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Chaos can destroy the best of organizations. It can rifle through them with unprecedented speed and destruction. It is the responsibility of the business owner to eliminate chaos when it occurs. However, it is even more important to get ahead and stop the chaos from even starting in the first place. Susan was a recent guest of Scott McCarthy, host of Peak Performance Leadership podcast. Listen as they discuss ways to control chaos in your business, including:

  • The negative effects chaos has on an organization
  • How the “firefighter” mentality affects people
  • Common causes for chaos
  • Establishing a structure that enables versus cripples
  • Dealing with employees who are causing chaos in your organization
  • How delegation helps lessen chaos in organizations

Please find the full audio transcript below. 

Scott McCarthy:  On Episode 170 of the Peak Performance Leadership podcast. We speak to chaos consultant and eradicator Susan Fennema and she’s going to tell you how process will set you free of chaos. That’s right folks, it’s all about avoiding chaos today. Are you ready for this? All right, let’s do it.

Welcome one, welcome all to the Peak Performance Leadership podcast, a weekly podcast series dedicated to helping you hit peak performance across the three domains of leadership, those being leading yourself, leading your team, and leading your organization. This podcast couples my 20 years of military experience as a senior Canadian Army office with world-class guests bringing you the most complete podcast of leadership going. And for more, feel free to check out our website at With that, let’s get to the show.

Yes, welcome. It is Scott McCarthy, your chief leadership officer. It’s so great to have you here today and we’re going to be talking about whew, chaos. You know what, I’m going to fully admit I enjoy a good chaotic day from time to time but you know what, chaos is going to destroy your organization over the long haul. See, I grew up in the Army essentially being that firefighter where people sent in to extinguish the fire that was caused by what, chaos. But I tell you, it’s exhausting. It’s damn right draining and stressful. At the end of the day, we as leaders, we don’t want that. We want organizations that are smooth, slick, silky, right? Things that just continue to effortlessly flow and work.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in some lala fairyland. We deal with people and things are not going to be that way all the time. But, as leaders, we should be striving to make it like that as much as possible so that we minimize chaos. So in order to achieve the fact of eradicating chaos, I brought in the chaos eradicating officer, CEO, Susan Fennema. She is a consultant and she works beyond the chaos where she helps businesses grow and get their lives back essentially. She spent 30-plus years in operations, project management in professional service industries so you know she’s got the experience to deal with this.

Throughout the podcast, Susan and I talk about topics such as negative effects of chaos in an organization, how to firefighter mentality, what I just discussed, the effect it has on people, common causes of chaos, how to establish structure, which enables vice cripples, the importance of simplicity in eliminating chaos and so much more.

So I think that’s enough from me. Why don’t we dive in now? So how about you sit back, relax, and enjoy my conversation with Susan Fennema, the chaos eradicating officer on Ways to Control Chaos In Your Business.

Welcome to the podcast. So great to have you here.

Susan Fennema:  I’m excited to be here Scott. Looking forward to all of this.

Scott McCarthy:  All right, so we’re talking about chaos in our business. I like to refer to organizations here at the podcast because I reach an audience that is not just business owners but nonprofit type people, political type, whatever, public service and all of that stuff. So to me, it’s like controlling chaos is not just our business but in our organization in general. So let’s talk about the negative aspects of that first. How bad can chaos like … chaos can’t do that much damage can it really?

Susan Fennema:  Oh, yes. It prevents you from being able to scale. It prevents team members from staying. You might experience high turnover. It can make your clients angry at you all the time. It can make you lose money because if you’re not finishing things on time and on budget and you’re letting scope creep enter in and you’re not managing any of that and you’re just going willy nilly chaos down the road, you’re just throwing money out the door. So it has a whole combination. I didn’t even mention what if you’re dropping leads from the beginning. You’re not even selling because you don’t have a sales process that takes you through that. So yeah, chaos can affect every single area of your business and not to mention your psyche because it’s exhausting to be dealing in an emergency situation putting out fires all the time.

Scott McCarthy:  I warned you before we hit go live that if you open a creak of a door I was going to bash the thing open. So let’s bash open that last one. I was in a job once where I was actually known to be a firefighter. Essentially that’s what they were like “Let’s send in the firefighter, call up Scott. He will fix this problem.” And, you’re right, it was exhausting. Holy crap! So let’s dive in a little bit deeper out there for the leaders. Not only for themselves because they might be the firefighter but their team members might be the firefighter. So how do we go about one, taking care of our firefighters or ourselves, and two, just trying to avoid getting into that freaking zone anyway where we’d … I don’t expect there never to be a fire again but not constant fires.

Susan Fennema:  Right. That’s the problem is when you’re having them all the time. Talk about burnout for your employees, for yourself. You’re taking people away from their private lives and their personal things that they have going on. You’re changing the way that they interact with people so they can’t interact anymore in a calm, rational, compassionate way. Everything’s on fire. Everything is crazy and there are just more sharp words. When you’re operating in a chaotic or stressful situation, any character trait that you have that is a negative one or one that you are challenged with doing well, it’s going to become this exponential thing.

So if you have a sharp temper all of a sudden you’re yelling at everybody all the time. If you don’t take employees’ times into consideration, generally maybe that’s something you have to work at to think about. You don’t even care. You don’t even care that they’re missing their sister’s wedding or something to that degree and that’s not okay. It’s not a good world to live in. It is exhausting and it is not maintainable. It affects every relationship you have as well. So even if it’s at work, you can’t leave that at home. You’re still taking it to your spouse. You’re still taking it to your kids. That level of stress creates hormones that run through your body, cortisol, that actually keep that inflammation up. It can make your body ache.

So if you’re operating in that place all the time, it’s just not good and there are ways to get out of it. I’m not going to say there’s never going to be an emergency. There will be but if you’re normally operating where everything is under control, everything’s managed, everything’s running smoothly, when those issues come up you’re also able to address them so much better because you have a clearer head about how to jump in and solve the problem.

Scott McCarthy:  Yeah, no, I totally agree with you especially the last part because it kind of like when you’re dealing with these situations all the time it’s just chipes away at you. It chips away, chips away, chips away until you’re finally to the point you’re like “Oh, I’ve had enough.” You can’t think straight anymore. You’re just frustrated, like “How has this gone to crap yet again? How did this go off the rails yet again? Here I am again fixing someone else’s mess.”

Susan Fennema:  Right.

Scott McCarthy:  All this other stuff and you’re just so frustrated and you lash out. You don’t think straight. There are so many problems that will occur from that.

Susan Fennema:  And you’re …

Scott McCarthy:  Yeah, I’m talking completely from experience here.

Susan Fennema:  If you’re operating in that place all the time, you’re never able to step back and figure out how to prevent the fire in the first place. You’re just running from place to place as fast as you can.

Scott McCarthy:  Yeah, no, for sure. So let’s dive in to … shift gears back towards the organization. So what are some of the common themes out there where chaos erupts? What are some of the common reasons for them? What are some of the possible solutions for it so that the leaders out there can now have an understanding and eliminate those blind spots, “Oh, I need to be looking for that. So I see that now.” This is how it goes, “Susan said I need to do this so I’m going to go do this.”

Susan Fennema:  Well, we look at it in a three-level way. The first is to make sure that you have process around what you do. Written process not “I know how to do it. It’s in my head.” Written process that actually other people could follow without your involvement tat they could do it without you being there. It needs to address multiple areas of the business. So think about a client or a donor if you’re a nonprofit, think about someone moving through the process from the first time that you interact with them, so a lead or a comment form or however you’re getting that interaction, all the way through selling them or getting their money, however you’re doing that, through the fulfillment, what are you offering them after.

Even in nonprofits, you’re usually following up. You want to make sure that they’re being thanked for their donation. You want to make sure that they’re kept in the loop of future activities, those types of things. How are you making sure that’s fulfilled?

And then in the end, how are you even offboarding that person to somebody that could be a testimonial or you get a case study or you make them an evangelist, going out talking for you. What is that last step? So think about that whole path and what the process is to move through that path. That’s the first part.

The second part is managing that fulfillment. It’s really straightforward project management and making sure that you have the right tools and the right people doing the right things to make those things flow so that you have next steps, you have clear accountability for who does what and when. And then the last part of that is starting to manage your interruptions. My favorite way to do this is calendar blocking.

I could not live without it. So when are you going to work on what and how long are you going to work on it for. Are you giving yourself a deadline in that time? If you have to figure out something about your business from a higher level, set yourself an hour and a half deadline to think about that and come up with that answer. Sometimes you work better under pressure, right? So all of those things can get you the structure that you need to operate outside of the chaos.

Scott McCarthy:  I am a huge fan of structure. I find structure just gives … it’s one of those things where it’s kind of like discipline equals freedom as Jocko Willink likes to say and it’s very much similar for organizations and structure. I think structure equals freedom in organizations. Now, you have to build it. You have flexibility. Yes, we can get into that whole philosophical debate but overall, I think structure and processes is what enables organizations to operate effectively. I’ve seen too many examples where it doesn’t exist and you just end up spinning in circles the whole time.

Susan Fennema:  You’re totally singing my song. I say structure sets you free all the time. It is absolutely something that … and I hear you about the bureaucracy. I work with a lot of small businesses so 25 people and fewer and the last thing they want is this bureaucracy. That’s why I want a small business. I don’t want all of that except that you’re missing the part of it that’s good.

Scott McCarthy:  Right.

Susan Fennema:  You don’t have to make layers of bureaucracy that are tedious and don’t make any sense. But if you don’t have that structure, then you don’t have the freedom to not figure out how to do everything over and over and over again but you’re doing the same thing but each time you’re figuring it out. Right? That’s not freedom. That’s just boring and not very smart honestly.

Scott McCarthy:  So that’s interesting. I like that aspect. So now here’s the following question to that is we said structure equals freedom, however with the structure we all know in large organizations, especially like the one I work out of on a daily basis, it becomes a bureaucratic nightmare where I, a self-proclaimed agilis, I know I’m getting a little bit oxymoronic here but bear with me, so I like to limit things but at the same time, we need structure to be able to play in. So it’s like “Hey”. The question is, how do we find that fine balance?

So the leader out there who is the business owner, which are many in the Facebook where this is being streamed to right now, there’s lots of small business owners like you mentioned you work with and they’re like “Great, you’re telling me to have structure but we don’t want bureaucracy so where’s that fine line and how do we find that fine line? So one, we can be preemptive to avoid going down that chaos route but two, being flexible and agile enough to adapt because we are a small business and that’s what we need to do.”

Susan Fennema:  So the beauty of writing down what’s in your head is you’re now able to start to simplify what’s in your head. So you might be able to then say “Oh, why are we even doing that? Let’s not do it. Skip it.” But if you don’t have it all written down where you can step through it it doesn’t become that obvious that “Oh, well, we could just do this over here instead and not do it twice” or “Maybe we can automate it even.” There are some simple things that can come into play when you start to see the whole path written down. That’s the first way is always keep something simple.

The other is that you start thinking differently so that when you’re even figuring out what you’re going to sell you’re starting to wonder, “How can this be repeatable? How can this be a process-oriented thing that runs by itself or runs with limited input from people or that I don’t have to ever be involved in as the business owner?” Those are the things then that become more interesting for you to sell, that require less of your time to fulfill, and now, it’s flowing through the process. So that limited bureaucracy that we’ve put in to place allows so much more freedom for you and for your team even because you’re automating and simplifying.

We’ve all worked in those places where you’re like “This is just stupid. Why are we doing this?” But you know, all people do is complain, they don’t say “Actually, why are we doing it? Can someone tell me why?” Many times when that question is asked you also get the answer of “Oh, we’ve always done it that way.” And that is the absolute worst answer. Make sure that when you’re doing something you have a good reason to do that. That is all part of writing that process is also evaluating against that.

Scott McCarthy:  The top is the loneliest place. Colin Powell said that once. But it doesn’t have to be. Instead, you can find people to talk to, people to run ideas by, people to help you figure out solutions to the problems that you’re facing right now as a leader. And see, I felt alone once and I decided to start the podcast. And with the podcast, I decided that I needed to help people like you more so that’s why I started the Peak Performance Leadership Facebook group. Leadership skills for managers to be leaders not bosses. You can find it at and come join us. It’s completely free for you to join us and talk leadership with us day in, day out. So check us out again at Now back to the show.

I hate those words, “Oh, this has always been done this way.”

Susan Fennema:  Uh-huh (affirmative).

Scott McCarthy:  It just drives me nuts and it’s one of the things like great, doesn’t mean we can’t change it. That doesn’t mean that we can’t figure out a new way to do it. So, empowering our people I find is one of the best ways to get around that and really enable our organizations to look at new ways of doing things and new ways of operating and bringing new ideas to the forefront. But, that comes at a risk, right, because it’s something new. It’s not necessarily the way we’ve done it before. There’s inherent risks of potentially losing clients, customers, whatever, how do you be, so I guess the following question to that is how is the best way about bringing forward these new ideas so they don’t add to the chaos but rather take away?

Susan Fennema:  So just like you’re talking about, you don’t want it to affect clients but usually that’s not what we’re talking about when we’re doing this. For example, I helped a company set up a new tool to manage their projects. They were doing it all on paper. Well, they had this intense filing system of all these letters and certain numbers and certain orders meant certain things and that’s how they filed things and that’s how they could find things.

I said, “Okay, but now it’s all going to be on the computer so you can just search so why can’t we start with 00001 for your first project” or whatever, like checks, what number do you want to start with and they said “Well, no, we can’t do that. It’ll affect our clients” and I said “Oh really? I need to know more. How does this affect your clients?” “Well, they see these numbers on their invoices.”

“Okay, so let’s figure out how we can handle that. What if we just tell them we’re changing our number system? Would that solve that problem and then any new client doesn’t know the difference?” “Well yeah but we would never be able to find anything.” I said “Well, yeah, but you have a search that you didn’t have before. You don’t have to go to the correct drawer.” And it was a fight until we finally came around to them understanding oh yeah, this was made up for a different system. It doesn’t work in the new system and it’s unnecessary.

So those types of things you have to drill down. It was very important to me to understand why the client would have had a problem with that number change. If you hear that “Okay, well then how do we solve that problem? That seems like an email to make it go away.” So you do want to solve those problems and you do want those to come to light. The way that you get to them is why, why, why, why, why until you get to the root of it and that made a whole new numbering system that was so much easier to manage.

Scott McCarthy:  What I’m hearing from you is an overarching theme and that theme, and I don’t know if you picked up on it from reading my bio or anything but just a side note, by day I’m a Senior Canadian Army Officer, and the theme that you’re dropping here is also a principle of war and that is simplicity. Simplicity seems to be an overarching theme that you’re giving here, make things simple, simplistic in establishing these processes that people can follow and they know, which allows simplicity, making changes as simple as possible, Doing that story you just lead, being simple, bringing it down, bringing it down, bringing it down. Basically, simplicity leading to the reduction of chaos. So how important is it then? Obviously, it’s super important to me from what I’m hearing for you.

Susan Fennema:  If you cannot repeat it it’s not simple. So think about it that way too. How can this always be repeated and if you can get to that point, you’re probably eliminating the steps that aren’t repeatable which helps it be more simple. Where is somebody making a decision? Do they have to make a decision or can it be a tree? If yes, this, if no, this. How do you build that out? You can take things that are highly complex and make them simple to work. So I’m also not saying that. Oh, let’s just take away all the steps and make the project starts, project ends as your list either.” It’s how you build the system around it.

So let’s take podcasts for example. I speak on a lot of podcasts. I’m a guest on a lot of podcasts. We have an internal process of what we do with those podcasts afterward including make a blog out of them, put them on our YouTube, get them out to social media, transcribe them. They’re a lot of different steps and people are involved and we want to make sure that we’re doing it consistently, that we’re making sure no steps are missed. And so, we just have a running list that we “Hey, a new podcast. Open it up. Set the date.”

Everything automatically schedules. Everything’s assigned to the right person. So building that was a little complicated but setting it up so that it is repeatable and that it is easy for every single person that’s part of that plan to know what to do is now very simple moving forward.

Scott McCarthy:  As a podcaster, I absolutely love that example. Thank you. Podcasting is far from simple and just because of that, a little side note for the audience out there, I will be probably at the end of this month launching a Podcasting for Your Business course. So, be on the lookout for that. This is the first time I’ve mentioned it publicly.

Susan Fennema:  Now you’re committed.

Scott McCarthy:  Oh yeah, 100% committed. I’ve already been committed but yeah, that course is coming because whew, I made a lot of mistakes and I want to help people simplify the process of starting a show, especially for business owners out there because you don’t have a lot of time. You don’t have a lot of resources and podcasting is such a powerful tool. You wouldn’t be doing it as a business owner if it wasn’t a powerful tool, right, hence why you’re here. So I’m trying to get more business owners on my side of the mic or your side of the mic because it can work both ways. So that’s coming.

Anyway, back to leadership. Let’s change gears a little bit here. So Moving Forward Leadership I talk about three domains. We talk about leading yourself, leading your team, leading your organization. Yourself is pretty self-explanatory, that’s you. Your team is the individuals, i.e. Jane Doe, Sally, Susie, Jim, etc. And then the organization is the company as a whole. So we talked a bit about ourselves and burnout and firefighting and stuff like that. We talked a bit about the organization and how the negative impacts could be out there as well as the importance of simplifying our processes and having processes first but actually simplifying them so that it doesn’t add to the chaos and bringing new things in.

Let’s talk a little bit about the team aspect because we haven’t really hit there too much. So what’s your best advice for leaders out there who they’re leading a team, maybe they’re leading a team of six people or maybe it’s a company of 25 or whatever it is, pick a number, and they realize someone’s causing chaos in the organization. Maybe that is their fault. Maybe it’s not. We don’t know. So what’s your best advice out there for the leaders listening and dealing with this type of scenario?

Susan Fennema:  Go back to the process. So if your process is not clear then that could be why the chaos is happening. A process should have an expected outcome. So if I write a process and expect “I’ve been on a podcast, I expect it to be on YouTube and on my blog and I expect this and I expect a social media post”, then those steps have to be in there to get there. If a team member does not make that happen then if you go back and say “What did we mess up? Where did we miss? Let’s look at the process. Let’s, us, you and I, figure out why the process has failed us.” Not how you, team member, didn’t do your job. That’s a huge difference of using processes to help manage the team.

Now, are you going to potentially find people who they’re just not looking at it and they don’t care and they’re not process-oriented and they’re not going to go through the steps, you will, and so you will have to decide is there another role for this person, does this person need to stay in this organization and continue to create chaos for me and everyone else or do they need to go. But, if you start by blaming the process, not only do you build better relationships with your team because now you’re working together to solve the problem, you’re also building a better process because what comes out of that is something “Oh yeah, we didn’t think of that. Let’s put that in there.” So evolving processes help you manage your team.

Scott McCarthy:  Point this out, if you’re not watching, I was raising my fist and cheering on mute because I feel like I need to put some music in this part. I might do that in the editing phase of you know that inspirational rocky type music because it’s so true. Oh, people automatically just want to blame people. No, stop. Stop blaming poor Jim. It’s not his fault. Maybe it is but right now it’s not his fault. Go back to the process. Go back to the structure.

I like to exercise something I call extreme leadership. One of my last jobs was as a squadron commander. So I commanded a unit of 200 members. I used to always say is like my job is to make sure you have all the resources you require to do your jobs. That is overarching. So all of our mistakes, all of our failures as a squadron is on me. All of the successes are on the 199 other members of the squadron because they’re the ones doing the job on a daily basis on my behalf.

So I even go to the extreme of within the process, okay, Jim is not doing the job. The process is perfect. It’s been there like this for years. We’ve looked at it. we’ve analyzed it 50 million times. Yes, but the failing point is Jim. Jim is just not doing his job. Great. Now is it still Jim’s fault. Has Jim been told he’s not doing his job? Has Jim been trained to do his job? Or has Jim been given the proper oversight, mentoring, etc., etc., etc.? That is still part of the process but yet 99.9% of the bosses out there say “Fire poor Jim. Put him back on the street.” Come on, give Jim a chance, man.

Susan Fennema:  Right. That’s rough and I run into that a lot where I work with small business owners who say “Oh no, I can’t have an assistant. They don’t work for me. I’ve tried three or four and I’ve had to fire all of them.” Really? At what point do you start looking back in the mirror at you saying “How am I failing” because plenty of people have assistants that work for them just fine. So that is a reflection on you if people are starting to fail like that over and over. And, it’s probably something missing in your process, in your management style, in your patience or empathy ability. It could also be that you’re not following an onboarding process to interview and vet people properly.

That could also be part of it. But, most of the time the people that you have in the roles that you have them in want to meet your expectations very badly. They really do. But if you’re not being clear and helping them get there and as you said, training them and talking to them like an adult, not like a child that has spilled milk on the table or something like that, you’re going to lose people and that is also financially costly let alone emotionally costly to the rest of the team.

Scott McCarthy:  And it adds to the chaos.

Susan Fennema:  Yeah, for sure.

Scott McCarthy:  Right, because now someone’s out, so when someone goes everyone’s like “Okay, so where does my TPS report go to now?”

Susan Fennema:  The TPS report, that’s funny.

Scott McCarthy:  I drop it in all the time. But seriously though, it’s like “Oh, who takes the TPS report? The cover page has changed again. I’ve got to tell someone.” But the reality is the process has changed. So you’re adding chaos because suddenly a piece of the team has been removed and everyone’s been able … regardless of poor Jim has been doing his job or not, I don’t know why I’m picking on Jims out there. Sorry to all the Jims who are listening. It’s your day.

But the reality is poor Jim was doing his job. Jim is now gone and we’re waiting for Jane to show up but in the interim what do we do and that causes a little bit of chaos. The goal of the podcast is to help leaders hit peak performance and this is not hitting peak performance. This is actually the inverse. This is actually draining performance of the organization because you’re wasting time in trying to figure things out. You’re wasting time on trying to find someone new. You’re wasting resources on hiring. And you’re wasting resources on firing. Pick it. You just keep going …

Susan Fennema:  Training, on and on. Right.

Scott McCarthy:  Training. It just keeps going. Keeps going. Keeps going. So you hinted at something, now you cracked another door, we’re going to bash it open. Let’s go back to the assistant example that you mentioned. As soon as you started talking about that, lights were going flashing in my head and the word delegation was going burmp, burmp, burmp and anyone who’s listened to the show knows I’m a huge fan of delegation for so many reasons. In fact, I have an entire episode just completely on delegation from myself solo. So, the moral of the story is this, how can leaders out there properly use delegation to avoid chaos because a lot of them out here would think this is just going to add to the chaos vice take away from it.

Susan Fennema:  So first, make sure you know what you need that person to do. Have you written a job description or do you just feel like I just need an assistant to do what I do because that’s not going to work. What you do should be above an assistant’s ability to do. That’s why you are the owner. That’s why you are the CEO or the managing director. You are doing things that are harder than what most assistant’s knowledge base and training is going to be.

So that’s the first thing is what are they going to take off your plate. I recommend going through, and now I’m not a big paper person but in this instance I will say get a piece of paper, start writing down the things that you’re doing. At the end of the week, you have this nice long list. Now, start rating those things. Is that CEO-level work? Or Is that technician-level work? Is that admin-level work?

Help yourself even more, give each of those positions an estimated hourly rate. And now look at all of those things that you’re doing and figure out how much you could be saving if you, the CEO are not the one doing it. That’s your first way to start to figure out what to delegate. The next part is how to delegate. So if what you want them to do is to be able to send follow-up emails on proposals that you send out, do you want them just to write whatever they want, or do you want it to sound like it’s part of your company?

I think you probably need a template. So, set them up to succeed. “Here’s what we do. After we send out a proposal, on day one we send a reminder making sure that they have seen the proposal. Confirm receipt. Here are the words I want you to use. After one week, we want a follow-up email that says have you had time to review the proposal? Do you have any questions? Would you like to meet again?”

Write it. Write your template. You set that up. They know what to do. Okay, “It’s about to expire, we need to send a reminder that it’s about to expire. Here are the words to use.” So you’ve walked them through this process. Yes, the first time it will be harder. The first time it will be but after that, they got it. You don’t ever have to do it again.

Scott McCarthy:  I always tell my coaching clients, I’m like what absolutely has to be you and what does not and that’s where you start at looking at delegation. And I’m sure you probably run in to this because you obviously work with a lot of entrepreneurs as much as I do and I fully understand why they are the way they are. Their business is their baby. They grew it. Conceived the idea. They grew it up and now it’s this kind of adolescent-type thing and I’m like you need to start letting go and it’s so freaking scary. It’s like giving your 16-year-old the keys to your Corvette and saying “Have fun. Don’t wreck my car.”

Susan Fennema: It is like that and it’s interesting, I was just talking with my assistant earlier today, who actually I just gave a raise to because she’s freaking awesome, but the thing that we were talking about is letting go of email and how much trust I have in her to make a judgment call. Now that didn’t happen overnight. We have some “These are the types of emails that come in. This is what I need you to do with them” and then we have a way of “Oh, this one’s important. You need to know about this now. Stop what you’re doing. Hit me in Slack. Do whatever needs to happen there.”

But then there are some that aren’t on the list, that are maybe one-offs that you would never classify, and over time they have to learn how to make that judgment call, “Does she need to see this? Does this have anything to do with our business? Is this pure spam? What has she told me about similar things in the past”, and they start to learn this but what you have to let go of is I might miss something that’s probably not important and that’s okay because look at all of the important things I learned about urgently and all the completely unimportant things that I didn’t even have to know about.

Scott McCarthy:  It’s so true. I like to use the one example of a client I coached who lost the proposal. It’s a long story. I’ll make it very short for the interest of time but he lost the proposal because he wouldn’t delegate people to submit that proposal on his behalf and he spent the day in a conference and meetings with his phone off. So when the company requesting the proposal came back with a slight change and said “Hey, oh by the way, we need it by the end of the day”, his team went “Well, we did the changes.  We tried to get ahold of you. We couldn’t get ahold of you.” So let me say you’ve lost out everything in the potential of trying to save a little bit.

Susan Fennema:  Uh-huh (affirmative). And that is so important. I mean they know if I have an email from a client that’s urgent that “Yeah, we’re probably not going to wait until she decides to open her email sometime today, and based on her schedule that could be at eight o’clock in front of the TV. Let’s screenshot this and send it to her in Slack or let’s just say Susan, you need to go check this right now. It needs a response.” That type of thing and being available to be reached in a different method. So email is something that we all get sucked into and even I do. When they say go look at this, you can’t help but look at the other ones that are there, right?

And then you get motivated because I’m making things happen. I’m clearing my inbox. I’m replying to people except that has nothing to do with what you should be doing right now. So it’s hard to not get into your email but it’s very easy if you have someone that you trust and you’re willing to let go. And man, I have gone now a day where I’ll start the morning and I won’t even check it and then all of a sudden it’s five o’clock, I haven’t looked at my email all day and I’m not worried. That’s such a relief. Such a relief.

Scott McCarthy:  Awesome. Susan, we have hit so much in this show. We talked about the negative impacts of chaos. We talked about firefighting. And we talked about the common causes for it. We talked a lot about structure and how structure will set you free. The importance of simplicity and dealing with the people who are causing chaos and how delegation works through elimination. Is there anything we didn’t hit?

Susan Fennema:  Oh I’m sure we missed some good stuff. We could talk about how to manage a project but that’s probably not that interesting. I just go into my little details there. But to me, one of the big ones is probably calendaring. I touched on that briefly but making sure that you are controlling your time instead of letting things control your time. So maybe you do only check your email at five o’clock every evening when you sign off. Maybe you are blocking two hours because you have to focus on this big proposal for this client. Put that on your calendar and that’s a meeting. You’re not interrupted with meetings with other people why are you interrupting your own meeting that you have planned for yourself to accomplish something?

It also helps with knowing when you’re free. So if I am a working CEO who also works on my clients’ projects for example, if I know I have a 40-hour project for them, if I am not putting 40 hours on my calendar to accommodate that project well, what are you going to do, show up the last week and do all 40 hours at once? Make sure that that’s spaced out, planned out, and then also realizing okay, that looks like it’ll be mid-May before I’m done with it. So that calendaring, another sense of structure can also help to set you free.

Scott McCarthy:  No, I’m a huge fan of calendaring, scheduling in general. Just scheduling out my day it works just for so many things from goal setting to productivity to just being efficient with my time and helping others to understand when I’m available for them to schedule those meetings so that again, it goes back to the whole structure process, that simplicity theme that we kind of revolved this whole talk around because now it’s like okay, they know Scott’s unavailable Tuesdays. Scott’s unavailable Thursdays but he’s available Monday mornings, Wednesday all day, Fridays in the morning, those types of things. And, it just enables everyone to plan better, which I’m a huge fan of.

So awesome. So as we wrap here I do have a couple of last questions for you. The first being a question I ask all of the guests here at the Peak Performance Leadership podcast and that is according to you Susan, what makes a great leader?

Susan Fennema:  Integrity, as well as empathy, combined together, make a great leader. You have to do what you say always. You have to mean what you say and you can’t be mean when you say it.

Scott McCarthy:  This question I ask every guest at the show for, this is Episode 170, so for about 130 different guests now I’ve asked that question and I have all kinds of different answers but the cool thing is it randomly came up in my Facebook group Leadership Skills for Managers Who Want to Be Leaders Not Bosses and very similar. There’s been a couple of replies that are very similar to that. So that’s awesome. Anyway, the final question of the podcast, where can people find you? Where can they follow you? Shameless plugs are allowed. It’s all about you. Have at it.

Susan Fennema: The best way is to go to, download our free ebook Three Ways to Control Chaos In Your Small Business, and if you want to contact us directly or follow us on LinkedIn or anything like that all those links are also there.

Scott McCarthy:  Awesome. And for you the listener it’s easy as always, go to, 170, links to our show on it. Susan, again, thanks for coming out. Thanks for talking to me but most importantly, talking to the audience today.

Susan Fennema:  Thanks so much, Scott. This was great. I really enjoyed it.

Scott McCarthy:  And that’s a wrap for this episode ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for listening. Thank you for supporting the Peak Performance Leadership podcast. But you know what you could do to truly support the podcast? And no, that’s not leaving a rating and review, it’s simply helping a friend and that is helping a friend by sharing this episode with them if you think this would resonate with them and help them elevate their performance level, whether that’s within themselves, their teams, or their organization. So do that, help me, help a friend, win, win all around and hey, you look like a great friend at the same time. So, just hit that little share button on your app and then feel free to fire this episode to anyone that you feel would benefit from it.

Finally, there’s always more. There are always more lessons around being the highest performing leader that you can possibly be, whether that’s for yourself, your team, or your organization. So why don’t you subscribe. Subscribe to the show via Until next time, lead, don’t boss, and thanks for coming out. Take care now.

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