Joseph Slawek: Are you in the right zone to lead your people where they need to be?

Joseph Slawek, Founder, Chairman and CEO, FONA International

When working toward my private pilot’s license, I had to learn about the aviation language of time zones. Now, for those of us with our feet on the ground, Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) governs our day’s schedules. But up in the air, all pilots, airlines and air traffic controllers coordinate time around the world using UTC and the closely related Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) — the time in Greenwich, England, that is based on a 24-hour clock.

Also referred to as Zulu time, aviation time is calculated as either ahead (+) or behind (-) GMT. For example, if it is 18:30 (6:30 p.m.) in Greenwich, it is -6 GMT (12:30 p.m.) here in Chicago.

Coordinating flights and creating flight plans based on UTC or GMT ensures clear communication, safety and successful transit. Similarly, when creating “flight plans” for your growing, complex organization, leadership must have a systematic vision to ensure you reach organizational goals safely and successfully. Think of it as coordinating around the time zones of planning.

Board of Directors Time Zone: +20 years UTC

If your company is governed by a board, their focus should be on the next 20 years. Discussions and plans should include topics such as succession, compensation and broad strategic business policies. This extremely long-term vision lays the course for your company and helps ensure its viability, relevance and effectiveness for years to come.

CEO Time Zone: +7 to +10 years UTC

As CEOs, we fly in the most critical time zone. We must provide the 7- to 10-year vision for our organizations. Our visionary responsibilities in this time zone are to define reality, fight denial, see patterns, predict the future, select and prune businesses, bring the outside world developments into the organization and harvest the energy from the positive and negative events that occur during any 7- to 10-year time period. We must imagine, plan and then, just as importantly, communicate the 7- to 10-year initiatives our organizations will pursue.

Executive Time Zone: +1 to +3 years UTC

This is your corporation’s most important time zone for the creation of an optimized strategy. Your executives need to deliver detailed plans through at least three years beyond today. They are responsible for developing flight plans that ensure you’ll have the right people, finances and go-to-market execution to achieve company wins.

Management Time Zone: +0 to +2 years UTC

This essential time zone focuses on the here and now. Management’s execution of your company’s strategic plan looks at this day, this week, this month, this quarter, this year. As you know, this narrow scope is crucial to your success. You can have the grandest plans to fly your company around the world, but without people working daily in this time zone, those plans will eventually flop. You need people with the ability to zero in on the present and execute plans with excellence.

Flight check

Are your people flying in their appropriate time zones? Do you have time zones where there is no one in the cockpit to focus on that area’s responsibilities? A successful company needs skilled pilots in all time zones for a balanced flight. Get on the radio and direct them into their designated time zone where their efforts and abilities bring the greatest value to the organization.

And how about you? As you read this, did you realize you sometimes fly out of your time zone? Remember, as CEOs, we are the visionaries. We are the pilots of the entire organization — the captains. If we are flying in the wrong time zone, we are congesting company air space by micromanaging. This creates confusion, slows progress, diverts flights and can swing your entire organization off the careful course you plotted to reach your goals.

Pull your control yoke back and climb up to +7-+10 years UTC where you belong. Set your sights on the horizon and I wish you a smooth flight.

Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information about FONA, visit