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

Want Greater Success? Nurture Your Butterflies

Want Greater Success? Nurture Your Butterflies

Good leaders always strive to have butterflies in their stomach, says Kathleen L. Flanagan, president and chief executive of Abt Associates, a $450mm consultancy firm.

When we are out of our comfort zone, we have the greatest opportunity for success. It’s when we become complacent and run on auto-pilot that we as leaders are most at risk of failure.

In this interview in The New York Times, Kathleen describes her first big promotion, the first time she managed people, how she had butterflies in her stomach the entire first year, and how she ultimately learned to trust her gut.

Her advice is the same advice she heard from her first boss and mentor, the one who gave her that first job. “There is no blueprint, you have to make a plan and be goal oriented. Always have butterflies and always plan for success.”

To the advice she received from her former boss, Kathleen adds her own wisdom: Be flexible. Listen to people. Give them the opportunity to give feedback, tell you what worries them, what they are thinking about, what part of the strategy they think is risky.

As a leadership coach, I ask myself and you the following questions as we plan for 2012:

  • What is your vision for success?
  • What specific goals have you set to move toward your vision?
  • Are we taking the risks that create butterflies, and if not, why not?


Elisa K. Spain



Take A Pause And Avoid Missing Out-Of-Context Opportunities

Take A Pause And Avoid Missing Out-Of-Context Opportunities

I’m hoping everyone “pauses” long enough to read this piece… Because, on the surface, this story is about “pauses” in our life. Or is it really about the importance of context?

It may be about both. Either way, as leaders, it is worth considering, as we rush through our lives, our product rollouts and our strategies, just how often we miss opportunities and insights because they showed up in unexpected places.

In a Washington, DC, Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, a man with a violin played six classical compositions for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

After about three minutes, a middle-aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About four minutes later: The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk. At six minutes: A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 10 minutes: A three-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent – without exception – forced their children to move on quickly.

The musician played continuously for almost 45 minutes. Only six more people stopped and listened for a short while. All told, about 20 individuals gave money, but most continued to walk at their normal pace. The musician collected a total of $32.

After the man finished playing, silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. During his “concert,” he played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell had played to a sold-out theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell’s incognito performance in the Metro Station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:

  • In a commonplace environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?
  • If so, do we stop to appreciate it?
  • Can we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

Click here for the full article, Pearls Before Breakfast.


Elisa K. Spain

In The Search For Self-Improvement, Don’t Forget To Celebrate Your Genius

In The Search For Self-Improvement, Don’t Forget To Celebrate Your Genius

The notion that we can constantly make ourselves 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. In my Vistage work and as a leadership coach and advisor, I refer to this as discovering and working in our genius.

According to Alina Tugend, author of this New York Times article Pursuing Self-Improvement, at the Risk of Self-Acceptance, it was Dale Carnegie who ushered in the era of introspection and self-improvement.

She asserts that we have become so focused on achieving that we are never able to appreciate who we are or what we’ve already accomplished: “[W]hen we’re constantly reaching rather than occasionally being satisfied with what we have in front of us, that’s a recipe for perpetual dissatisfaction.”

For me the best way to avoid the “better, better, better” trap is to ask the following questions:

  • What am I already good at? What do I need to do to become excellent at this?
  • Of the things I am not good at and am striving to be better at, what can I delegate to someone else?
  • Can I find a way to accept being adequate or “good enough” at the rest?

Once we know and understand what we are good at, and focus on that, we not only become more effective, we become more satisfied and ultimately become better leaders.

Elisa K. Spain

The Shared Experience Of Absurdity

The Shared Experience Of Absurdity

This week’s post is in honor of Michael Allosso, whose Vistage talk for CEOs and Key Executives is titled “You on Your Best Day.” Michael teaches us that the difference between a good leader and a great leader is the ability to improvise and gently push people out of their comfort zone.

In this TED talk, Charlie Todd helps us see the human connection that results from a shared experience — in this case, an absurd shared experience.

Vistage members also have shared experiences; in our case, these happen every month. As the chair and leadership coach, I regularly see the human connection that results.

I wonder about the following:

  • Are we searching for opportunities to create shared experiences in our companies?
  • What great things can we accomplish in our companies by pushing people out of their comfort zone and introducing more intentional and improvised shared experiences?

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

Which False Business Gods Are You Worshipping?

Which False Business Gods Are You Worshipping?

We worship winners—especially those who demonstrate leadership, confront a crisis and prevail. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as the hero did not create the crisis in the first place.

But what about those who keep crises from erupting at all?

Who are the UNSUNG heroes working for you (and helping you avoid the ditch)?

Are you only recognizing the “heroes” in your company, and ignoring those who help you avoid the storms altogether?

This article by John Kay in the Financial Times, “No One Remembers a Cautious Captain of Industry,” explores our sometimes foolish preference for the heroic over the prudent and for the bold over the wise.

Elisa K. Spain



Laws Of Success: Don’t Miss That Turn!

Laws Of Success: Don’t Miss That Turn!

Too often, our beliefs and assumptions get in the way of spotting new opportunities—even opportunities of a lifetime.

These filters, often based on life experiences, may have served us well in the past, but are they still useful in making today’s choices?

As a leadership coach, the question I ask myself and others is this:

What must I do as a leader, investor, coach, ambassador, strategist, inventor or student to notice when it is my own limiting beliefs that determine the choices I make?

I’ve been reading Steve Jobs’ biography, and was struck by the missed-opportunity stories of people who said no when Jobs asked for help early on.

Ron Wayne brokered the deal between Jobs and Wozniak. Jobs was so grateful, he gave Ron 10% of the new company. Ron, having been involved in a previous business failure, got cold feet and sold his shares back to Jobs and Wozniak for $800. At the end of 2010 those shares would have been worth $2 billion.

Later on, Jobs asked Nolan Bushnell,owner of Atari,  for $50,000 in exchange for one-third of Apple. Bushnell said no.

And then along came Mike Markkula. Markkula made millions on stock options he acquired as a marketing manager for Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel and retired at 32 after Intel went public. Markkula believed in Jobs and offered to help him write a business plan. He then guaranteed a $250,000 line of credit for the newly formed company in exchange for one-third ownership and a leadership role.

While most of us will not have the opportunity to invest in the next Apple Computer, all of us have opportunities come to us each day.

What are you going to do today, to notice and avoid a missed opportunity and perhaps turn it into a chance of a lifetime (or at least a chance for today)?

Doodlers Unite: Do It Proudly!

Doodlers Unite: Do It Proudly!

While there have been many negative definitions of doodling throughout time, I am drawn to this positive definition offered by Sunni Brown in a recent TED talk.

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

I often find myself doodling when listening to a presentation. Now I understand why.

How much more effective could we all be if we made a conscious effort to doodle more?

Or as Sunni suggests, what would happen if we, as leaders, encouraged doodling in our companies?

Here’s a link to Sunni’s TED talk: Doodlers, unite!

Elisa K. Spain







Sight Over Sound: When Face-To-Face Communication Improves Negotiation

Sight Over Sound: When Face-To-Face Communication Improves Negotiation

Mode of communication matters! So say Kellogg School of Management professors Roderick Swaab, Adam D. Galinsky, Victoria Medvec and Daniel Diermeier.
In research described in the article below, the Northwestern University team discovered, not surprisingly, that face-to-face communication is critical to negotiation in two circumstances.

  • When two parties don’t know each other well
  • When two parties have a history of negative interactions

When the parties already know each other AND “have a history of cooperation” and positive interactions, face-to-face communication is not so important. In short, where there is trust, negotiating partners assume the best in each other.

Let’s start with this question: Why?

We easily understand the need for direct, in-person communication in the first two circumstances. What we are likely to underestimate is the need for personal exchanges with people we know, but with whom we just don’t have that storehouse of positive interactions.

While the Kellogg team’s research was specifically related to negotiation, my sense is that we can apply this insight to all of our business and personal interactions. After all, as Jack Kaine, our Vistage Speaker on negotiations, says, “Every interaction between two human beings is a negotiation.”

This study also prompts me to ask additional questions:

  • In each of our lives, what important relationships still require us to build a “history of positive interaction” before we can become highly reliant on written communication?
  • When we want to resolve a situation, is it worth pausing and asking ourselves whether we should continue using email — or would it be better to schedule a meeting?

Here’s the full article:

Elisa K. Spain