The Dog Days of Summer

What if we simply accept August as the time to recharge our batteries, then get started on next year’s personal or business strategic plan in September?

The “dog days” occurred in late July to the Greeks and Romans, when Sirius appeared to rise just before the sun. They referred to those days as the hottest time of the year, a period that could bring fever or even catastrophe.

Today we think of dog days as the time of the year marked by lethargy and often inactivity. Here’s another spin: What if we were simply to accept August as the time to recharge? And then once we charge our batteries, we get a jump-start on what we want, personally and professionally, for next year?

All of us possess an inner reservoir of positive energy. It is this positive energy that enables us to move forward. And the human body, like all other energy-powered machines, needs to be charged regularly.

Most of us think of recharging as taking time off. For some, time off means long walks. For others, it means sitting by the beach. Still others look for adventure. All of these methods allow the body to recharge.

And what about recharging the mind? Is it possible to refresh both the mind and the body at the same time? And, like everything else, is there a benefit to being intentional?

For me, recharging the mind comes from learning. Sometimes it’s reading about leaders that inspire me; sometimes, it’s watching a Ted Talk on a topic totally outside what I know and see daily. Taking this journey outside the norm gives me a new perspective and the ability to ask better questions of my clients as they plan for the coming year.

Find your source of inspiration. Become intentional about recharging during these dog days of August.

Better, Better, Maybe Not?

The notion that we can constantly make ourselves and our companies better, in theory, is a great idea. But when does it become too much?

For me, the best way to answer this question is to notice our strengths and work to enhance them. As an executive life coach, I refer to this as discovering and working in our genius.

Sometimes we become so focused on achieving that we cannot appreciate who we are or what we have already accomplished. When we are constantly reaching, it’s a recipe for perpetual dissatisfaction. 

What? Wasn’t I just quoting Florence Nightingale a few weeks ago, who said discontent leads to innovation? Yup. It is indeed a delicate balance, isn’t it?

For me, the subtle difference between striving to make the world a better place and pausing to celebrate accomplishment comes with self-awareness. The stoics said it well. We must be careful not to become reactionary or to accept, without question, the status quo. We must know ourselves, know our geniuses, and recognize where and when we can make a difference and where and when we cannot.  

Once we understand and act within our genius consistently, we become more effective, more satisfied, and ultimately better leaders. 

Is it Time for a Different Approach to Strategic Planning?

This is the time of the year that most companies begin their strategic planning process.

While it’s fun to host and participate in an off-site, the end result sadly is often put on a shelf until next year.

Mostly the plan is a continuation of the last one, and mostly the plan calls for growth, usually growth that is based on internal expectations. And, unless the plan is translated into numbers and then becomes part of the budget, expectations are infrequently measured against actual outcome. No wonder the reality of strategic planning and the hope are often not aligned.

If you are interested in doing it differently this time… Chris Bradley of the McKinsey Consulting firm offers four practical suggestions to tackle the particular problem of bold forecasts and timid actions:

  1. Don’t hide the hairy back in the bottom drawer
  2. Calibrate your projected results to the outside view
  3. Build a momentum case
  4. Focus on moves, not promises

This short article Hockey Stick Dreams and Hairy Back Reality should be required reading for anyone who makes plans, or is charged with approving them.

Radical Transparency

In publicly held companies, company performance and executive compensation is, just that, public. All shareholders receive both an annual report and a proxy statement and this information is contained within these documents. Additionally, it is a simple matter for a non-shareholder to obtain this information, sometimes with a simple web search, or at least with an inquiry to the company.

Yet in many, perhaps, most, privately held companies, this information is closely guarded and not shared.

Why not? Lots of reasons.

The reasons differ depending on the stakeholder we are discussing. Focusing on employee stakeholders, some of the responses I typically hear are:

  • Why do they need to know?
  • They won’t understand the financials.
  • There will be resentment if they know what the owner(s) are paid.
  • There will be resentment if they know what their colleagues make.

What if instead, you considered radical transparency? What if:

  • you educate your employees so they understand the balance sheet and the income statement?
  • employees learn the investments the owner has made and the risks she has taken, and continues to take, to finance the business?
  • employees understand the expenses the company must incur to operate the business, beyond the COGS?
  • employees begin to understand the relationship between labor utilization/efficiency and profitability?
  • compensation was based on a combination of market data and performance so that employees understand why they are paid, what they are paid?

Transparency without the accompanying education will not work. Thus, radical transparency requires an investment. The good news is, it’s an investment of time, not dollars.

As the war for talent continues, with no apparent end in sight, is radical transparency an investment that may lead to employee loyalty and therefore increased retention?

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain

The Way

Most of us learned, “the way” early in life. Some of us learned it from our parents, some from our teachers or other adult role models. The way, we learnedwas the way they did it. We observed or they told us, how to live our lives; and in what order to do things. Typically it went something like this, get an education, get a job, get married, pursue/advance in a career, have kids, retire, enjoy our grandkids.

For some this may still be the way, and for more and more people, this is only one of many choices. Today we have more choices and for most of us, a longer time frame during which we might choose multiple ways. For example, I know a grandmother who became a lawyer in her 70’s; and recently heard about an architect who became a restaurant owner in her late 40’s.

So, as you think about your way, whatever stage of life and transition you are in, give some consideration to deciding first what is important to you and then choose the way that supports that.

For me, one of the driving reasons I chose to become an entrepreneur, 20 years ago, (after 20+ years in the corporate world) was flexibility. I wanted control over my day, I didn’t want to live on a schedule and as silly as it sounds today, I didn’t want to put on pantyhose every day. :-).

What drives you? And, are you living your life and career in a way that is consistent with that drive?

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain



Time to Make the Donuts

Dunkin’ Donuts ran this ad back in the 70’s and even those born since then, resonate with the concept “time to make the donuts”, as in, get up, get ready, get to work, do the work, go home, start again tomorrow.

Whether working in the factory or working as an executive, it’s easy to fall into the habit of doing, problem solving, doing some more, and then starting again. The good part of this is, we get sh*t done. The challenge is, we sometimes lose sight of the why, i.e. our purpose.

Whether it’s our personal why or our company why that drives us, before we crash into ourselves coming and going, as in the last frame of the ad, perhaps it’s time to stop and ask “why did I choose to start this donut making business, or work for this particular donut making business and why are we making these particular donuts”?

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain

Begin At The Very Beginning

I am often in conversation with people I coach where the person is focused on action. I hear things like…

  • I am experiencing turnover, what can I do to stop or reduce it?
  • Not sure if my people feel valued or are contributing to their full potential?
  • We have a diverse group, wondering how do I get them to bond and behave like a team?

Much has been written including various techniques to answer these questions. While these are important questions, and I am sure techniques for monitoring and evaluating these challenges are valuable, for me, it is difficult to address these issues without a pause. For me, asking these questions is starting in the middle rather than starting at the beginning.

If we were to start at the beginning, these are questions I would ask:

  • What is the purpose of this team or workgroup?
  • What do I as the leader expect, what is my vision of success?
  • Do I and the team have a shared vision of success?

Once these questions are answered, then we can begin to address the questions above. For example,

  • Does each member of the team understand and support the team purpose?
  • Does the team feel ownership for the project or work effort?
  • Did the people who exited fit the team purpose? If so, did they understand it?
  • Do the team members need each other to succeed, or are they actually a workgroup with individual expectations?

There are many more questions to add to the second list, and the answers only become useful when we begin at the very beginning.

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain

Here’s To The Crazy Ones…

As my regular readers know, I collect quotes, share them here and on my website. Typically I publish one quote a month, but this month you get a bonus quote.

In the last few weeks, I have been writing about listening. The quote below from Steve Jobs is a wonderful reminder that ideas only come and change only happens, when someone has the courage to speak up and disrupt the status quo and we listen to them.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Steve Jobs

Here’s to the crazy ones! I hope you are one of them and if you aren’t, that you at least have one of them working for you.

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain

Making the Most of Downtime

When was the last time you wasted time? When you were “wasting time,” did you feel joyful and creative, or — if you’re like me, did you feel even a tiny bit guilty for “being unproductive?” How much better might it have been, how much more would you have enjoyed your time — how much more would you have gotten out of it — if you didn’t feel guilty about it or feel the need to explain it?

Here’s a fact: wasting time is a key part of our lives.

However, wasting time poorly is a sin (or whichever word you prefer), because not only are you forgoing the productivity, generosity and art that comes from work, but you’re also giving up the downtime, experimentation and joy that comes from wasting time.

If you’re going to waste time (and I hope you will), please do it well; and find inspiration by nurturing your butterflies within.

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain

Meditate On It

What Do You Do When You Get Stuck?

We’ve all been there. Working on a project and we just can’t seem to get to completion. Or at least not to a completion we are satisfied with. The project could be something short term, an assignment for a client, writing the next blog, or it could be something big,  perhaps a life decision.

  • Some of us power through, get to an acceptable answer and move on.
  • Some of us pause, ruminate, perhaps even beat ourselves up for not getting to the “right” answer, or even stop completely.

Whichever is your default modus operandi, I invite you to consider this one: meditate on it.  

Meditation can be…

  • Sitting quietly in the traditional form of meditation, perhaps for a day or a week or even more, depending on the scope of the challenge.
  • Scheduling what one of my clients refers to as, “library time”.  Scheduling time with yourself to write, to think, to plan.
  • Or, it could be reading something that inspires you.
  • Or going for a run.

Whatever it is for you, next time you get stuck, consider meditating on it…

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain