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Leadership on a Bikini Budget

By Paul Johnson

1,074 words. Abstract: Leadership can find ways to “do more with less” in a recession if they learn to work within certain limits the way a good bikini does. Discover how to fashion a beautiful business when resources are scarce.

The “do more with less” maxim is nothing new, but it takes on new importance during a recession when resources are woefully scarce. When revenue shortfalls at your company are causing leadership to consider painful cuts of personnel, products and projects, perhaps it’s time to consider these new constraints as a blessing instead of a burden. Perhaps it’s time to consider the advantages of a Bikini Budget.

Since the marvelous invention of the two-piece “swim suit” known as the bikini, women have had to actively manage the perils of “doing more with less.” Have men ever complained? No! Now it’s time for men to stop complaining about scarcity and shortfalls and learn from the women who have had to shop for clothing not measured in square feet of fabric, but in square inches. With a similar perspective and attitude, your company’s leadership can refashion your business into something fresh, beautiful and becoming.

Wasting Away
Our consumption economy creates huge amounts of waste; The Environmental Protection Agency reports that each American generated over 1,650 pounds of solid waste in 2007. Because we’re so used to having more than we need, we see constraints imposed by external conditions — such as recession, regulations and tariffs — to be stifling to our business. In some cases, these onerous conditions initiate a downward spiral that creates mounting pain and, if left unchecked, puts some companies out of business.

Perhaps the recession “problem” is really masking an opportunity for your company. Now that there is no excess to waste, now that the very “fabric” of your company is stretched thin, perhaps it’s time for a makeover that will transform your company into something fresh and exciting again. You’ll gain clarity of purpose, renewed vigor, an improved outlook and more profits when leadership looks at business like a bikini.

A Cup Half Full
I’ve never actually bought a bikini, but I’ve been brought along as a technical adviser on many occasions by my wife Patti. I never would have imagined how many decisions are involved in selecting such a small article of clothing. For example:

  • Halter?
  • Thin or thick straps?
  • Underwire?
  • Ties, clips or clasps?
  • High- or low-cut waist?
  • Leg cut?
  • To thong or not to thong?
  • Probability of “wardrobe malfunction” during water sports activities?

Next, throw in an infinite variety of colors and patterns from which to choose.

And then the BIG question: “Is it flattering?” (Translation for men: “Does it make my butt look good?”)

Despite the mind-boggling minutiae, I’m happy to participate. After all, this isn’t about shoes or a coat, this is about a bikini. Patti is already hot despite being a grandmother, and the proper selection of this particular garment will only make her more beautiful.

We could complain that the constraints that define a bikini are “not fair”, but that would be a “cup half empty” viewpoint. Instead, we have to view the constraints that we operate under as a “cup half full” opportunity.

Constraints enable us to be more creative, not less. Constraints actually allow us to do better work. Given a choice in our youth, we would always grab the biggest box of crayons because it would give us the most choices to succeed. As our leadership matures, we realize we can still create a masterpiece when our choices are restricted. The Mona Lisa was created using only one color.

Bottom-Up Success
Leadership on a bikini budget means viewing constraints as a way to get clear about success.

First, use the downturn in the economy as an opportunity to make more thoughtful decisions. We could all use more practice with critical thinking skills. Today the results really matter, because careless decisions can kill our business. Make time to ask yourself lots of questions, and then get clear on the answers. For example:

  • Why do we do what we do?
  • Who really cares?
  • What is NOT absolutely critical to what we do?
  • What do we assume still works like it did last year?
  • What business are we really in?

Your list of questions should be much longer.

Next, remember the advice of Curly from the movie City Slickers; it’s about finding The One Thing. A bikini is required to do only One Thing; keep its wearer from getting arrested for indecent exposure. But The One Thing could be about anything of importance. Here’s a warm-up exercise: if you could only keep one coat, which one would it be? If you could only keep one pair of shoes, which would you choose? Likewise, what is the best thing about your business, the most important thing, the thing that is most likely to keep you in business? Get clear on that and focus your limited resources there. If your cup seems half full today, get a smaller cup.

Third, let go. Let go of activities that used to work. Let go of products that don’t represent your best work anymore. Let go of customers that don’t believe in you today. Get rid of clutter. Clear space in the “closets” of your business, your head and your heart so there is room to hang new successes. Make a place for your future to dwell with you. You’ll likely discover a cleaner, simpler business that is the joy you’ve been looking for.

Enough is Enough
The beauty in a bikini is that it is just enough. It doesn’t need buttons or flaps. Pockets won’t work. Paisley or herringbone won’t improve the yellow polkadot bikini. A careful decision process lets go of everything that isn’t essential to the one thing that the perfect bikini does: enhance the natural beauty of the woman who wears it.

When times are plentiful it’s easy to take on too much (I admit, I’ve eaten a few too many Twinkies). It’s easy to be tricked into believing that we are inadequate and that, to succeed, we need still more than we already have. The reality is that you are enough right now. You have everything you need to succeed today.

The only thing holding you back is the confusion of the clutter you’ve let surround you and your business. Get rid of all but what is necessary, and all that is left is exactly what success requires from you. Stop straddling. Pick a lane. Embrace the bikini budget and let leadership begin with you. The results will be beautiful.

© 2009 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson is the keynote speaker who describes his approach to transformational leadership at http://TroubleBreaker.com. His company, Shortcuts to Results LLC, collects business shortcuts and shows clients how to find and apply them for performance improvement at http://ShortcutsToResults.com.

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: What used to work for your company that doesn’t anymore?

Posted: under Managing Change (Leadership).
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1 Comment

  1. John Christensen Says:

    Good stuff, Paul. I had the sense for a few years before everything hit the fan that we were experiencing the endgame of materialism. Too much of everything. Once had to walk out of Macy’s or Rich’s; there was so much “stuff” I started feeling nauseous. “Leadership on a Bikini Budget” nails it, not only in your advice, but in the attitude behind it. This isn’t a disaster, its an opportunity. And thanks for your presentation the other night, too. Very entertaining, and thought-provoking as well.

    Cheers,
    John



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