Let It Rest

As leaders, most of us are action-oriented. Something crosses our desk, we deal with it. An issue comes up with a customer, a vendor, an employee, and we take action. And, sometimes, especially in these times, it’s best to let it rest.

Most of us feel a lack of control over so many things today that when something arises, that feels like something we can control and can do something about, we are spurred to take action. And same as before,

  • Sometimes action is needed, and sometimes nothing is required.
  • Sometimes, that annoying email doesn’t require a response.
  • Sometimes, when a negotiation stalls the best tactic is to leave it be, or
  • If the other side has already done that, let it rest.
  • Sometimes, doing nothing is simply the best strategy.

Two quick stories from two CEO’s I know:

First, a long term negotiation on a contract has gone on for several years. As an outsider looking in, one might wonder, why not bring this to closure. Then we learn that it’s been 20 years of negotiation, minimal dollars spent, and many thousands at stake. Even if it eventually settles, the present value of the money saved alone justifies the lengthy process.

Another CEO was negotiating with a former operating partner, still an owner. Sure would be nice to close that loose end, icky to have a former partner still a voting member. And then we learn, the former partner is in bankruptcy; it looks like the CEO is going to pick up those shares at a significantly lower cost.

As Kenny Rogers says so well in The Gambler, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away.”

For me,  when I feel that urgency to pick up the phone or write that email, I find it helps to pause and ask myself which hand of The Gambler am I holding? 

If you are looking to get unstuck and cut the time from stuck to action to six months or less, there is no better time than now to contact me. 

Bridging the Communication Gap

When we think about communication, we tend to think in terms of what we say and how we say it.  While clearly the what and the how matter, equally important is our ability to bridge the gap, what psychologists have labeled psychological distance— gaps between ourselves and other people (social distance); the present and the future (temporal distance); our physical locations (spatial distance); and imagination and actual experience (experiential distance).

In this HBR article, Rebecca Hamilton, suggests we use two specific strategies to reduce—or sometimes increase— psychological distance and thereby improve outcomes.

First, she suggests we move from abstract to concrete.  In the case of temporal distance, for example, we can shorten the time frame. If we give ourselves less time to make a decision or take action, we are less likely to over analyze or procrastinate.  Conversely, if we want our team to take more responsibility, we could use more-abstract language, challenge them to develop ideas for increasing revenue instead of asking them to close more deals.

Second, Rebecca suggests we consider substituting one for the other. When searching for common ground during a negotiation, one might use temporal distance by setting a deadline perhaps when there isn’t one. We aren’t doing anything to change the social distance —we don’t feel closer to the other person—but the urgency of reduced temporal distance may alter how we and they approach the deal.

Perhaps the most obvious substitute for spatial distance is social distance. If you are physically separated from people you’d like to influence—customers or colleagues—you can reduce that distance not only with a face to face meeting but also by emphasizing your common attributes and interests. Zappos makes a point of connecting with geographically distant customers by listing the Zappos Family Core Values on its website and sharing photos of the teams who work to deliver orders. You can narrow the spatial gap with far-flung colleagues by connecting on a personal level at the beginning of phone calls or e-mails and, when possible, using video calls.

As leaders, we face challenges related to social, temporal, spatial, and experiential distance every day. The more we can understand the common thread that links each of these and then learn to either adjust the distance or substitute one type for another, the more successful we will be with our communication.

Elisa K Spain

Are You a CEO or President of a Privately Held Business? If you are also a lifetime learner and want to learn more about my Vistage Group, click here

Let Things Unfold At Their Own Pace

As leaders, most of us are action oriented. Something crosses our desk; we deal with it. An issue comes up with a customer, a vendor, an employee; we take action. And, sometimes, if we let things unfold at their own pace, we achieve a better result.

What?? Isn’t that avoidance or procrastination or fear of confrontation or, or, or?

  • Sometimes action is needed, and sometimes nothing is needed.
  • Sometimes, that annoying email doesn’t require a response.
  • Sometimes, when a negotiation stalls the best tactic is to leave it be, or
  • If the other side has already done that, let it rest.
  • Sometimes, doing nothing is simply the best strategy.

Two quick stories from two CEO’s I know:

First, a long term negotiation on a contract has gone on for several years. As an outsider looking in, one might wonder, why not bring this to closure. And, then we learn, it’s been 20 years of negotiation, minimal dollars spent, many thousands at stake. Even if it eventually settles, the present value of the money saved justifies the long process.

Another CEO negotiating with a former operating partner, still an owner. Sure would be nice to close that loose end, icky to have a former partner, a voting member. And then we learn, the former partner is in bankruptcy; looks like the CEO is going to pick up those shares at a significantly lower cost.

As Kenny Rogers says so well in the Gambler… “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away.”

For me it’s a reminder to pause before I pick up the phone or write that email about the matter I feel an urgency to resolve.

Elisa K Spain

Are You a CEO or President of a Privately Held Business? If you are also a lifetime learner and want to learn more about my Vistage Group, click here

The Life Changing Value of Choosing

Working with CEOs over the last dozen or so years, I observed several common traits in those who successfully grow their businesses. I have written in the past about the importance of having a vision, having the right people, and having strong execution. Another more subtle characteristic shared by successful leaders… They seem to have an incredible “capacity”.

Webster defines capacity as…

  • the potential or suitability for holding, storing, or accommodating 
  • an individual’s mental or physical ability
  • the faculty or potential for treating, experiencing, or appreciating
  • the facility or power to produce, perform, or deploy:  maximum output

It’s this facility for maximum output that I am referring to. The ability to take on more, to handle more stress, to be present regardless of outside circumstances, to simply do more. It’s more than ability, it’s well, capacity.

And, here’s what I observe… while these leaders may very well be able to handle more and do more than others, it is also their ability to choose. To make a choice, to say no more often than they say yes; and most importantly, they accept that when they choose, they may disappoint someone. And, they allow themselves to be okay with that.

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain

January Reflections Part II – Bold Subtraction

As January draws to a close, and we perhaps reflect on the goals we set, perhaps even create a new habit or two like Jerry Seinfeld (January Reflections Part I), is it also time to reflect on the nature of our goals?

Most of us tend to think in terms of additions.

  • What new thing do we want to do?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • What new accomplishments do we want to achieve?

The challenge with adding, and not subtracting is, for most of us, there simply isn’t room. So, before you give up and join the ranks of folks exiting the gym before Valentine’s Day; or simply stop setting goals, as one of my clients recently said, “I put the same things on my goal list every year, seems silly to bother”, is it time to consider instead, a bold subtraction?

Here are some questions that may help answer the bold subtraction question:

  • What did I give only my time, and not my passion, to last year?
  • How does this answer compare to previous years?
  • If my passion/time ratio has declined, what do I need to do or learn to change this? Do I have the desire to make the energy and or $$ investment to do so?
  • If I boldly subtracted this passionless activity from my life, am I willing to go bravely forward not knowing, rather discovering, what I will replace it with?

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain

Thoughts for the Coming Year

As we begin to wind down our business lives for the holiday season and focus on next year, I am continuing a tradition I started 2 years ago, with a wish for peace and understanding between us during the holidays and into the new year.

In this spirit, I am sharing a blog written by Linda N. Edelstein, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist, Author, Professor.

Repairing​ ​the​ ​Ties​ ​that​ ​Bind

The divisions among us seem to increase daily. How do we begin to heal? How do we enter our festivities with goodwill toward all, not just toward the folks who think like we do? Since the 2016 primaries, as psychologists and psychiatrists, we have listened to people voice innumerable variations of, “I can’t talk to ….” People solve this problem differently; some opt to spend less time with family; some determinedly keep the conversation away from political and social issues; others are baffled that their family’s values of charity and religious principles co-exist with policies that lack empathy. And, then inevitably, because most people long for closeness with family and friends, we are quietly, seriously asked, “How can I talk with people who hold dramatically different values than I do” (pause) “without losing my mind?”

Our writing comes from efforts to understand the psychology of today’s politics and compile practical strategies to use. Reality might not feel friendly right now, but it is all we have. So, let go of the wishes, assumptions and expectations that you will succeed in converting people to your political point of view.

Consider a different approach. People are not coming to holiday gatherings to have their minds changed so, let’s pause in our desires to win people over to a different point of view. Let’s temporarily stop trying to find better arguments. Instead, let’s step back during the holidays and begin with engagement rather than challenge, connection rather than persuasion. Let’s simply be friendly, not to persuade but to fortify bonds that have been worn thin.

Here we go………………

Set​ ​your​ ​frame​ ​of​ ​mind​. Before you walk into a home or meeting room, set your mind to be welcoming and respectful, not neutral and certainly not hostile. Consider​: You will be inviting people to share their thoughts. You will not chase anyone down or pound them with statistics.

Listen​ ​hard​. Try to understand where they are coming from. Listening is active, requires attention, and is far more difficult than talking. It is an openness to understanding another person and does not imply agreement. Consider​: Don’t judge; don’t bite your tongue waiting for your turn. Just listen. Display interest. If you are uncertain, ask for clarification, “Can you say more about that?” “Do you have an example?” Use questions to increase your comprehension, not to set a trap. People long to be heard and will appreciate your time and attention.

People​ ​have​ ​a​ ​worldview.​ ​What is the core value they are speaking about – is it Liberty? Freedom? Empathy? For example, “Everyone should own guns” isn’t just about gun ownership. Consider​: The sentiment may be about feeling helpless and wanting more power. If so, respond to that, “You want to know that you can protect yourself.”

Listen​ ​for​ ​facts​ ​and​ ​feelings.​ Conversations contain both, whether you’re in a group of 4 or 100. Groups are more difficult to assess because multiple points of view exist simultaneously, but there will be an emotional tone. Consider​: You can respond to facts, “You didn’t get the job you wanted” or feelings, “You’re upset/angry/disappointed that you were overlooked.” For extra information, attend to body language and eye contact.

Appreciate​ ​the​ ​power​ ​of​ ​belonging.​ ​Values are at our core and lead us to groups where we feel we belong. To change our beliefs is to risk losing our group membership, whether that is a family, political party, or religion. Consider:​ ​When you ask people to change their ideas, it can be a wrenching loss. People come to decisions when they are ready.

Cultivate​ ​compassion.​ ​It may not help anyone else in the room, but it will do wonders for you. Compassion softens your anger and judgments. We are more similar than different; we all have insecurities, want protection from pain, and desire to belong.

Don’t​ ​be​ ​defensive.​ We saved the hardest for last, but heated conversations are helped by listening first and being sure you understand the other point of view before you defend yourself, your view, or your behavior. And maybe you don’t need your turn; understanding might just be satisfying enough. We live in contentious times that have strained our ties with each other. Healing will not come from the top; it has to come from us – in whatever ways we can manage to reconnect with our families and organizations. Listening is a powerful first step. Making a concerted effort to connect and listen leaves us less overwhelmed, less isolated, and increasingly hopeful that every individual effort makes a difference.

So give it a try. It’ll be the best gift you give and receive this holiday season.

P.S. This is the last post this year, see you back here in January.

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain



Last week I attended “Tribute to the Stars”, a Cara event celebrating students of achievement. The name Cara might be familiar to you, as each year on Giving Tuesday you hear from me asking you to join my match for this wonderful organization that supports people through the process of “getting their lives back”.

Every time I attend a Cara event or visit their morning motivations, I am reminded of the importance of perspective. Last week was no exception.

At this event, I was fortunate to be seated with several students, one of whom I had the opportunity to speak with for some time. His name is Kyle. Kyle started in the program a couple of months ago and I asked him what led him to Cara. He then told me that in order to continue receiving food stamps, he was required to enroll in a job training program. Kyle was fortunate to find Cara, because what Kyle realized he needed more than anything was recovery and confidence building. You see, Kyle is a Princeton and NYU graduate. When he was in his late 20’s and early 30’s, he was riding high in the investment world, too high it turns out, and now he is in recovery and starting over at 40.

I was moved by Kyle’s story, because I too come from the investment world. Had I not already become a leadership coach when he graduated NYU with his MBA, Kyle & I might have been colleagues or we might have met at an industry conference. In fact, I knew several “Kyle’s” when I worked in financial services.

We also heard from a woman named Nichelle, one of the two alumni receiving the tribute that morning. Like Kyle, Nichelle was riding high, and then she wasn’t. She had a good job and had lived in a beautiful home with her partner and her children. Nichelle shared with us how when things fell apart, she ended up living in a studio, a “box” as she called it, with her children, her partner and her partner’s kids; a total of 2 adults and 6 children in a studio. And then she asked us, “did you know that having a bedroom door is a privilege?” Today, Nichelle has her bedroom door and is well on her way to a stellar career once again, this time stronger and wiser.

Kyle and Nichelle’s stories have stayed with me. They remind me that life challenges are the great leveler. They can happen to all of us, no matter our background or education.

And that whatever we face, the good stuff and the challenges, it’s all a matter of perspective.

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain

What is a Big Deal to Some, Leaves Others Scratching Their Heads

In this increasingly sensitized world we live in, we find ourselves in a place of wondering. Wondering, how what we say will be interpreted.

And on the receiving end, we may be offended by comments from others and wonder at a minimum, how could this person have been so insensitive.

Layer on to this, differences in cultures and while some may hear a comment as a big deal, the sender may be left scratching their head. For me the solution lies in dialogue and seeking first to understand. Understand what others are sensitive to and what life experience may have led them to feel as they do and understand why others may be left scratching their heads.

Sometimes, it seems so obvious, and yet it isn’t. By way example, Trevor Noah shares this story in his recent autobiography.

According to Noah, in South Africa, where he is from, children are taught that Hitler was a powerful man, the atrocities he committed are left out of the history lesson. He goes on to say, black South Africans often name their children after “great leaders”, emphasizing that great does not necessarily mean good. With this background in mind, Noah shares a story of a friend of his named Hitler. Yes, that is his given name, not a nickname.

As young adults, Trevor and Hitler are entertainers, Trevor is a DJ and Hitler is a dancer. The two of them are invited to perform at a school in a white neighborhood that turns out to also be a Jewish neighborhood. When Trevor introduces Hitler to the stage to dance, the room falls silent. Trevor doesn’t understand why and carries on with his spiel using Hitler’s name over and over.

Finally a teacher comes on stage and demands they leave. An argument ensures, the teacher is horrified that “you people” had the indecency to come here. Trevor hears “you people” as black people, and both are horrified and offended. Trevor and Hitler leave and it isn’t until years later when Trevor travels outside of South Africa that he understands what happened that day.

When I read this, I was struck by the absurdity and was reminded that we must always assume positive intent, hard to do, and so important especially today.

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain

How Do You Know When to Go With the Flow?

Option 1 _ Sometimes, the best thing to do is to go with the flow and let things play out.

Option 2 _ Sometimes, the best thing to do is to choose a desired outcome and lead others toward that outcome.

How do you decide?

In my experience, business owners have the tendency to choose Option 2. Owners get to decide the outcome they want and when passionate about that outcome, they choose to lead others toward it.

Similarly, professional CEOs, especially those leading PE owned companies, generally choose Option 2. They have a clear mission from the PE board, have incentives that are aligned with the board, and therefore choose to lead others toward their desired outcome, leaving as little to chance as possible.

On the other hand, my experience with executives is, it varies. And, since executives have both their careers to think about and their business to think about, they have two situations for which this choice must be made.

Some executives are willing, and actually prefer, to go with the flow, letting their owners or their boards, or their CEO decide the direction. This works best when the decision makers are in fact choosing Option 2, i.e. they are clear about the desired outcome.

  • But, what happens when the decision maker and those charged with implementing the decision are simply going with the flow? Is there even a direction, or simply a flow?
  • And, what happens when going with the flow provides financial rewards, but not psychic rewards. What then?

Everyone needs a purpose, a “why”. Some of us are comfortable deriving that purpose from others. Some of us need to set our own course.

The challenge for each of us is becoming clear which choice works for us and then putting ourselves into situations where we can be aligned with our choice.

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain


Not Asking Has a Price Tag

We Vistage chairs often talk about the importance of staying curious, of asking questions. Often as leaders we tell ourselves that the only “cost” of being directive vs. asking questions are soft costs. For example, we make assumptions that are wrong and have to start over when we learn we are headed in the wrong direction.

What about the hard costs of heading in the wrong direction?

What about when we as leaders, march into a new area, or start a new initiative, everyone follows, and we are headed in the wrong direction? Money is invested and then we have to start over. If only we had asked a few questions up front, we tell ourselves afterwards, the price tag associated with the failure might have been avoided.

This TED talk, titled simply, “If you want to help someone, shut up and listen!”, by Ernesto Sirolli, brings this point home in a global way. Ernesto Sirolli is a noted authority in the field of sustainable economic development and is the Founder of the Sirolli Institute, an international non-profit organization that teaches community leaders how to establish and maintain Enterprise Facilitation projects in their community.

What does this talk have to do with leadership? A lot.

What does it have to do with business? I’ll let you decide that.

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain