Planning for Progress

Planning for Progress

Even leaders can become stuck in their ways and lose the inertia that got them where they are now.  Mark E. Green offers 5 ways CEOs can change their behaviors to lead more efficiently

In business, the adage “it starts at the top” can prompt an uncomfortable question: “Can the boss finish what he or she started?”

Many CEOs and entrepreneurs wrestle with this challenge, with both short and long-term implications.

Meanwhile, a disconnect develops between the CEO’s initial big-picture vision for the company and its seemingly sporadic execution toward those goals.

The Global Leadership Forecast 2018 highlights issues of greatest concern to CEOs; among them is a lack of alignment among senior leaders.

The last problem any CEO wants is an inability to get everyone on the same page, aligned and executing their plan.

New behaviors

“I’ve witnessed CEOs struggle with this question: ‘‘Why is it so difficult to execute what I already know I should be doing?’” says Mark E. Green, a speaker, coach to CEOs and author of Activators: A CEO’s Guide to Clearer Thinking and Getting Things Done (

“They and their teams generally know what to do and how to get it done. But they avoid the decisions and actions they know could advance their success.

“All roads lead back to obstacles within your mind. New behaviors leading to execution require new ways of thinking.”

Green lists five ways for CEOs to change behaviors that obstruct them from leading their company efficiently and effectively:

If/when, then. This is a specific plan that can lead to completing a task much better than having a simple intention.

Green points to a study on influencing behavior by German researchers, who found that formulating an if/when, then plan – stating a specific time to accomplish a task – provided a cue to provoke the desired response.

“Human behavior is governed by a rule of consistency – we behave in a manner that aligns with our conception of ourselves,” Green says.

“For example, if you tell yourself you’ll work on a particular project when you finish your lunch, the rule of consistency dictates that, in order to maintain consistency, you’ll follow through.”

Leadership behavior

Applying if/when, then to changing leadership behavior, Green explains how it helps CEOs deal quicker with things they dread. “I’ve worked with many CEOs who were not classically trained in accounting and finance and are overwhelmed by numbers,” Green says.

“Such fears drove them to avoid financial information and reports. But making an if/when, then statement compels them to change the behavior. They start thinking, ‘When I receive our monthly financials, then I will sit down that day for a minimum of 30 minutes to understand them.’”

Relate, repeat, and reframe. Change is hard for many people. Therefore, Green reasons, one seeking to change a behavior needs reassurance that change is possible.

“Cultivate relationships with those who can help you see that the change you desire is attainable,” Green says.

“Mentors, coaches, and peer groups can supply that relatability factor necessary for change. Then test out the new behavior and seek feedback. We learn by repetition, so repeat the process of absorbing information, getting encouragement from your guidance group, and practicing the new behavior.”

Reframing means changing one’s thinking in order to transform a new behavior into a new way of being.

“For example, I had never enjoyed exercise,” Green says. “When I committed to getting healthy and fit, I had to reframe the way I thought about exercise. By choosing activities I liked – hiking and long walks with my wife – I successfully integrated it into my life.”

Ultimate goals

Know when to say no. Green says some CEOs don’t know how, when or why to say no, and as a result they spread themselves too thinly. As the company leader, being a giver is important – but not to the point where too much time sacrifice damages their own performance.

“Credible research shows that high-performing givers knew when to say no,” Green says. “Track your yes-to-no ratio. It’s the only way to protect your time, energy, and focus as a leader.”

The main rules of thumb to know when to say no, Green says, are, “Don’t take on tasks that can be done by others, and don’t commit to things that don’t serve your ultimate goals.”

Forget perfectionism. Green says perfectionism is a waste of time and energy for a CEO. He references the 80/20 Rule – also known as the Pareto principle, first articulated by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto – which holds that roughly 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes.

“The 80/20 Rule also applies to perfectionism – the majority of the value in any endeavor comes from a small amount of the overall effort,” Green says.

“Perfectionism frequently limits our progress and fuels our fears. When we feel compelled to get it exactly right before we make a decision or have a conversation with someone, our desire for perfection amplifies our perception of risk and those fears that are already in the way. We fool ourselves into thinking there’s more at stake than there actually is.

Accomplish more

“But in business, very few things need to be perfect. And if you can keep the 80/20 Rule in mind, you can reduce your fears and accomplish more.”
Hold yourself accountable. CEOs and entrepreneurs can get more done by regularly and thoroughly judging their own performance.

Green says a good way to accomplish this is by asking themselves a short set of self-assessment questions daily.

An even more effective strategy is adding an accountability partner to the mix – someone outside the business to check-in with to impel accountability and mark their progress.

“You need weekly or even daily accountability strategies that require you to evaluate whether you are doing your best to accomplish your goals,” Green says.

“Inquiring as to whether you are doing your best will elicit qualitative responses, adding more meaning to the numbers-driven data you may be collecting.”

“Often, the best way to modify a behavior is just to jump in,” Green says. “Seek out examples in others of the behaviors you want to employ, embrace some discomfort, and emulate them until they begin to feel natural.”


Mark E. Green, author of Activators: A CEO’s Guide to Clearer Thinking and Getting Things Done (, is a speaker, strategic advisor and coach to CEOs and executive teams worldwide. He has addressed, coached and advised thousands of business leaders, helping them unlock more of their potential and teaching them how to do the same for their teams. He is a Core Advisor to Gravitas Impact Premium Coaches (formerly Gazelles International), a mentor to coaches worldwide, and an active contributor to programs and content for their global ecosystem.

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