Tony Jeary’s the go-to guy for CEOs who want a little coaching help. His secrets for managerial success?

BY MARK HENRICKS | Photography by Justin Clemons

Tony Jeary gained a measure of renown as “Mr. Presentation.” The enthusiastic reception of his 2004 book, Life is a Series of Presentations (Simon & Schuster), made him the guy for blue-chip corporate leaders who wanted to hone their skills at communicating in front of groups. But one executive with Jeary’s own consulting company informed him that C-level executives weren’t flying in from all over the world to the million-dollar studio in his Flower Mound, Texas, backyard to learn how to do presentations. “I said, ‘Yes, they are,’ ” Jeary recalls. But when he asked his clients why they came to him, he got a different story. “They said they were coming to me to get clarity,” he says. Thus began his transformation from communication trainer to strategic planning adviser. Today, Jeary no longer focuses primarily on PowerPoint, slide decks, and bullet points, but instead stresses three things – clarity, focus, and execution – in his books and consultations.

His client list still encompasses the likes of Ford, Walmart, PepsiCo, and Samsung, but his topics have spread far beyond the confines of presentations. His newest book, Strategic Acceleration: Succeed at the Speed of Life (Vanguard Press, 2009), aims to help executives successfully lead their organizations, not just communicate with them. Private Clubs asked the member of La Cima Club in Irving, Texas, to distill the essence of his success methodology in practical terms for today’s management environment.

You say that success starts with clarity, even before focus and execution. Why is clarity so powerful for managers? So elusive?

Two Reasons: First, people think that they have more clarity than they really do. When we work with them, all of a sudden they go, “Wow, maybe I’m not as clear as I could be. Or maybe I am in my own head, but it hasn’t cascaded down to others.”

Second, there is a pulling power to clarity. If people really get it they are more motivated and pulled toward getting goals accomplished. So many leaders are clear in their heads, but it doesn’t get down to the troops.

Can you give an example of how your methodology can increase clarity for leaders and those they lead?

One of the biggest takeaways we teach is a concept called a visual model. The idea is you have a visual model that can be printed, shown, and repeated, and that people can connect with. Many times leaders put it in words but don’t graphically present it in a way that makes a memory peg for their team. That’s a big aha.

Can you give an example of a visual model?

One of my clients built a star model that had five primary points. But whether it’s a bull’s-eye, a ladder, steps, or whatever doesn’t matter. Pick what fits with your business.

Is this model used only in strategic planning sessions or is it on posters for everybody in the organization?

Both. I’ve had people put it on badges. I’ve done it with Chrysler on wallet cards. People put their models everywhere. The mistake is keeping it at the top level and not pushing it down to where everybody gets it.

What about focus and execution? What’s the role they play?

Life’s so fast that there are lots of distractions. If you have clarity, you’re better able to focus on high-leverage activities or HLAs. High-leverage activities are what you should spend 70 percent of your time on. Then when something comes at you, you can ask whether it fits into your HLAs. If it doesn’t, you can ask whether you should focus on that. We really recommend that people have these high-leverage activities identified. I have six myself.

So tell, what are your six?

One is to nourish my Rolodex. I have about 20,000 people in my personal Rolodex. I need to nourish the people I have in my database by communicating with them. The second is that I need to be constantly studying, so I can bring the very best to the particular client I’m working with. So reading and studying is one of my HLAs. Another is that I need to be talking to my current clients to make sure they’re executing. Another is to be looking for ways to continue to bring my brand to the world. And, finally, supporting my team, and bringing in new business to my organization.

I look at things day in and day out and if they fit into those buckets, it’s easy for me to make a split-second decision. No matter where you are at, understanding your high-leverage activities helps you retain your focus.

You make success sound relatively simple, if not exactly easy. Where do people most commonly get hung up when working your program?

The thing I don’t want to put out there is that I’ve got this method you just queue up and automatically you’re rich. It takes hard work. If you don’t execute, it doesn’t work. You have to take action. You can have great strategy and focus, but if you and your people don’t take action, it doesn’t work.

Can your methodology for success work even during economic downturns and in other unfavorable environments? To put it another way, when or where does it not work?

It works everywhere. The big mistake people make is not cascading it down. Or they might cascade it down a couple of levels, but all the troops in the organization don’t have sufficient clarity to make decisions that align with the vision.

Can this approach apply to areas other than business? Family? Personal?

Absolutely. I encourage people, once they get the HLA idea, to use it personally. For instance, do you want to nourish your kids? Support your church? If you’re really after results, you need to look at both sides of the fence, not just professional but personal, too.

How about risks? I’m reluctant to describe anything as risk-free. Can your method go wrong?

You can plan too much so that you don’t take action. Sometimes people dissect and dissect. I’ve seen that with a couple of clients who want to plan forever. Go for excellence, not perfection. I use that quote in my talks a lot.

Your message has evolved over time. What’s next?

My literary agent just made a proposal for a whole series of 100-page books called Results Faster. Topics include marriage and kids. It’s an offshoot of the Strategic Acceleration book. We’ve found having some feeder books that are quick reads are what the market’s hungry for today. Something they can read in 30 minutes that impacts the particular goals they have.

By the time this appears in print, we may be in or near the beginning of an economic recovery. What kinds of changes should smart executives make in their thinking, compared with what they’ve been doing the last couple of years?

This philosophy works in good times and bad. If people focus on the right things, there’s less fat in your organization. That’s going to allow you to attract financing and shareholders and support that will help propel you even better in a market that’s moving forward.