Execution is the art of making things happen. It is the root of the word “executive,” and excellence in this area is the minimum criterion for success as a business leader. Your credibility depends on the results you get.
Consider this statistic: “More than 64 percent of C-level executives from 250 midsized to large companies in the United States and the European Union have said that being able to execute, to ‘react quickly to changing business opportunities, models, technologies, and processes is critical for their success,’ and yet is nearly impossible to achieve.”
These are the intense challenges facing you as a senior leader today, and the reasons why your ability to execute will define your career.
Execution is one of SOLID’s five categories of competency for executives, alongside Relationship, Management, Leadership and Core Character. You must master all five categories to reach your full potential as a leader. However, the overwhelming emphasis placed on execution means it’s often the first category where executives seek to improve.
Any gap between expectations and results is clearly noticeable. As a result, when blind spots in the Execution quadrant are removed, there is often a decidedly positive change with visible improvements to performance. This can have far-reaching, beneficial effects throughout the company and beyond.
Once you concentrate on development in a previously hidden area of Execution, you will almost certainly achieve dramatic progress. Strengths that are clearly identified and accepted as significant competencies tend to be used more—producing greater results. Likewise, results are rarely far behind once a weakness is uncovered, accepted as a challenge, and prioritized.
The Top 10 Execution Competencies for Executives
SOLID’s top ten Execution attributes for highly effective leaders are listed below. Follow the links for a detailed explanation of each competency and actionable steps for developing your skills in that area.
- Creating Innovation
- Driving Action
- Driving Results
- Focusing Attention
- Leveraging Intelligence
- Managing Meetings
- Managing Time and Priorities
- Organizing Self and Others
- Running the Business
- Solving Problems
Overview of Execution Competencies
Overall, executives are responsible for, and must be competent in:
E1. CREATING INNOVATION: Thinking more outside the box; discovering more possibilities; exploring ways to innovate; challenging pre-existing paradigms; allowing themselves and others permission to explore; tapping into existing creativity or drawing it out from others; creating an environment that supports creativity and innovation.
E2. DRIVING ACTION: Increasing drive toward action; generating more action; making things happen more quickly; driving the action of others; developing written goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, related to mission and on a timetable.
E3. DRIVING RESULTS: Increasing intensity toward driving results; developing strategies to better hit numbers; driving own performance; increasing standards for personal achievement.
E4. FOCUSING ATTENTION: Increasing ability to gain and maintain focus and attention; improving sequential thinking skills; decreasing tendency to become distracted; increasing self-discipline for remaining on task.
E5. LEVERAGING INTELLIGENCE: Increasing intellectual agility; pushing oneself to think quicker on the fly; decreasing need for processing time; increasing expectations of self to be more flexible; avoiding black-and-white, either/or thinking; drawing out brilliance from others.
E6. MANAGING MEETINGS: Improving skills in structuring staff meetings; designing off-sites; managing agendas; driving closure and actions; setting up accountability systems; ensuring follow-up.
E7. MANAGING TIME AND PRIORITIES: Maximizing current time management systems; designing streamlined processes; gaining advanced skills in task prioritization; leveraging best practices of email, calendaring, task and contact management and personal and professional demand-balancing.
E8. ORGANIZING SELF AND OTHERS: Getting better organized; being better prepared for meetings; organizing the offices; designing personal organizational systems; structuring the calendars; developing better systems of task management.
E9. RUNNING THE BUSINESS: Enhancing business acumen; increasing general knowledge of business principles; gaining an MBA or other advanced degree; developing a plan for online education; designing a strategy to better understand the workings of the business; gaining mentors in the industry to improve business acumen.
E10. SOLVING PROBLEMS: Increasing creativity in solving problems; developing additional solutions to complex problems; brainstorming; troubleshooting possible issues; increasing analysis of problems; weighing pros and cons; identifying solutions in a more calculated way.
Quotes on Execution for Business Leaders
“Leaders owe it to the organization and their fellow workers not to tolerate non-performing people in important jobs.” ―Peter Drucker
“History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.” ―B. C. Forbes
“My definition of an executive’s job is brief and to the point. It is simply this: Getting things done through other people.” ―James Cash Penney
How Execution Works with the Other Categories of Competency
There is a dynamic interplay among the categories of competency. They are equally as likely to support each other as to be at odds with one another.
Execution in Conflict with Other Categories
For Execution, the most common conflicts are with the Relationship quadrant. It is normal to have tension between these two forces: the passionate drive to have maximum execution and the constant attention to growing positive, productive relationships. While some of these conflicts between Execution and Relationship are easily fixed, others need intentional focus for successful resolution.
For example, talented leaders who have tremendous Execution skills (most do, or they would not have made it to this level of responsibility) have had conflicts with other members of the management team. This is normal and natural. But if an executive’s competencies in the Relationship category are far below their competencies in Execution, they may strain these relationships to the breaking point.
This kind of disaster is unfortunately common. Many have joined the executive ranks only because of their ability to produce, even if they have no significant relationship, management and/or leadership competencies.
Execution in Harmony with Other Categories
To truly excel at Execution as a senior leader, you need expertise in all five categories of competency. An executive must:
- Have integrity and exemplify the qualities of a fair leader (Core Character).
- Obtain results no matter what (Execution).
- Work together well with others and ensure cooperation within their team (Relationship).
- Direct people effectively (Management).
- Inspire themselves and others with a vision as to where they are headed (Leadership).
As you work to improve your competencies in Execution, remember that the other categories are just as critical to your long-term success. An executive with strong Core Character and balanced ability in Execution, Relationship, Management and Leadership will outperform one who pursues greater Execution at the expense of everything else. Execution is an excellent place to start. Just be sure it isn’t where you stop.
When you’re ready to begin developing your skills in Execution, choose a competency from the list above, or start with Creating Innovation.
You can also learn more about our other categories of competency by downloading SOLID Executive Competencies: What It Takes to Be an Executive. This complimentary ebook includes a self-assessment to help you quickly identify your areas of strength and weakness.
About the Author
Daniel Mueller is President and CEO of SOLIDleaders, LLC. One of the earliest and most active pioneers of the executive coaching industry, he has provided over 86,000 hours of executive coaching to more than 1,525 top leaders. SOLID Executive Competencies was inspired and informed by his experience helping executives achieve transformational change.
Daniel lives in Austin, Texas. He is married to Patty, the love of his life, and has three awesome daughters. You can learn more about him in his bio.
 Ralph Welborn and Vince Kasten, Get It Done! (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006), 8.