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



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