Step by step

Michael Kogon, founder
and CEO of Definition 6
LLC has a simple test to determine whether the right
decision is “yes” or “no.”

“When you would be embarrassed to have a magazine article made by your ‘yes’ or if
you would be unwilling to tell
your mentor, parent or spouse
what you’re doing, that’s a
good time for a ‘no,’” he says.

Kogon has been making the
right choices, and it shows. He
has grown revenue to $12 million at his 50-employee company, which develops interactive
Internet-based business systems.

Smart Business spoke with
Kogon about why you should
always focus on the outcome
and how you can plan your
vision in reverse.

Q. How important is
personality to leadership?

It’s hard to be a leader if
you’re not comfortable with
your personality being present
when you are. There’s a lot
about servant leadership that
is nice, but a forceful personality is important.

Now, don’t take ‘forceful personality’ out of context to
mean ‘aggressive.’ Whatever
your style is, you need to be
very comfortable using it to
make it happen, or I don’t
know how you’re leading.
You’re just collaborating,
which is a fine art, but it’s not
the same as leadership.

It’s hard to lead people or
yourself if you don’t know
what you’re trying to do at the
end. So by focusing on outcomes, you’re leading. You
may not be managing, but
you’re leading.

Q. How do you weave those
outcomes into a vision for the

Can you tell the story of
what it will be like when you
get to that outcome? If you
think about vision, it means I
can see it in my head.

As you refine the retelling of
your story, you’re able to
refine your vision. Then, others who weren’t there when
you were creating it can
understand it without going
through the same process.

For instance, I can see when
we are the No. 1 interactive
agency in America, these
are the types of projects
we will do, these are the
types of clients we will
have, the economic and
industry successes we
will share.

If you can do that,
then you have a vision.
If you can tell it as a
story — and as rich a
story as possible —
you’ve got your vision.

Q. How do you decide
which step to take first
in crafting that vision?

I’m a reverse calendar
planner. If I need to be
somewhere by Saturday
morning, I start with,
‘Am I going to wake up there,
or am I going to wake up early
at my house and fly in?’ Then I
work my way backward to the
point where I start.

As I create a vision statement,
I say if [being the No. 1 interactive agency] was going to be
the outcome, what would I
have to be before that? Well, I’d
have to be a top five interactive
agency. Before that, I’d have to
be a regional leader. Before
that I’d have to be a citywide top tier. Before that, I’d have to
be a consistent deliverer of
services. Before that, I’d have
to know what it takes to deliver the services.

If you’re doing to get to the
outcome, you have to start at
the outcome. Then look at
where you are and say, ‘How do
I go from where I am to there?’

Q. How do you get employees
to buy in to the steps on the
way to the outcome?

In some ways, I let them convince me to buy in that their
steps are the right ones. I try to share the outcome with as
many employees as I can as
regularly as I can.

We have a culture of meetings to keep people informed.
We talk in the generality of
how we’re going to get there
and what we need — the big
steps. Then we say, ‘What do
you think?’ Then, they fill in the
steps in between the big steps
or say, ‘You missed a big step.’

It’s a leader’s job to lay out
vision, and it’s management’s
job to approve recommendations from their employees,
then manage the steps that
they said they were going to
do to get there.

Q. How do you gain the
respect of your employees?

It’s simple things. If you get a
gift basket from one of your
suppliers that you’ve talked to
once but other people work
with day to day, you shouldn’t
take the bottles of wine and
the good cheese, and then
leave the stale crackers and
the sugar-covered chocolate
things that nobody ever eats in
the break room and say, ‘Look
what somebody brought us.’

Do it the other way. You’re
not the reason that vendor is
performing well for you, your
people are.

Everybody understands
you’re going to get the Masters
tickets. They’ve got that. You
get that because you probably
went without a salary for a
couple of years when you
started the business. And if
you’re a leader, you spent 20
years before being the leader,
and you watched other people
get the tickets.

But not every gift is yours.
Most aren’t.

HOW TO REACH: Definition 6 LLC, (404) 870-0323 or