By John Rosling: CEO Shirlaws Business Coaching UK

As CEOs of small and medium sized businesses, we can be so embedded in the day to day issues of running the business that it is difficult to find sufficient time to grow the business.

We can get stuck in the detail with the result that the single greatest impediment to the growth of our businesses and the realisation of our dreams can be ourselves. This is not a comment on skills or capabilities (although we could probably all do with constantly learning new skills) but it is a comment on what we choose to focus our time and energy upon. It is a comment on the belief we have created that we have to manage everything because no one will do it as well as we do.

The challenge, if you ever want to have your business deliver the wealth and leisure you set out to achieve, may be to find a new way of working. A way of working that really successful entrepreneurs who have built vast and complex businesses - but still seem to have time for ballooning and boat racing - have learnt to do instinctively.

You have to find a way of working that manages your business not in content but in context. Context is that which brings meaning. It provides a common language within the business process. It gives clarity to all the content and allows a business conversation to unfold, resulting in aligned decision making and understanding.

“The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing.” German proverb

Imagine a conversation between three directors of a business. Let’s imagine the discussion is about fruit; which is the best fruit between apples, bananas and oranges. Without any context to give meaning to the word “best”, imagine how long that conversation could last and how much energy, management time and focus it could use up.

Now imagine the same conversation if a clear context of “Vitamin C” was agreed. How long would the conversational have to last?

It is a simple analogy, but how many of us have the experience of management or team meetings where issues become muddled and decisions are difficult to reach. I find working with boards and teams that if they can set a clear context, decision making can be remarkably accelerated - and relationships improved. In fact, most problems in business stem from the fact that there is normally plenty of content, but no context.

Context is the wood, content the trees.

The context you choose to run your business, project or meeting is, of course, down to you and what you are seeking to achieve. As an example, we are working with a fast growing business that has chosen to work with a context of “learning”. Having this context supports decision making in how the business treats its people, takes decision, and invests money. The result is an ambitious and creative business where mistakes are not a cause for blame but for learning and where the team is motivated and productive. It’s also a great place to work. Context is one of the three key skills that all effective leaders have learnt.

So how do you get context into your business? The first and primary piece of context in your business is called “why” and I’ll look at that in detail in the next Article.

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