Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Should I stay or should I go? This is often the question facing clients participating in my You Pivot™ Program. 

The answer, of course, is it depends. 

A friend of mine called me recently with this exact question. He is a senior executive in his late sixties, planning to work until 70. This week the company offered him and several colleagues an exit package. On the surface, at least, the exit appears optional. Should I stay or should I go, he wonders.

A long-time client of mine, who founded a company 20+ years ago, sold to private equity, and she stayed on. The PE firm is hands-off, but it’s not the same. She created something unique and had fun when it was small. She isn’t having fun now but wonders what she would do instead.

A new client has been a professional manager for many years. Recently he was promoted to a senior manager role which he thought would be exciting and different, yet it feels so much the same. What to do?

These are all today stories. In my experience, the answer to the “should I stay or should I go” question begins with identifying what matters most, and then, once you are clear about what matters, writing your tomorrow story. The writing of the tomorrow story is most helpful in deciding and navigating any transition that results. 

Sometimes the decision is to stay, and the transition is to come to a place of acceptance; sometimes, the decision is to go, and the transition is to navigate to the next destination. 

Do You Have a To-Don’t List?

An executive acquaintance of mine was just promoted to a C-Suite role, a significant promotion. While she is excited, she has not yet found a replacement for her previous position. In the meantime, she is doing both jobs. When I asked her how it was going, she responded, “just trying to get it all done, without dropping any balls.”

This conversation reminded me of one I had with one of my clients who was lamenting the challenges one of his executives has with burnout. In this case, the CEO said, “I wish this executive would learn to drop some balls, his effort to get everything done is what is causing his burnout”!

For those of us who want to dot every I and cross every T (I admit I am one of them), the ‘to-do list’ can seem endless. This wise CEO’s response “go ahead, drop some balls”; just choose the ones you will drop.

What if instead of starting each day with a to-do list, we also created, in the words of Tom Peters, a “to-don’t list”? Here are some examples to get you started:

  • What if you reviewed your email once or twice daily and let everyone know that is your plan?
  • What if you paused and asked yourself, does this email, call, text, or inquiry require a response?
  • What if you paused before saying “yes”?

 For more on this topic, check out Dan Pink’s Pinkcast 1.16. 

Oops, I Was Thinking Out Loud – Part II

A while back, I wrote the following story one of my clients shared about his experience with the unintended consequences of thinking out loud. 

I was sitting in my office with my VP of Operations. I was thinking aloud, wondering what we needed to do next to get to our growth goals. I was going on and on about my frustrations and concerns. The next day, he returned to my office and asked if I was planning to sell the company. He apparently had gone home and thought about what I had said all night.”

Recently, one of my clients shared a different thinking-out-loud story about the ripple effects.

My client was walking the floor of her office, and to engage with the team, she sat down with a couple of team members and shared her observations about their current process of servicing customers. Her intent was to learn their perspective and see if anyone had ideas to streamline the process. Instead, she heard from the direct manager of these team members the next day that they needed to change the process because of their conversation with “the boss” the previous day! 

You may be thinking (silently?), so are you saying I want to be aware of what I am saying all the time? Yikes!!

My sense is the answer is yes. When we think out loud, sometimes we create expectations, alarm, or even actions we did not intend. 

In my own experience, when I have the presence to say, ” I would like to hear your perspective, may I think out loud for a moment?” that frames the conversation. And then, I remind myself to craft the wrap-up so that my listener doesn’t take action based on our think-out-loud conversation unless I want them to. And sometimes, this pausing reminds me that in this circumstance, it is best to ‘zip it.’ 

Play, Playful, or Have Fun?

Last week I was talking with a woman friend who said, “My husband keeps telling me I need to spend more time playing.”

Her comment resonated with me, as my husband and some of my male friends have said the same to me.

We agreed that while neither of us considers ourselves “playful,” we both like to have fun. While our definition of fun doesn’t include going to the playground or even adult playgrounds like golf courses, we agreed that our time together in conversation is something we both describe as fun. 

We decided to look up the definition of the two words and found the Oxford dictionary defines them similarly.

Play – activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation

Fun – enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure

So if they mean the same, here’s our wondering:

  • Do men and women define the words play and fun differently to themselves?
  • Or is play an extrovert term rather than a gendered term? 
  • Is one person’s play, or fun, another’s work? e.g., an introverted detail-oriented person might find it fun to analyze spreadsheets, while an extrovert would describe this as work.

These Are The Best of Times…

Charles Dickens said, “these are the best of times; these are the worst of times.”  

How can it be both?

One way to interpret this is to say that it depends on who you are and what your life experiences are.  For some, the past held the best of times, and the present holds the worst. 

And for the pragmatists amongst us, admittedly, I am one, the present is where we live. Therefore, by definition, regardless of who we are, the present is both the best and the worst of times. 

At this point, if you haven’t already quit reading, you are probably asking yourself, “what is she even talking about?”

Earlier this week, I was in conversation with a friend and fellow coach about the attraction many people have toward attending their high school reunions. These reunions allow the attendees to revisit the past, thus providing perspective on both the past and the present. Yet, some of us have never attended, or if we have, we didn’t find it to be the magical experience that it was for others.

As we discussed this more, I remembered my mother’s choice when my father died. He was the love of her life, yet she put away all her photos of him. If my sister hadn’t rescued the albums, they would be gone. 

One reaction to this story is, OMG, how could she? Another is perhaps it was too painful for her to look at him. And a third is she was someone who chose to live in the present; the past was, well, the past. 

  • What is the difference between these perspectives? 
  • Does the question of whether these are the best of times or the worst factor into the difference?
  • Is it a function of our life experience, or is it a function of our philosophical view of the world? 

Who Gets to Decide?

Just about every leadership book and every leadership speaker talks about the importance of allowing people to fail. The concept is delegation does not occur unless and until I enable people to make their own decisions, take their own risks, and succeed or fail on their own.

Easy to say, hard to do, on so many levels. Some of the common questions are:

  • How much risk should I allow them to take?
  • What if I am certain they are making the wrong decision, a decision that will cost me money, put the company at risk, put the person at risk? How can I look away and allow the failure to occur?
  • How many failures are okay?

Lately, I have come to realize this question, who gets to decide, also applies to our personal lives. The following stories brought this realization home to me.

A friend’s teenage son is more focused on sports than on his homework, a familiar story. Mom says, “we have to make him do his homework.” Thus ensues a fight between mom and son. Dad says, “let him suffer the consequences if he chooses not to do his homework.” 

Who gets to decide? Who is “right”?

The 89-year-old father of a friend has cancer. His actions indicate he is confused about what he wants. He says he is willing to get treatment but misses his treatment appointments. He lives alone and refuses a live-in caregiver or even a visiting caregiver. Before the cancer diagnosis, he was cognitively in fine shape. Son says, “we have to make him go for his treatments.” Daughter says, “if he wants to be alone, doesn’t attend his appointments, doesn’t return the doctor’s phone calls, it’s his decision to make, not ours.”

Who gets to decide? Who is “right”?

Back to the three questions from the leadership story:

  • How much risk should I allow them to take?
  • What if I am certain they are making the wrong decision, a decision that will cost me money? How can I simply look away and allow the failure to occur?
  • How many failures are okay?

Which choice is the more courageous one? Who gets to decide?

What Is Empathy, Really?

The dictionary defines empathy quite simply:

It’s the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

For most of us, this simple sentence describes one of life’s most significant challenges. We come at everything from our point of view, and our style, combined with our backgrounds and experiences, drives how we see things.

A few years ago, I attended a retreat for leadership coaches. The retreat began with a speaker from a local theatre group. His talk was about empathy. He gave us a peek into the life of an actor and drew a parallel between acting and leadership. From his perspective, a successful actor can empathize with their character and really get inside and understand their story.

Actors follow these three guides to becoming their character:

  • What if I were in their situation? What wants and fears drive who they are?
  • “What if” allows us to empathize even when we cannot sympathize.
  • And then, to truly empathize, we must listen with charity.

With genuine empathy, our speaker said, while we may not sympathize with a murderer, we can empathize and then become the character. We begin to understand the character by asking ourselves, what wants, fears and experiences drove them to take another person’s life?

Then, he challenged us, isn’t this the same with leadership? Or, for that matter, with all our interactions with others? If we can step outside ourselves, if only for a moment, can we see the world as the person sitting across from us sees it?

The Wisdom Years

Coaching CEOs, Presidents, and C-Suite executives for the last 20+ years has taught me a lot about what matters to leaders. While I’ve heard it said a variety of ways, it turns out that what matters to leaders is the desire to impact and make a difference, and this desire is there whether the leader is 25 or 95.

This need to make a difference seems to accelerate when we enter the last third of our lives, the so-called “wisdom years.” We often hear that the benefit of age is “wisdom,” the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.

I am fortunate to have advisors and mentors of all ages, and in my experience, wisdom is not the sole purview of age. 

Indeed, experience counts; if I’ve done something before, it’s familiar the second time. I am likely to do it faster and better, and I may be able to teach you how to do it faster and better. 

On the other hand, knowledge and good judgment are qualities possessed by people of all ages. And here is where the caution comes in. While I may have more experience than someone younger, do I have more knowledge and better judgment? My sense is the answer to this question is situational. 

Perhaps the recognition that time is running out drives many of us to want to impart our wisdom. Yet, if we stop and pause for a moment, we know that regardless of how much I think I know and can help, Socrotes’ teachings always apply. 

I wonder if true wisdom lies in knowing when to offer what we perceive as wisdom and when to wait to be asked. 

It’s The Experience That Matters

My husband and I are both foodies; we love to cook and experience food events. Recently, along with another couple, we signed up for an “underground dining experience.” We had attended one of these before with a young chef who was relatively new on the restaurant scene and had a wonderful time. In addition to his culinary skills, this chef was warm and engaging. We felt as though we were guests in his home.

The chef of this more recent event had previously owned a Michelin 2-star restaurant that was in business for 3.5 years. After such a short time, earning two stars (out of a possible three) was impressive. We had not been to the restaurant but had heard and read great things about it, so we were excited to attend what we expected would be an intimate evening.

Sadly, we were disappointed. 

The food was meticulously prepared and tasty, technically correct in every way. But, the experience…. well, it wasn’t an experience. We left saying to each other that this evening was about one thing, the chef making money after the restaurant closed.

Despite emails admonishing us to arrive early (we all did), we were seated 45 minutes after arrival, and then the staff rushed us out so they could prepare for their second seating. The chef did not engage with the guests; the courses were served, he explained the ingredients without flourish, and then went back to the kitchen.

So what, you may be saying, why do I care?

Care is what was missing, and care is precisely what he reminded us is critical to delivering an experience to our customers. Technically correct is simply that, and it is not enough. What we as humans want is engagement. We don’t do business with companies; we do business with people. And it is that human connection that delivers and receives delight.

In short, it’s all about the experience. Without engagement, all we have is a transaction. No matter how technically correct the delivery is, it will never achieve the value one is willing to pay for an authentic experience.

When Our Assumptions Lead Us Astray

How often are we in situations where what we want and what others want are not aligned? We make assumptions daily, mostly about other people. These assumptions enable us to take shortcuts, and at the same time, they cause disagreement that perhaps wasn’t there to begin with.

  • We assume a person attended or didn’t attend an event because…
  • We assume a person responded to us a certain way because…
  • We assume a person took action or didn’t take action because…

What if, instead of assuming, we paused and asked:

  • What is the reason you made this choice or took this action?
  • When your customer complains about “service,” do you probe to understand what is really going on?
  • As the TSA reminds us when we see something, do we say something?
  • When an employee behaves a certain way, do we ask what is really going on?