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7 Questions on Leadership with Jim Zitek

Name: Jim Zitek

Title: Founder and CEO

Organisation: Harbor Capital Group LLC

I have been learning strategy since I was 14 when I realized car dealers wanted the front row cars washed and waxed. That meant the cars had to be moved on and off the lot. Perfect. I wanted to drive cars and got paid for washing and waxing them.

Since then, I have been learning and practicing business and marketing strategies in every stage of my life. In the Marine Corps, in college, in the companies I have worked for, and in my own startups.

Today, I am still trying to help B2B companies innovate strategies that create more clients and more profits. Also, because of today’s intense competition, I put even more emphasis on the value proposition, marketing costs, and profits.

The emphasis on profits is more important than revenues because that’s the final performance measurement. It also keeps you focused on your entire business model, making you more competitive.

If you need to solve a problem holding your company back or have an opportunity you could take advantage of, I have three ways to help you with innovative strategies that create more clients and profits.

I also have my “ClickVisor” program, an internet-based platform for learning strategy, and a “Workshop” program for in-depth study of critical strategy topics like creating insights and innovation.

For those who don’t have time to do all this work, I have a private consulting program that will provide the strategies you need to grow your company and increase your profits.

I also have a free blog that covers many aspects of researching and designing strategies. You can learn more at my website or email me at [email protected]

I have also joined Z School as an Advisory Board member. Z School connects universities and corporations to provide best-in-class executive education.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Jim's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Getting consensus from the group or people you work with. You have to understand there will be differences in the problem definition, potential processes, or possible outcomes. To reach a working conclusion, you must get the group to discuss these differences - - positives, negatives, and outcomes. If you respect other's opinions, you will – at the conclusion –come to an agreed answer, and they will all execute what’s decided.

Without this consensus, execution will be less than 100 percent. This is especially important when you are discussing strategy. Without this consensus, studies have shown that about 40% of strategies fail, mostly due to uncooperative execution.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

First, being a team player. I really don’t know how you become a leader other than becoming the go-to person others come to with questions. They learn that you can answer the question or be willing to help them get the answer (which includes talking to management. Admitting you are wrong helps, too, as it gives them the courage to take risks.

There seems to be a fear of looking dumb in front of the president or CEO. This fear also limits their participation in a group discussion. Many think a bad or incorrect answer will hurt their career. You would be surprised how many people have imposter syndrome. In orientation class of incoming Standford students, a professor asked how many thought

the school might have made a mistake by admitting them, and 80% of the students raised their hands.

I am not sure there is a formula for becoming a leader. You have to hone your skills and volunteer to participate in events continuously. Also, don’t be afraid if you run into an obstacle. Take the positive approach. Obstacles are opportunities to learn.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I have three phases to my workday. First, I have a list of must-do things that need to be done that day, if possible. I am the most energetic and keyed up in the morning, so the morning is reserved for the most critical and most demanding tasks. Plus, I try to avoid any interruptions (email, phone calls, etc.) until noon. Without interruptions, you will be amazed at how much you can accomplish.

I work on less time-critical things in the afternoon unless my morning tasks are not completed. This could be meetings, learning, responding to calls, emails, and people’s questions. With an agenda and time limits on each topic, you force the meeting to stay focused on the topic. This can reduce an hour meetings to 20-30 minutes.

In the evening, I read or socialize. I don’t have a television to distract me. I am not that smart, but I am curious and have a million questions I would like answered. Books give information — from an authority– and expand my knowledge and perspective. And perspective is as important as facts because that’s how you are able to be more creative. It didn’t hurt that my wife was an avid reader, too.

Oh, I almost forgot. When you read and think about something just before you go to bed, you often wake up in the morning with an insight, solution, or new concept about something of interest.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

There have been many, but I think the biggest thing I have learned is how unprepared business people are for today's world. I worked with a business professor to help entrepreneurs become more successful. As you know, about eighty percent of startups fail. Also, about 60 percent of new products from established companies also fail for various reasons.

I think there are several broad reasons. One reason is that colleges must be accredited, and accreditation for a class takes time. Accredited colleges can’t teach non-accredited material. So, they are being taught information that is years old and outdated. This process is not likely to change.

The second reason is that companies are not schools. Consequently, companies have to understand that a college degree is just the first step in learning. There are many things companies could do to develop better business people: classes, webinars, group interests, etc. They need to help their employees continue their education throughout their


The third thing is what they need to teach. If companies want employees to grow and contribute and help lead the company’s future growth, they need to fill that “education void.” Plus, it must be about leadership, diagnosing problems, creativity, presentations, etc.

The company may not grow if they don’t help their employees grow. They may be competitive, but being competitive is just the benchmark. Long-term, they may not survive. Think K-mart, Kodak, Blockbuster, and Compaq computers.

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?

The number one book I think everyone should read is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957). It sets up the intellectual and moral philosophy for business and life. It is also one of the most read books in history – my data is a few years old, but I suspect it’s still in the top ten. Her basic philosophy is called “Objectivism,” which is basically realism. It emphasizes the importance of realism and gaining knowledge. She also emphasizes self-interest and that the economy should be laissez-faire capitalism. Also, individualism and self-interest are critical. Some people might find that harsh, but I see it that my life is under my control.

The impact it has had on my life has been always striving for perfection and never compromising my personal or business morals for money. I have seen many compromises of people and companies - large and small- in my life. All I can say is that they have to live with themselves,

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Strive to make better decisions for yourself and for your business. According to a McKinsey study, S&P 500 executives only make the correct decision 52% of the time. I think there are four reasons for this.

Our experiences bias our decisions and tend to close and harden our mindset. Critical thinking skills are essential, but only tell us if a piece of information is true or false.

Again, analytics is essential, but generally only offers a look backward, not a forward look, which is required for decision-making. Fourth, we need to broaden our perspective. The broader your perspective of a situation, the better you can make the best decision. If someone asked you what your house looked like, would you describe the front or

the back of the house?

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

I have been around a while, so there are many meaningful stories, but several have a common theme, and it has to do with culture. The culture of the company is critical to you and your company's success. Here is one example.

Early in my career, I was hired by a major corporation after extensive interviews, including a full day with a psychiatrist. When I reported for work the first day, I was not allowed to park in my assigned spot in the executive parking lot because my car was too old, and I was told to go to the regular employee parking lot.

When I arrived at my desk, there were several notes from the Executive VP’s secretary. I was told what bank to use and who to talk to. I was told that a specific realtor would be there at 5 pm to help me find a suitable area and house. And finally, I was to have my political contribution on his secretary’s desk by 4 pm that day.

One of my responsibilities was a major project I completed in nine months and resigned the next day. I wasted almost a year of my life and a lot of money. Read the book Atlas Shrugged and it will put you on the right pathway to success and happiness.

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