Author Archives: Jim Hess


Category : 2021

While the origin of the story is suspect, its meaning and application remain.

Search the pages of 18th century Russian history—or folklore, and you find the story of Grigori Aleksasndrovich Potëmkin, an army officer, statesman, and one of the romantic loves of Catherine the Great. Potëmkin’s notable military successes were followed by a gigantic failure to colonize the Ukrainian steppe. A now believed to be fabricated account alleges that when Catherine toured the area, Potëmkin ordered the construction of elaborate village façades to hide the reality of his failure from the Empress.

Tragically, a respected personality from history is remembered more for what he didn’t do than for what he accomplished. For centuries, a Potemkin village has carried the meaning of “an impressive façade or show designed to hide an undesirable fact or condition.” The Theresienstadt camp in Germany was used by the Nazis to hide the horrors of their final solution. Sitting on the north side of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, Kijŏng-dong or Peace Village is more propaganda than substance. Using the concept positively, an hour east of Gothenburg, Sweden, Volvo has constructed AstaZero, a replica of a New York neighborhood where sensor prototypes are given a realistic environment for testing.

In 2017, Photographer Gregor Sailer published the results of a two-year journey capturing images of Potemkin villages scattered across the globe. Sailer shares photos of European-style villages in China, a fake middle-eastern town in the Mojave desert, and a Russian city designed to impress, of course, Vladimir Putin.

From long-forgotten dot-com darlings to WorldCom to Lehman Brothers to a bevy of high-tech companies scattered across the globe today, corporations and the executives that lead them construct elaborate Potemkin villages to lure investors, gain traction in a market, inflate a stock price, or blatantly line the pockets of those behind the schemes. Conversely, Forbes, Newsweek, IndustryWeek, and Reader’s Digest provide annual lists of companies whose brands have remained strong, trusted, and respected for decades.

Any executive facing the challenges, uncertainties, and unknowns of 2021 must choose whether to build his or her personal brand on Potemkinesque imagery or to anchor that brand in authenticity, realism, truthfulness, consistency, and delivered results that focus on more than a financial statement or EPS. Decades of examining corporate results under business school microscopes have confirmed multiple times—the results of a company seldom surpass the character of a company’s leader. Codes of ethics, compliance training, and mission statements appearing as virtual backgrounds during Zoom calls aren’t enough to ensure protection from the Potemkin virus.

Employees in companies of every size are asking for a corporate a purpose bigger than the bottom line and are increasingly intolerant of leadership that is duplicitous, careless with the truth, or unwilling to engage in the conflict that inevitably emerges when a company chooses a path of principle over expedience. An executive in pursuit of enduring results has a pivotal opportunity to choose a path to success built on truth, integrity, and the ability to say, “No,” to anything inconsistent with the leader’s or the company’s values.

Potemkin’s fictitious tale underscores that while a legacy built on a façade may be remembered, it isn’t respected. John Maxwell is right when he says “You build trust with others each time you choose integrity over image, truth over convenience, or honor over personal gain.”

A State of Readiness

Category : 2021

Our 2021 is off to a great start. Are you and your business ready for what’s ahead in the new year? We are! Give us a call to discuss your HR leadership retained search needs.


1.  the state of being fully prepared for something.
“your muscles tense in readiness for action”
preparedness · preparation · fitness · ready · at the ready · available · on hand · 

2. willingness to do something.
“Spain had indicated a readiness to accept his terms”
willingness · inclination · enthusiasm · eagerness · keenness · gameness · promptness · quickness · alacrity · ease · facility · address

3. immediacy, quickness, or promptness.
“quickness of hearing and readiness of speech were essential”
promptness · quickness · rapidity · swiftness · speed · speediness · 

Crafting an Unencumbered Life

Category : 2020

A year that often seemed upside-down and had an eerie resemblance to the movie Groundhog Day, gave us some valuable, albeit unanticipated lessons (thanks to the internet)—

  • We now understand why the dog gets excited every time a car drives by or he goes for a walk.
  • We admit the house is not dirty because we are never home and have no time to clean.
  • We realize being grounded by our parents as an adolescent was preparation for 2020.
  • If caught talking to ourselves, we can tell our kids we are in a parent-teacher conference.
  • We believe that someday we will again have enough toilet paper to use it to decorate yards.

Whiplashing to a more serious perspective, Poet Maya Angelou insightfully said, “I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.” As we bring 2020 to a close, each of us can choose whether to allow the circumstances, adjustments, pain, loss, and even grief of this year to change us—or reduce us.

One way to leave this year reduced rather than enlarged is to trudge into 2021 carrying a load of personal, relational, or emotional clutter—to start the year encumbered. Unfortunately, many people manage their lives like they manage their stuff. They don’t lighten the load by getting rid of what no longer has a purpose— they just move stuff to another place and re-fill the vacant spaces with more things.

A cluttered life is an encumbered life. It is hard to move freely and respond to opportunities when your outer world gets full of things you no longer need. More importantly, it is difficult to think clearly and embrace new ideas after a difficult year, when your inner world becomes cluttered with thoughts and emotions that slow you down like dragging an overloaded suitcase down the sidewalk of a busy city.

After making it through a year marked by unprecedented levels of uncertainty, you might dream of escaping (when you can travel again) to some remote spot in the world where life is simple and moves at a slower pace. Then, you look at your desk and remember you are invested in a career. You have responsibilities you can’t neglect. There are roles in your world that only you can fill. Becoming a Sherpa in Nepal is no longer a rational career move.

So how does someone who has weathered a year like none before it, who faces new levels of competition in the market, and for whom innovation must become a way of life embark on the next 12 months unencumbered? Here are three places to begin.

Get over it. It will take time to move through and past the agonizing losses of businesses, jobs, and loved ones. Those journeys cannot be rushed. But leaving this year overloaded with resentments, unresolved anger, and a need to correct perceived inequities piles us with a weight we were not built to carry. Life isn’t fair—especially life in 2020. Nice people experience unimaginable tragedies. Even the most talented lose jobs. Regardless of what happened in 2020, keeping a box of resentment in the back of your mind is a waste of space and an energy drain you can’t afford.

If you’re finding it difficult to get free of resentment and dump what is past, get some help. Debate your tough questions with a business accountability partner. Find an executive forum where you can engage with others on the same journey and benefit from their wisdom. If you need the help of a skilled counselor, don’t be afraid to get it.

Do whatever it takes to clean out the closet of resentments in your life. While allowing the lessons to change you, holding onto losses or injuries will only reduce you.

Think some original thoughts. A mind full of conflicting news feeds, one-dimensional tweets, banal social media banter, and endless memes leaves little space for new ideas. It is difficult to give birth to concepts that are uniquely yours while allowing your mind to be constantly filled with the opinions of others. Put your phone in a drawer for a couple of hours. Unplug your headphones. Read something that was written before 1900. Make room in your mind for original ideas that grow from the rich soil of deliberate reflection. Every innovation we enjoy today was, at some time, a thought no one had pursued before. James Allen reminds us, “Whatever your present environment may be, you will fall, remain or rise with your thoughts … You will become as small as your controlling desire, as great as your dominant aspiration.” 1

Check your attitude. Like boxes collecting in your attic, practiced behaviors reflect themselves as attitudes—settled ways of thinking, that multiply, and quickly fill whatever space they are allotted, usually spilling over into dimensions of life where those attitudes negatively affect others. In too many chapters of 2020, you were forced to admit you do not control much of what happens to you. You do control the mental frameworks and beliefs that guide your responses to life’s events. The quality of your coming year depends far less on a vaccine, political party, or economic revival than it depends on how you choose to look at life. If you want to live freely in the coming year, begin by nurturing an attitude of optimism, gratitude, and hope.

We would be remiss to close the year without thanking you for your partnership, trust, and engagement during 2020. We are a better company because you are part of what we do. We wish you perspective on the year we are closing and a new year bright with opportunity.

1 Allen, James. As a Man Thinketh in Motivational Classics. Life Management Services, 1983. Page 136.
Adapted from Sharpen Your Life, copyright ©2016, Joseph M. Jordan/Jordan Development, Inc. Used by permission.

Covid, Your Career, and Newton’s Law

Category : 2020

If you are looking for a unique sobriquet for 2020, the events of this year give you plenty of material.

  • How about calling 2020 The Year of Non Sequiturs? How many times have we found rapidly changing circumstances make an explanation we are giving no longer flow logically from what we said before? Most of us have felt like Alan Greenspan when he said, “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
  • This could be The Year of Paradoxical Performance. You don’t set record trading levels on the NYSE and NASDAQ while record numbers of people file for unemployment. Financial and retirement portfolios don’t give double-digit returns while major corporations and small businesses become the backstories for bankruptcy case studies.
  • On a positive note, we can’t deny 2020 is The Year of Unanticipated Productivity as businesses learn to operate behind a mask, employees shift to home offices and virtual workplaces, and education systems—and the kids who use them—demonstrate incredible levels of innovation and resilience.

If you can absorb a radical shift in analogies, 2020 also closely resembles Talking Head’s leading edge 1984 music documentary Stop Making Sense. The recording of the group’s three performances at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles powerfully demonstrates that a group that didn’t behave as expected felt no need to release a live album that played by anyone’s rules. The YouTube trailer feels a bit like watching 2020 in 3:10.

From non sequiturs to paradoxical performances, any effort to make sense of mixed signals can easily result in a demonstration of Newton’s First Law– every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force. Uncertainty easily precipitates career inertia as a talented executive implements a business plan while, at a personal level, unconsciously or purposefully resisting any change in direction. What feels like steady-state is more accurately stuck.

Doing nothing or staying fixed until an unexpected force changes the scenario is a sketchy career strategy anytime, and especially when unanticipated changes, unexpected events, and hard-to-understand messages permeate life. As vaccines are administered across the globe, we will either see a clear path to “normalcy” or a face disappointment that carries overwhelming ramifications. As winter settles over us, we can’t afford to sequester ourselves with a cup of Newton’s Law and the hope that as spring blooms, life will revert to a pre-pandemic state.

While you provide clear messages of wisdom and counsel to subordinates, friends, and peers, you may find it challenging to locate a credible source for the insight and perspective you need as you contemplate your professional trajectory for the coming months. You need someone with expertise, a broad knowledge of the market, an understanding of your unique circumstances, and the ability to challenge your thinking in a way that stimulates purposeful, and proactive movement that isn’t dependent on an external force. 

Most people embrace change only when discomfort with a current situation exceeds their discomfort with or fear of change. A wise executive can’t afford to be like “most people.” Preparation leads to opportunities. If you want to avoid mixed message inertia and be ready for the unique prospects you face, let Leapfrog Executive Services help you create a new level of confidence about your readiness to take the next step.

The Ripples of Covid-19 on HR Leadership

Category : 2020

When some stones in life hit water, the ripples never stop.

~ Those who lived through the Great Depression have attics and garages full of things they’ll never use—but they can’t live without.

~ The Berlin Wall has been down more years than it divided Germany, but the shadow of its gun towers and barbed wire still linger in the minds of those who lived through it.

~ 9/11 forever changed the way airports and airlines manage passenger security.

~ The 2008 loan crisis added layers of complexity to lending and slowed the flow of credit to consumers.

~ A virus that debuted in early 2020 has dramatically altered the way we travel, eat, and visit grandparents.

Depending on who you ask, some will advocate that we are at the midpoint of the COVID-19 pandemic and on the verge of effective vaccines that cradle the hope of a return to pre-pandemic lifestyles. While we look forward to resuming “life as we knew it,” a more candid assessment would tell us the ripples of the COVID stone will continue for months after vaccines are in-play.

While it is easy to see how the pandemic has dramatically changed the way we work, COVID’s ripple effect has also altered what companies need to thrive. Specifically, HR leadership roles now incorporate a broader set of responsibilities and a greater set of expectations. In addition to the litany of traditional HR functions and accountabilities, the C-suite is now looking for senior HR leaders to provide enhanced contributions in these key areas.

Financial Acumen – Senior leadership now expects HR executives to create people strategies that align with and positively impact cash flow, profitability, asset management, consistent growth, and, of course, human capital. More than ever, the credibility of HR and the ability of HR leadership to win investments depends on a leader’s ability to fluently articulate the company’s market position and tangibly demonstrate how HR integrates with the larger picture of where and how investments will produce a quantifiable return.

Organizational Design – For most organizations, COVID-19 has retro-fitted steady state from an expectation to an aspiration. Companies that aren’t capsizing in the ripples of this pandemic have learned to operate as highly fluid organisms with a low level of viscosity. HR leaders wanting to bring value and thrive in structuring the organization must demonstrate decisiveness and agility, moving with confidence and timeliness in a frequently-changing, highly ambiguous environment.

Visible Leadership – Unlike traditional market forces that influence company performance, COVID-19 is unavoidably and undeniably first, a people issue. The pandemic’s force on business results is the consequence of how the virus has impacted people across the globe. The unique dynamics of this situation singularly position HR leaders to assume a more visible role. This is the time for HR executives to be a stabilizing influence that instills confidence, nurtures hope, and drives performance through authenticity and transparency.

Innovative Agility – Innovation is often categorized as progressive—incremental improvement or enhancements or disruption—bringing a forceful and transformative adaptation or alteration to a business or industry. This pandemic’s ripple effect is a clarion call for HR executives to aim for more than incremental improvements in benefits and people policies. COVID is presenting HR strategists with a unique opportunity to redefine the way leaders influence people across an organization, reimagine what employee engagement looks like, and construct a new model for how people work together in a workplace with fewer walls and different opportunities. If you need help identifying the person who best aligns with your organization as you chart a path into 2021, we’re ready to assist. Give us a call to explore the possibilities.

The Myth of the Best Decision

Category : 2020

“Indecision may or may not be my problem.” (Jimmy Buffett)

Many people struggle when making life-impacting decisions, so when they finally determine their criteria, weigh their options, and make a choice—they want the process to be done. Over. Finished. Something to look at in the rear-view mirror.

If any decision should offer that aura of finality it should be voting in an election. When a ballot is slipped into a scanner or dropped into the mail, a selection is made, and the outcome will happen. There’s no asking to see the options again. Like it or not, you made a choice and will live with the unknowns for now, and the knowns when they emerge.

In a year that has been punctuated with the word “unprecedented,” it doesn’t surprise anyone that the 2020 U.S. presidential election didn’t offer the same finality one normally enjoys after casting a vote. While it looks like we know who gets the big chair behind a 140 year-old desk made from recycled timber, it will take some time for the electoral dust to completely settle.

Waiting and anticipating the impact of a decision you made is frustrating. Missing the benefit of a decision you avoid is self-limiting. Ultimately, a decision not made is a decision. Every savvy adolescent eventually discovers parental procrastination or the innocuous, “We’ll talk about it later,” are sophisticated ways adults say, “No.”

Psychologist William James observed, “There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.” Any executive who has wrestled with solving a complex problem and choosing the option that they hope carries the right solution, knows the journey to the decision takes more energy than dealing with the impact of the choice. An unwillingness or inability to make a tough decision is physically and emotionally exhausting. The quest for the best decision is a laborious and disappointing journey. A carefully made choice with outstanding results rarely carries with it the quantified certainty of “best” because one cannot know what the other options would have yielded.

A pernicious pandemic, a mercurial market, and an erratic economy are generating professional opportunities shrouded in emotional uncertainty. For some leaders, obscurity breeds inertia and windows of opportunity are passed by without a peek behind the curtains. Telling themselves they are managing risks, these professionals allow uncertainty to keep them from considering a promising move to a new role, a different company, or a related industry.

Whatever the decision, it is more easily made when it is preceded by preparation. An executive considering a move in the dynamics of the current market is wise to proactively invest in a portfolio of a resume, biography and LinkedIn profile that communicates his or her marketing message with consistency, clarity, and conciseness. If you’d like to know how Leapfrog Executive Services can help, call us today.