NACE Opens Up To A Great Keynote Address By Dick Cross

Thinking is hardest and one the most important attributes of leading at the top. At least this is what former CARSTAR CEO Dick Cross told the attentive crowd at the opening session of ASRW in New Orleans.

Cross, who runs The Cross Partnership Ltd and has a background at CARSTAR, opened the ASRW 2012 General Session by sharing that thinking is a key component, along with character, to succeeding in the ‘job at the top’. And if you can work through these two, you can answer what he calls the greatest question never asked: “How do you run a business?”

Hardly anyone can answer it, because people hardly ever think of the job at the top, Cross explained. The answer isn’t in business school, nor is it in the years you probably put in working for someone who isn’t good at leading or running a business.

“For some of us in the room, thinking is the hardest part,” Cross said. “And if there is anything else to occupy our time other than thinking, we’ll be doing it.”

But thinking is important, as it helps you determine how your character inspires people to want to help you.

So how do you start thinking? There is a three-framework process Cross walked attendees through: the back of the envelope, renewal and putting on your trifocal lenses.

“I promise if you spend 20 minutes three days a week, they will change your life, they will change your business,” he says.

Starting with the back of the envelope, an idea Cross created one late night on a flight, he explained that you first must determine positioning, needs, competencies and customers for your business plan.

Dick Cross
Dick Cross.

Cross outlined on his diagram how to incorporate the four ideas, before moving on to explain how new envelopes are needed as businesses grow and change. Implementing that change is where the ‘trifocal lenses’ come into play.

Cross explains that some people look through the closed-end glasses of execution.

“What’s happened is that the world around us has changed,” he adds, noting that you might read about it, but you don’t see it.

It means you need to back up and start with vision, then strategy and then execution. Cross relates that while creating these plans, he quickly realized that the link that was missing between strategy and execution and between vision and strategy, was that strategy could be five bullet points on an index card.

“When I started seeing those three things together, I started seeing something that had always been confusing to me, and maybe to you: leadership vs. management,” he noted.

Leadership occurs between vision and strategy. It’s the ability to create vision and makes people comfortable. Leadership is continuing the promote the ideas. “There hasn’t been a successful leader in history who hasn’t lead on the basis of vision.”

Management is assembling the resources: people, processes, financing to execute the strategies that deliver the vision. Understanding the difference between the two and when to implement each will help move you through this portion of the diagram.

Once you have the vision in place, then strategy is easy to plan out into five bullets on an index card. “And as soon as I understood strategy that way, I could understand execution in a way I previously couldn’t.”

You then, Cross stated, can move on to creating the fundamental items that should be in place now and forever – core values and purpose. After that, you move on to mission and implementing all of your plans.

And implementing these processes makes thinking a lot easier. It also means you can move on to focusing on character, the other half of being successful at the top. The principles are simple, and good for people at any level. The principles of character are:

  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Generosity
  • Courtesy
  • Humility
  • Unselfishness
  • Good humour
  • Guilelessness
  • Sincerity

“This will get people to want to do what you know you have to do for your business, because you’ve thought about it through the frameworks,” Cross surmised.

Tschanen Brandyberry (ABRN) and Michel Malik (BodyShop News) in New Orleans contributed to this article.