Vistage speaker Dan Barnett inspires CEOs to find their ‘make or break’ issue
Dan Barnett was buzzing for days after being recognized with the 2020 Vistage Lifetime Achievement Award. “It was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me,” Barnett said.
That’s saying a lot, as Barnett’s career has been filled with incredible experiences. He’s served as president of The Pillsbury Company, vice president at Nestle, and president and CEO of Constellation Brands. Barnett also previously served as COO of Vistage, as well as a Vistage Chair.
But Barnett received the 2020 Vistage Lifetime Achievement Award for his work as a Vistage speaker. Since 2008, Barnett has spoken to more than 1,000 Vistage groups, teaching them how to find and focus on their “make or break” issue. His work helps executives figure out what matters most, find better use of their time, and improve their organizations.
Finding the CEO’s ‘make or break’ issue
CEOs often have a difficult time focusing on their make-or-break issue, Barnett said. They’re pulled in multiple directions by small, daily crises, robbed of their ability to build their organization. But when executives find their make-or-break issue, they can point their organization in a better direction, create a clear vision for the future, and give employees a path to follow.
“That’s what I’m all about: helping people find the best of themselves,” Barnett said. “I ask leaders: Who do you think you can most inspire? The only person you can really inspire is yourself. If you’re inspired by yourself, it spreads to everyone around you.”
Executives who take Barnett’s workshop break into small groups and work on identifying their make-or-break issue. Then, he asks them to find a way to work on their issue that’s clear, specific and measurable.
“You look into the future—three or five years—and see what’s going to be different,” Barnett said. “You make sure that your organization knows that we’re here today, but we’re going this way in the future. When you know that you’re making progress, it builds energy and confidence in your organization.”
It’s all about the vision
Making their vision clear, specific, and measurable helps executives avoid a big pitfall: over-generalization. Initially, many executives state that their make-or-break issue is to be the best in their niche, Barnett said. This is fine for outward-facing marketing materials, he said, but executives and their employees need to see clear progress being made toward their vision.
“The key is having what I call forward-facing metrics,” Barnett said. “Forward-facing metrics are about activities. You do something today, you’ll get a result tomorrow. We’ll figure those out and put them into a dashboard so we can track them and ensure that they’re happening. You need to check up on them every single week, hold people accountable, and all be on the same page to get those things done. That’s how you achieve amazing things in companies.”
Once executives know their make-or-break issue, Barnett said that they’ll be better able to focus on what they’re truly good at while delegating other important tasks to employees.
“You assign a single person to do their activity, then they report out to everybody every week on what they’re doing,” Barnett said. “We can all help them be successful in getting there. And if they begin to struggle—they always do because we all do—then we all work together to help them get back on track.”
Barnett said that CEOs who have implemented his make-or-break plan regularly write to him in thanks for changing their life. That makes him very happy, as Barnett’s life was also transformed by Vistage during his time as a member.
“My Vistage group totally changed my life,” Barnett said. “They got me to realize that the things I was doing well in business applied to my personal life. I wanted to grow as a leader, so I needed to grow as a person. I changed my approach, and this is why I’m so much happier today than I was before. I owe it to my Vistage group and to my Chair.”
Those changes have led Barnett to today: The 2020 Vistage Lifetime Achievement Award. Barnett said that he’s never been happier, now that his make-or-break issues is making a difference in the lives of executives. “I’m going to love having received this award every single day for a very long time now,” he said.