5 Points on the Importance of ‘Lean-in’

What’s the first piece of advice someone who wants to succeed gives to an up-and-coming CEO who wants to lead a profitable company?

It doesn’t come in the form of a textbook based upon the best practices, or even from the CEO herself.

What most VCs, CEOs and CEOs alike hear when trying to get ahead in their careers is “Lean In.” It’s a go-at-all-tilt-hands-comrades cliché.

I will admit, some of the advice does work — it helps to keep your feet planted firmly on the ground when necessary, and firmly on your promise to keep your foot on the accelerator when you need it. In other words, working at home can be a good thing if you use it to break free of that 7 o’clock sales pressure at the office.

However, many of the aphorisms, however well intentioned, are overreaching and simply untenable as what an entrepreneur should believe is true.

I can say from experience that there are many entrepreneurs out there who completely read themselves into the line of communication that lean-in should be the new mantra.

Nobody will argue that a successful, growing, profitable company is not in the best interest of its employees or shareholders. But stepping on others along the way is not something that’s sustainable. I see a lot of companies that are iterating along this path and doing a great job of it. But many other are not, and it should be obvious to everyone that I’m not talking about companies that are failing along this path. I’m talking about companies that are having trouble reaching profitability. If they want to be successful, they need to take a breath and figure out how to establish a sustainable business model.

Let’s face it: They will try to lean in on everyone. They will continue to try to lean in on every startup or acquisition that comes their way. And they will rely on the guidance of the people who came before them and try to recreate the old magic. They will always try to follow the cliché…and most of it isn’t good.

Lean-in with a purpose

When you lean in, have clearly defined goals and execute strategically, you can accomplish a lot. When you lean out and default to “screw it,” you can let the competition get away with substantially more. You are forcing yourself to do things that you need to change or drive yourself out of business. It won’t matter what portion of the decision-making process is about efficiency and which portion is about “idealism,” because eventually, common sense will get in the way and destroy what you’ve built.

Sometimes, the advice to lean in is the wrong advice. Other times, when you lean out, you can almost feel the weightlift the sand back into the hourglass.

It’s time to take the subtle and forceful non-lean on one track and lean out with purpose.

Here are five simple points on leaning in:

1. Set clear goals for the business. Before you start to lean in, get a clear, written plan for how you want to grow the business. If you don’t, you’ll quickly end up behind your competition.

2. Hire the right people. Hiring the right people is extremely important. Often, the employees they hire are your saviors. The employees you don’t hire that you rely on will get you into the sand.

3. Clearly define your goals and ROI. It’s important that you understand what success looks like and what failures look like. To make sure you know what you’re doing, have a clear vision of what you’re trying to do with your organization.

4. Stick to your mission and own what you’re doing. Stand firm in your mission and serve the company that you’ve founded.

5. Work hard and do what you say you’re going to do. Lean in if you’re going to do the right thing for your company. Lean out if you’re going to neglect your tasks for the sake of what everyone else says you should be doing.

Right now, I’m one of the more successful CEO’s around. But for many of you, things aren’t as rosy. What do you do when you lean out, and what do you do when you lean in?

Peter Coug, C.E.O., Griz Ventures

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