Last Of The Series – Leadership View #13: Balance Your Life

Last Of The Series – Leadership View #13: Balance Your Life

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I began this series as a tribute to my friend, Marsh Carter, whose leadership has been an inspiration to me for at least 25 of the 45+ years covered in his View of Leadership. As I have written these blogs each week, using Marsh’s topic lines, it has been interesting to me how relevant Marsh’s large company experience is to the entrepreneurs  I work with each day.

For the final post in this series, I decided it is fitting that Marsh author the post, drawing this time from his experience rather than mine. 

Leadership View #13:  Balance your life – 3 legged stool analogy (balance between work, family and a strong outside interest for yourself)

Many people we’ve all known, including ourselves at times, have a tendency to regard our careers or jobs as the most important aspects of our life—this is especially true the last few years where hand held devices link us 24/7 to the office, our bosses, our employees and coworkers.  It may be more necessary now than ever before to try to balance our lives—that is, maintain a balance between our work, our families, our religion, and for our own mental health – an outside interest that treats us as an individual.

Think of your life as a three or four legged stool….when one leg is gone it won’t balance and falls over. We can’t take the pressures of work and family and go back and forth between them alone….that’s what the third leg, a completely different activity that is our individual interest alone comes in. Your third leg may be jogging, sailing, running in marathons, coaching a child’s sport, skydiving, piloting airplanes, pottery making, yoga, stamp or coin collecting…..whatever you enjoy that’s separate from work and family.

At the height of World War 2 when the pressures were immense, President Roosevelt would escape to his stamp collection, for an hour or so doing something completely different. General George Marshall would ride horseback many mornings to relieve the pressures of his job building and leading an Army of 8 million men and women.

Think about it—

  • How do you personally, if only for a short period of time, balance the pressures of work and family?
  • What is your third stool leg to balance your life?

Elisa K. Spain


Leadership View #11: Hardest Task

Leadership View #11: Hardest Task

2013 06-23 iStock_000010450125XSmallLeadership View #11:

Hardest task – changing your leadership and management styles as your company grows or you go up the ladder. 

I often hear entrepreneurs say, “I don’t want to lose the culture as I grow this company” or “We are like a family, I want to keep this feeling as we grow”. And yet as the company grows the culture inevitably changes and the owner no longer knows the name and the family of every employee.

And, what the company needs as it moves from “go-go” to “prime” (to quote Vistage speaker Gerry Faust) is for the leader to change.

In the go-go period, everyone is equal and it is all about getting the job done, getting the orders out, meeting the customer needs. Typically the owner is the chief sales officer and innovator. And, then as a company adds more people and moves to prime, management becomes necessary and terms like “building a leadership team” come into play.

Suddenly the owner is thrust into a role of CEO and has people reporting to him or her who are focused on their own career path. These key executives want the opportunity to innovate and have an impact themselves. And, the CEO while still expected to define the vision, must also become a coach and mentor, allowing others to grow and develop as leaders.

At the same time, the folks who came to the company as experts and doers are often expected to become managers. And those that came to “manage” are expected to become leaders. The best operations manager who succeeded because he or she can implement processes must learn to think like an owner and take a broad view. These new roles and new ways of thinking require new behaviors as well.

Those that are able to change are those rare few that build and lead the less than 1% of companies >$100mm in revenue.

Elisa K. Spain


Leadership View #10: Take The High Risk…

Leadership View #10: Take The High Risk…

2013 06-16 iStock_000008237816XSmallLeadership View #10:

Take the higher risk / higher reward job.

Much like when choosing investments, the higher risk choices lead to higher returns. And much like with investments, intentionality is the key. If you truly want the higher reward (or greater leadership role) and are willing to take the risk to modify both your behavior and your choices, go for it. And, along the way, gather feedback from your manager, your peers, and your subordinates so you know where your blind spots are and the modifications you will need to make.

A great place to start is with Marshall Goldsmith’s book, What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There.

Elisa K. Spain


Leadership View #9: An Absolute Skill Of An Effective Leader…

Leadership View #9: An Absolute Skill Of An Effective Leader…

2013 06-09 iStock_000001077015XSmall SunflowerLeadership View #9:

An absolute skill of an effective leader is the ability to grow and adapt.

So often we find that what has made us successful in the past, is not working for us today.

From the entrepreneur who built a successful company what I hear is, “I got here because I know my product, and I know what my customers need. Along the way I added a team and now they need leadership and management and I don’t have any experience doing that.”

From the key executive I hear, “I got to this level on my business knowledge; I have always been the expert. Now, I know I need to develop the experts below me, how do I do that?”

For me the skill of an effective leader is first recognizing the need to grow and adapt and then finding resources to help us get there. Vistage members recognize this and look to their fellow members and chair to support them on this journey. Often members take the opportunity to share their challenges with other members who may be further along on the same journey.

And…those that take the risk of letting their teams know they are learning right along with the team are those that I observe adapt the fastest. Often it is the people who report to us that help us recognize the growth we need and teach us, by asking, what we need to do to be there for them.

After all, isn’t effective leadership really about taking care of our team so that they take care of the rest?

Elisa K. Spain


Leadership View #8: Merging Two Organizations…

Leadership View #8: Merging Two Organizations…

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Leadership View #8:

Merging two organizations gives a leader an opportunity to form a new culture / leadership team / operating style.  A common mistake is to adopt one or the other, thereby creating winners and losers.  

This leadership view is actually a continuation of Leadership View #7 where I talked about getting buy-in during a merger. Once we have that buy-in from the early majority, the next question to answer is:  what will be the culture, leadership and operating style of the combined group?

Remembering that a “merger” can mean combining two companies, two groups, or simply adding a significant number of new team members.

In my experience the culture bends. Last year, I added several new members to my Vistage CEO group and most of these new members came from other CEO groups where they had been members for some time. The groups they came from had their own culture, operating style and formal and informal leadership.

Here is what I learned from that experience.

First, the integration must be intentional. The people that were there first, feel a sense of ownership of the group. The new people want to add value. The challenge is creating situations that allow for both. The following steps worked for us:

-We form workgroups including members with various tenure and personality styles – sometimes the official leader was from the new group, sometimes from the old.

-New members were given the opportunity to showcase their expertise in a way that helped the group.

-We recognized that groups follow Bruce Tuckman’s model of forming, storming, norming, performing and they do it continuously. The merged group naturally moved through this process at it’s own pace.

The result: The group today is an integrated group with many of the same values as before, yet with updated norms and a new culture, well on its way to high performing.


Elisa K. Spain


Leadership View #7:  When Merging Or Combining Two Organizations..

Leadership View #7: When Merging Or Combining Two Organizations..

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When merging or combining two organizations, it has been estimated that 60% of the people will be relatively indifferent, 20% will be strongly supportive, and 20% will be strongly non-supportive.  Focus on the 20% that are strongly supportive and converting the 60% who are neutral.

It is so easy to be drawn to want to “convert” those who are negative. Whether it’s the one customer we can’t seem to please; or the one person sleeping when we are giving a presentation; or the one person on our team of 25 who always has a negative comment.

And the same applies when combining organizations. There is an old adage that mergers succeed or fail based on cultural fit. My experience when combining organizations or adding a significant number of people to an existing group, is the culture bends. The core of the culture remains and it bends to accommodate and subsequently grow from the additions or the merger.

Those who are supportive and positive can inspire us as leaders to carry on and inspire those who are neutral to come on-board. Why waste our time on negative energy, when we can create more positive energy?

Questions for you to consider:

  • When was the last time you were leading an integration and felt drawn down by negative reactions?
  • Upon reflection, what percentage of those involved in the merger was actually negative?
  • What might you do next time to notice what percentage is positive to neutral and focus on them?


Elisa K. Spain


Leadership View #6: Some Problems Can’t Be “Solved”

Leadership View #6: Some Problems Can’t Be “Solved”

2013 05-12 Fresh PerspectiveiStock_000019408214XSmall Leadership View #6:

Some problems can’t be “solved” (and, hopefully, made to go away) – they must be managed and may require the leader’s repetitive attention and time.

As leaders and managers, we have been taught to find the root cause and fix the problem. This Leadership View seems to fly in the face of that.

What do you mean “some problems can’t be solved”?

For me the key word here is repetition. For anything to be sustainable, it must be repeated. We humans get distracted, forget what we learned and have to be reminded. This is what Vistage is all about. Our members hear from a speaker 8 times a year. Do you really think each speaker brings something new to the table? Rather, they often are reinforcing a similar message. And, we hear the message differently depending on where we are in our lives and our businesses at the time. An entrepreneur leading a start-up will hear a leadership message differently 10 years later when he or she is challenged with building a leadership team that will lead to a sustainable enterprise.

I asked one of our long term Vistage members recently if he had ever considered leaving Vistage. His answer was “never, I learn something at every meeting, every one-to-one.” He leads a highly successful, high growth business. My belief is he learns something new each time, because he comes with different ears each time.

The same is true for the people that work for us. Some problems can’t be solved, because things happen. Life isn’t static and our businesses and our processes aren’t static. Last year in a post entitled “Is Your Leadership Team Your Co-Advisor“, I talked about the DIME Method: Design, Implement, Monitor, Evaluate. For me the repetition speaks to the Monitor and Evaluate part of the continuum. As problems get solved and things change, we must monitor, evaluate and then design again.

As you mull over this idea that problems can’t be solved, I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions:

  • When was the last time we monitored or evaluated the systems we have in place?
  • Are we doing things, “because that’s the way we have always done it”?
  • What is the root cause of the problems that exist in my company today? Which of these require my repetitive time and attention?

Elisa K. Spain


Leadership View #5: When Leading Change..

Leadership View #5: When Leading Change..

2013 05-05 SuperHero iStock_000013976003XSmallLeadership View #5:

When leading change – get some early wins –this makes change irresistible to those that resist.  Getting these “early wins” may involve changing priorities or sequencing of events.

How often do we begin an initiative by setting a goal with a date when everything will be complete?

When starting a project we are excited to get “it” done. What if instead we focused on getting small wins and buy-in, how might we approach the project differently?

One of my favorite visible stories of a leader who understood the importance of early wins is The Chicago Wacker Drive Project. Mayor Richard M. Daley began this enormous project, raised the funds for it and hired the team to lead it. It was a massive undertaking. The job required rebuilding both Upper and Lower Wacker, a primary downtown Chicago artery.

What I remember most about this project is it began in early 2001 and was declared “finished” 20 months later in late 2002.  It was declared a success coming in on-time and on-budget. The reality was, only a portion of the Wacker Drive rebuild was completed during this period. Work on Wacker Drive continued for many years and continues today.

Mayor Daley knew he had to get an “early win” and sequence the events so that he could pause and celebrate success. The work that continued for ten years hence followed this same model. Small incremental projects are funded, begun and then completed and celebrated.

Here are my questions for you to consider when you next begin an initiative in your company:

  1. What is the ideal sequencing to get the job done right and on-time?
  2. If my goal is buy-in, what changes might I need to make to get that buy-in?
  3. Am I willing to go slower at the front-end to get to adoption?
  4. Who are the people I can count on to be early adopters and influencers? How do I engage them, so they are willing proselytize our success?
  5. How will I celebrate success?

Elisa K. Spain


45 Year Leadership View #4: A Leader Must Balance…

45 Year Leadership View #4: A Leader Must Balance…

thinker 04 21 13Marsh Carter’s Leadership View #4:

A leader must balance between near-term and long-term leadership and management tasks. 

Hmm.. last week’s leadership view involved balance and here we are with the same subject line again. It does seem that balance is a key challenge for every leader.

Most leaders have a sense of urgency, entrepreneurs especially. Often it is this sense of urgency that got us where we are. And, much like balancing the needs of the organization with the needs of our followers, we must also recognize which of our goals belong in the long term column and which belong as short-term.

And it is certainly a balancing act, because for high urgency leaders, we sometimes move tasks into the now, when they belong in the future. If you are challenged with sorting between short term and long term initiatives, here is a suggested approach to get started.

Begin by capturing all the ideas, tasks and goals. Next ask yourself the following three questions for each item:

  • How much time will it take to get this done?
  • What will be the impact/outcome for the organization when this is done? (people, resources, capital, impact on other initiatives  impact on customers, etc.)
  • What will be the impact/outcome for the organization while we are getting this done? (people, resources, capital, impact on other initiatives  impact on customers, etc.)


Elisa K. Spain


45 Year Leadership View #3: A Leader Must Balance…

45 Year Leadership View #3: A Leader Must Balance…

swansMarsh Carter’s Leadership View #3:

A leader must balance accomplishing the organization’s mission with responsibility to followers.

As Vistage speaker Rick Eigenbrod reminds us, the one thing all leaders have in common, followers. When we forget this is the most important characteristic of leadership, we look around and there is no one behind us. While the mission may be what is driving us as leaders, have we stopped and asked what is driving our followers?

Remembering that all we humans act in our own self-interest, the organization’s mission must resonate and must matter to each and every one of our followers if we are going to get there. It is a delicate balance between being out in front because we have the vision; and inspiring our followers to move forward because they see what is in it for them.

In the best of circumstances, we as leaders inspire and our followers are the ones who accomplish the mission.

My question for you is:

What are you asking today to confirm that your followers understand and are driven to accomplish your mission?


Elisa K. Spain