I’ve been dreaming of this blog series for several months. Through this blog series, you and I get to learn from those who have come before us, get to make connections, and receive the benefit of insight into the mind of a CEO—a unique and valuable place to learn and launch from.
My first highlighted conversation is with my husband, Cody Bohall, CEO of Studio 8.18 Engineering based in Denver, Colorado. He has worked day after day for ten years to make his structural engineering firm a success.
At first, he started alone. (Of course I was there too and as the old saying goes, “behind every good man is a good woman.” I’m going to own that one until the day I die). After a year or two, he added an assistant, then a draftsman, and so on. With business growth over time, typical challenges like client management, employee management and process development have arisen.
This past weekend, I was three-quarters done with ‘Poke the Box’ by Seth Godin, and was interested in getting Cody’s reactions as I read snippets to him. Mind you, this conversation yielded more questions than answers while I sat cross legged on the deck reading to him and he planted peppers—but some of the best thinking and planning happens in situations like these.
So…I read this excerpt to him:
“…while millions of people have embraced the thinking [behind In Search Of Excellence], too many others are still waiting for him to tell them exactly what to do. They don’t understand that Excellence isn’t about working extra hard to do what you’re told. It’s about taking the initiative to do work you decide is worth doing. It’s a personal, urgent, ‘this-is-my-call/this-is-my-calling’ way to do your job. Please stop waiting for a map. We reward those who draw the maps, not those who follow them.”
And then I stopped reading, and Cody said, “EXACTLY! How do I communicate to my team that that is what I’m looking for?! And how do I balance that desire of my team with the efficiency of a process that is developed from ten years of expertise and experience made easy for them?” he asked. A multi-million dollar question for sure, and one that CEO’s the world over are voicing.
I then skipped forward in the book and read this passage to him (because I know his company and the reaction that I would get):
“‘This might not work.’ Is it okay to say these four words? Is your work so serious and flawless and urgent that each thing you do, every day, must work? Change is powerful, but change always comes with failure as its partner. ‘This might not work’ isn’t merely something to be tolerated; it’s something you should seek out.”
And his outburst response was, “Right NOW it is!” Meaning that as a structural engineer, he personally has the legal and moral responsibility to get it exactly right every time lest a building collapse and hurt or kill someone. The daily work of he and his team is serious and flawless. And this is added to the pressure of operating in what is currently the top real estate market in the U.S.— his work becomes urgent as well.
But, then he stopped to process the point of the paragraph and decided that maybe it would have to be okay to hear those four words, because in certain areas of his business, change is required. Like, RIGHT NOW. As the author points out, change requires trial, error and failure. In order for Studio 8.18 Engineering to advance and grow in a healthy way, he is going to have to authorize some actions that might not work.
And finally, I read this to him:
“The person who fails the most usually wins. If you fail once, and big, you don’t fail the most. The game is over, you’re a failure, you’re busted, you’re in jail. But you don’t fail the most.
If you never fail, either you’re really lucky or you haven’t shipped anything.
If you succeed often enough to be given the privilege of failing next time, then you’re on the road to a series of failures. Fail, succeed, fail, fail, fail, succeed – you get the idea.”
And his question to this was, “Have I not failed enough then?” And this seems to be a good question from a man who has seen his business grow every year for the last ten years. Has he not failed enough? As his wife and business partner I had the insight to point out failures in processes that were locked inside his head that have since been put onto paper and into software which provides efficiency and accuracy to his team. Or, the search time and again for an appropriate office space for the appropriate price. Then there are the failures to bring on team members due to economic challenges and long held beliefs that are systematically being taken apart, reevaluated and tried again.
Failure happens daily in the life of a CEO and it’s the ability to start, then take another step, and maybe throw a couple of punches at the bag and then start again that separates a successful leader from the rest.
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