CEO Optimism for 2015

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Vistage gathers quarterly insights from CEOs across the country. The Confidence Index for the end of 2014 had a positive view for this new year, but as always, there are some hot topics weighing heavy on the minds of American business leaders. If you’re not talking about tax policy and health reform, you probably should be. Keeping up on local government issues may not be top of mind for you, but in my member groups it’s something we work to keep each other apprised of.  It’s also a great way to benchmark your success against others. We are selective about industries and ensure we don’t have competitive organizations in a group, and yet members say it’s the diversity of lessons learned that provides so much of the value.

View the CEO Confidence Index Q3 2014.


If you’re not holding yourself accountable, maybe a group of your peers can help. Please ask me about our event Jan 21, or click the link below to RSVP.


What Does Your CEO Report Card Look Like?

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Children aren’t the only ones getting grades these days.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution* recently asked 11 experts to grade Coke Chairman and CEO Doug Daft on several different topics using a 4.0 scale (A=4.0, F=0.0). The panel evaluated him on his mastery of 6 subject areas, grading him a C+ or 2.5 (grading outlined below). It’s hard to ignore the irony of how our students are graded by school subject in this way for 16 or more years and we don’t seem to have a comparable standardized business practice.

As we move into 2015, and while you develop your AOP (annual operating plan), where might you spend some extra time in the personal development of your leadership team and yourself?

Why a report card?

How would you grade yourself? How would others grade you?

Whether or not your business is heading toward success may be directly tied to how you see yourself verses how others see you. Plus, it sends a clear message as a leader.

  1. Transparency — shows you’re willing to ask for feedback and share your results.
  2. Dialog — when you share your score with your leadership team and hold theirs against yours, it should create a very meaningful and insightful discussion and clear cut direction for you
  3. Personal growth — provides a reality check of how you’re doing in your team’s view.
  4. Historical reference — It always feels good to see improvement and sometimes without a recorded metric you can’t see that you ARE making progress.

The real question is WHY NOT do a report card?

Ed’s Advice

This would be a very meaningful 360 exercise with your direct reports.

Whether you are a CEO, Owner, President, Managing Director, Department Manager or Supervisor, Team Leader maybe it’s time to re-focus on your own personal growth and team development and implement a similar grading system.

How to get started

There is a Vistage breakfast workshop January 21 that gives a great taste of how we work together to solve leadership challenges. Visit the event page for details or contact me.



For the past 8 years, I have been coaching 2 dozen Austin business owners and senior executives and facilitating monthly advisory peer group meetings. This template is a compelling baseline toward moving yourself from good to being a great leader. As a leader, if you are overwhelmed, on a cone of a rocket ship with your revenue growth or just feeling lonely at the top and would like to share a cup of coffee, give me a call or text me at 512.422.6232. Our confidential conversation could be a life altering experience and assist you in establishing 2015 as your make-or-break year.


The Sample Report Card (found on

Leadership……………… 4.0  3.5  3.0  2.5  2.0  1.5  1.0  0.0

Has CEO set a clear strategic direction for the Company? Has the CEO communicated the direction effectively with Company’s various constituencies, including employees, customers, suppliers and shareholders? Has the Company responded positively to the direction set by CEO (as measured by results)?

Management……………… 4.0  3.5  3.0  2.5  2.0  1.5  1.0  0.0

Has CEO assembled a strong management team to implement the strategy? Has the CEO held direct reports accountable for performance? Has the CEO established an effective succession plan for top management?

Financial Performance …….. 4.0  3.5  3.0  2.5  2.0  1.5  1.0  0.0

How has Company performed under CEO when it comes to hitting financial targets, improving profitability and controlling costs? Does the CEO set realistic, aggressive financial goals for the Company? Does the CEO understand, measure and monitor overall Company financial performance?

Marketing……………….. 4.0  3.5  3.0  2.5  2.0  1.5  1.0  0.0

Does Company have a strong sales and marketing plan and team in place? Have sales results met goals and expectations? Has sales training taken place and has it been effective? Have sales and marketing responding effectively to changing economic conditions?

Operational Performance …….. 4.0  3.5  3.0  2.5  2.0  1.5  1.0  0.0

How has Company performed under CEO when it comes to improving operational effectiveness, improving on-time performance and increasing operational efficiencies? Has the CEO developed a culture of continuous improvement?

Innovation……………… 4.0  3.5  3.0  2.5  2.0  1.5  1.0  0.0

Does the CEO foster a customer-focused approach to Company innovation?

Has Company introduced enough new products or services to address the changing needs of customers? Is the Company considered “innovative” within their industry?

The full article with the report card details in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is for subscribers only. Unfortunately it is not an available link. 

Choosing Vistage: Why Verses Who

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When someone asks me WHY Vistage is the best place for them, there are a lot of ways I can answer. But honestly, it’s not my reason that matters. Each leader should know what they are looking for, or at least accept that they don’t know what they don’t know. So what I can answer is WHO seems to really appreciate the value of the membership and sticks around a long time. Then it’s up to the individual to know themselves.

It’s probably not who you think.

Successful members don’t normally join when they’ve hit hard times, or have lost their way. On the contrary, it’s a good CEO who wants to be GREAT, who shows up ready to contribute and listen. It’s a GREAT leader who asks how he or she can build up their team and let go of the details. And THEN, when there is a downturn or a bump in the road, it’s the BEST of business owners who realizes this is the group they can’t give up now, because they really can benefit from peer support when the challenges start piling up.

But this is just one answer. An essential part of the Vistage experience is the wealth of knowledge at our fingertips as Chairs. We can find resources and experts to help our members. And with that… I share with you a list of ideas on GREAT CEOs from other Vistage chairs and members. Plus, there are always video testimonials from other members.

Are You A Great CEO? What Do You Think?, by Mary Lore

Three Distinct Advantages of Vistage, by Pete Hayes

Optimisim is a Great Motivator, by Vince Langley

Failure is Your Friend, by Cheryl McMillan 

Leadership 101

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In reading the Austin Statesman newspaper over the past few days and listening to my talk radio show 590am about the Ray Rice story during my drive time, I can’t help but think that there is a teaching opportunity for us all.


As leaders, a parent or a role model, whether you are a CEO, own a business, manage or lead a division, department or team or coaching your children, these 3 fundamentals will always apply.


  1. Set clear expectations
  2. Set clear consequences (rewards & penalties)
  3. Provide a clear path or way of measuring progress


Most of us can easily accomplish #1, it’s the 2nd and 3rd ones that after the fact was answered with excuses or it’s not my fault that causes us concern.


  1. Set measurable expectations; by when time sensitive goals and finish your discussion with “…can I count on you”
  2. Be crystal clear on the rewards and penalties. It’s the down side that always brings us grief. Was with a CEO member client this week and when asked about what were the individual compensation consequences for not meeting 2014 stated plan, he said his team was still expecting their bonuses and he was not looking forward to that conversation.
  3. In creating a clear path to measure progress, I am comfortable working backwards from the due date of the objective, task or project.
    1. Breaking down day, weeks, month, quarter or key steps is important
    2. What are the due diligence (right behavior), gates, triggers (must be validated to go to the next step) that need to be done along the way for meeting the stated expectations
    3. Check-in, status, weekly meetings – individually or the team can pitch in if any part of the process is behind or breaking down before it becomes a problem – which suggests collaborated communication if a group, team or tribe.


None of us like surprises and last minute “…I didn’t get around to it or it’s not finished” can drive me to the dark side over and over again.


So would the Ray Rice story be a story if the NFL had a clear set of guidelines, rules for this offense with the 3 leadership fundamentals in place?


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Alok Kalia MD brings 40 years of medical experience to Austin in his “Thinking about Food and Eating in a Different Way” workshop. He promises me that we will have more “ah” moments in 2 1/2 hours than we have had in the past 5 years. As a business owner, whatever we tolerate, in any organization, will soon become the policy of the organization. Your take-aways will be “Health & Wellness” direction for life for you, your  employees and your extended family. What better gift could we give to each other. Please invite your spouse,  set aside a morning on August 20th or 21st and be our guest. Dr. Kalia limits his annual Vistage talks to 50 so once again, we have a BOB (Best of Best) in front of us. This is a FREE workshop for business owners, presidents and CEO’s.

I have lived in Austin for 25 years, retired 3M’er, and a Vistage Chair since 2006.  I facilitate 3 Austin C-level advisory peer groups that meet monthly for the sole purpose of becoming better leaders, making better decisions and growing our revenue and profits. Space is limited so please RSVP.

Thank you and have a family filled “fun” weekend.

Ed Stillman

Austin Chair

(Mobile and Text) 512.422.6232

The Social Media CEO: How Social Media Can Enhance your Brand

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social media

How much time would you say you’re spending on social media? As an executive of a small business, you should be spending quite a bit on it. According to a new study by BRANDfog, 75% of employees believe that executives who participate in social media are better leaders. And the same percentage believes that executives that communicate the company’s core values via social media are more trustworthy.

“In today’s hyper-connected, information-driven world, CEOs and senior executives are expected to have an active social presence,” explained Ann Charles, BRANDfog CEO. “The survey results were definitive – social media is an extremely undervalued channel for managing brand reputation, building brand trust and better leadership.”

This new emphasis on executive participation in social media dovetails with the overall rise in social media prominence: right now, 27% of total Internet time in the U.S. is used on social media sites. Social media is no longer just important for tech-minded companies; it’s a vital avenue of brand building and customer outreach for all companies. But many CEOs still don’t use social media, including 70% of Fortune 500 CEOs.

Chris Brogan, the best-selling author of several books on social media, says that executives can no longer afford to ignore social media. “It’s part of the business,” he explained. “If you’ve not implemented it, you’re now about five years behind the curve. Would you allow yourself to get five years behind in any other aspect of your business?”

Fortunately, there are some easy steps you can take to become social media savvy in no time.

Focus on the Right Sites

As a small business executive, your time is important. So when you participate in social media, be sure that you are spending your time on the right sites for your business. You first need to figure out where your customer base spends its time. One way to do this is to send out a survey to a pool of your current customers, or conduct your own informal research on the major networking sites. You also want to be sure that the site you choose works with your company’s brand. Does your company present itself visually? Then YoutubePinterest, or Tumblr might be the place for you. Do you value discussion over visuals? Then consider FacebookTwitter or LinkedIn.

Get the Right Tools To Help

Another way to make social media communication more time-efficient is by investing in the right set of tools. Social media tools can help you easily post and monitor several social media accounts at one time. One such tool, Buffer, lets you a build a queue of content that is then automatically posted on a regular schedule. This way you can write your social media material when you have time and not have to worry about whether or not it’s the right time to post it. For more social media tools for small businesses, check out this article.

Build a Consistent Brand

As the CEO and/or executive of a small business, you are the face of your company’s brand. For this reason, your social media presence is an important component in brand building. In fact, in the aforementioned BRANDfog study, over 80% of employees believe that executives who participate in social media raise brand awareness and that it is a valuable way to manage brand reputation. But you have to be careful that the brand you are building is consistent. Make sure your visuals and messaging stays the same across social media sites and within the context of your overall brand. And don’t get pulled into negative interactions on these social sites. As the face of your company, you should be personable and engaging, but also professional at all times.

Don’t Just Talk Business

Social media gives executives the ability to put a human face on their company and connect with customers personally. So don’t bore your audience with constant shoptalk. Richard Branson, the CEO and chairman of Virgin Group, gained a massive following on Twitter by tweeting regularly on a variety of topics, including his travels and his participation in extreme sports. Chris Brogan suggests you use the magazine model when deciding on how much corporate self-promotion to post. Magazines usually have 60% content and 40% ads. You audience won’t mind reading your company messaging as long as you also provide fresh, engaging content unrelated to your business.

Social media is not going away any time soon, so smart small business owners should stop ignoring it and start using it to spread their brand and grow their customer base. And who knows, you might even start to enjoy it!

About the Author: Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx. Journyx strives to be relentlessly creative and to build tools that help you spend your time on things that matter. After all, time is all we have. Founded in 1996, Journyx offers customers two solutions to reach the highest levels of profitability: Journyx – project, time and expense tracking software – and Journyx PX – resource management software that provides work and financial forecasting for a complete picture of project and budget status, employee time and availability. Connect with Curt on Google+.

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CFO asks CEO “What if we invest in our people and they leave”. CEO asks, “what if we don’t and they stay”?

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Unfortunately it’s really not a joke, in my 8 years as an Austin executive coach in many cases it’s true. Today owners have a serious concern, if we do train employees yet when they feel unwanted or unappreciated, they update their resumes and move on for double-digit increases. If owners don’t train, employees train themselves on our time and move on for double-digit increases.


Which is why company culture, core values, cohesive leadership teams, transferring ownership to the employee and holding yourself and your people accountable is so much more important today since employees are highly educated, on average have greater mental capacity, have a want to belong attitude plus their healthcare and 401K’s are now transferable.


CEO’s, presidents, owners and team leaders need to embrace a greater level of transparency, increase your communication to not only your direct reports also your rank and file employees. Monthly talk two your biggest customers, are you delivering your promise. Accountability starts and ends with a phrase “…can I count on you” ands it goes both ways!


Smart and educated employees want to be around smart and educated employees and most everyone wants to make a difference and make the world a better place, especially the millennials and gen Y employees.


My last thought is what I see in my members, be  your word, be consistent and be authentic.