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Editor's note: Be sure to readthe first article in this series, "Why every CEO needs an executivecoach."

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As the story goes, Bill Gates first met Warren Buffett at adinner hosted by Gates' mother.  During the meal, sheasked everyone around the table to identify what they believed wasthe single most important factor in their personal success. Gatesand Buffett both gave the same one-word answer: "focus." Their answer should not come as a surprise.  After all,most successful CEOs and entrepreneurs attribute their success to adedicated — some would say fanatical — commitment to achievingtheir goals.  No interruptions.  No sidetracking. No juggling multiple balls in the air.  Justfocusing in and doing those things critical to success.

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Today's scarcest resource

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On the surface, it sounds easy: Focus on those things that aremost important and leave the rest to others. Yet the world we livein constantly pulls us away from our appointed tasks by bombardingus with sensory interruptions.  Sources of distractionrange from emails and online advertising to television, radio,magazines, smartphones, social media, and more.  Add tothis the constant interruptions from friends, family and businessassociates and it's easy to see why being able to focus has becomesuch a challenge.  It's a new rule of physics:Distractions increase at the rate necessary to fill the timeallocated to address them.

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Also read: Meeting with the C-Suite: Don't mention healthinsurance

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For a CEO, the challenge is even more pronounced. In addition tothe common distractions of everyday life, CEOs are expected to makedaily decisions about legal matters, financial reports, marketingdata, competitive analyses, sales statistics, and a host of other information constantly vying fortheir precious attention. Rather than allowing the CEO to focus ona select number of critical areas, company employees, customers,business partners, investors and other stakeholders draw them intoendless meetings and discussions.  Most CEOs give in tothese requests, believing them to be germane to the strategicnature of their role.  But they rarely are.

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Consumed by multitasking

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A busy mind is an unsettled mind.  Rather than insight,a busy mind leads to confusion, hesitation and a lack ofconfidence, all of which can negatively impact the decision-makingprocess. Focus on everything and you focus on nothing.

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Given the importance of focus, it's disheartening to find thatlike most of us, many of today's business leaders and CEOs havefallen victim to the myth of multitasking: The more jobs they takeon, the more goals they set, the more meetings they attend, themore chances they will have to succeed. Instead, the C-suite'sinfatuation with multitasking has brought senior executives to thepoint where when they are able to focus, they focus on the wrongthings, addressing only the latest-and-loudest item in the inboxinstead of something strategic and long-range.

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In a study from the University of California-Irvine,researchers analyzed business productivity. Here's what study leadGloria Mark told Fast Company about on-the-job interruptions: "Whenyou have to completely shift your thinking, it takes time to moveinto the new area of focus, then more time to get back to what youwere originally working on.  We found about 82 percent ofall interrupted work is resumed on the same day. But here's the badnews: It takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds toget back to the original task."

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Jonathan Spira, author of "Overload! How Too Much Information IsHazardous to Your Organization," estimates thatinterruptions and information overload eat up 28 billion wastedhours a year, at a loss of almost $1 trillion to the U.S.economy.  He goes on to say that because of unnecessary,unwanted, and completely unproductive interruptions, between 40percent and 60 percent of our time is completely wasted. For the CEO, a lack of focus not only translates intowasted time, but an inability to positively impact those key areasthat are critical to a company's success. How many good strategicdecisions were left undone three years ago because a CEO's focuswas anywhere but where it should have been?

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Too many choices with too many variables

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Good leaders make good decisions.  And one of the mostimportant decisions today's CEOs can make is where to focus theirefforts.  The problem is that like a consumer walking downa retail aisle filled with hundreds of products, a CEO is alsofaced with numerous choices.  Should the CEO focus onfinance or on the competition?  Is it more important tomeet with the company's business partners or with itsemployees?   What activities should CEOs pullwithin their orbit and what activities should they delegate?

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A survey by Waitrose & Partners found that 64 percent ofconsumers feel overwhelmed by choice.  CEOs have similarfeelings. According to the Harvard Business Review, a 10-year studyof more than 2,700 leaders revealed that 57 percent of newlyappointed executives felt that the decisions they were now asked tomake were far more complicated and difficult than they hadexpected.  Faced with an abundance of variables andpossible outcomes, CEOs will usually opt to eliminate uncertaintyby spreading their efforts across all possible areas of theirorganization.  The result is a lack of focus that canprove debilitating for the CEO and harmful to the company.

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Focus on three areas

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The mistake that many CEOs make is believing that priorexperience is a predictor of future success.  This isespecially true of individuals who came up through either financeor sales.  While it's true that both are important,neither in itself will have a cross-functional impact on the entirecompany. Both areas will also have seasoned executives who arefully competent of assuming the chair previously occupied by theCEO.

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CEOs need to recognize that they need not be firefighters, readyand willing to rush to every crisis or confrontation. Playing therole of firehouse Dalmatian, sitting by and watching the actionunfold, is no solution, either. Better to act as the fire chief,monitoring the situation — no matter how potentially incendiary —and only stepping in when the efforts of others fail to produce thedesired results.

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Where should CEOs focus their attention?  On thoseselect areas where their unique skills, experience,reputation and authority can have the most impact on both theshort- and long-term success or their company.  Eachshould be an area that will positively affect all parts of theorganization, not simply silos.  It's only the CEO who hasthe perspective to see all the moving parts of the business, so theability to focus becomes a superpower.

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For every company in every industry, three areas arecritical:  Your people.  Your culture. Your numbers.  Each is intrinsically connected to theothers.  Taken together, they act as the foundation uponwhich your company will build and maintain its success.

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One pushback I usually get when discussing CEO focus is this:"Isn't financial performance more important than any other area,and therefore the one place where CEOs need to focusintently?  After all, without strong margins, positivecash flow, and a robust line of credit, most companies are doomedto failure.  Why place your attention elsewhere when thefinancials matter most?"

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While positive financials are critical to a company's ongoingsuccess, it's important to understand that financials are anoutcome, not a driver.   By that I mean thatpositive financial performance occurs only when positive activityoccurs in other areas of your organization.  For example,your financial performance will certainly suffer if you have badproducts, or poor customer service, or sub-parprocesses.   These, in turn, are dependent on twokey areas over which the CEO has unmatched influence: your people and your culture.

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How can you ever hope to produce good customer experience from aculture that does not embrace people?  Or achieve superiorcustomer service with employees who do not share yourgoals?  Yes, key performance indicators (KPIs) areessential.  Without them, you are driving blind through asandstorm. But unless those KPIs are shared with your employees andreflective of your company's beliefs and values, they are simplynumbers that are easily ignored.

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Great leadership requires balance

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In 2009, James Zenger surveyed over 60,000 employees to discoverwhich characteristics made leaders great.  Who were moresuccessful: results-focused executives who zeroed-in on the bottomline, or executives who concentrated on enhancing the company'sculture as well as the skills and happiness of itsemployees?  Business leaders who were able to focusequally on the financials and the company culture (less than 1 percent accordingto another study) produced superior results 72 percent of thetime.

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These findings are supported by more recent research from therecruiting firm Glassdoor, which found that the most successfulCEOs are those who surround themselves with committed employees andstrong leadership teams. In fact, the best predictor of a high CEOapproval rating is the strength of the management team. A company'sculture and values are also a key consideration of employeesranking their CEO. Employees also rate the CEO more favorably whenthe company has solid financials.

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Always remember, the successful CEO is one whodelegates.  But never forget that you should neverdelegate, defer, pass off, or ignore those three things that mattermost:  your people, your culture and yournumbers.  So, clear your mind, set your goals and thendevelop a laser-like focus on these three areas.  When youdo, you will be taking the first step toward lasting success.

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By Trey Taylor:

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Trey is the Chief Executive Officer of Taylor InsuranceServices, Managing Director of trinity | blue, an executivecoaching consultancy, and the Founding Partner of Ascend Partners,an equity investment vehicle focused on the Employee Benefitsspace.

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