Thank you to the 1646 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions! I hope reading 7 Questions with
helps you in your leadership.
Name: Kurt Ostermiller
Title: Owner; Certified Executive Business Coach
Organisation: Kurt Ostermiller Coaching
Kurt is currently the CEO of Kurt Ostermiller Coaching, a professional firm dedicated to coaching CFOs and other corporate financial executives. As a C-level executive with over 30 years corporate finance experience, he has led numerous financially distressed companies through complex turnarounds, restructurings, and financing transactions. He possesses extensive knowledge of finance, corporate strategy and operations. He holds two executive coaching certifications and is currently coaching corporate financial executives.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
Trying to refrain from placing my values and expectations on others. We are not the same people – we all have different strengths, visions, interpretations. The ability to let people be themselves and uncover what makes them great is a monumental challenge at times.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I am the only first-time CFO in the history of Planet Earth to take the role without looking at the firm’s financial statements! On Day 2, I unknowingly met with our bank who had early plans to call our financing and liquidate. After some soul-searching and a Turnaround Plan, we bought some time and successfully turned the firm back to profitability. Nothing like an impending bankruptcy and loss of jobs to force a young professional to become a Leader literally overnight. It was a tremendous team effort by 92 employees to get this done, but our Leadership team needed to present a unified and strong front to get this accomplished.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
My workday ritual is guided by the 444 Club, where several friends and I support each other make the most out of each day. It is as follows:
(1) Get up at 4:44 a.m.
(2) Drink water
(3) Work out to either hard rock or funky disco, depending on my mood (don’t ask!)
(4) Take 10 minutes to sit in silence and get mentally prepared to attack the day
(5) Complete my most important priority for the day first
(6) Attack the rest of the issues that life and business sends my way – hopefully guided by my “Get Done List” done the previous day
Notice that I didn’t prepare to “accept all of the stuff that Life will throw at me”. I prepare to attack. When I complete the 444 Club for the day, I feel clear, I’m centered, I’m strong for anything that the day will throw my way. I feel and believe that nothing can knock me down. When I skip, I feel like I am reactive to everything that comes my way.
Systems Theorists have determined that the initial conditions in a system have a major effect and determine how everything else functions downstream. Thus, your morning sets your context for the day – the first 60 minutes sets the frame and tone by which you judge everything else that happens during the day. If you set the correct context in the morning, you’ll have a great day. If you have a great day, it’ll set the context for a great week, then month, etc.
I emphasize to my clients to plan out your morning ritual specifically, step-by-step. Don’t try to make significant changes and expect excellent results right away – it’s a Process. Your Personal Success Ritual does not have to be massive. It can be something as simple as making your bed (see Admiral McRaven’s video “Make Your Bed”). As long as you accomplish something, start with that. Add to the requirement and result as you improve.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
The lesson that every one of us has things going on in our lives and in our hearts that should result in all of us being kind to one another. Sometimes missing a deadline or not fully performing a task can and should be secong priority.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Good to Great by Jim Collins. I was recently reminded of this in Nick Saban’s (Head Football Coach – Alabama) press conference discussing low achievers. We have heard it repeatedly but rarely give credit to the importance of people and the team in business. We understand it clearly in sports but it applies just as much in the business world. To quote, “My job and goal as a Leader is to (1) Get the right people on the bus (2) Get them in the right seat and (3) Get the wrong people off the bus.” Leaders realize that we are in the People Business, not the business of selling services, products or goods. A cohesive, motivated and high-performing team will set a firm apart within your industry and ensure the long-term success of your organization. You can never have successful team chemistry in your organization unless everybody is committed to the same standards and the same values.
I worked as a Turnaround Professional for over 2 decades. Learning the mindset that sometimes an employee termination is best for both sides has resonated with me for years in every client that trusted me with their company’s steering wheel.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Find a mentor or coach. Be transparent, authentic and grow old with them. Grey hair has its advantages. Let them provide experience-based guidance and advice. Listen three times as much as you speak. Stay away from family members and friends in this area – they have a biased viewpoint and probably don’t have the experience in your area of Leadership that will be helpful to you.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
It was a lesson taught to me by my first mentor. I was a young hotshot Manager of Acquisitions in 1999 and worked under a CFO (Ron) who was twice my age. I could analyze a $50 million acquisition using a Lotus 1-2-3 (yes…) spreadsheet in a few hours. On one significant acquisition I was given a deadline by the CEO to complete the purchase analysis and provide to him for discussion. Everything went through the CFO for review prior to sending up the chain.
When I presented the analysis to our CFO with an hour to spare, I was very confident. As Ron and I sat at his office table while he reviewed, he silently looked at each and every number. My deadline grew nearer and I started to get a little nervous. “It’s all good”, I said, but Ron raised his hand as if to tell me to be silent while he reviewed.
“Look at this number”, he finally said as he pointed to my analysis. I grabbed the printout, returned to my desk, and did a full review of the entire analysis and formulas. My review derived no required changes with around 10 minutes to spare prior to the deadline. I returned to Ron’s office and stated this.
This scene repeatedly itself 2 more times as I blew through my deadline. Finally, as Ron sensed my frustration, he stated, “Go into the file cabinet room to Cabinet 47, third drawer, purple folder. Look at the contents and see if they apply to your analysis.”
I did so and realized that we had recently made an adjacent acquisition before me tenure that would significantly lower the cost structure of the acquisition I was analyzing by a few million dollars. I corrected my analysis and returned it to him, for which he gave immediate approval.
I presented my analysis to our CEO (2 hours late), took my butt-chewing, and returned to Ron’s office ready to burn his office. “You knew the answer – why did you do this to me? Why didn’t you just tell me what you were looking at?”
“If I told you the answer,” he drawled, “You wouldn’t have learned anything.”