Name It to Change It

I was listening to the CEO of a manufacturing company wax on about his disappointment with his general manager. “I want him to create a plan for growth and profitability that includes how we manage x, y, and z and that produces results 1, 2, and 3” he said to me. “And he just hasn’t done it.”

Before I assumed we had a performance issue to deal with, I asked the million-dollar question. “Have you told him that’s what you want”

I’m sure you can guess the answer.

It is not uncommon to meet an executive who seems to prefer harboring disappointment over talking to an “Offender”  regarding performance.  Sometimes Execs tell me they don’t want to be a micro-manager or a heavy hand. Sometimes the cone of silence has been in place for so long that  the Exec fears changing the rules in the middle of the game. We all  know how unsporting that would appear! In exploring the facts, the Exec and I always reach agreement that the employee needs to change in order to positively impact the company; we also always agree that nothing will change without a chat. And at this point in our conversation it is typical for the Exec to be a little embarrassed and mutter a sheepish “I know, I know”.

I asked this particular President what was most important – the success of his company’s or maintaining his  strategy of silent anger.  The answer to that question was obvious as well. Yet he had been paralyzed for more than eight months.

It is my personal belief that leaders who put their own emotions before the performance of their organization  aren’t doing their job. Not only that, I judge their behavior as abdicating and perhaps even self-indulgent. And when I “suggest” my judgment to them, I ALWAYS see a shift of perception. Obviously there is no President who doesn’t have a deep caring about his company; he has just been stuck behind a lens of judgment that is inward facing. When we give that behavior a name, we aim the lens right back at the bottom line. I watch executives  visibly rise up before my eyes, and say “Thank You – I know exactly what I have to do.”

Naming behavior  is one of the most powerful ways to help people shift their focus from themselves to their company’s great good.  You can name your own behaviors simply by looking at the conversations you AREN’T having. It is always a self-centered motivation that keeps those words inside of you. Find the fear and you can slay your own dragons.


The Girl’s can Golf

Condoleezza Rice is an amazing and accomplished woman. Although I don’t know Darla Moore I am sure the same is true of her. Their invitation to membership into Augusta National was called “A joyous occasion” by Billy Payne, Chairman of the Club. And Martha Burk of the National Council of Women’s Organizations commented that it is “A milestone for women in business.”


A bunch of old guys decided it is time to let women come play golf with them. Yes, golf. It’s a game. Remember?

They didn’t open up the board room and ask that half of the seated members be women (current count around 22%). They didn’t adopted a goal that within ten years half of  the Fortune 500 companies would have women as CEO’s (current count is eighteen).. They said it is okay for women to come play golf with them.

Pardon me if I can only muster a sarcastic “Yippee” followed by an eye roll.

I understand that members at Augusta National are secretly vetted; sometimes they are “observed” for years before receiving the nod. That doesn’t seem exclusive to me – it seems kind of creepy. And the fact that this year they decided to throw womankind a bone is merely a statement about their own closed minds. Some see it as an entrance into the good-old-boy’s-club. Maybe so. But it isn’t a club that makes any difference in the structure of corporate America, and that’s where the real power is.

Wouldn’t it have been interesting if Condoleezzza would have laughed at the pompous ridiculousness of the whole thing and declined their offer?

The Olive Bar

The other day I decided to indulge myself in one of my favorite vices – blue cheese stuffed green olives. So I wandered up to the olive bar at my local grocery store and reached for one of the little plastic containers. Lo and behold there were none, which isn’t all that uncommon. Most times I would interpret this as a sign from the universe that I don’t really need this delicious little snack. This day I decided to ignore the sign, if indeed it was one, and head to the counter to procure a container.

The nice lady behind the counter was more than willing to help. When I told her of my need, she grabbed a whole stack of containers and handed them to me en-masse.

I was a little confused as to what I should do. It seemed I had two choices: I could be a jerk and tell her I only wanted one, or I could take the whole stack and set them on the olive bar. I chose the latter, but left scratching my head wondering how to judge the customer service component of what I had just played a part in. I certainly know how I would have reacted if she had done that in my shop.

How about you?

Dancing on the Glass Ceiling – Part II

(When we left off last time, our Well-Heeled CEO (a.k.a. me) was having a conversation with the chairman of the board)

“The board has directed me to offer you the position of CEO….” The chairman  was saying,

“…with a six-month trial period to see if it is working out.”

It took me about two seconds to identify and analyze the risks:

Risk 1 – give up my currently well-paid, well-defined executive job for a trial job whereby my success would be based on the whim of a room full of old men. Risk 2 – accept risk 1 while assuming the responsibilities of a turnaround, knowing that significant impact wouldn’t be measurable in six months.

I laughed out loud.

The chairman was shocked. I guess the board figured I would be so honored at the offer that I would throw my common sense out the window. So I posed a question to the chairman: “Just how, exactly, does the board intend to make this six-month determination?” His enlightened expression was enough to show me that he understood my laughter. So I laid down my terms.

“Here’s how we do it. Give me my goals. Get out of my way. Fire me if a screw it up.”

So they did, and they kind of did, and when the time came I left on my own. But that is getting ahead of the story…..

What’s the point? I have no doubt that I received a conditional offer because I am female; I can’t imagine any group of men extending such an insulting offer to another man. A trial CEO position? Really? How on earth could that even work? My apologies if you are tired of hearing this, but there is still a significant amount of gender inequity in corporate America and I think it is criminal for us to pretend otherwise. Ask any woman trying to break the glass in financial services or tech, just to name two particularly notorious industries.

I have lots more stories to tell if you are interested in hearing them. If you’re not, don’t tune in to The Well-Heeled CEO.

Dancing on the Glass Ceiling – Part I

I had no aspirations about being a CEO. Being the “Inside Guy” was enough for me. Just by being in the building every day I was had impact and influence in all of the key areas of the organization. So I didn’t immediately jump at the chance to be the CEO. My reason for finally throwing my hat in the ring was less than lofty – I wanted to save myself the trouble of having to train yet one more “Big Banker” on the realities of Community Banking.

So into the ring went my hat, along with a list of why I was ridiculously qualified. With the exception of my non-existent golf game, my skill set was unquestionable. I promised to go get a swing, and I was given the nod.

Of maybe half a nod ….

The board chair came to my office after the deliberations and took a seat at my desk. I noticed I was holding my breath.

“The board has directed me to offer you the position of CEO….” he said.

I exhaled.

“…with a six month trial period to see if it is working out.”

I inhaled.

How would you have felt about this officer? What would you have answered?

Stay tuned for Part II.

Coaching and Leadership in the Boxing Gym

I haven’t punched anyone or anything since I was nine years old. And I apologized to my brother, as the full extension of my first into his nose truly was an accident. So imagine my surprise when I discovered just recently that I love boxing.

Not the kind where you hit and get hit; that scares me. No – I love the boxing you do in a one hour circuit training workout that involves various kinds of cardio torture followed by three minute rounds with the bags. Speed bags, uppercut bags, heavy bags, big brown bags – I love them all.

The first time I walked in the boxing gym my fear was twofold. I was out of shape and I didn’t know jack about boxing. Last week my coach told me that my skills were really improving and that I should consider sparring in the ring. Wow! I declined citing my lack of passion for getting hit in the face, yet I couldn’t help but notice that the rest of my workout was way more focused. I kinda felt like a boxer!

As I evaluated my progression from klutz to Championship Belt (ok – a little over the top) I recognized the brilliance of my trainer. Her methodology is a terrific lesson in coaching. She explained the reason for a technique, demonstrated the technique, waited until I got that one down before introducing another, and encouraged me from class to class.

But what was really impressive to me was her lesson in leadership. When she suggested that I spar, she made the next step accessible to me by making it possible in my imagination. When she stepped forward and asked me to follow, she led me to the confidence I needed to elevate my game. Because of her encouragement and skillful guidance, I now work a lot harder every time I am in the gym.

In a nutshell, the coaching steps were explain, demonstrate, correct, add more, and encourage. The leadership was an invitation.






Step Back to Move Forward – Five Reasons NOT to Micromanage

Whether you are the owner-operator in your business or an executive with a talented team, your business will be postured to move forward when you consciously move back.

Here are some reasons you should learn how to monitor without having to be “in” all the time:

1. You hired people to do stuff. Let them do it. And let them do it their way. Don’t insist they do it your way if the end result is the same. Who knows – maybe it will even be better.

2. If you insist on things being done your way, no one will be able to make a decision without first consulting you. Depending on how many “consultees” you may have, this could be a 24/7 job. That leaves very little time for strategic thinking and guarantees sluggish growth.

3. Your employees will never grow in their own skill sets because their job is guessing what you would like to see rather than performing or producing.

4. The really great people will leave. They will go to a place that allows them to grow.

5. And then you’ll be stuck doing the day-to-day work while you look to replace your team. See the vicious cycle?

How do you answer this question: What would happen to my business if I were run over by a bus (or won the lotto – your choice)?

Your goal should be able to answer “My business will continue to thrive because I have put the right systems in place and have the right people managing them.”