioning to determine the pain, problem, or opportunity. By getting out of the office you’re not only turn over that proverbial rock looking for new ways to add value to your relationship plus bring your business card and use it as your “get out of Jail” card. The buck stops with you so “…if for any reason our promise is not being met, please call me 24/7/365.” Customer satisfaction is strategic in the eyes of my members and hopefully yours as well. Being your word is my final thread. Say what you are going to do and then do it will create more followers for a leader than any single other behavior. You honor your commitments and your team will honor and follow you.

Ed Stillman after 33 years with 3M retired in 2002 and has been a Vistage International Chair since 2006. He currently has two CEO groups and is always looking for that next “right fit” leader that has similar core values to his current members.  Ed lives in west Austin with his wife of 42 years Ruth Ann. 

Published by edstillman

I grew up in Carlsbad, north San Diego County, lost my dad as a teenager, went into the USAF for four years and hired on with 3M in 1969. Received my AA from Santa Barbara City College, BA and Masters from Redlands University and after 33 plus years, I retired from 3M in 2002. As I look back on my life, I have been creating myself and developing my skill sets to be a business coach and a Vistage Chair. I am president of SEOT, a "personal improvement" consulting firm spending most of my time working with Central Texas executives running small to medium size for-profit companies who are focusing on improving their profitability greater than their competition. My area of interest is assisting senior executives in creating a better balance between business commitments and personal relationships. I also facilatate three leadership labs each consisting of a dozen owners, presidents and CEOs. We meet monthly both in a group setting as well as in a 1-to-1 coaching session. Our focus is to sharpen each others' skills in becoming better leaders, making better decisions and taking ourselves and companies to that next level. Who are we? My members are experienced top executives who recognize that they don’t have all the answers and who actively seek the company of successful peers—both to give and receive insights and ideas. My members mine the 200 plus years of chief executive experience that comes together in our monthly meetings and members are eager to offer their own experience and insights in the process. As a group, we spend our time exploring topics members can't discuss anywhere else. My members have many other places where they can engage in idle, "cocktail party" chatter. Our mission is to provide the setting for discussing the "undiscussable." Where or who can you go to for confidential, honest feedback to assist you in minimizing your personal "Worry List"?

One thought on “The 5 Most Important Strategic Challenges facing Austin CEO’s

  1. Ed, great post; my only difference of opinion is that I believe the CEO must be the Chief Marketing Officer not the Chief Sales Officer. The intent may be the same, but the focus is different. As the Chief Sales Officer you can get wrapped up in managing the sales force as well as trying to get more business from your customers (not bad things, just rapidly a full time job once you have about 10 sales people).

    As the Chief Marketing Officer (and I do NOT mean Chief Promotions Officer), the CEO is focused on remembering how to “think like a customer” instead of hoping the customer thinks like you. It is also about understanding your customers’ needs tomorrow, not just today.

    Again, maybe a “nit” but I have found the difference to be valuable to companies and the CEOs. I have a white paper we wrote on The Customer Facing Roles of the CEO. Happy to send you a copy if you like, just let me know.

    Mitch Gooze

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