The Leadership Value Of An Apology

The Leadership Value Of An Apology

Tom Searcy is a Vistage speaker who also writes for CBS MoneyWatch.  His recent blog titled “7 Tips on How to Apologize in the Business World” resonated for me, so I thought I would share them. Here are the tips:

1- Separate the apology and the explanation

2-Ask for the discussion, but don’t insist upon it

3- One-up the connection – face to face is best – try Skype or GoToMeeting and then phone

4-Don’t assume you know what will make it right, but be prepared with options

5-Own more than your portion

6-Focus on what happens next

7-Move on

Seems to me we can all benefit from applying these in our personal as well as professional lives.  To read Tom’s  full blog, click here.

Elisa K. Spain

The Ever Elusive Search For Work-Life-Balance

The Ever Elusive Search For Work-Life-Balance

For many of us, the holy grail of success is achieving “Work-Life- Balance”. It is a topic of frequent discussion at Vistage meetings and in my leadership coaching sessions. When I start with a new client, this topic is often on the list for discussion. And yet, despite all the discussions, books and articles, many of us feel this “balance” eludes us. Perhaps, it is because we see it as an either/or – choosing between work and life so as to achieve balance?

What if instead we saw it, as James Michener did,  becoming masters in the art of living…

“Masters in the art of living make little distinction

between their work and their play, their

labor and their leisure, their mind and their

body, their information and their

recreation, their love and their religion.

They hardly know which is which.

They simply pursue their vision of excellence at

whatever they do, leaving others to

decide whether they are working or playing.

To them they are always doing both.”

Elisa K. Spain

The Test Of Time, Continuous Improvement

The Test Of Time, Continuous Improvement

All of us who have been in business awhile have either led or experienced the “methodology dejour”. We get all excited about something new we learn about and suddenly it is time to reinvent our companies around this new idea. And, then a week, or a month, or even a few days later, we are on to the next new thing.

Sometimes though, something new comes along that is able to withstand the test of time. One such model is TQM, Total Quality Management. In the early 90’s Deming introduced the TQM model to U.S. manufacturing. This model included, among other things, the Japanese concept of Kaizen (continuous improvement) and what became a popular mantra called “business process redesign”. Today, there is a lot of talk  about the failures of business process redesign. Too much change introduced at one  time, simply doesn’t work –  upwards of 75% of business process redesign projects fail.

On the other hand,  Kaizen, or simply, continuous improvement has withstood the test of time in manufacturing and across all industries.

It’s a simple concept that  goes like this, intentionally and continuously look for ways to innovate and improve your business processes. As leaders, ask your people to join in and look for ways to improve the business. Success will follow.

In Vistage we call the idea dujour risk,  “DAV” (“Day after Vistage”) and remind our members to take only “one thing” away from each meeting and focus on incremental change, i.e. continuous improvement. The result… Vistage members outperform their industry peers.

What are you doing today, to foster a company culture of continuous improvement?

What financial benefits have come from your continuous improvement efforts?

What metrics do you have in place to measure the results of continuous improvement efforts in your business?

Elisa K. Spain

Questions Of Culture – What Are Yours?

Questions Of Culture – What Are Yours?

Despite the sticky unemployment numbers, businesses are hiring. See 9/20/11 Blog “The Economic Shift” for a discussion as to some reasons for this dichotomy.

Now, back to the point of this post…

I am seeing a lot of discussion about the questions to ask in an interview to learn the fit of a potential hire.

Two of my favorites,

From Bob Herbold, the former Chief Operating Officer of Microsoft Corporation and author of What’s Holding You Back: 10 Bold Steps that Define Gutsy Leaders.

When you were young, who was the person that was most influential in teaching you valuable lessons about life? What were those lessons the person taught you? What are those tapes this person put into your head that are still there today and have emerged as guiding principles for you?

The lessons you are looking for are basic principles that suggest a high degree of self confidence, a sense of personal responsibility, a strong drive to achieve, and solid fundamental ethics. No hint of these kinds of traits should be a red flag.

From Jeffrey Stibel is Chairman and CEO of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. and author of Wired for Thought.

Describe a time when you failed, tell me what you learned. Jeff asks all of his employees to share their answer to this question on “the failure wall” posted in his office. His passionate belief is success by failure is not an oxymoron. When you make a mistake, you’re forced to look back and find out exactly where you went wrong, and formulate a new plan for your next attempt.

As Vistage speaker Brad Remillard always says, “we hire on skills and fire on behavior”.  These questions above are two of my favorite behavior questions, what are yours?

Elisa K Spain

Personality Style Drives Choice

Personality Style Drives Choice

There has been a lot of research over the years about the concept of loss aversion.  This research tells us that we as humans are more likely to prefer choices that avoid a loss than those that achieve a gain.

Turns out, research also indicates that our personality style drives our loss aversion behavior.

As a leadership coach, I have become a student of personality profiles, thanks to Vistage speaker, Stuart Friedman.   One thing I have learned, is the pace at which people make decisions is driven by their style.

Research by Alexander Chernev, Associate Professor of Marketing at Kellogg introduces the theory that personality style not only drives pace, it also drives choice.

Chernev’s research involved asking people whether or not they would choose to invest in alternative funds, some with potentially higher yields than ones they already owned.

Prevention-focused people—those concerned above all with safety and security—were more likely to stick with the status quo even when they were told that another option would most likely out-perform.

In contrast, promotion-focused people—those who focus on growth and development—were much more willing to venture into the unknown.

Additionally Chernev’s research uncovered another decision driver: regret aversion, people tend to blame actions that produce bad results more than they blame inactions that produce bad results.  In other words, people who switch to a new investment fund and end up losing money will experience more regret than if they took no action and lost money on their old fund.

How might we apply these findings as leadership lessons?

  • When deciding how to invest in our businesses?
  • When handing out raises?
  • When assigning employees to a new project?
  • When selling a new product line?
  • When defining the success factors for a new hire?


Elisa K. Spain

Vistage CEO Confidence Index Q42011 Results

Vistage CEO Confidence Index Q42011 Results

After precipitous declines during the prior two quarters, CEO confidence bounced back at year’s end with the largest quarterly gain since the start of the recovery in 2009. The Vistage CEO Confidence Index was 98.8 in the 4th quarter 2011 survey, up from 83.5 in the 3rd quarter, and reaching the highest level since 105.2 was recorded at the start of 2011. The Q4 2011 Vistage CEO Confidence Index reflects responses from 1,641 US CEOs, surveyed between December 12 and December 22, 2011.

Read More

Elisa K. Spain

Laws Of Success: When Is It the CEO's Job To Create Drama?

Laws Of Success: When Is It the CEO's Job To Create Drama?

Recently, one of our Vistage speakers, Don Schmincke, spoke to my CEO group on “Discovering The Leader’s Code:  Ancient Secrets For Executive Performance.”

The primary message Don drives home is the importance of having a positive Leadership Saga – because, in the absence of drama created by the leader, your team will create their own.

Supporting Don’s message, an article in the September 30 issue of Science describes the efforts of two sociologists at the University of Vermont who tried to better understand the rise and fall of people’s spirits. They studied the moods of 2.4 million people by analyzing the words they used in over 500 million tweets originating in 84 English-speaking countries over two years (February 2008 through January 2010).

What they found was a daily cycle of positive and negative feelings that seemed to apply consistently across cultures, geographies, and time zones. Around the world, people’s positive moods peaked in the morning (6-9 a.m.), dropped through the day until reaching a trough by mid/late-afternoon, began to pick up in late afternoon, and peaked again in the evening.

Both Don’s research and that of Science Magazine raise the following questions:

  • What are we doing every day, to maximize how we spend our time during the positive time of our day? (Are you reading email first thing when instead you might be working on innovation?)
  • What are we doing each day to create the kind of drama that reinforces the vision we have for our business and inspires our team to do great work?
  • What results are we likely to achieve by taking action and changing what we do each day?

Click here for a full discussion of the Science article and implications for leadership.

Elisa K. Spain

Positioning For Results: How Will You Act When Other CEOs Lose Confidence?

Positioning For Results: How Will You Act When Other CEOs Lose Confidence?

It’s probably no surprise that the results of last week’s Q3 Vistage CEO survey show a steep drop in confidence among small business leadership.

However, you may also have forgotten that during previous challenging business cycles—including the U.S. Great Depression in the 1930s—many companies prospered. What do you think made the difference?

On Thursday, Vistage International released the results of last month’s survey of U.S. small business CEOs. Not unexpectedly, CEOs foresee a continued slowdown in the pace of economic growth and, amid record-high economic uncertainty, anticipate weak economic conditions to persist during the year ahead.

The Q3 Vistage CEO Confidence Index, which surveyed 1,710 US small business executives between September 8th and 19th, was set at 83.5—down from 92.9 in Q2 and substantially below the Q1 index of 105.2. In fact, the 20% decline over the past two quarters brought the Confidence Index to its lowest level in two years.

University of Michigan’s Dr. Richard Curtin, who has directed the survey since 2003, noted, “While firms do not expect an outright recession, they anticipate that the economic growth will be very slow during the year ahead. As a result, they have curtailed investments and hiring, and anticipate smaller growth in profits. And considering that small business has been responsible for 75% of net new job growth in the U.S. over the past 15 years, if the current trend continues, it’s unlikely the employment picture will improve between now and the 2012 election.”

While it’s tough to put a rosy spin on this, haven’t some companies prospered during every economic downturn—even companies that aren’t typically seen as “recession proof?”

Perhaps we should start by asking ourselves some deeper questions:

To what degree is it possible that our beliefs are fueling the current economic situation and the stock market? We know that group and individual psychology play an important role in stock-market fluctuations. Is the broader economy so different?

And even if history reports this period as the second great depression (or the first lingering great recession, or the same stagnation experienced by Japan for the last 20 years, or…),

What if it is the transformation decade? (see blog post The Economic Shift, 9/20/11)

What actions can each of us take—what can we do—to position ourselves to prosper? Today and tomorrow?

To read the full report, go to:

Elisa K. Spain

The Economic Shift: Un(der)employment, Technology And Opportunity

The Economic Shift: Un(der)employment, Technology And Opportunity

Last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent. The unemployment rate for workers with college degrees was 4.4 percent.

This statistic has been on my mind ever since. A significant percentage of college-educated workers are underemployed, and unskilled, uneducated workers are facing a shrinking pool of available jobs. This isn’t just a downturn; my gut says we are in the midst of a fundamental shift in our economy. So does one of our Vistage speakers, David Houle, who calls this the Shift Age. Then why do I remain hopeful?

Here’s why: technological changes, as always, are a driving force behind the economic shift. As we move out of the information age, we are facing many of the same social, political and economic transformations that we faced when we exited the industrial age.

As business leaders, as people who have an opportunity to have a positive effect on the un(der)employment situation, our task is to gain a clearer understanding of what is happening to our economy, and then to act accordingly. Let’s start by asking some questions about this transformation:

  • What does this mean for our society overall?
  • What does this mean for the future of work?
  • And, most important, what opportunities does this create for each of our businesses?

For more food for thought, check out this Vistage White Paper and this video by David Houle, “The Transformation Decade.”

Elisa K. Spain

Precipitous, Wrong And Dangerous: What To Do When “Those Who Know Best,” Don’t

Precipitous, Wrong And Dangerous: What To Do When “Those Who Know Best,” Don’t

Precipitous, Wrong and Dangerous: What To Do When “Those Who Know Best,” Don’tBill Miller, Chairman, Chief Investment Officer and Portfolio Manager for Legg Mason shares his point of view on the recent S&P change in the U.S. credit rating: “The downgrading by Standard & Poor’s of the credit rating of the United States from AAA to AA+ on August 5th was precipitous, wrong, and dangerous. At best, S&P showed a stunning ignorance and complete disregard for the potential consequences of its actions on a fragile global financial system.”

We know what Standard & Poor’s has done. What are you going to do?

Here is Bill Miller’s full commentary.

For what it’s worth, I agree with Bill. And note, the ratings of Moody’s and Fitch remained unchanged, while Northern Trust and other financial institutions have announced “no change” in their investment policies.

As far as S&P’s rating is concerned, the deed is done. The questions now are:

  • What does this mean for each of us in our businesses?
  • Will this be a blip and we will all move on?
  • Is this the beginning of a serious focus on the U.S. deficit (now equal to GDP) and what will be the challenges and opportunities that show up for each of our businesses?

I really liked what I heard yesterday from my *Vistage CEO members — to a person, I heard:  “I plan to be mindful of what is happening in the world and at the same time be mindful of 1) opportunities to grow my business and seize opportunities, and 2) my cash reserves.” This commitment to growth and innovation by business owners has gotten this country to new levels of prosperity throughout its history, and I remain optimistic that we will see the same result this time around.

*Note: I am the chair of a CEO peer group as part of Vistage International. For more information, please visit

Elisa K. Spain