Wait A Minute!

Category : 2021

Depending on which research, opinion, tweet, or meme you favor, a lot of life is invested in waiting. The acceleration provided by technology intensifies the frustration we feel during moments when we can do nothing but . . . wait.

During 2020, a large amount of wait time was invested in—

  • Waiting for a download
  • Waiting for meal delivery
  • Waiting for someone to open a Zoom or Teams meeting
  • Waiting for a quarantine period to end

After winter forced a week of disaster and dismay into our lives, the wait list now includes—

  • Waiting for the end of a power outage
  • Waiting for a pipe to thaw
  • Waiting for a pipe to burst
  • Waiting for a plumber

Teaching the value of waiting is much preferred to learning the value of waiting.

The internet brims with platonic blather about the value and importance of waiting. But it is worth noting that the author of the quotation, “Anything worth having is worth waiting for,” is unknown. That probably means no thinking person in touch with reality has ever made that statement anytime or anywhere. For most people, the more honest sentiment is, “Anything worth having is worth screaming for, demanding, fighting for, and whining about until you get it—now.”

When Mozart introduced his The Abduction from the Seraglio opera in 1782, Emperor Joseph II allegedly told the brilliant composer the piece was beautiful but contained, “Too many notes.” Mozart responded, “Just as many as necessary, Your Majesty.” Therein lies Mozart’s genius—knowing how many notes were necessary and when a note became superfluous.

While COVID’s economic and social tsunami changed the notes for many executives, it didn’t alter the tendency for many leaders to continue filling every space in life with as many notes as possible. It is tempting to smother the uncertainty of change with the clamor of activity.

Whether it arrives by circumstance, choice, design, or default, waiting is like a rest in a musical composition. While filling one measure, one beat, or only a moment, a rest in a piece of music indicates an absence of sound. A rest isn’t an interval when nothing is happening, but rather a deliberate moment when space is leveraged to give greater meaning or emphasis to what just happened or to what is to come.

Professionally, a brief or protracted period of waiting invites a leader to take a breath, reconsider priorities, reimagine a strategy, or jettison something that waiting reveals is no longer worthy of time, attention, or energy. When circumstances push us into a period of waiting, we adjust our perspective, tap our perseverance, and act with persistence to do what we can while we wait on what we desire.

Effective communicators know the value of active listening—making a conscious effort to hear and comprehend the words, emotions, and intent in what is spoken. Active listening keeps us engaged in an interaction, so we respond, rather than react. Executives wanting to engage fully and effectively with what is ahead in 2021 will invest time in learning the skill of active waiting—deliberately capturing insight from and fully using the present moment, while anticipating and planning for the future.

Even athletes and performers at the top of a game value the competitive edge offered through timely coaching. If you want to use the current moment to help you prepare for your next step, Leapfrog Executive Services can help. Call us today to learn more.


Your Professional Stress Test

Category : 2021

“The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions.” (Peter Drucker)

Most people welcome the news they need a heart stress test with about the same enthusiasm they throw at learning it’s time for a colonoscopy. In both scenarios, the patient isn’t very keen on the procedure. But what makes both events daunting is the anticipation that the conversation afterward might bring the individual face-to-face with information they don’t want to hear.

Reverting to Drucker’s comment at the top of this article—any of us can be tempted to adopt the strategy that says, “If I don’t ask the question, I don’t have to deal with the answer.”

A heart stress test evaluates how well your heart handles the workload you give it. The simple activity of walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike can expose potential problems and help a doctor prescribe the best plan of treatment. In response to the financial crisis a few years ago, financial institutions are required to conduct computer-simulated stress testing to analyze how a bank, its financial portfolio, and the institution’s internal controls would handle a drastic and unexpected economic shift. At a personal level, there are a plethora of assessments, evaluations, and even silly questions you can use to assess your internal responses to the circumstances and events of your life.

Whether targeting your physical health, unexpected events, or your responses to what happens, it is helpful to remember—

We don’t fall apart because of life’s pressures. We fall apart when we respond to life’s pressures with inadequate resources.

Men and women and the companies they lead demonstrate endurance, resilience, and even growth in good, bad, and ever-changing circumstances when they know survival doesn’t depend on the right set of conditions as much as it depends on responding to life’s situations with adequate resources.

Ten years ago, Harvard Business Review featured Stress-Test Your Strategy: The 7 Questions to Ask by Robert Simons (https://hbr.org/2010/11/stress-test-your-strategy-the-7-questions-to-ask). Though directed at a business, with slight adaptation, Simon’s questions offer a valuable framework for stress-testing a professional’s career strategy. A few minutes invested in answering these questions might expose an area of vulnerability that you would be wise to address as you engage with 2021.

  1. Who is your customer? Periodically ask yourself who or what motivates you to do what you do. The need for clear focus and a balanced perspective never diminishes.
  2. What values drive you? A lack of congruence between our values and our actions clouds our vision and complicates decision-making.
  3. How do you measure success? We all face the possibility the ladder we’re climbing with determination and relentless effort might be leaning against the wrong wall.
  4. What do you do with the inherent tensions in life? Decisions always involve logic and emotion. Every action carries with it a level of risk. The need to balance timely action with prudent reflection never goes away. Successful leaders leverage tension—they don’t avoid it.
  5. How do you create accountability? One of the risks inherent in career progression is having fewer people in your orbit that challenge you and ask hard questions. Wise leaders choose to be accountable before they are told to be accountable.
  6. How prepared are you for the unexpected? If 2020 taught us anything it was the cold reality that when you think things can’t get worse—the can and do. Personally and corporately, planning for contingencies and the unanticipated is a life habit more than an annual exercise.

Health experts tell us that beyond fundamental health and lifestyle choices, physical fitness is measured by three things—strength, endurance, and flexibility. Professional fitness can be assessed the same way—having the resources you need, staying at it when you want to quit, and adapting to changes as an expected part of life.


A POTEMKIN VILLAGE TALE

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.

 readiness
[ˈredēnəs]

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

2. willingness to do something.
“Spain had indicated a readiness to accept his terms”
synonyms:
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”
synonyms:
promptness · quickness · rapidity · swiftness · speed · speediness · 
[more]


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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4IZBJrNXrY 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.