John Kujawa of Lumitec
John Kujawa

Leadership & Strategy: Making Time for Life

"In a startup there is never a lull. There are always many things to keep you busy. But busy does not necessarily mean productive," said John Kujawa, founder of Lumitec. 

Free time isn't something John Kujawa takes for granted. 

Especially after in 2007 launching Lumitec, a manufacturer of extreme environment LED lighting. 

The company, which he started to marry his knowledge of technology and product development with his passion for boating, has taken off, boasting a 937% three-year growth rate and an eight-figure annualized run rate.

See Also: Lean Manufacturing Leadership Best Practices

But with that early success has come a demanding schedule, one that requires him not only to be on the ground growing his fledgling 30-person business but also on the road attending industry trade shows and conferences, all the while raising three kids with his wife. 

Q: How do you manage to make the most of your time while launching and running a new business?

This is, almost literally, a daily challenge. In a startup there is never a lull. There are always many things to keep you busy. But busy does not necessarily mean productive.

To make the most of my time I always try to have crystal-clear goals at appropriate time horizons -- both long- and intermediate-term. Knowing what I need to accomplish in the longer term is an invaluable tool for prioritizing tasks and quickly differentiating distractions from potential crises.

Allow Good People Space

Q: What is the trickiest part of time management as a top executive? How do you overcome it?

Delegation -- not so much having other people assume tasks as much as pulling back, communicating ever higher-level objectives, and allowing good people the space to find their own paths to success. This can be very scary.

Oftentimes I see a problem and formulate an approach which seems to me to be certain to succeed and painfully obvious. Of course, someone else may come up with a completely different approach which seems equally appropriate to them. While this alternative solution may initially appear counterproductive to me, as often as not it is just as good as or better than the one I would have chosen.

To effectively leverage your people you have to be willing to let them develop their own path to success -- even if at times it may mean that they initially fail, or succeed differently than initially expected.

Q: What advice would you offer other leaders on time management? Other new founders?

Establish very clear goals. Be willing to incur short-term losses in the interest of ignoring distractions which could change your long-term trajectory. Don't confuse work with progress.

Q: As a leader, how much of a role do you play in managing your employees' time?

As the company has grown I am involved less and less with managing employees' time -- particularly for the top performers.

A Job of Nothing

An important inflection point for me as a company president was when I realized, and communicated to my team, that my job was to do nothing. I am responsible for building a team, a structure, and a set of processes where the entire company can prosper without my being on the critical path for anything. 

Of course, the objective then becomes to stay focused on the longer-term issues which are extremely important but often less urgent. 

I can't say I am there yet, but just this realization -- this vision -- often helps me avoid becoming entangled in issues which might pull me away from the things which are most important for me to be focused on.

Q: How do you juggle the work-life balance? How do remain cognizant of that balance and if you are successfully achieving it?

A few years ago a newly married friend asked me what it is like to have kids. I started to try, but then realized that trying to describe the magic of having children to someone who does not is like trying to describe purple to a blind man. 

My job would take 100 hours a week if I let it, and my wife is a senior VP at a Fortune 500 company. With three children ages 3, 5 and 7, it is a daily challenge to find the right balance between work and home. 

What was extremely helpful for me was just acknowledging that my job as a dad is far more important than my job as a company president. 

For executive-level time management tips, visit iw.com/time-tips.

Not long ago I decided that every night that I was in town I would cook dinner for my family, and that we would eat together as a family. I scaled back travel and reduced the number of weekends in the office.

Last week my 3-year-old daughter climbed into my lap and said with adoration, "You're a good daddy, Daddy!" That, to me, is success.

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