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Energizing Executive Innovation

Category : 2018

“Let him that would move the world, first move himself.”
– Socrates

Any CEO in touch with reality will tell you that innovation is critical to a company’s enduring success. Surveys reveal that between 23 and 45 percent of CEOs place innovation as their top priority. If innovation holds a supreme place in the minds of C-level executives, why do many leaders stumble in their efforts to innovate themselves as they progress in their careers?

The failure to capture an opportunity to innovate was pivotal in the demise of companies like Blockbuster, Macy’s, Blackberry, Yahoo, and Kodak (who?). Apple’s $3 billion purchase of Beats and Facebook’s $19 billion investment in WhatsApp prove that there are few, if any, quick-fix innovations. Whether built or bought, a credible innovation needs a clear path to its salability, scalability, and profitability.

Businesses often fail because leaders fail. While the landscape of a market can be impacted by circumstance, the direction of an enterprise is determined by choice – the daily decisions of the executives leading a company.

The innovation conundrum emerges from the reality that what gets a leader to the C-suite is often not what enables a leader to succeed and stay there. Executives move up through organizations by solving problems and producing consistent-even predictable results. An executive’s career progresses when he/she is right much more often than wrong. Over time, it is not unusual to see a leader treat life more like an equation than the experiment that it is. While consistent process is critical to corporate success, an unwillingness to explore new options (a new process), is a sure route to joining the 460 companies that were on the original Fortune 500 list and are no longer there.

William Pollard is right. “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” To bring innovation to a company, or to innovate in one’s life, a leader needs to generate or get a lot of ideas, and develop a significant level of comfort with risk – as illustrated in the following Innovation Matrix.

The Innovation Matrix


Copyright © 2015, Joseph Jordan, Jordan Development, Inc.

This is not counsel to throw caution to the wind. We have a name for people who like risk and possess very few new ideas for generating either business or personal growth – they are gamblers, betting it all on one role or in one place.

Those who avoid all risk and lack ideas become defenders  -protecting what they have without any vision for what could be. They see mistakes as failures, not setbacks, so they avoid the unfamiliar and stay with what they know.

Some executives don’t lack for ideas, but their risk aversion keeps them in safe (predictable) territory. They might venture into the world of progressive innovation, but they more often adapt to what is than reach out for new possibilities. They’ll take a change in title, but avoid a significant change in responsibilities.

True innovators generate far more ideas than they ever implement, but their risk profiles allow them to embrace an idea, consider its validity, and pursue or reject it in a short span of time. Companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Samsung are known for their innovations because they are led by executives who embrace innovation at a personal level.

An executive wanting to offer impactful leadership a decade from now, will benefit from assessing his/her innovation profile, taking action to generate ideas of what a future leadership role might look like, and developing greater comfort with embracing the risk of growth and opportunity.

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Thank You For Your Feedback…I Have No Plans To Change My Behavior

Category : 2018

Ask ten CEOs if their organizations promote a high-performance culture and you will get ten positive responses. In a highly-competitive global market, no top executive would admit to anything less.

Characteristically, a performance-driven culture provides a plentitude of feedback and coaching that is shared up, down, and across the organization. If companies are so committed to coaching for performance, why do surveys continue to validate the lack of bench strength and talent being readied for senior roles?

Could the onus for the talent gap fall as much to the people given coaching as to the need for better coaching? Candidly, why do many leaders in executive development programs complete those programs thinking and acting much like they did when the program began?

Coaching changes results when the person receiving coaching desires to change and wants the process to impact his or her behavior. Executive coach Martin Goldsmith says, “Coaching works best with high potential people who are willing to make a concerted effort to change.”

We should never underestimate the ability of a human being to quietly and effectively resist a desperately-needed change. Every January, health clubs are crowded with people who, for a variety of reasons, join a gym to “get in shape.” Let a few weeks pass and the crowd generally returns to normal, with only a few permanent additions. Those that stick around are the few that decided to change more than behavior-they made a fundamental shift in how they thought about their health and exercise.

Changing what you do will give you better results. Changing how you think will create sustainably better results that continue over time.

Perhaps corporate development would have a greater impact on building that needed bench of talent if high-potentials, succession candidates, or super-achievers weren’t allowed to begin a coaching program before they were assessed for—

  • Self-awareness (the “known to others, unknown to self” box in the Johari window should be very small)
  • Candor (about him/herself, not about other people)
  • Openness to critical (perhaps disapproving) feedback about his/her actions, style of engagement, leadership, etc.
  • A desire (a strong feeling of wanting) to change more than a willingness (being prepared to do something) to change

It is hard to build a strong leader in a weak or broken system. Change requires risk and often, failure. Successful coaching programs also demand the full and accepting support of senior leadership. Top executives need to model what they want to see and hold people accountable for the changes they need to make. People wanting to change how they work and engage with others need the freedom to mess it up on the way to dramatic improvement.

Rare are the people who have lost weight or gotten healthy for another person. If organizations want to see greater impact from their investments in coaching talent, they would do well to look as much at the mind-set of the candidate as the quality of the coaching.

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Our Labradoodle Does Not Shed!

Category : 2018

Our 6-year old Labradoodle, Ziba, does not shed! Well, that’s the myth that was perpetuated by my family after the gentle cajoling that ended with a puppy, and budding 70-pounder, joining our family. The purported hypoallergenic qualities represented by the combination of a Labrador Retriever and a Standard Poodle became hard to resist. But really, it was mostly about the hair.

Keep in mind that, had a Labrador Retriever and a Standard Poodle come into “relations” with each other 30-40 years ago, the outcome would have been outside the spectrum of a show dog. The hundreds of dollars that we spent to acquire Ziba, and continue to spend, seem to suggest that things have changed.

Ziba is not perfect…in fact…there has been a growing willingness to acknowledge that she sheds. But something happened along the way. Our experience with Ziba is now defined in other ways: great demeanor, watchdog, companion, smart, incredible range of learned behaviors, playful and more.

So what’s the point? Pedigree and trappings do not equate to results. We find this to be the case with retained search firms as well. What’s important about a dog are the qualities that make it great. What’s important about Leapfrog Executive Search are the qualities that enable you to acquire uniquely talented HR leaders who are well aligned with your organizational needs. Here are some things our team talked about last week:

  • Investing well in the small steps that lead to great outcomes.
  • Consistent communication with clients and candidates.
  • Never losing sight of the goal to produce the desired outcome for our clients
  • Understanding that challenges will arise in every search. We don’t get discouraged, we find new avenues that enable success.
  • Getting to the desired result, and doing so in the right way.

ZibaNote:  carefully managed breeding of pedigreed dogs is required to avoid the elimination of many of the qualities that made them desirable in the first place (see Irish Setter: intelligence)

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The Ripple Effect

Category : 2018

Sometimes we see a person or organization share something that is enlightening.  Sometimes these things are humorous.  And, sometimes we see something that is inspiring.  As we head into the weekend, here is a good word:

Sometimes people like to say things happen in threes. If this week is any indication, I’d have to agree.  I have been inspired on three separate occasions to spread Kindness in my space of the world and watch the ripple effect.

Why kindness?

Kindness feels good for the giver and the receiver. Being kind to others opens us up to possibilities and changes the perspective in someones’ world that they might otherwise never have received if not for your act of kindness.

Kindness is easier and more interesting than complaining about differences of opinion, the weather, the traffic, politics, or the mess your dog made while you were gone.

Kindness is contagious – albeit so is hatefulness. I think about the “aura” we all have the ability to cast whether in a team meeting, conversation or in the grocery store check-out line.  Be mindful of your energy field.  Is it one you can be proud of and is also so contagious it carries through to the next person.

The inspiration to write about Kindness, came from 3 different sources in as many days.

  1. A client of mine shows this video from Kid President to remind Leaders who are influencing others, that Words Matter. Take a look, one of his messages is, “It’s OK to disagree, but it’s not OK to be mean.”
  2. I attended (along with 800+) an early morning Community Leaders Call To Action Breakfast which encouraged everyone to be part of the city’s Kindness Project. Saying none of us can do everything, but we can contribute to something big! Opportunities for us to connect and encourage others are missed every day – lift up from your technology and make an impact.
  3. Maria Shriver’s new book, “I’ve Been Thinking…Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life” was a quick and inspiring read.  The quote by Mark Twain, “Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see” kicks off the chapter where Maria talks about the need for a Social Kindness Movement. Thank you Maria.

What does Kindness look like in the workplace?

  • Be relationship builders, leaders and influencers not critics.
  • Be career boosters to someone who deserves your help, because someone did the same for you.
  • Be helpful and resourceful to someone who doesn’t feel they can ask for your help.
  • Recognize when people do great work.
  • Acknowledge others who bring kindness and a positive outlook to the work environment.

Call to Action! Who has inspired you this week with their kindness? Do they know it? Are you taking that inspiration and passing it on?

Shelli Walker is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on twitter @ShelliWalker or connect via email at swalker@people-results.com.

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Is There a Blueprint for Success?

Category : 2018

When a statement is attributed to a Roman philosopher, a first lady, an entertainment mogul, an auto racer, and a motivational speaker, it deserves attention, if not consideration.  From the fourth century BC to the 21st century we’ve been told …

Preparation + Opportunity = Success

While that process makes nice fodder for public speakers, it makes good sense for an executive search firm committed to helping clients find talented performers who drive results.  Leapfrog Executive Search knows extensive candidate preparation, prior to the initial interview for a role, helps to ensure successful candidate visits.

That preparation begins with gathering detailed information from the client about the company, the culture, the market, and the opportunity. Comprehensive and accurate information builds trust and confidence, so we share appropriate information with the candidate to ensure they have a clear picture of both the opportunity and the organization.

Developing and communicating an in-depth company profile ensures strong and accurate representation of the client’s brand.  In a highly-competitive talent market, candidates are evaluating potential employers as carefully as companies assess candidates.  The Leapfrog search process helps clients position their firms as preferred employers in a dynamic talent market.

During a 17-year career, tennis legend Arthur Ashe discovered, “One important key to success is self-confidence.  An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”  Our thorough research helps candidates prepare well and present themselves confidently during the interview process.  This foundation allows conversations between candidates and clients to advance more quickly to the deeper exchanges that are germane to both the client and candidate.

The consistent use of a proven process, and the effort it takes to do so, leads to predictable results – if the people using the process are actively involved.  To ensure our proven search process achieves the desired outcome for both the client and candidate, Leapfrog Executive Search consultants stay engaged with the client and candidate from the initial conversation to offer acceptance.

While the accidental successes of the popsicle, the microwave, and Spanx make for great business reading, they are exceptions, not examples.  Leapfrog Executive Search promotes predictable outcomes for our candidates because we use a proven system of preparation that, when aligned to a client opportunity, can result in mutual success.

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The Ruse of Experience

Category : 2018

The growth of technology and social media has generated new meanings for familiar words. Viral now refers to popularity, not an illness. A ping is an action, not a noise. Following means to subscribe, not to pursue. Experience has expanded to mean you achieved something-not that you were there.

From a CEO trying to secure the trust of a board to an executive moving to a C-level role to companies working to gain a position in a competitive market, leveraging the word “experience” as a differentiator is wasted energy. Experience is about participation, observation, perception, encountering something, and practice that results in superior knowledge or mastery. In short, whether its an executive or a company, experience simply means you were there. You participated. You interacted with a situation or event. You maybe even learned something.

Companies can serve their marketplace for the same amount of time with very different results. A quick look at Fortune 500 companies shows that a decade committed to a task can yield widely differing results.

Company Years in Business Fortune Rank 2007 Fortune Rank 2017
Texas Instruments 66 185 206
JC Penny 115 116 221
Wal Mart 55 1 1
Weyerhauser 118 105 341
Apple 41 123 3

A look at top executives reveals the same range of outcomes. During Jeff Immelt’s tenure at General Electric, the stock price slipped 25%. Since Facebook became public, Mark Zuckerberg has led growth from $153 million to $40 billion. In ten years, Indra Nooyi has grown PepsiCo from $39 billion to $63 billion, while Ginni Rometty has watched IBM shrink from $98 billion in 2007 to $79 billion in 2017. Obviously, length of time on a road does not equate to distance traveled-or results achieved.

Selling experience alone easily becomes a ruse. If you don’t have a story to tell, don’t try to pretend one exists. Without quantified results, your ability to distinguish yourself from competitors is diminished.

Your experience doesn’t differentiate. Your client’s experience creates market differentiation. What consumers tell about how you helped them, how your product or service impacted their lives-that sells. When a board or other execs talk about your impact in an organization, that creates more credibility than talking about your number of years of experience.

Strong brands sell what people buy-and people buy results