Vistage CEO Confidence Index: Concern Due To Economic Slowdown In Q2 2015


The quarterly Vistage Confidence Index is now available.

CEOs concerned by slowdown in economic

The 1,434 U.S. CEOs surveyed from June 8-17, 2015 in the Q2 2015 Vistage CEO Confidence Index expressed greater concern about the dismal pace of 1st quarter growth in the economy, and more importantly, did not anticipate the same strong rebound as occurred last year. The Vistage Confidence Index was 99.0 in the 2nd quarter of 2015, below the 1st quarter’s 105.8 and last year’s 101.0. The recent economic weakness was due to temporary factors, including a harsh winter, a port strike, and a surging dollar.

Even though most CEOs anticipate continued economic growth, there is a widespread sense that the economy is still vulnerable.  The recent decision by the Fed to hold interest rates near zero also reflected that same potential vulnerability. As a result, firms anticipated slightly less growth in their sales revenues and profits, and planned on adding slightly fewer workers to their payrolls and marginally reducing the pace of their capital investments. CEOs can be best described as cautiously optimistic.

Below are some key highlights from the Q2 2015 Vistage CEO Confidence Index (all members surveyed):

  • 46% of CEOs reported that the economy had improved, down from 61% in the 1st quarter.
  • 35% of CEOs anticipate an improving economy in the year ahead, down from 45% in the 1st quarter.
  • 35% of CEOs said that locating, hiring, training, and retaining staff was their most
    important task, cited twice as frequently as any other issue.
  • 46% of CEOs plan to increase investments in new plant and equipment, barely below last quarter’s 48%. Investment plans were on average more favorable during the past six quarters than any other time since the peak years of 2004-05.

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

Weird Or Just Different? The Flip Side Of Your Business

Weird Or Just Different? The Flip Side Of Your Business

“There’s a flip side to everything,” the saying goes. Or, as Derek Sivers makes clear in his two-minute TED speech, “Whatever brilliant idea you have or hear, the opposite might also be true.” Take just two of your own minutes, and think about it: What is the flip side of your business? How can turning your world upside down, even as a simple thought experiment, offer unexpected inspiration?

You can watch Derek Sivers himself demonstrating the truth behind this old saying, here.

The minds behind the book Blue Ocean Strategy, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, suggest we think about our businesses this way as well. For example, if you were in the restaurant business, try imagining what your business would become if you didn’t have menus? It’s not such a far-fetched idea: here in Chicago there is a highly successful restaurant called Next that doesn’t use menus — and sells tickets rather than making reservations! (I can hear the Zagat reviewers gasping about now.)

What would (could) your business look like if you no longer included what you now believe to be an essential element of your product or service? In other words, what is the flip side to your business?

Elisa K. Spain

11 Leadership Lessons Steve Jobs Taught Me

11 Leadership Lessons Steve Jobs Taught Me

Steve JobsAs a leadership coach, I find that Jobs’ personality and work can teach us a great deal about leadership, goal setting, persistence, and starting with “Why?”

Neil Patel captures the essence of Steve Jobs’ success in this recent post. What can each of us learn and apply from these 11 lessons?

(EKS Note: Neil Patel is a serial entrepreneur who blogs about business at Quick Sprout and is the co-founder of KISSmetrics. The views expressed are his own.)

Steve Jobs will be remembered as one of the greatest visionaries ever. What he did for the technological as well as entrepreneurial world, will never be forgotten.

Although I’m young and haven’t been following Jobs’ career as intently as others, he has taught me a lot about business in the last five years. Here are 11 things I’ll never forget that Steve Jobs taught me:

People Matter, Not Features
Everything Jobs built made life easier for you. It was rare to ever hear him babbling about features he created; instead, he focused on how these products made life easier for others.

For example, the iPhone enabled you to talk on your phone, watch movies, record movies, and listen to music. As simple as that may sound, without an iPhone you may have had to carry around a cell phone, mp3 player, and a video recorder. Because of him your pockets are much lighter.

He taught me, along with many others, not to focus on just adding features or creating products. First and foremost, you need to focus on solving problems that people are experiencing. If you can do that, you’ll stay ahead of the curve.

There’s Nothing Wrong With Pre-Selling
Most companies launch products and then sell them. Jobs didn’t do that with Apple. He let the public know what he was going to sell them, how it solved their problems, and that they could pre-order the product online.

You can do the same thing. Don’t wait for your product or service to be released. Start selling it now. The money you earn today will help cover your costs and it will help solve any cash flow issues you may encounter during distribution.

Keep it Simple, Silly
I switched from a PC to a Mac because Macs are much easier to use. Or at least they are for my dad and 1-year-old nephew. Every Apple product I bought during Steve’s tenure was simple to use.

He also created cool looking devices, but above all else his products were simple to use. For example, the iPad was the first device I was ever able to give my dad that required little to no instruction. There are no shut down or start options, you just click on applications and start using them.

If you want more applications, you just go to the App Store and download them.

Don’t try to make your solutions complicated. Keep it simple… even if that means you have to strip off the bells and whistles. If you aren’t creating usable solutions, it will be harder to gain traction.

Think BIG
If you are in business, you are there to make money. If not, you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur. If you are going to create a business, create one that changes the world.

Apple isn’t just a technology company, Steve Jobs changed the world. His products are used all around the world and by everyone. This is why Apple is the largest company in the world.

You won’t be able to create a big company unless you solve big problems. Although you can make a nice living by conquering a small niche, you won’t make billions doing it.

Focus, Focus and Focus Some More
When you look at Apple’s website, it seems like they have a lot of products, right? Well, for being a hundred-billion dollar company, they actually don’t.

Jobs was smart, he always focused his energy on a few big products instead of trying to create thousands of small ones. In other words, he went for big wins instead of looking to hit singles and doubles.

With your business you shouldn’t try to do multiple things. Just focus your time and energy on one product or service. As long as your core business continues to grow, you shouldn’t do anything else. The moment your growth slows down and flattens, that’s when you should expand.

Create an Ecosystem
I never really understood the power of creating a platform until the iPhone was released. When the phenomenon hit the market and companies started to create applications, Apple grew to have a huge ecosystem.

Not only were they selling their products, other companies started to build products on the Apple platform and their customers were encouraged to buy and use Apple products.

By this point Apple didn’t have to sell their products, other companies were doing it for them.

Steve Jobs created an ecosystem and he was able to do it around Apple products. If you want to grow a brilliant idea, you have to create an ecosystem for that idea to flourish.

There’s Always Room for Innovation
The iPod wasn’t the first mp3 player. There were hundreds of others that were already out before Apple released the iPod. That didn’t discourage Jobs from entering the space… he just one upped everyone by creating a better product.

These days if you are looking to buy a music player, the first thing comes to your mind is the iPod, right? And what’s the second brand that comes to your mind?


That’s right, they demolished all of their competitors. The only other device that I can think of is the Zune, which kind of sucks.

Don’t be afraid to enter a saturated market… you just have to be willing to stir things up. If you can innovate, you will win. If you decide to create another me-too company, expect to be crushed.

Be Passionate
Did you know that Steve Jobs had a salary of $1 a year? That’s right, he didn’t care for money and he stated it publicly. He cared about the company, their products, and changing peoples’ lives.

If you love what you are doing, you are going to work harder and be more likely to succeed. Heck, Jobs even worked hard when he was sick… that’s how much he loved what he was doing.

Don’t just do things for the money, do things because you love what you are doing. You aren’t going to live forever, so enjoy your life while you can.

Never Lose Your Investors’  Money
Although Steve Jobs wasn’t the CEO throughout all of Apple’s history, he always took care of the company. He came back, and turned the company around. In other words, he grew shareholder money and took care of his investors.

As I stated earlier, Apple is the biggest company in the world. It’s very difficult to create a decent size company without taking money from investors… so make sure you take care of them. And if you do so, they’ll always take care of you.

Another great leader who also has a very similar rule is Warren Buffett. If you can take care of the people who are feeding you, they’ll constantly be willing to reciprocate.

You’re Nothing Without Your Team
Apple has a ton of benefits: from onsite fitness centers to tuition assistance, they even have cafeterias with organic food. Why did they do all of this? To take care of their employees.

A big part of being a good leader is realizing that you have to have a good team. It’s impossible to do everything yourself. If you don’t take care of your employees and show your appreciation, you’ll quickly lose them.

If you take care of your employees they’ll put their blood, sweat and tears into your company.

Don’t Forget About Your Friends and Family
As an entrepreneur when you work so hard for so many years, you tend to forget about your friends and family. All you do is live, sleep and breathe business.

At the end of the day, there is nothing wrong with that, but you also have to spend time with your friends and family. Money will always be there, but your friends and family won’t.

When Steve Jobs got sick, he left Apple to spend his final moments with his friends and family. He knew what was important to him. You too, need to figure out what’s important to you.  No matter how much time your business or job takes from your life, don’t forget about what’s important.

It’s tragic that Steve Jobs passed away during his prime. He was a great entrepreneur and leader. We’ll never forget what he did for this world.

My condolences go out to his family and friends and may he rest in peace.

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

Make Your Own Rules: Adapting Warren Buffett’s “10 Rules For Success”

Make Your Own Rules: Adapting Warren Buffett’s “10 Rules For Success”

Make Your Own Rules: Adapting Warren Buffet’s “10 Rules for Success”

Warren Buffett’s 10 Rules for Success have become part of our lore. They first appeared as a list in a 2008 article in Parade Magazine and were based on an interview with Alice Schroder, author of Warren Buffett and the Business of Life. Buffett’s own story is inspiring, and his ten rules have helped many entrepreneurs take positive action in their own lives and businesses.

Below is the list. I encourage you to read it with the following five (OK, seven) questions in mind.

  1. What are my personal 10 rules of success?
  2. Is there something I would add to or remove from this list?
  3. So far this week, have I operated in accordance with my rules for success?
  4. Have I shared my rules for success with my team? If so, what has been the result? If not, what might be the result if I do?
  5. Have I paused lately to celebrate my successes?

Warren Buffett’s 10 Rules for Success

1. Reinvest Your Profits. 
When you first make money, you may be tempted to spend it. Don’t. Instead, reinvest the profits. In high school, Buffettt and a friend bought a pinball machine to put in a barbershop. With the money they earned, they bought more machines until they had eight in different shops. When the friends sold the venture, Buffettt used the proceeds to buy stocks and to start another small business.

2. Be Willing To Be Different. 
Don’t base your decisions upon what everyone is saying or doing. When Buffett began managing money in 1956 with $100,000 cobbled together from a handful of investors, he was dubbed an oddball. He worked inOmaha, not on Wall Street, and he refused to tell his partners where he was putting their money. People predicted that he’d fail, but when he closed his partnership 14 years later, it was worth more than $100 million.

3. Never Suck Your Thumb. 
Gather in advance any information you need to make a decision, and ask a friend or relative to make sure that you stick to a deadline. Buffett prides himself on swiftly making up his mind and acting on it. He calls any unnecessary sitting and thinking “thumb-sucking.”

4. Spell Out the Deal Before You Start.
 Your bargaining leverage is always greatest before you begin a job – when you have something to offer that the other party wants. Buffett learned this lesson the hard way as a kid, when his grandfather hired him and a friend to dig out the family grocery store after a blizzard. The boys spent five hours shoveling until they could barely straighten their frozen hands. Afterward, the pair received less than 90 cents to split.

5. Watch Small Expenses.
 Buffett invests in businesses run by managers who obsess over the tiniest costs. He once acquired a company whose owner counted the sheets in rolls of 500-sheet toilet paper to see if he was being cheated (turns out one time he was). He also admired a friend who painted only the side of his office building that faced the road.

6. Limit What You Borrow.
 Buffett has never borrowed a significant amount – not to invest, not for a mortgage. He has gotten many heart-wrenching letters from people who thought their borrowing was manageable; but became overwhelmed by debt. His advice: negotiate with creditors to pay what you can. Then, when you’re debt-free, work on saving some money that you can use to invest.

7. Be Persistent. With tenacity and ingenuity, you can win against a more established competitor. Buffett acquired the Nebraska Furniture Mart in 1983 because he liked the way its founder, Rose Blumkin, did business. A Russian immigrant, she built the mart from a pawn shop into the largest furniture store in North America. Her strategy was to undersell the big shots, and she was a merciless negotiator.

8. Know When To Quit. 
Once, when Buffett was a teenager, he went to the racetrack. He bet on a race and lost. To recoup his funds, he bet on another race. He lost again, leaving him with close to nothing. He felt sick. He had squandered nearly a week’s worth of earnings. Needless to say, that mistake was never repeated.

9. Assess the Risks. 
In 1995, the employer of Buffett’s son, Howie, was accused by the FBI of price-fixing. Buffett advised Howie to imagine the worst- and best-case scenarios if he stayed with the company. His son quickly realized that the risks of staying far outweighed any potential gains, and he quit the next day.

 10. Know What Success Really Means.
 Despite his wealth, Buffett does not measure success by dollars. In 2006, he pledged to give away almost his entire fortune to charities, primarily the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He’s adamant about not funding monuments to himself – no Warren Buffett buildings or halls. “When you get to my age, you’ll measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you. That’s the ultimate test of how you’ve lived your life.”

Elisa K. Spain