Every leader is challenged to remember what’s most important in the midst of board meetings, top-line versus bottom-line growth, acquisitions, keeping shareholders happy. At some point, most leaders come head-to-head with the questions, “What matters most to me as I strive to live a life of significance? What does it all mean? What does success look like?”
Creative Dining President and CEO Jim Eickhoff shared his best leadership insights (both personally and professionally) during a recent interview.
QUESTION: You have a history of having a highly successful career selling millions at large enterprise companies – closing deals, exceeding quotas and managing large teams. Knowing what you know now, what would you tell your 30-year-old self about what matters most?
JIM EICKHOFF: It’s not about you. You postponed vacations, missed kids school events and didn’t date your wife enough – all for the glory of getting the deal. The good deal will still come even if you spend time with your family and friends. I am now focused on creating meaningful experiences and give the gift of my time to others. These make the best “paychecks.”
Maintaining Key Disciplines
QUESTION: What practical steps and disciplines do you do daily, weekly, yearly to keep your priorities straight?
JIM: In order for me to keep the balance of mind, body, spirit I have had to maintain key disciplines for all three areas. For my mind, I spend 30 minutes each day reading some sort of business related articles, journals or books to keep my mind sharp and so I keep up with the best practices in business. For my body, I exercise (spinning, swimming, bicycling) daily usually at 5:30 AM to start my day off invigorated. For my spirit, I do a daily devotional that gives me a connection and grounding in what God has in store for me, my family, and work.
QUESTION: How do you measure success? How will you know you’ve had a successful career?
JIM: I used to think that success was measured by titles and bonuses or people thought about me (did they like me?). Now I measure success by how well do I guide, nurture and influence others to do an excellent job. A “stamp” of success on my career would be to hear from colleagues that I led by example and made a difference in their lives personally and professionally.
QUESTION: What advice would you give a new leader who is just starting to manage people?
JIM: Listen and be patient. Be patient and don’t make your team be just like you. I believe that too often leaders want to clone themselves and have an expectation to “do as I say.” That will not work. Allow people to maximize their unique gifts and talents. I often say that a team should be like a quilt filled with unique squares that makes an awesome, unified scene.
QUESTION: Where do you turn for advice, mentorship and inspiration?
JIM: On the personal side, I often turn to a close friend of mine, Dan Webster. He’s the founder of Authentic Leadership. He is grounded in strong faith-based principles that help me blend the personal and professional challenges that we all face each day.
On the professional side, I have been active in Vistage over the past couple of years and find that the comradery, mentoring and accountability from these fellow CEOs is awesome.
And, in all seriousness, my grandchildren inspire me! Their innocent mode of how they view the world in awe and wonder have made me realize how important it is to look at work and life with a childlike lens.
QUESTION: Who is a leader you admire and how has he/she impacted your life and career?
JIM: I am going to take the liberty to mention two (although I have never met either). First is Chuck Swindoll who authored The Servant Leader. The gift of his book is that a real leader puts the needs of others ahead of their own in a joyful and meaningful way.
The second is Max De Pree the author of Leadership Jazz. Max’s main focus was that as a leader we are like an orchestra conductor drawing out the best sounds from many different instruments to make something beautiful. He also put a twist on the saying “practice what you preach” with “match your voice to your touch.” This holds true in relationships with family and friends, too.
QUESTION: You joined Creative Dining five years ago to transition a founder run company to the next generation of non-founder lead leadership. How are you establishing Creative Dining’s culture – staying true to the company’s history and core values yet also embracing a new, bright future?
JIM: I came into the Creative Dining family because of what was in its heart and soul. Our core values focus on Integrity, Creativity, Flexibility, Sensitivity, Family, and Sustainability. Why would anyone mess around with that?! My hope is that our refreshed leadership team focuses on keeping these values at the forefront of what we do today to honor the 30 years of Creative’s success formula.
We have to be relevant to our employee and customer base but true to these timeless values. By doing the right things right, enthusiastically our business will continue to grow and be of value to those we serve.