How is Your Executive Function?

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I have the honor of leading a weekly mastermind group of home service business owners. Our group has met every Tuesday for several years and we have a solid roster of business owners who run successful service businesses. Recently, the topic for our weekly conversation was “executive function” and how a lack of skill in this area can negatively affect a business.

As I was preparing for this meeting, I was becoming increasingly uneasy. I looked at the list of executive function traits and realized I had serious problems in many areas on my list. I began to worry I would be the only one in our group to suffer from such problems. It seemed to me I would be found to be lacking as I admitted my struggles to the group.

As we began our meeting, I showed a list of 10 negative traits related to a lack of executive function. I called on the most successful owner within the group first to share with the group which, if any, of these traits he struggled with. He answered, without hesitation, that he struggles with all 10. I was shocked! This is a person who has owned a business for many years, he is very structured, highly intentional, and very successful. If he was struggling with this, what about the rest of us? As we went around the Zoom call, every single owner in the class admitted to having a hard time with nearly every executive function trait. I was shocked and a bit relieved I was not alone in my struggles.

So, what is “executive function” and why does it matter in a business? Executive function is defined as:

“… the cognitive abilities that enable a business leader, manager, or entrepreneur to effectively manage and grow their business. These cognitive skills are crucial for strategic planning, decision-making, problem-solving, and managing the multifaceted challenges that arise in a business environment.”

Let me show you the list I shared with my mastermind group so you can reflect upon and rate your abilities with these skills.

  • Poor Financial Management: Inability to plan and organize finances leading to cash flow problems, mismanagement of funds, and inadequate budgeting.
  • Ineffective Planning: Without the ability to set realistic goals and create strategic plans, a business may lack direction, resulting in missed opportunities and inefficient use of resources.
  • Difficulty in Prioritizing Tasks: Failing to differentiate between urgent and important tasks leading to misallocation of time and resources, negatively impacting productivity and growth.
  • Impulsive Decision Making: Lack of inhibitory control, which can lead to impulsive decisions without proper evaluation of risks and benefits, potentially resulting in costly mistakes.
  • Inability to Adapt to Change: Poor cognitive flexibility can hinder a business owner’s ability to adapt to market changes, new technologies, or customer needs, leading to a loss of competitiveness.
  • Procrastination and Delayed Responses: Delayed in making key decisions or responding to market changes due to poor organizational skills can result in lost opportunities and reduced operational efficiency.
  • Overlooking Important Details: Weakness in working memory and attention to detail can lead to errors in execution, unsatisfactory customer service, and potential legal issues.
  • Poor Time Management: The inability to manage time effectively can lead to missed deadlines, rushed or incomplete work, and lower productivity.
  • Failure in Delegation: Difficulty trusting others or relinquishing control can overload the business owner, leading to burnout and neglect of critical business areas.
  • Communication Breakdowns: Lack of planning and organization can result in poor communication with employees, suppliers, and customers, leading to misunderstandings and strained relationships.

I am pretty sure as you read the above list and could relate to at least a few of the issues. So, it’s great that we have identified the issue, but why is this such a struggle for so many of us and what do we do about it?

It has been my observation over the years that the majority of home service business owners started as technicians. Many of us, myself included, started our service business with good technical skills and no formal business training. We didn’t go to college for business, we did not receive an MBA. We just figured it out on our own as we began to grow. The problem for many of us is as our business grows the need for more solid executive function increases. However, we don’t always know what to do to better ourselves and rise to the needs of our new role of business owner or manager.

So, what are some of the steps we can all take to improve our executive function skills? We could start out with how to manage our time better with a course from LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, or Udemy. We could learn to manage our stress better with meditation and mindfulness apps such as Headspace (a personal favorite of mine) or Calm. We could learn the DISC Model of Human Behavior or Culture Index to understand how we communicate with others. We could invest in various business coaching programs to surround ourselves with trained coaches to help us see our weaknesses, learn financial skills, and have a mentor to offer guidance. There are online courses on platforms such as edX and Coursera for improving strategic planning and critical thinking. There is a massive amount of resources within our grasp, we just need to commit to our personal growth in these matters.

The point is, just as we learned how to dry out structures and write Xactimate estimates as we began our journey in this industry, we need to continue to work on the skill sets necessary to better manage our businesses and our teams as the business grows and changes. If you see areas in the above list where you could benefit from improvement, sit down and create your own plan for growth. Not addressing our shortcomings with executive function could have a huge negative impact on our careers and businesses.

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Eric Sprague

Eric Sprague is a long time cleaning and restoration business owner. Having sold his service business in 2018, Eric is now Director of Education at Super Tech University and Co-Host of the Blue Collar Nation Podcast. Eric’s passion is help­ing service business owners and their field technicians be the best they can be and grow as people and service business professionals.

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