Does It Really Matter?

I had a conversation with a friend the other day that left us both laughing.  The two of us have an affiliation with the same organization, and about a year ago, during another conversation, we were sharing our outrage about something.  When we talked the other day, we both remembered our outrage, but neither of us could remember why we were angry. Our inability to remember the issue is what left us both laughing.

I tend to be one of those people with a strong sense of justice.  I care. And I am willing to speak up.  And yet, this conversation was a great reminder that beyond our care for people we love and the things that we can do something about, there are few things in life that matter. Really.

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



Is It Possible To Be Too Lean?

Is It Possible To Be Too Lean?

2013 02-17 Frustrated Office Worker iStock_000015900242XSmallWhen the “great recession” began, companies got lean and they went there quickly. This worked, for employers, owners and employees.  Now 3+ years into recovery, lean continues while sales have grown. The result is increased profits.  So….what’s the issue?

I have been hearing a troubling refrain lately. I began hearing this from middle managers in large public companies I work with; and I am now hearing it from small and midsize companies.

Middle Managers say it like this:  “My team is exhausted and the workload continues to increase. I am struggling with how to become more efficient than we are and I am seeing signs that we are becoming less effective”.

High Performing employees put it this way: “The saying used to be, the best thing you can do for a high performing employee was terminate a low performing employee. I don’t feel this way anymore. In fact, quite the opposite. When anyone leaves, I groan. I groan, because I know there is going to be more work for me and I am struggling to get the work I already have done”.

As business leaders and owners, I encourage you to ask:

  • Are my middle managers and high performing employees saying similar things?
  • Am I listening?
  • Am I perhaps too lean? What are the risks to production, client servicing, morale and ultimately profitability if I am?

Elisa K. Spain


Laws Of Success: Leadership Lessons From Grandma

Laws Of Success: Leadership Lessons From Grandma

Computer keyboard keys labeled LEARN and LEADLoved this leadership “poem” written by fellow Vistage chair, Greg Bustin‘s grandmother. She was the leader of her PTA and in going through his family records, Greg found this document that had been typed on his grandmother’s typewriter.

For me she sums up the challenges of leadership rather well,

“The Leader’s Easy Job”

Her job is something like a football in a big game;
First one side has it and then the other:

If she writes a postal, it is too short,
If she sends a letter it’s too long.

If she issues a pamphlet, she is a spendthrift,
If she attempts to safeguard the interests of the association she is trying to run things;
If she does not, she is allowing things to go to the dogs.

If she attends committee meetings, she is intruding,
If she does not, she is a shirker.

If the attendance is slim – well, nobody likes her anyway.
If she tries to help, she is a pest.

If the program is a success, the program committee is praised,
If not, it’s all the president’s fault.

If dues are called for, she is insulting,
If they are not collected, she is to blame.

If she is in a smiling mood, she is frivolous,
If she is serious, she is a sorehead.

If she seeks advice, she is incompetent,
If she does not, she is bull-headed.

If she mixes with the members, she is too familiar,
If she does not, she is too ritzy.

So, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,
If others won’t do it, the president must.

Here’s a link to Greg Bustin’s full blog from which this came.

Elisa K. Spain



Laws Of Success: 80% Is Showing Up

Laws Of Success: 80% Is Showing Up

Many open doors isolated on white background. 3D image“Eighty percent of success is showing up”, so says Woody Allen.

Sometimes it’s hard to show up when:

  • we would prefer to be someplace else
  • we are tired, or not at our best
  • we have been there before and got nothing out it
  • it’s out of the way, and it’s snowing
  • it was a long day at work, and we would rather go home

I am certain we could have a brainstorming session and make a long list of reasons not to show up.

What if, instead, we shared our stories of when we did show up and were surprised by what came from the experience?  Here’s a beginning list of a few of my ‘success’ stories:

  • I was invited to an event, I didn’t want to go because I knew no one. I went anyway and the result was a reconnection with an old friend and a business opportunity.
  • We were on our way home and my partner suggested we search for a place we heard about. Normally, I would resist, this time I said yes. We had a great experience and unexpectedly, we met the owner of the business who may well become a client.
  • 6 years ago, I was checking references on a prospective executive for a client. I got into conversation with the guy’s boss and ended up meeting him. Turns out he was a Vistage member, encouraged me to become a Chair and gave me the name of his Chair to call.  I made the call and the rest, as they say, is history.

What are your stories? Please share your comments.

Elisa K. Spain


Do The Ends Justify The Means?

Do The Ends Justify The Means?

An age old question…

I saw Lincoln, Steve Spielberg’s latest movie, and came away from it with some questions, from a leadership perspective. Abraham Lincoln is renowned as one of the greatest presidents and leaders in United States history. In this movie, Spielberg tells the story of Lincoln’s last days, the time in which he worked to pass the 13th Amendment and end the Civil War. Both Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens took questionable actions to advance their end goal of abolishing slavery. Lincoln sought to change the vote of house members and delay a meeting with the southern leaders, while Stevens modified his oratory to be more inclusive; shocking and disappointing his constituents.

And.. they won. The 13th Amendment was passed, banishing slavery for all time.

So, the leadership questions are:

  • When the goal is pure and the cost of not achieving it is high, do the ends justify the means? and
  • How do we as leaders make that decision that “this particular outcome” is one that qualifies?

Elisa K. Spain

A Timely Reminder Of Email Best Practices

A Timely Reminder Of Email Best Practices

I put this together some time ago. A compilation of things I have learned from experience and from others. The topic has come up a lot lately, so I thought I would share this with you.

Professor Albert Mehrabian’s research into verbal communication is often quoted in this simplified form:

Words – 7%,  Tone – 38% – Body Language – 55%

Email, being only words without tone and body language, leaves the reader with fewer queues for interpretation. For this reason, recommended email best practices are:

  • Email is for communication, not conversation
  • Use Email for two purposes: transmit information or schedule meetings
  • Choose your words carefully, sometimes slang words, e.g. “yeah” can be misinterpreted
  • After 1 response – pick up the phone
  • Reply only to the sender
  • Reply to all – ONLY if sender requests or the information in your reply will benefit everyone on the distribution list
  • Only put in an Email something you would want to appear on the internet, on a billboard, in the news – you get the idea
  • Don’t send an Email when you are angry – see previous bullet
  • Never negotiate via Email
  • Never send an important Email w/o an advance phone call and a follow-up phone call to discuss and prevent/correct misunderstandings
  • Be brief, most people read Emails on their IPhone, Android, etc.
  • When sending an important Email, ask someone else to read it before sending it, with three questions:
    • What would you think?
    • How would you feel?
    • What would you do?

Anything you would add?

Elisa K. Spain


When Managing By The Numbers Is Not Enough

When Managing By The Numbers Is Not Enough

It’s all about profitability right? Certainly, we are all in business to make money. Even not-for-profits must have net income to continue to operate. And, is being in business for a purpose or a mission reserved only for not-for-profits? What about the professional managers running privately held businesses and leading large companies? What drives them?

Recently I had two conversations in one day with business owners expressing frustration with the lack of progress of talented leaders in their businesses. They both have open book policies, their key executives and in one case, all of their employees, have full access to the company’s financial statements. All this makes sense from the point of view of managing by the numbers. And, is managing by the numbers enough?

The questions I asked these two owners are:

  • In addition to company profitability and individual compensation, what drives these individuals to succeed?
  • Whose goals are they working toward, yours or theirs?
  • If the answer is yours, how can you make the goals their goals while still being consistent with yours?
  • “Purpose” is individual, have you explored what theirs is? Revisiting the book Drive by Dan Pink is a good place to start and then a conversation.

What questions would you add to this discussion?

Elisa K. Spain

Are You A Bad Boss? Are You Sure You Aren't?

Are You A Bad Boss? Are You Sure You Aren't?

Most of us think of a bad boss as one who explodes, intimidates and otherwise behaves badly. The reality is this type of bad boss represents less than 20% of the behavior that actually defines the worst bosses (based on research conducted by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman). For the full results of Zenger and Folkman’s findings, click here.

The more common “bad boss” shows up in one the following ways (in order of most to least fatal):

  1. Failure to inspire.
  2. Acceptance of mediocre performance.
  3. Lack of clear vision and direction.
  4. An inability to collaborate.
  5. Failure to walk the talk.
  6. Failure to improve and learn from mistakes.
  7. Inability to lead change or innovate owing to a resistance to new ideas.
  8. Failure to develop others.
  9. Inept interpersonal skills.
  10. Bad judgement – leading to poor decision.
In short, even if we are kind and soft spoken; if we aren’t demonstrating leadership, we are not good bosses.
Vistage members know this and that is why they join. As you read through the list and the accompanying article, I encourage you to ask yourself:
  • Which qualities on the list do I excel at?
  • How might I become a better boss by focusing on #6?



Leadership Quote: I Am Part Of All Whom I Have Met….

Leadership Quote: I Am Part Of All Whom I Have Met….

This month’s leadership quote:  I am part of all whom I have met. – Alfred Lord Tennyson.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned since becoming a Vistage Chair is this one. How many times do we as leaders say to ourselves,  “I am different, they are different, that is the reason we cannot communicate.”

What if instead, we asked ourselves the following questions when dealing with a difficult communication challenge:

  • What can I learn about the person I am dealing with that will give me insight into them as a human being?
  • What life experiences do we share?
  • What personality traits, interests, passions do we share?
  • How might what we share, help us to communicate?

Elisa K. Spain


Leadership Quote: The Key Is Not To Prioritize What Is On Your Schedule..

Leadership Quote: The Key Is Not To Prioritize What Is On Your Schedule..

This month’s leadership quote:  The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. – Stephen Covey

We often hear time management tips about taking time to plan your schedule. What we often hear is to prioritize what is on the schedule. What Stephen Covey reminds us with this quote, is to pause, choose our priorities and then schedule them.

As a leadership coach, I recommend the following 5 step approach to my Vistage members and coaching clients:

  1. Start with the wheel of life, what are my “spokes”?
  2. What do I need to feel in balance with each of the spokes on my wheel? Remembering that balance is different for each person, see 2/5/12 blog: The Ever Elusive Search for Work/Life Balance
  3. What are my 3 or 5 year goals for each spoke?
  4. What actions do I want (need) to take this year to move me toward those goals?
  5. Each day, when planning the day, ask this question: How do I want to spend the 16 hours I am not sleeping so that I complete the actions I set for myself this year?