Maniacal External Focus

Good leaders of early stage startups are often maniacally focused as they build their initial offerings, acquire their initial customers, and build their companies. While the charismatic leader who is fully engaged is often an important attribute for early success, it is usually critical that the leader know when to evolve their personal role and their personal focus to sustain the company’s ongoing success. Scott Maxwell, OpenView Venture, wrote a great article in which he made the analogy of leaders who mistakenly squander some of their early success by spending too much time watching the dashboard and not enough time watching the road. His point is that keeping an external verses internal focus is critical for leaders of growth stage companies for success.

When I work with companies that are in early growth stages who are seeing success it is sometimes the case that the leaders begin to believe that it is their personal involvement in every facet of the business that has enabled that success and as such they should sustain that involvement. While it may be true that their personal attention to all facets of the business was critical in the early phases, it is important to know when they should evolve their personal focus and begin to empower and trust their teams for the day to day internal operations.

During my morning walk, I came upon the lovely creature featured in the image above flaunting a 4.5″ wingspan and the curiosity of my inner nine year old was sparked to find out more. Inside I quickly was able to identify the moth as a Luna Moth. I learned that the Luna Moth comes from a caterpillar that feeds on black walnut tree bark. The fascinating thing that I learned, however, was that the moth itself does not feed on anything. In fact, the moth lives for about ten days and has a singular purpose during that brief lifespan – to mate in order to sustain the species. The moth has no time for eating or becoming distracted with other things – the Luna Moth is maniacally focused outside itself! The pressure is on, time is ticking by for the moth.

The pressure is on for leaders who are transitioning their companies from early startups to growth stage companies as well – the clocks are ticking for these leaders to make wise choices as they prioritize their own personal time and focus. Navigating the company at this phase often means the leader must recognize that it is time to give their teams the opportunity to run the operations while they redirect their energy and focus externally. Leaders who make the transition to early stage growth are typically the ones who maniacally focus on:

– Understanding the characteristics of their best customers;
– Recognizing opportunities to better serve those customers through refining their offers;
– Knowing the competition and maintaining a healthy paranoia with respect to the competitor’s ability to outpace them.

All of these items are externally focused. Like the Luna Moth, they are not prioritizing the internal machine over external focus. Like the Luna Moth, they know the importance of the external focus for the broader future of the company (in the moth’s case it is focus on the species survival of course). And unlike the mysterious rules of nature for the moth, they will hopefully be rewarded for this external focus by making their company viable for the future – well beyond just a ten day timeframe!

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