Executives are responsible for everything.

Those who know me well have heard me say that “focus is what we say no to“. I believe, whole heartily that we move the needle the most when we are intensely focused on one, and only one thing. This is true on both a tactical and a more strategic level.

If you want to improve client satisfaction, focus your team on client satisfaction. You can do this by prioritizing it, measuring it and initiating strategies that should improve it. But, nothing will improve client satisfaction more swiftly than making it the singular thing that the entire organization is focused on.

The same thing is true at a smaller level. If I want to write a blog post, I can brainstorm topics, write prose, and even search for pictures. But, until my mind is exclusively focused on getting that blog done, there’s a high risk that I will languish in my thoughts, thinking through all of the other things I need to get done.

Focus is key to making progress and moving the needle. But focus should not be confused with the responsibilities that comes inherently with executive leadership positions.

A while back I was struggling to coach an employee into doing his whole job, as opposed to just the part he was passionate about. He loved and was excellent at promoting the discipline he was leading but struggled to prioritize turning that craft into a profitable business. He used the excuse that he wanted to “focus” on true expertise, and, given that I had used that same words so often, I couldn’t necessarily argue that focus was a bad thing.

I reached out to a mentor of mine for help reframing my thoughts and received one of the most impactful responses I’ve ever received. It has reshaped the way I think about executive leadership just as much as it helped me navigate that instance.

One of the challenges of leadership is you don’t get to manage one thing. You are responsible for everything. You have to keep employees, customers and investors happy. You have to worry about the short term and the long term. You have to be tactical and strategic. This is the burden of leadership. When any of these get out of balance everything suffers. If we only focus on doing great work and miss our performance metrics we will not be able to afford the resources to do great work. It may seem ironic, but achieving the performance metrics is what allows us to do great work

John Kealey

If you want to thrive as an executive, take extreme ownership for everything, knowing that focus is a powerful strategy that you can deploy to make progress in a particular area.