I Was the Only Woman in a Group of Male CEOs. Here’s How the Experience Helped My Company

In January of 2018, I reached out to the head of a local CEO group and inquired about joining.

After a one-on-one phone call to learn more about me and my business goals, he invited me to their next session. The group met for a full day each month. Half the day was spent discussing a specific topic, the rest of the time was spent helping each other with individual issues. I quietly observed the morning session. At the lunch break, as we sat around the table together, the group leader asked me to share my story and more about my business so the other members could get to know me better. Then, he asked, “Do you have any questions for us?” I looked at them all, took a deep breath, and said, 

“Can I call out the elephant in the room? I’m the only woman here. You all are clearly very close and this is a private formum where you can be truly honest about what’s going on in your personal and professional lives. So, I have to ask, do you even want me here? Because I would understand if you wouldn’t, given all that’s going on in the world today.”

I realize that was overly direct, but I wanted to see their initial reactions. Some looked down and away, others looked right at me with a blank face, and a few clearly had a twinkle of a smile in their eyes, laughing at the directness of my question. After what seemed like a really long pause (to me!), one said something to the effect of, “Actually, I’d like to have more women in the group. We need your perspective. Both from your HR and recruiting expertise and from the female point of view.” At which point, a few others nodded and agreed. I then asked the follow-up question:

“Why aren’t there any women currently in the group? Have you ever had any?”

This response was a little bit disheartening. They explained there had been two women in the group previously, but both of their businesses had ultimately failed and they had to quit the group. Not the most reassuring response. But, at the same time, entrepreneurship is hard and many businesses do fail. Plus, they were honest and pointed out there had been several male CEOs who had failed and left the group too. Running a company isn’t easy. That’s why you join a CEO group – to help you feel less isolated and to try to reduce the risk of failure by accessing additional persepctives that challenge you to make more informed business decisions. However, it doesn’t guarantee to make you successful.

I went home that night and told my husband I guessed they likely wouldn’t want me and that I could understand why.

And then, something wonderful happened…

I started to get individiual emails from the CEOs in the group. Each one shared why I should join. They were personal and sincere. It made me really happy. Why? I have lots of amazing female colleagues. I’m talking insanely successful professional women who I adore and respect. But, I don’t have many who have bootstrapped their businesses to the size of mine. Which means, they can’t really offer advice or guidance the way other CEOs who are at the same level as me can. The reality is, there are more male CEOs I can relate to at this stage in my business then female ones. I told the group leader this was the one thing I was most drawn to about the group. And for that reason, I joined.

A year later…

Those meetings were instrumental in taking my business to the next level. Company revenues grew by 50 percent. I learned so much. I had smart people to bounce ideas off of. I was introduced to some new resources and key networking contacts. But honestly, the most important thing this group gave me was the confidence to push the business to the next level. These guys made me feel capable. They showed me I wasn’t alone and that I didn’t need to be perfect. This particular group of male CEOs was much more comfortable with competition and failure than I was. Listening to them work through their own business challenges helped me be less emotional and hard on myself. They never treated me like a woman, they treated me like a peer. And for that, I am truly grateful.

So, when I see the statistic that came out this week that says 60 percent of men are avoiding mentoring women due to the #MeToo movement, I am sad.

I want men and women to find a way to work together. This movement wasn’t meant to build a divide between us. It was meant to help us work better together. We have so much to learn from one another. While I wish I had some suggestions to fix it, all I can offer is this story in hopes it inspires men out there to find a way to mentor women who need it. 

Published on: May 22, 2019 by Inc.com

Better to have a GOOD BOSS in a bad company, rather than a BAD BOSS in a good company ! Agree ?

While I was waiting for my INTERVIEW in a reception area, a pizza delivery man, a young guy, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans carried a heavy pack of pizza boxes and water bottles.

 He struggled with the door, I jumped up, but before I could help him, a receptionist let him through.

5 mins later I am sitting in the interview conference room, the pizza delivery man walks in.

He extends his hand for a handshake and says:

“I am Greg Tagaris, Chief Information Officer of DoubleClick. Sorry I am a little late, I was taking food to my guys. They are working without lunch because we have technical problems.

I saw you trying to help me, thanks”.

He offered me a job right at the end of the interview, and I accepted, without negotiation.

Greg was one of many good bosses I had a good fortune to work for.

You can tell a good boss very quickly by how they treat other people.

Greg was a good boss in a good company, but I would work for him in any company.

A bad boss can make your job bad even in a very good company – they will micromanage you, blame you, and make your life miserable.

A good boss will stand up for you, will trust you, will listen to you, will make yours a good job even in a weak company.

Do you agree ?

10 Questions Leaders Must Answer When Making Big Decisions

Interesting insight from Speaker, Author and Fellow Vistage Chair Greg Bustin.

Leaders are in the decision-making business. Some of your decisions are bigger than others, and so to be considered successful on your terms as well as the terms of others means you must make more good decisions than bad decisions when the stakes are highest.

What’s your decision-making process? There are 10 questions leaders must answer—either intentionally or intuitively, either alone or collaboratively—when making big decisions.

At the heart of sound decision-making is being crystal clear about what you stand for. Because no matter how much more complex the world seems to become and no matter how much more quickly we race to outrun others, great leaders operate from a set of principles they use daily as filters for making decisions. Your mettle as a leader is not truly tested until your principles have the potential to cost you something. Money. Power. Position. Lives. Reputation. Your beliefs form the bedrock of your character. And your character drives your decision-making.

You also must know very clearly what you want. It’s hard to be committed—especially to an outcome that may stretch your abilities as well as those of your colleagues—if you’re not clear about what you want. And what you don’t want. Goal clarity helps you minimize distractions and gives you confidence to make the necessary—and sometimes difficult—decisions that will allow you and your team to remain focused on your desired outcomes and remember why those outcomes matter. Clarity equips you to overcome obstacles, endure sacrifice and withstand setbacks as you press on toward realizing your dream.

And so the next time you’re facing a big decision, ask and answer these 10 questions:

1. What are the facts?
2. What is our objective?
3. What—precisely—is the problem or set of problems we must solve to achieve our objective?
4. Who should be involved in helping reach a decision?
5. What are all of the possible solutions?
6. Are the possible solutions aligned with my (our) core values? Eliminate those possible solutions that are not.
7. What are the consequences of each of the remaining solutions?
8. What’s the best possible solution?
9. How must we communicate this solution to our stakeholders?
10. Who will do what by when?

As you think about your personal leadership style and how you’ll apply these decision-making guidelines, recall the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt: “There are many ways of moving forward but only one way of standing still.” So when you postpone a tough decision—when, in effect, you fail to decide—you are actually making a decision to do nothing.

It’s logical when facing a momentous decision to want to gather as many facts as possible, play out as many scenarios as you can devise, test theories, engage in conversations with confidantes and trusted advisors, and spend time alone soul-searching. You owe it to yourself and those you’re leading to be thoughtful about big decisions. But avoid the temptation to postpone a big decision simply because you don’t want to decide. Leadership requires you to make the tough decision and get your team moving.

The word “decide” is derived from Latin decidere, meaning literally “to cut off,” from de- “off” (de-) + caedere “to cut” (-cide). “Decide” shares the same partial origin as the words “homicide,” “pesticide” and “suicide,” which essentially means that to decide is to “cut off” or “kill off” other choices or options in order to choose a course of action. Sometimes you must choose between several bad options. But choose you must.

Failure to act saps time, money and energy. Failure to act can hurt your customers and help your competition. Failure to act confuses and discourages your colleagues. Your colleagues are looking for a commonsense approach where trust, discipline and good old fashioned hard work gets things done. Confident decision-making accompanied by decisive action is a one-two punch that’s important to any leader whose team is eager to contribute to success.

Once you decide, move forward. “Don’t make the same decision twice,” cautions Bill Gates. “Spend time and thought to make a solid decision the first time so that you don’t revisit the issue unnecessarily. If you’re too willing to reopen issues, it interferes not only with your execution but also with your motivation to make a decision in the first place. After all, why bother deciding an issue if it isn’t really decided?” 

What big decisions are on your horizon? What options must you “kill off” in order to make your next big decision?

Leadership is about coaching. Here’s how to do it well.

You can start with one simple behavior change that will bring a massive impact.

If you’re a leader or a manager, you probably wear a lot of hats. You’re a project manager, delegator, spokesperson, and most importantly, a coach. But the problem is that no one ever tells you how to be an effective coach, or even what that means. Are you supposed to act like a sports coach? A therapist? Perform some bizarre (and arcane) HR ritual?

The answer is none of the above. In fact, it’s about making one tiny change to your behavior, one that will bring a significant impact. Being a coach is about being more curious, and being slow to give advice and take action.

Now, I’m not saying that that coaching never involves giving advice. At times, your job is to provide an answer. If the building’s burning down–for example–you don’t want to have a conversation about how people are feeling about the smell of smoke.

But the truth is, most of us are advice-giving maniacs. We don’t listen as much as we should. Think about the last time someone talked to you about a complex issue. Did you listen intently? Chances are, after about three sentences, you formed some initial thoughts, and you probably jumped in to voice them.

Start with a simple question

It’s a simple concept to understand, yet it’s difficult to implement. According to a 2015 survey, on average GPs interrupt their patients after 18 seconds. I wouldn’t bet on managers doing much better.

Being curious involves asking questions–and they don’t have to be complicated ones. Start with, “And what else?”

Yes, it’s hardly the probing, introspective coaching question you expect. But it works really well.

It is based on the understanding that the first answer someone gives is never their only answer, and it’s rarely their best. Far too many of us spring into action before we’ve uncovered the truth. We don’t probe a little further to dig beyond their half-baked thought or the first thing that’s come to their minds. “And what else?” allow us to push a little deeper.

This question works so well is that it’s a self-management tool. You know you have an ingrained habit of leaping in with advice, solutions, opinions, and ideas. We all do. “And what else?” is one of the most effective ways of taming your inner advice monster and staying curious a little bit longer.

How to ask the question effectively

This question is powerful because it’s almost always usable. You can generally get more bang for your buck by following up with “And what else?”

Of course, tone matters. You can ask this question from a place of boredom, frustration, disinterest, or disdain, and it’s unlikely to be effective. But when you ask from a place of genuine curiosity, the other person won’t even register that it’s a question. They might not even click that you’ve asked this before.

If you feel like you need to move things forward or end the conversation, ask them, “is there anything else?” This indicates that you’re prepared to end the discussion, but you’re giving room for anything important that they might still want to bring up. It’s an emotionally intelligent way to send a signal that you’re about to close the conversation.

Coaching is an essential leadership behavior. Curiosity is the driving force in being more coach-like. Questions fuel curiosity. If you’re looking for just one question to add right now to your leadership repertoire, “And what else?” might be it. Remember, as a leader or manager, your job is not to have all the answers–but to guide your employees to come up with the right ones.

5 innovation lessons from top-performing companies

Never stop improving. High-performing companies are relentlessly focused on improving their performance through innovation, whether that’s aimed at accelerating processes, tightening workflows or clarifying communications. How do they succeed? By creating a culture that encourages exploration and experimentation, facilitates open communication with customers and employees, and drives innovation from both the top-down and bottom-up. At a higher level, the company’s senior team recognizes innovation as a key source of competitive advantage.

Seek out radical innovation on a smaller scale. What makes an innovation “radical” has nothing to do with size and everything to do with impact. Radical innovation is about breaking through perceived limitations to fundamentally change the game. For example, introducing a new product or capability, along with a new message to market, can serve as radical innovation on a smaller scale. Driving disruption can lead to tremendous rewards, but it requires tough decision-making and strong leadership on the part of the CEO.

If something breaks, use innovative thinking to fix it. All companies have to cope with the reality that, at some point, some part of their business is going to break or go wrong. What separates the high-performing companies from the pack is how they react to that challenge. They assess the situation quickly. They pivot rapidly to an innovative solution. They rally teams around the goals of that solution. By contrast, low-performing companies are quick to assign blame. They wait for others to fix the problem. They use outdated solutions to address new challenges.

Picture your worst-case scenario. What would you do if Amazon announced a solution that targeted your customers and made your go-to-market model irrelevant? More likely, what would you do if a competitor acquired a smaller player and boxed you in? What if they launched a new product or hired a superstar from your best region? Prepare for these worst-case scenarios by working through them in advance with your team. Set up a one-day offsite exercise where you proactively address these scenarios and brainstorm innovative solutions.

Leverage the relentless pace of change. Respect the fact that there is no status quo anymore, and that everything changes all the time. As a CEO, the question you must ask yourself is: Do I recognize, anticipate and leverage the current pace of change, or do I wait for a crisis to hit that will force me to innovate under pressure? In either case, innovation is required for survival and growth. Better to choose the former.

Above is an excerpt. For the full Vistage report click the link below.

How not to choke under pressure

The right kind of preparation can keep us from stumbling during stressful situations, says cognitive scientist Sian Leah Beilock

“They choked.”

It’s one of the most humiliating things you can say about a person.Just about all of us have choked at some point in our lives, whether it was during a test, a game, a talk, or a sales call.

And, boy, do I know the feeling. Growing up, I was an avid athlete. My main sport was soccer, and I was a goalkeeper, which is both the best and the worst position on the field. All eyes are on you, and with that comes the pressure. I distinctly remember one high-school game in particular. I was playing for the California state team, which is part of the Olympic Development Program. I was having a great game — until I realized that the national coach was standing right behind me. Then everything changed. In a matter of seconds, I went from playing at the top of my ability to the very bottom. I choked under the pressure of feeling those evaluative eyes on me, my team lost, and the national coach walked away.

My experience on the playing field — and in other important facets of my life — pushed me into the field of cognitive science. I wanted to know how we could use our knowledge of the mind and the brain to come up with psychological tools that would help us perform at our best.

I also wanted to find out: Why do we sometimes fail to perform up to our capabilities when the pressure is on? 

It might not be so surprising to you to hear that in stressful situations, we worry — about the situation, the consequences, and what others will think of us.

But what may surprise you is that we often get in our own way precisely because our worries prompt us to concentrate too much. When we’re concerned about performing our best, we may try and control aspects of what we’re doing that are best left on autopilot and outside conscious awareness. As a result, we mess up.

My research team and I have studied this phenomenon of overattention, which we call paralysis by analysis. 

In one study, we asked college soccer players to dribble a soccer ball and to pay attention to an aspect of their performance that they wouldn’t otherwise attend to. Specifically, we asked them to pay attention to what side of their foot was contacting the ball. We found that when we drew their attention to the step-by-step details of what they were doing, their performance was slower and more error-prone. Much of this paralysis by analysis comes down to activity in our prefrontal cortex, the front part of our brain that sits over our eyes. While it usually helps us focus in positive ways, it often gets hooked on the wrong things.

In basketball, the term “unconscious” is used to describe a shooter who just can’t seem to miss a shot. NBA All-Star Tim Duncan has said, “When you have to stop and think, that’s when you mess up.” In dance, the great choreographer, George Balanchine, used to urge his dancers, “Don’t think; just do.” When the pressure’s on, we frequently try and control what we’re doing in a way that leads to worse performance.

So how do we unhook our brains?

We can do something as simple as singing a song or paying attention to one’s pinky toe — as pro golfer Jack Nicklaus was rumored to do. Or, we can find some other mindless activity that can help take our minds off the details of what we’re trying to do.

Another strategy requires closing the gap between training and competition, so we can get used to that feeling of all eyes on us. 

This means practicing under the conditions that we know we’ll be performing under. Whether we’re getting ready for an exam or a talk, we can put ourselves in a simulation of the future stressful situation.

If you’re taking a test, periodically close the book while you’re studying and practice retrieving the answers from memory in a set amount of time. If you’re giving a talk, practice a few times in front of other people. And if you can’t find anyone who will listen, rehearse in front of a video camera or a mirror. Our ability to become accustomed to what it will feel like can make the difference in whether we choke or we thrive.

We can also take steps to rid ourselves of those pesky self-doubts that creep up in pressure-filled situations and lead to paralysis by analysis.

Researchers have discovered that simply writing down our thoughts and worries before the stressful event can help download them from our minds. Journaling or jotting your thoughts on paper or on your phone can make it less likely they’ll pop up and distract you during the moments that count.

Fast-forward from my high school soccer game to my freshman year in college. I was in a chemistry class for science majors, and I did not belong there. Even though I studied for my first midterm exam, I bombed. I got the single worst grade in a class of 400 students. Not was I convinced I shouldn’t be a science major but I thought about dropping out of college altogether.

Instead, I changed what I did. 

Rather than study alone, I studied with a group of friends who’d close their books and compete for the right answers at the end of the study session. We were learning how to practice under stress, closing the gap between training and competition.

When the day for the final exam came, my mind was quiet, and I got one of the highest grades in the entire class. As it turns out, it wasn’t just about learning the material; it was about learning how to overcome my limits when it mattered the most.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Why Workplace Ghosting Is on the Rise

In the 1999 film Office Space, a dark comedy about the mundane conventionality of work, disgruntled software engineer Peter Gibbons tells his new love interest, Joanna, that he hates his job and doesn’t want to go anymore.

When Joanna, played by actress Jennifer Aniston, asks Peter whether he is going to quit, he responds, “Not really; I’m just going to stop going.”

What was once a funny work of fiction is becoming an increasingly common reality as more employers report being “ghosted” by job applicants and employees who simply disappear without a trace. In fact, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago cited an uptick in ghosting in its December economic activity report, and an array of media outlets — including The Washington Post, Inc.and Business Insider — have been publishing stories recently about the pitfalls of the practice.

“Candidates agree to job interviews and fail to show up, never saying more,” Chip Cutter, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, wrote in a June article for LinkedIn that garnered more than 5,000 comments. “Some accept jobs, only to not appear for the first day of work, no reason given, of course. Instead of formally quitting, enduring a potentially awkward conversation with a manager, some employees leave and never return. Bosses realize they’ve quit only after a series of unsuccessful attempts to reach them.”

The term ghosting comes from the world of online dating, where romantic prospects are often dumped without warning or even so much as a goodbye text. But as this bad behavior spreads from the personal to the professional realm, it raises questions about business etiquette and the shifting balance of power between employers and employees. Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli, who is also director of the school’s Center for Human Resources, believes ghosting reflects a change in today’s work environment, where employers once held all the cards and often treated hiring as “a commodity exercise.”

“When the labor market tightens, the power does start to shift,” he said. “I think part of the reason this is so surprising to employers is we’ve gone through 10 years of the worst labor market for job seekers, but the best labor market for employers and hirers. You know, you didn’t have to do anything, and people were just really grateful that you’d even consider their application. So, the power has changed, and that’s changing the story.”

Cappelli and Jay Finkelman, professor and chair of industrial-organizational business psychology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, spoke about ghosting on the Knowledge@Wharton radio show on Sirius XM. Following are key points from their conversation.“When the labor market tightens, the power does start to shift.” –Peter Cappelli

It Works Both Ways

Ghosting prospective employees is old hat for employers. Companies have been engaging in the practice for so long that it has become perfectly acceptable for them, the professors said. And with the prevalence of online applications, job candidates have gotten comfortable with the fact that they probably won’t hear anything back from a company – positive or negative.

“The expectation is that the employers are ghosting you. What’s different now is that the employees are starting to do the same thing to the employers,” Cappelli said. “It’s not a big surprise. But, frankly, anything that happens to employers makes noise and news; anything that happens to employees doesn’t necessarily make news. This is a two-sided problem. It’s started by the employers.”

Cappelli cited a recent survey by HR firm Clutch that found 40% of employees believe it’s reasonable to ghost companies during the interview process. He likened it to putting an item in your Amazon shopping cart but never completing the purchase.

Finkelman said it comes down reciprocity. “There is a feeling that this is more OK because it’s exactly what employers do. Businesses just grind through potential applicants and make determinations and decisions that are in the best interests of their clients and not necessarily of the applicants. And that message gets conveyed through.”

To be fair, Finkelman noted, employers simply don’t have the time to reassure every candidate in the pipeline. That lack of investment can make candidates and existing employees feel fine about ditching without notice.

It’s Driven by the Tight Labor Market

Both Cappelli and Finkelman said the increase in ghosting is also an indicator of just how tight the job market has become. Unemployment is below 4%, and employers across many sectors report they can’t find enough qualified candidates to fill jobs. It’s a situation that gives employees more leverage.

“I think there’s no question that it’s the environment that encourages that behavior,” Finkelman said. “Will it revert back to better manners possibly next year, 2020, when recessions are being predicted again? It will move in that direction inevitably as that ratio of job openings to candidates shifts.”

But the unemployment rate doesn’t tell the whole story, according to Cappelli. Few employers are interested in hiring someone who doesn’t already have a job, so there’s a lot of pilfering of employees across industries.

Cappelli calls them “passive applicants,” people who aren’t necessarily looking but find better offers and head for the door. A majority of people hired last year fell into this category, he said.

“That really starts to change the dynamic a little here, and also the moral question [about ghosting],” Cappelli said. Employees who are approached frequently by recruiters will respond differently – i.e., be more likely to ghost — than those who are desperately looking for work.

Finkelman is bothered by what he calls an “underlying lack of concern about the welfare of others” when it comes to ghosting because the job market seems to rule over individual morality.

“I think the changing job market is more likely to influence the frequency with which candidates solicit other jobs or make changes, rather than the behavior that they engage in when they’ve made a decision to take another job,” he said. “In other words, do they do it in a classy way or do they do it in a tacky way?”

It Has Little Consequence for Applicants

American workers have grown up with traditional advice about the workplace: Always give two weeks’ notice; never burn your bridges; don’t speak badly of your former employer. Such platitudes have waning relevance in the ghosting era because there’s little consequence for employees and applicants who drop everything and leave.

“As long as there are more job openings, the likelihood of getting caught in this is relatively small,” Finkelman said. “And when it does happen, it’s satisfying for employers when someone comes back to them and they tell the applicant, ‘No, that’s already been taken. And if you don’t recall, you didn’t call us back.’”

However, Cappelli pointed out that the average recruiter gets 200 applications per job posting. That pile has to be whittled down to a smaller set to be reviewed by a hiring manager. If an applicant ghosts then reapplies later, the odds of being remembered or even reviewed by the same recruiter are slim.

“You shouldn’t do it because it’s the wrong thing to do, but the idea that you’re going to pay a price for doing this is kind of wishful thinking on the part of the recruiters,” he said. “How many thousand applicants do they see each day?”

Candidates have also become more savvy about what the professors call “ghost jobs,” which are postings for jobs that don’t really exist. Some companies call for resumes just to build their applicant pool; others neglect to delete postings for jobs that have been filled.

“Staffing industry analysts and other organizations that set ethical guidelines for their member staffing companies all know that this is an improper practice, yet it still does go on,” Finkelman said.

Job applicants catch on quickly and let others know about the bogus listings. It’s another aspect of bad employer behavior that enables employees to rationalize ghosting.

It’s Just Plain Rude

Ghosting may be accepted, but that doesn’t make it right, Cappelli and Finkelman said.

“I think we can put this question behind us. This is just not a good thing to do for either side,” Cappelli said. “It’s not a good thing for employers to do. They do it as a matter of policy because they think it’s easier not to respond to all these applicants. And for individual applicants or candidates, it’s not a good thing, particularly at the point where it becomes personal, where you have some tie, some conversation with a human as opposed to the applicant tracking software.”

Finkelman noted that the anonymity of digital is not a justification for rudeness. “There is a way to use digital and still be courteous about it,” he said. “There’s still no excuse for not responding online, either by the potential employee or the employer.” Although it’s not very personal, both sides could at least deliver bad news by email. “Not the most ideal and polite way to do it, but people today are not hand writing notes of regret — and that’s on both sides.”

In a world with few real consequences for ghosting, a person’s moral compass matters more than ever, Finkelman said. “Depending on the degree of narcissism of that individual and how self-centered that person is, there have to be other values in place to avoid playing the game in a way that may well be reciprocal.”

5 Reasons Executives Wait Too Long to Fire Their Direct Reports

Of all the difficult decisions executives face, few torment them more than having to fire someone on their own team. High-risk innovations, layoffs, and even major acquisitions don’t cause as much angst as removing someone from a senior position.

Recently, a client of mine — a division president of a large manufacturing company, let’s call him Kyle — struggled with this problem. One of his VPs of sales had missed his targets for the third consecutive quarter. The VP had been given a coach and additional resources to help him succeed, but was still unable to turn around his performance, causing significant employee turnover in his region. Removing him seemed like the obvious choice, but Kyle was tortured by the thought. “I want to give him one more chance,” he said. “Is it wrong to want to give him every possible chance to make it?”

Kyle, who did not routinely struggle with difficult decisions and leads one of the highest performing divisions in his company, is not alone. Firing someone is a decision rife with complexity and personal angst. But avoiding it only prolongs the inevitable and increases the consequences of keeping a poor performer at the top.

In my work with senior executives, I’ve observed five things that often get in the way of making the necessary call. Recognizing and correcting these behaviors early on can help you overcome the fear of firing an under performing leader and prevent the damage that may occur if you don’t.

A determination to fix others. Well-intended leaders often feel genuine commitment to helping direct reports succeed. The importance of coaching and feedback has been drilled into them. But when your commitment to someone’s growth exceeds their ability to grow, you are unwittingly contributing to their failure.

Kyle offers a case in point. He set out to help his VP of sales turn things around and he wasn’t going to stop until he did. He saw the VP’s under performance as his own personal failure to effectively develop younger executives. In reality, however, the VP was years away from thriving in a role with such high demands. While Kyle’s desire for people to succeed was admirable, his belief that he could, and should, make that happen was a form of arrogance.

This is not uncommon. Another HR executive I worked with prided herself in developing leaders others had given up on. She invested in coaching, training, and created “developmental assignments” for struggling leaders. She sometimes succeeded at uncovering great talent that others had prematurely discarded. But too often, under the guise of creating a culture that prized employee development, she set people up to fail by keeping them in roles they’d long proven to be incapable of handling.

Be careful not to confuse your commitment to employee development with masked “savior syndrome.” Playing the hero could come at the expense of someone else’s career.

Fear of delivering a fatal blow. One of the unique complexities of removing an executive from their role is the damaging consequences it may have on their career. Falling from a high perch can make a leader damaged goods when pursuing future opportunities. As a result, bosses may experience guilt when it comes time to let that leader go — guilt for not preparing that person to take on their current role or guilt about the struggle that person might go through when looking for a new job. But you can do much greater damage to their career and reputation by allowing them to publicly struggle. A better solution is to have an honest conversation with that person and offer support.

In Kyle’s case, a conversation with the VP of sales about his poor performance and his future aspirations enabled Kyle to see that not succeeding in this role didn’t deem the VP unemployable or untalented. While disappointed, the VP knew he wasn’t delivering, and was relieved to acknowledge it. He’d been thinking about other roles in the organization for which he was better suited. Kyle saw that he could help his VP look for more suitable opportunities within the broader organization or provide a reference for him at another company.

Other leaders can follow this example. Feeling guilty about a potential outcome that you have no control over helps no one. In fact, 68% of executives who are fired find a new job within six months.

Ego. Firing executives is especially difficult when you hired them in the first place. The decision to hire someone is a rejection of your leadership and it’s natural to fear what people will think when you need to go back on that decision and remove them. But no one is infallible to making a bad hire, and no one has complete control over whether someone succeeds. You should do everything you can to hire with rigorous standards and onboard effectively. You should not become so attached to your own hires that you lose objectivity.

In the example of Kyle, he had promoted his VP of sales two years earlier and he feared his judgment would be called into question if the VP failed. Though the VP excelled during his first year, further solidifying Kyle’s decision, market headwinds and major competition made his second year difficult. The VP was simply too inexperienced.

It’s common for leaders to be blind to the shortfalls of those they hire. But Kyle needed to see that, while the decision to promote his VP was a calculated risk, the conditions of that risk had evolved and keeping the VP in his current role could have serious consequences for the whole division.

Public visibility. When an executive is fired, the world inside and outside the organization sees it. Irrationally or not, people speculate about what’s going on. While you can’t control what people think about a major decision, you can minimize unfounded conjecture by being intentional in your communications about the exit and why it happened. Internally, try to normalize difficult exits by letting your team know that moving on is a part of business and be gracious to those who are leaving. Externally, focus on looking forward. Publicly acknowledge the aspirations your organization aims to reach or the challenges you are working to address. Remember, it looks far weaker to ignore poor performance than it does to address it.

Kyle feared that his boss, the CEO (for whom he was a succession candidate) and other key stakeholders outside the company, might conclude his division was unstable or his team was weak once he fired his VP of sales. And for the VP himself, it could mean public embarrassment and loss of respect. What Kyle needed to consider was what people might conclude if he didn’t remove the under performing sales VP. It is far more cruel to leave a leader publicly poundering, particularly in Kyle’s case when the VP’s under performance drove other talented employees out the door.

Perceived indispensability. Often, executives fear the disruption a departing executive might cause. Certain it will result in irreparable damage, they convince themselves and others of the executive’s indispensability to justify tolerating a poor performance or bad behavior. I have seen this fear used as an excuse for not firing under performing executives many times, but I have never seen this fear materialize. With a carefully choreographed transition plan, it’s possible for an office to return to normal quickly. Important people, like top customers, understand that things change. What they want to know is how you’re going to take care of them, regardless of who does it.

One of my clients once put up with horrific behavior from their sales executive because they “couldn’t possibly risk” losing his customer relationships. Externally, the sales exec was highly regarded. He spoke at conferences alongside top customers and was regularly invited to exclusive gatherings of prominent buyers. Internally, he was loathed for what he got away with: never attending meetings, refusing to learn new technologies, and consistently violating travel expense guidelines. Eventually, a newly appointed leader had the courage to clean house and replace him, and those who followed in his example, with fresh talent. They didn’t lose one customer in the wake of these exits, and within a year, top-line revenue had grown by 35%.

The complicated decision to remove a senior leader from their job should never be taken lightly. And while there’s no way to avoid some fallout from such a choice, the decision to ignore irreversible poor performance is a choice with far greater consequences. By acknowledging the above behaviors, and practicing ways to overcome them, you will not only help your organization move forward, but also the employees you’re afraid to let go.

Insights From ITR Economics CEO: Three Subtle Signs You Should Know

There is a reason ITR Economics uses rate-of-change to identify four distinct phases to the business cycle: Each phase requires a particular perspective in conjunction with a view to the future.

The US economy is on the threshold of the third phase of the business cycle, Phase C. The “C” stands for “Caution,” which is what we urge most folks to use when thinking about the next four quarters. Caution is warranted if you tend to move in sync with any of the following measures: GDP, Retail Sales, US Total Industrial Production, Manufacturing, or Housing.

We are in that relatively unique stage of the business cycle in which the data is still generally rising (or seems to be at first glance), but the upward movement is definitely decaying. This is Phase C. It is a period of Slowing Growth. Not slowergrowth, but slowing, because it is a progressive phenomenon. The economy will continue to decelerate until it either (a) enters into a recession (negative growth), or (b) shifts into accelerating rise without first going through a recession. The latter is the proverbial “soft landing.” This business cycle will have elements of both (a) and (b). Retail Sales will experience slowing growth without subsequently contracting; Housing (a traditional leading indicator) is already beginning to contract.

ITR Economics presenters frequently provide our leading indicator analysis in webinars, company-specific meetings, and trade association meetings. The leading indicators tell a great deal about how much slowing is likely to occur. Sometimes the signs are relatively subtle; here are three of those subtler (and worrisome) signs:

  1. Adjusted for inflation, Retail Sales are now barely rising, and the 12/12 rate-of-change is below 2.5%. (The 12/12 is at 2.2% and declining; the 3/12 is at 0.8%.)
  2. Food Services and Drinking Places Retail Sales activity is now shifting into Phase C. (The 12/12 is edging upward at 6.3%, but the 3/12 is at 5.3% and declining below the 12/12.)
  3. Light Vehicle Retail Sales (passenger cars and light-duty trucks) over the last three months came in 0.7% below the year-earlier level for the same three months.

It is easy to see why people can miss these signals. They tend to focus on a snapshot of the data rather than the trend. This is one reason why many otherwise good decisions are made at the wrong time.

In other cases, it is simply a matter of not knowing enough of the circumstances. Single-Unit Housing Starts are in Phase C, Slowing Growth. However, Starts over the last three months are down, by 9.3%, from the same three months one year ago. Starts are trending lower.

There is a tendency to attribute this to there not being enough inventory to keep housing going. But that misses the point that these are Housing Starts we are talking about, not sales. The data for Building Permits, which lead Starts, shows that further downward cyclical change is ahead.

Knowing where you are in the business cycle and basing your decisions on the reality of where you are trending is key to making decisions with near-term profitable payback.

It’s as easy as A – B – C – D.

Brian Beaulieu
CEO

This Is Your Company One Year From Now

According to a Harvard Business Review survey, the quality that most distinguishes a leader from a non-leader is how capable she is of forward-thinking. In other words, a leader is someone who envisions a unique view of the future — and can enlist others into that shared vision.

What’s your vision for your organization? If it’s not as forward-thinking as it could be, run it through an exercise called One Year From Now. It’s a strategy-shaping technique that helps leadership articulate how innovation will shape their org twelve months from now — and what steps need to be taken to make that vision a reality.

Along with your fellow senior leaders, take twenty minutes to answer these questions:

  • What’s a recent news headline about our company?
  • What are the key topics our company’s thought leaders are speaking about at conferences?
  • What emerging social issue is our organization associated with?
  • What are customers or clients tweeting about us?
  • What’s the word on Wall Street about us?
  • What are the sales teams at our competition saying about us?
  • What’s the CEO of our top competitor saying about us?
  • Why are our employees excited about coming to work here?

Once you’ve got your future-thinking answers, imagine yourselves a year from now. It’s 2019 and your company has achieved the vision of success it just articulated. To reveal how you got here, take another twenty minutes to answer the following questions individually or in small teams.

  • What one decision or action put us on the path to success?
  • What was our biggest barrier to change?
  • How did we successfully overcome that barrier?
  • What exactly compelled us to make those changes?
  • Who exactly was the driving force for those changes?
  • How did we get buy-in for the changes we made?
  • What would have happened if we had just maintained last year’s status quo?

When time’s up, everyone’s answers should be shared with the room, and any common themes or ideas should be captured. Discuss the feasibility of the most strategic ideas and tactics, and then agree on your top three immediate priorities. Reconvene monthly to track the company’s progression toward its goals for next year and keep people accountability.

Imagining your company twelve months from now can replace hazy or lazy plans for innovation with a clear roadmap for achieving success.Whether you’re a hot start-up or a global brand, this simple technique can put you on track for becoming synonymous with 2019 round-ups of innovators of the year.