Any business owner or executive, however successful, can get bogged down in daily tasks to the detriment of his or her business.

That's where Paul Heagen and his animal analogy come in. The Hyde Park-based leadership coach, whose company Defining Moments Consulting works with business owners and top executives from big organizations including Churchill Downs, Cisco and Verizon as well as smaller businesses, ensures his clients have a clear mission and are on track to achieve it.

Heagen was an editor at an all-news radio station in Los Angeles, where he learned to zero in on what was important among the reams of information streaming into the station every day. He applies that editing skill to his coaching to help executives separate the extraneous from the essential, a job he's been doing in the Tristate for about 11 years.

One of the greatest impediments to success? Confronting poor performers. "I find where people get stuck is when they know that there is somebody or a group of people in the leadership team or a level below that just aren't pulling their weight or even worse are causing a lot of problems," Heagen says.

A Visual Approach

To help his clients properly assess their workers and colleagues, Heagen has developed a model that compares workers to four kinds of animals:

Wolves: "A wolf is someone you don't trust," he explains. "You have to spend time keeping an eye on them, and they tend to do damage."

Sheep: "They get stuff done. They're heads down, munching in the pasture. They need a lot of direct supervision, and that's OK. An organization needs them."

Horses: "They can pull a lot of weight, very reliable. You need to earn their trust and they need some guidance. Otherwise, a horse takes off."

Border Collies: "They are the people who are always out there pushing the boundaries, looking out for you, telling you about the risks and opportunities ahead, and they pull the organization forward.

On a white board, Heagen sketches a chart that he says he often draws on a cocktail napkin for clients (shown right), creating four columns, from left to right, of wolves, sheep, horses and border collies. He asks his clients to draw a line graph that expresses how much of their energy is devoted to employees in each category, with the goal of more energy being devoted to the high performers on the right side of the graph and less on the wolves and sheep."

Invest Your Time

"Make the investment with your horses and border collies. That may sound simple, but it's hard or else my clients would be doing it already," Heagen says, adding, "An organization will slip to the left unless you consciously pull it to the right."

Identifying and nurturing the high-performing "horses" and "border collies" is the best way to ensure a business's success. Failing to do so has its consequences as well.

"You can't let those negative forces persist in your organization without doing damage to your own credibility as a leader and without hurting the performance culture of your organization," he says.

Heagen says many clients say they know who the problem people are but don't have the time to confront them. Big mistake.

"Your No. 1 job as a CEO is to focus positive energy on a clear goal. So how do you not have time to deal with that?" he asks.