Why Do We Doodle?

I have news: I am excited to share that as a complement to my You Pivot™ Program, I have engaged with the University of Chicago’s Leadership & Society Initiative as a founding instructor and executive life coach.

Humans have doodled throughout history. Yet, there tends to be judgment around it. We see someone doodling and often assume they are not paying attention. 

And the research says otherwise.

“To Doodle: to make spontaneous marks to help yourself think; a preemptive measure to stop you from losing focus.”

I was recently sitting in a presentation, noticing some listeners doodling, and truth be told, doodling myself. 

I remembered this Ted Talk by Sunni Brown that I watched years ago. And suddenly felt good about my doodling. 

Sunni wants us to doodle more! How much more effective could we all be if we listened to her and made a conscious effort to doodle more?

What Are You Willing To Give Up?

I frequently ask my clients, What are you willing to give up to get what you want? 

One of my favorite marketing books, admittedly an old one, is Ries and Trout’s 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. For me, many of these 22 laws are relevant to life as well as marketing. Law #13, The Law of Sacrifice, resonates for me for making life choices: You have to give up something to get something.

What I notice in my conversations is those who are willing to let go of something move forward. They invent the new products, hire the person who will free them up to do what only they can do, take the next job or start the next business. These people are willing to give up something to get what they want.

The ‘give up’ may be something we believe. It may be fear (of failing, being wrong), or simply comfort with what we have or what we know. The ‘give up’ may be tangible, dollars that may end up as a sunk cost, or accepting that a long-term loyal employee will not be the one to take the company forward.

In short, when we are talking about giving up something to get what we want, the key questions are these:

  • How much do I want the “something” I say I want?
  • What am I willing to give up to get it?

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. 

The Gift of Feedback

Feedback is a gift. It is an opportunity for personal development and, ultimately, leadership development. And, it is hard; Very hard.

I am not sure which is harder, giving feedback or accepting it. Recently I was with a small group of fellow coaches, several of us long-tenured, and we were discussing this very topic. We spent a couple of hours working with each other to improve our skills at both. I mention long-tenured, as a reminder to myself, that no matter how skilled we think we are at this, it is hard, and requires constant practice. Following are the reminders I heard.

When giving feedback:

  • Start from a place of care, ask yourself what outcome you want to achieve from the feedback, and get clear that you really believe that outcome is possible, i.e., is the person capable of the behavior change you want to see?
  • You can earn trust with truthful, specific, positive feedback (TSP as speaker, Michael Allosso, calls it).
  • When giving constructive feedback, ask first if the receiver is open to feedback.
  • Even better, wait until the feedback is asked for.
  • Own your experience, share feelings and observations; be specific.
  • Use neutral language, e.g., my experience of you… or When you do…, I feel…
  • Remember, the purpose of feedback is to share your experience of another person, not to “fix” the other person.

When receiving feedback, remember it is a gift:

  • Ask for feedback, and be specific about the purpose, e.g., I want to become more effective at…
  • Listen and digest.
  • Try not to defend or respond, simply say, thank you.

Let’s work together. If you are looking to grow or get unstuck and cut the time to action to six months or less, there is no better time than now to contact me. 

© EKS LTD Please feel free to forward this blog in full with attribution, including the copyright notation.

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.

The Choice


The Choice

The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
When all that story’s finished, what’s the news?
In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day’s vanity, the night’s remorse. 

William Butler Yeats, 13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939

I came across this poem some time ago and was reminded of it in a recent discussion about “what matters”. We often talk about achieving balance; we perceive that it is the stress of modern times. Yet this poem was written in the early 20th century, a reminder that this quest is the human condition, a daily challenge of choice.  Here are the questions that come to mind:
  • Must we choose between success in life and work?
  • Or is it the search for perfection of one or the other that forces the choice? e.g., Albert Einstein was portrayed by his biographers as a poor husband and father. Was he, or was this the judgment of the biographers?
  • As we search for meaning in our lives, must we distinguish between what defines “life” and what defines “work” or is it possible to simply pursue what matters to us?
  • On this day devoted to mothers, what are you telling or demonstrating to your children about this question?

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

What’s Your Story?

Psychologists, anthropologists, everyone who studies the human brain, tells us we are hardwired to respond to stories.

I recently watched two documentaries, both of which chronicled stories told by storytellers who were later indicted for fraud,  Billy McFarland, founder of Fyre Media, and creator of the Fyre Festival and Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranaos. Perhaps because I watched them back to back, I was struck by the common themes. 

Both founders passionately believed in their stories and told them well, so well, that investors and buyers flocked to them. In the case of Theranos, people and companies who in retrospect you could argue “should have known better” e.g., Walgreens, bought their stories without doing due diligence.

One question worth exploring another time is whether these storytellers, and others like them, set out to commit fraud, or whether they believed so passionately in their stories that they were blind to the facts. Regardless of their intent, their stories were compelling and captured the attention of many.

Stories are what binds us in relationships, both personal and professional.  Stories are what motivates us, think TED Talks. Stories are what compels second and third generation family members to want to take over the family business, or not.  And, stories are what inspires customers to buy our products and services, talented individuals to come work for us, and donors to support our philanthropic efforts.

What’s your story?

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

Now That We Are Here

Business is good for most companies and has been for quite some time.  And yet, the economic signals are there; we are nearing the end (are perhaps at the end?) of this long economic recovery.

Your industry may have more runway, or you may be in an industry that is a leading indicator. Regardless of your industry position, an equal perhaps more important question to ask is, what percentage of your customers fall into each of these categories and those in-between?

In short, are we diversified?

Anyone who has hired an investment advisor knows, all of them advise first and foremost, to build a diversified portfolio. And, despite all the data supporting the long term benefit of diversification, some investors believe they can pick the winner or time the market. There are LOTS of stories in the investment press about the risks and consequences of these choices.

Those of you who are frequent readers know that my background is in financial services and investments and I often compare running a business to managing an investment portfolio. And, as with some stock market investors, when it comes to our companies, we frequently ignore our advisors and the diversification advice they give. We have a great product or service; our biggest client is giving us more and more business; we are making money, we think “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”.

Over the years, I have worked with a number of businesses and watched this process unfold…

Business is good, there are industry measures that indicate the product, service or economic cycle is maturing, perhaps margins are tightening, but revenue remains strong. Then suddenly (one could argue it wasn’t suddenly), it isn’t strong anymore, in fact, the business has gone from significant profits to losses, seemingly overnight.

The thing about income statements is they are lagging indicators. If we ignore other key indicators, especially the external industry trends, it is easy to be lulled into market timing behavior. And as with market timers, by the time the CEO realizes the market has turned, it is often too late to adjust without incurring significant losses.

As you continue your planning for 2019 strategic actions, I encourage you to pause and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the trends in our industry; where is our industry in its business life cycle and in the economic cycle?
  • How does our product/service compare to others in the industry; are we a leader or a follower?
  • What is our current level of product/service/customer diversification; where would we like it to be?
  • What new product or service can we start developing now that will replace our core offerings in the future?

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

It’s All About Style

There are lots of tools available for assessing personality style, and each has its nuance. Stripping away the nuance, with few exceptions, the assessments produce a matrix of 4 primary personality styles.

These styles result from an understanding of extroversion vs. introversion, the relationship of each to detail orientation; and then adding to this, a person’s proclivity to focus on an outcome or to seek harmony.

In my experience, no matter what your leadership role, knowing and understanding your own style and that of each person you work with is the key to achieving the results you want.

I had a conversation recently with a friend that drove this home for me once again.  My friend is an advisor to the CEO of a large company. This company is in the midst of a reorganization, and my friend is struggling with one of the leaders of the new organization.  As we talked through the situation, it became clear to both of us that the root cause of her challenge is style.  She is outcome focused; he is harmony-focused; she is an introvert (goes within to process); he is an extrovert (processes out loud).

The result: he is talking, too much from her perspective; she is trying to move the project moving forward, he has unresolved fears and is resisting.

Once she began to realize it is their style differences that are causing her challenge, she had the answer, I could see it in her face. We then moved into a more extended discussion about the characteristics of each of the primary styles and then a plan of action.

Bottom line. For me, when I am struggling to communicate, and I pause long enough to get some perspective, I’ve come to realize the answer is always, I need to modify my style to adapt to the other person’s style. Easier said than done I know, and like everything else, its a journey.

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