CEO Coaching: Some Things Just Take Time!

“No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant!”
—Warren Buffett

I’m a fan of fast. I talk fast, eat fast and drive fast (says my wife). I like to complete undesirable projects quickly. Heck, we all have a limited amount of time on earth, and I’d rather ski and fly-fish than mow the lawn or paint a wall. I figure I’ve added at least a year of fun activity to my life because I do some things fast. (I’ve also paid a few speeding tickets and now have professionals do my lawncare, because my speed over quality strategy wasn’t so sound. And my wife has gotten me to slow down in the car — at least when she’s with me!)

However, as the Sage of Omaha successfully points out, some things are impervious to speed. In fact, speed sometimes kills, figuratively and literally. You can’t prepare a good leg of lamb in the microwave. Drinking a nice IPA quickly is foolish. I wouldn’t go to a brain surgeon who advertised speed at the expense of safety, and many things in the realm of leadership just take time.

Sometimes ambition overrules logic and quality. When I was in my late 20s, I was anxious for a promotion. My father-in-law said to me, “What’s your damn hurry?” He was right. A lot of enjoyment and learning occur when you’re in the moment and paying attention.

The rapid development of multiple COVID vaccines taught us that quality and speed can work together. I’m a fan of asking coaching clients, “What if you had to do this in half the time?” Sometimes brilliant answers come out — sometimes not.

However, you should always consider the tension between speed and quality. Back when Lou Gerstner turned around IBM, he understood that some things needed fixing rapidly but the broken culture would take years to optimize.

Taking a hard right turn in your business strategy can also take a lot of time. The CEO and board that aren’t ready to accept the difficult, long work required to change skill sets, relationships and customers’ perceptions, along with swap out assets, will quit long before there’s a chance for success and move to another strategy that will fail.

Skill development is another “slow” process. The 20 and 30-something founders of successful start-ups rarely make the transition to competent leader, because they don’t take the time to work on themselves in addition to their business.

You’re no doubt making critical changes to your business and yourself. Slow down the game long enough to understand which ones you can speed up and which you may need to slow down.

Our four children took about 36 months to gestate in spite of my fondness for speed. Wasn’t a damn thing to do about it! Not sure I’d want quadruplets; one at a time was plenty of work!

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