Having advised thousands of business leaders, my colleagues at ghSMART and I have heard many common causes of stress. Here are some of the causes:

  • You have a bold vision but lack confidence in your team to execute it. So, your business plan feels more like wishful thinking than a reasonable set of results you expect your team to achieve in the future.
  • Competitors are starting to bring better, faster, cheaper services to market, and you feel your advantages slipping.
  • Your own workload seems to be growing exponentially, taking a toll on your life outside of work, and you are wondering where the glory is in growing a business.

In addition to the stress felt by leaders, there are many worries outside your company. A Conference Board survey of 800 CEOs—as reported by the Wall Street Journal—reported that the top worries of CEOs outside their companies are recession, global trade, and politics, in that order. And the three worries inside their companies are hiring talented people, digital technology, and developing leaders.


The advice I’m about to share is not just some off-the-cuff “You oughta” thoughts that your friend is telling you over lunch. I think it’s nice when a friend has some thoughts to share with you over lunch, but what you are about to read is different.

Our advice is based on a now 17,000-leader database of successful and unsuccessful careers, which we have analyzed with the University of Chicago and other top research universities for three best-selling books our firm has published: Who, Power Score, and The CEO Next Door.

We don’t just write books; our leadership advisory firm—ghSMART—has tested this advice with thousands of business leaders we have advised over the last 20 years. We practice what we preach. All the advice I’m about to offer is based on tactics we’ve successfully used ourselves to grow our business to over a dozen offices in the United States and Europe to serve clients globally while becoming the subject of two Harvard Business Review case studies as a pioneer in our field.


  1. Reduce your priorities to three or less.
  2. Hire and fire until you are 90% confident that your team will execute the strategy successfully.
  3. Build relationships that are focused not just on getting along but also on achieving measurable outcomes together.

We discovered that leaders who are skilled at these three things are 20 times more likely to achieve their financial goals for their companies than those who are not. Again, these three things are prioritizing, hiring and developing talented teams, and building relationships focused on results.


Most of the time, when a leader struggles with prioritizing, it’s because they have too many priorities, not too few. I sat on a plane next to a CEO a couple weeks ago who seemed stressed. I was writing a love letter to my wife and I didn’t feel like talking to him, but a friend sitting two rows back introduced me to my seatmate. I found myself in an impromptu consulting session. This CEO told me that his team seemed to be in chaos. I asked how many priorities they had. He said dozens. I winced.

How is a leadership team supposed to stay focused on dozens of priorities? The CEO admitted that he personally had the ability to juggle many balls at the same time, but his team did not. The insight the CEO gained was that it would be smart to prune the number of priorities down to a more manageable list for his team to execute.

The best leaders I’ve ever seen have three priorities or less—period. This applies outside of business as well. I was meeting a newly elected governor recently to volunteer as an advisor while he built his team. He had been extremely successful in the private sector before going into government service. Over an informal breakfast at a diner, he outlined his grand plan for the state, and it included only two priorities. I admired the focus.

Randy Street, the Managing Partner of ghSMART, declared this year that we would only focus on one priority, and we are currently crushing that priority year-to-date (which happens to be recruiting more colleagues to meet rising client demand).

The CEO of a large health care company we are advising spent three months at the end of last year whittling down his global company’s priorities to three. If these larger organizations can narrow their priorities down, so can small-business owners.


This is the hardest of the three pieces of advice. Most leaders seem to assume to some extent that they are “stuck” with the people on their team. You are not stuck. Life is short. If there are people on your team who are not a good match for what you need them to do, then support them as they look for a better job—for their own good and for yours.

Write a scorecard that identifies the specific outcomes you want someone to achieve in a role. Conduct long interviews with your finalists and really understand what they have done throughout their careers: what they were hired to do; what they accomplished; what mistakes they made; how they worked with bosses, peers, and subordinates; and why they left their jobs. Do 5–7 reference interviews for key roles.

Hire with confidence. Keep making changes to your team until you can look yourself in the mirror with a straight face and declare you are 90% confident in your team to deliver the results you seek in your business plan. If you want to reliably scale your company, get good at hiring. If you want to have less tasks on your plate and have people to whom you can delegate, get good at hiring. If you want to learn and grow yourself from the talented people around you, get good at hiring.


I find it off-the-mark when business “how-to” books or keynote speakers encourage us to build better relationships at work to be more harmonious, as if harmony is the end goal. Though it’s nice to have friends at work, I don’t think people come to work every day with the goal of getting along with everyone. They come to work wanting to work on a high-performing team that’s making an impact, making money (if they are in the for-profit world), and getting things done.

We suggest you reorient your mindset about your relationships at work from getting along to getting things done. Asking yourself the following questions can help you achieve this:

  • What are the communication cadences we need to set up to make sure the right people are talking at the right time, empowered to make the right types of decisions, and can see a dashboard or scoreboard of the results they are achieving together?
  • How do I modify my work style to communicate more effectively with key people around me to help them succeed?
  • If we are being successful, how do we know?
  • What are the metrics and results we should track to know if certain people and teams in our business are succeeding?

In summary, it is difficult to successfully grow a business. Of course there will be some sweat and tears along the way, but we hope you try the three actions we recommend in this article. By prioritizing better, hiring and developing a more talented team, and building relationships focused on getting things done, you will achieve more success with less sweat.

Dr. Geoff Smart is Chairman & Founder of ghSMART, a leadership consulting firm that exists to help leaders amplify their positive impact on the world. Dr. Smart and his firm have published multiple New York Times bestsellers. He stays active in his community and has advised many government officials.

Interested in learning more ways to enhance your company’s success? View IT Radix’s Momentum NJ magazine in its entirety here!