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 #12:  Watch For (Perhaps Unintentional) Malicious Obedience…

Leadership View #12: Watch For (Perhaps Unintentional) Malicious Obedience…

2013 07-14 iStock_000000937577XSmallLeadership View #12: Watch for (perhaps unintentional) malicious obedience…

Early in my career, I learned this valuable lesson. I had the opportunity to lead a transition of a client reporting group from a fully manual process to a fully automated process. This area was the last functional area to be automated in this company (guess that tells you how long ago this was). When the previous manager left in the middle of the systems conversion, I was asked to take over.

As those of you who have led systems conversions know, it is never a smooth process and there are many long hours that are just part of the process. On one of these long nights, the senior person on the team came up and asked me how to calculate a certain number. I didn’t know the answer, and I didn’t ask him if he knew the answer, I simply guessed. And, I ass-u-me-d, he would tell me if I was wrong. See previous post, What results when leaders Ass-u-me?

In this case the result was, every report, to every customer, went out wrong. Like, I said, I learned a valuable lesson.

Perhaps in this case the obedience was intentional. My sense is, it was not. Here was a man who was overwhelmed by change, his world was being completely turned upside down. He had never used a computer in his life and suddenly his work had to be done on one. It didn’t occur to him that how he had calculated this number before was the same way to do it on the automated system.

More importantly, I didn’t ask, I told. And, I didn’t lay the ground work for my being open to being questioned, I simply ass-u-me-d he would know.

I wonder, how many of the big disasters that we read about could have been avoided by the leader asking questions and making sure the team knows he/she wants to be challenged?

As you go through your day on Monday, I encourage you to pause and notice how you respond when someone on your team asks questions, and perhaps consider answering the question with a question of your own….

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..

2013 05-19 iStock_000020205592XSmallLeadership View #7:

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


45 Year Leadership View #2: Sometimes, The Most Effective Techniques…

45 Year Leadership View #2: Sometimes, The Most Effective Techniques…

2013 04-07 iStock_000019160239XSmallMarsh Carter’s Leadership View #2:

Sometimes, the most effective leadership techniques are the simplest.

We often strive to find a method or a framework that we can employ to become more effective as leaders. Sometimes, as Marsh reminds us in his Leadership View #2, it’s the simple things. Sometimes, all we need to do as leaders is simply ask questions, listen and respond accordingly.


Elisa K. Spain


A 45 Year View Of Leadership

A 45 Year View Of Leadership

Flowers purple crocus in the snow, spring landscapeThis past Thursday was the first day of spring and while here in Chicago it still feels like winter, I did see a crocus today. Spring, for me, represents new beginnings.

With that in mind, I am launching a 15 week series entitled “A 45 Year View of Leadership“, honoring my friend, Marshall Carter. Marsh is the current Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, and retired Chairman and CEO of State Street Bank. In addition to his corporate leadership roles, Marsh was a military leader and received the Navy Cross and a Purple Heart.

The last time I saw Marsh, he shared that he is a regular reader of this blog and he gave me a document entitled, “A 45 Year View of Leadership“.  He said “do whatever you want with this”. The document is a list of 15 points. Although I wanted to write a book of his stories, this wasn’t something he wanted. So we agreed that I would write this blog series, honoring him instead with my stories that support his words.

Marsh Carter’s Leadership View #1:

Be cautious about applying your own, or someone else’s, successful leadership traits and techniques to different levels of organizations and/or different cultures.

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo’s recent pronouncement that all employees must come to the office, is a perfect place to start the discussion about applying your own, or in this case, someone else’s successful leadership techniques. While I have no idea whether this is the right thing for Yahoo or not, what I do know is it may or may not apply to other companies. Yet, because Marissa is CEO of Yahoo, and visible in the press, the CEOs I work with are all asking themselves if they should follow suit.

Which brings us to Leadership View #1, and its key word, culture. What works in one culture may not apply in another. Organizations have a style just like individuals. Some organizations and individuals are more collaborative; other organizations and individuals are more effective with individual contributors. In fact, Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talkingdiscovered in her research that pure introverts whose contributions to an organization are individual, e.g. programmers, are actually more productive when they work from home or in a private office. Studies show their productivity goes down when they are forced to work in shared spaces.

Before we rush into following Ms. Mayer’s leadership techniques, or perhaps our own from a previous situation, I encourage us to pause and follow Marsh’s sage advice in View #1, and ask:

Am I cautious about applying leadership lessons from one situation to another?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

 Elisa K. Spain