"executive leadership"

Wed 25 March 2020
Let’s first define what is a mentor. “Mentors focus on providing you sage advice and wisdom gathered through experience and knowledge when you ask for their insight.  Mentors can be considered a library of human knowledge in the particular areas of life they have gained expertise.  Mentors normally focus on providing knowledge, understanding and direction, but have been known to help in your improvement as a person when you allow yourself to become the subject.”

Everyone should have a mentor whether it is professional or personal reasons.  A mentor is someone you can trust and build rapport with because this person will be there for you through the good and bad times.  Encouraging and inspiring along the way, is why a mentor is often confused with a coach.  A coach is different from a mentor in a sense that coaches are not supposed to offer advice as to what a person should be doing.  Coaching concentrates on the person implementing the best strategies to achieve their desired goals.  

The majority of mentor’s volunteer their time and are unpaid when asked to render guidance.  Some benefits to having a mentor is listed below:

  1. Support and encouragement 
  2. Inspiration and guidance
  3. Improve social skills
  4. Career and professional advice
  5. Spiritual advice

My mentor is someone who I met a few years ago after signing up for the mentor/mentee program at our church.  My mentor is someone who has helped me to grow in my business and to expand my career. By having a mentor who is also a business owner like myself, she provides reliable advice to me when making challenging decisions.  I value her opinion and look forward to our daily conversations.  My mentor is someone that I can trust and share my concerns about anything, and I know the advice given to me will be in my best interest. My mentor has encouraged me to do things that I normally would not have had the courage to do if it wasn’t for her believing in me. The experiences and knowledge that she shares with me helps to shape me into a better business leader, mother, and wife. I have learned so much from her over the past 2 years. 

If interested in having a mentor, make sure you are honest with yourself as well as your mentor. The relationship only works if honesty and transparency is at the core.  It is difficult for someone to provide guidance and advice to anyone if the relationship is built on dishonesty.  Also, make a list of what you are looking for in a mentor so when an opportunity to work with a mentor arises, you will know what qualities to seek.  The benefits are unlimited when working with a mentor who understands you both professionally and personally.  Having a mentor to confide in and receiving valuable advice from them is priceless. The opportunity to have a mentor in my life was one of the best decisions I could have made. 
Mon 3 August 2020
As a business, you must be constantly setting new goals and working towards accomplishing your current goals. The goals you aim for need to be big enough to ensure consistent growth while remaining tangible, realistic, and achievable.  

But goals also need to be flexible. Managing how your team goes about accomplishing those goals requires you to be open to suggestions and improvements or else risk falling behind the pack. 

Oftentimes, there will be an aspirational quantifiable goal that your team is working towards accomplishing. For example, reaching $1 million in annual revenue. While there are many different ways you can accomplish this goal, the conventional wisdom is usually to follow the same methods that lead you here and keep progressing along the same path towards that goal.

Sometimes, the plans that got you here are not the plans that will lead you to your ultimate goal. Let’s continue with the quantity goal of achieving $1 million in revenue. Now let’s say you are collecting monthly payments on your product or service, and your sales team is growing sales at 10% month-over-month: it looks like you are well on your way! But you might be missing crucial factors. You might not notice until it’s too late that your product isn’t high enough quality to retain those clients and now you are losing 20% of clients after three months. Now you are stuck in a situation that is essentially just pouring water to a leaky bucket.

The cost to make the quality adjustments might be really expensive…but the cost of consistently losing business is usually going to be worse. If there aren’t quality controls in place, it’s going to make achieving your $1 million in revenue goal harder and make the next important milestone even more difficult to achieve if you don’t change your things up. 

Word spreads quickly and first impressions are incredibly important! If word spreads that your quality is inconsistent, you will saturate the market with a negative reputation and eventually find it very difficult to garner new customers.

Essentially, the cost of consistently putting out a bad product becomes more and more expensive as word spreads. This cost to reputation quickly grows to be significantly greater than the cost of doing nothing.

A story that does a great job of conveying this is the story of Pixar Animation Studios and the story of Toy Story 2. In the 1980’s, Steve Jobs (after getting let go by the board of Apple) bought Pixar from Lucas Film, and in the early 1990’s the Walt Disney Company hired Pixar to make 1 full-length, completely computer-animated movie.

At the time, there had never been a full-length completely computer animated movie. It had never been done. Pixar had done shorts before (and actually won an Oscar in 1988 for Tin Toy), but they had never made a full-length movie before. The agreement was that the Walt Disney Company would pay for the entire cost of producing the film but would receive 100% of the royalties. 

Steve Jobs and the Pixar management team knew that this was not necessarily the greatest deal for them. They knew that if the movie was a hit and Disney kept all of the royalties, they would have Pixar hamstrung and forced into this type of deal for the future because their profit on this deal was minimal.

Therefore, right before Pixar’s first movie with Disney went live to theaters, they made a bold move. They decided to have an Initial Public Offering (IPO). This was risky because if their first movie flopped, the company would be out of business. But, if it was a success, they knew Disney would come back to them to make more films and the additional funds from IPO would allow them to cover their half of the production cost and take a half of the royalties. 

Their first movie: Toy Story. 

What else needs to be said? But just in case you need a refresher: Toy Story was a smash success and won an Oscar in 1995.

The Walt Disney Company agreed to a deal to cover half of the production cost for two more movies and split the royalties with Pixar. This was still a relatively risky spot for Pixar because if any of these movies flopped, they would be on the hook for it. 

Pixar’s next movie was A Bug’s Life. Not only was it another great box office success and instant classic, but the production of the film went off without a hitch. 

Their second movie was Toy Story 2, and the production of the much-anticipated sequel was not nearly as smooth as A Bug’s Life or even the original Toy Story. In fact, Toy Story 2 almost ended up never being released…twice! 

Because Pixar was a young and quickly growing company, they hadn’t really established the type of quality protocol and procedures necessary when making films. Like most startups, they were flying by the seat of their pants. 

Since they were making A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2 at the same time, they had to split their teams to focus on each respective movie and hired an outside film director to direct Toy Story 2. 

The Pixar team was so focused on releasing A Bug’s Life that they gave essentially free reign to this new director to direct Toy Story 2. By the time Toy Story 2 was “ready” for a final review, Pixar encountered a huge problem: the movie just wasn’t very good. It simply wasn’t emotionally gripping or well-put together. 

The Pixar team had to make a choice: keep this sub-par film that they invested millions of dollars into, or scrap the entire film and start over (and risk upsetting everyone that worked on the original Toy Story 2).

The short-term risk was losing the millions of dollars they spent producing the film. The long-term risk was losing the Walt Disney Company as a financial and commercial partner, leaving them having to go off on their own and figure out distribution channels, promotion, and everything else that Disney brought to the table that made their involvement so valuable.

So, Pixar decided to pivot. They scrapped the entire first draft of the movie (losing millions of dollars) and started over. 

Production was going well: great story, great characters, great emotion. But, right before Toy Story 2 (the second version) was ready to be released, something happened. The developers at Pixar were working on improving some small visual features and that involved writing over the code in some folder. But, they used the wrong command: ask a programmer and they will let you know that this is easy to do! So, when they went to delete and replace the folder, the command instead started deleting every file it encountered. And…a developer accidentally entered that command. After a moment, they started seeing files disappearing and realized what was happening.

Everything was deleted. Woody, Buzz, Mr. Potatohead, everything! They scrapped millions of dollars on the first movie and then accidentally deleted the entire second go-around of this movie. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue. Everyone knows to backup important work, right? Except the backups were untested, and failed when they tried to retrieve their work. All seemed lost. 

However, they had a lifeline. One of their employees who was pregnant was granted the opportunity to work from home (back when working from home wasn’t the norm). Every week, she would back up the entire movie on her home hard drive. After they realized this, they dashed to her house to find out whether or not their entire project was truly gone. 

The Pixar team drove to her house, picked up her hard drive and…it was all there! 

The movie released and was a total success and laid the groundwork for Pixar to create: Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, and so many other movies that became instant classics.

Pixar had an original goal: to make 2 movies with Disney. They could have stuck to the original version of Toy Story 2, but that could have led to lost business and opportunities down the line (the equivalent of a leaky bucket). 

Pixar chose to pivot in the face of adversity for the opportunity to set themselves up in the long-term.

They created the Brain Trust which is a quality control team that meets with directors weekly to ensure that the movies they are directing are on track and quality.

They also implemented technical systems that prevented employees from losing everything in their system, and ensuring that their work is backed up, that their backups are backed up, and that those are backed up too! 

Technically, Pixar didn’t need to make either of those pivots to make 2 movies. But to make 2 high quality movies that would sustain the success of their business for years to come, these pivots were absolutely necessary.

The point: having goals is a great first step. But to maintain your success, you are going to need to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge that what you are doing now isn’t perfect and will be improved. There are some activities that may not directly drive your outcome in the short-term, but will absolutely lead you to success over the long term. Knowing when, how, and just being open to pivoting is critical to your success as a leader and as a company.

Wed 12 August 2020
Over the course of my career, there has been an increasing focus on making work “easier”.  This initiative has taken many forms over the years, ranging from process improvements and documentation, to streamlining meetings, to improved electronic platforms, etc.  As I began to get involved with the Ambition in Motion program, my personal workload began to increase as well, and more than ever the need for an “easy” application was essential.

 I can comfortably say that this program is very easy, with a clearly defined structure, easy to follow instructions, and continued touchpoints and follow-up from the program administrators.  In addition to the regular Mentorship sessions, there as many other opportunities for personal growth.  I can honestly say that the most difficult portion of this program is personally finding the time to take full advantage of what is offered.  I am very excited to see how this continues to grow and evolve.



Mon 17 August 2020
I am in a mentoring relationship with another CEO who has been having some people issues at this company. The focus of our most recent conversation was how to handle these types of situations without harming company culture and morale.

The issue he is focused on right now is with his controller (or lead accountant). His controller is a really nice guy, everybody loves him, and from a company culture perspective, he brings positivity to the workplace. But, he just isn’t getting his work done on time, and he is often a bottle-neck for the entire company. 

My CEO mentor recognizes this and doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t want to fire him because people genuinely like him and he has positive attributes that make the work environment rewarding. But he can’t let the whole company be hamstrung because of one person’s delayed work.

3 weeks earlier, this CEO mentor of mine had a similar issue with a couple of his salespeople. They were nice employees and people liked them, but they also weren’t getting the job done. In that situation, the CEO essentially gave his salespeople an ultimatum: “If you don’t increase your performance, we are going to have to move in a different direction.”

The result…both salespeople took his suggestion, moved in a different direction, and left with a sour taste in their mouth of their working experience.

It didn’t stop there either. Additional costs for the company and my CEO mentor were significant because he now needed to recruit, hire, and train 2 new salespeople, all the while losing out on the sales from the 2 former employees. This all set him back on accomplishing other business goals that he set his company.

The CEO decided that he wanted a different outcome with his controller. My mentor realized that the ideal outcome would be to transition him to a different role without the employee taking this as a personal affront.

Neither he nor I knew if that could be possible, but my CEO mentor knew there had to be a different, and better, strategy than the “my way or the highway” approach.

One thing that he brought up to me in our conversation was Marshall Rosenberg’s idea of Nonviolent Communication.

Nonviolent Communication is a series of steps that help de-escalate a potentially contentious situation by stating the facts, removing emotional generalizations (e.g. because I hate when you do that, or because it wasn’t fair for me), and provides a clear, tangible next step that is ideally reasonable and accepted.

The steps to nonviolent communication are: observation, feeling, need, and request.

Observation is an unequivocal fact that can’t be disagreed with. When conveying the observation, there shouldn’t be a positive or negative tone in the voice of the person stating the observation. It is merely a statement of fact.

Feeling is the feeling that the person initiating Nonviolent Communication is feeling. This is ONLY THE FEELING. Anything else that comes with the feeling is irrelevant. Feelings include: mad, sad, angry, frustrated, and anxious. Avoid insults and anything that starts with “I think”. Also, it can be easy to fall into the trap of mistaking insults for feelings (e.g., “You do this on purpose to be a jerk”). 

Need is a need that everyone can agree to. A need is not “I need you to do xyz things”. A need is a higher level notion that is aspirational and is something that EVERYONE can work towards. It holds the person conveying Nonviolent Communication, the person receiving it, and anyone else involved accountable to this need. An example could include “my need is a work environment where people are respected, they get their work done, and they can find joy in the workplace.” Most people can agree that they would consider this a need for their work environment. 

Request is a specific, tangible, ideally measurable request that is reasonably achievable. If it is vague, it will be difficult to know if it was achieved and if it is unreasonable, it will create resentment. A bad example of a request would be “my request is that you never interrupt me again.” This is a bad example because it requests for somebody to change actions instantaneously and without margin for error. An employee might develop some minor habit of inadvertently interrupting you but not realize it frustrates you so much. So, when you finally decide to bring it up to them and ask (order!) them to never do it again, you are presenting an unrealistic request and not seeking to understand the person. A better request would be:

“My request is that when we have a conversation, you try practicing reflective listening, meaning that when we have a conversation, you take a pause after I am done speaking to reflect on what I just said before jumping in with what you are going to say. I recognize that this might take time to practice and implement, but my request is that you give it a chance and are intentional about practicing it in conversations.”

You could potentially add in a specific number of times that would be acceptable for that person to interrupt you to be measurable, but that may sound condescending for this situation. The key difference is that the request is much more likely to be adopted than the original bad example. By practicing Nonviolent Communication and working with the person, you are working together to find the best solution for all parties.

So, my CEO mentor decided to apply Nonviolent Communication to his situation with his controller to see if it might be able to achieve his desired goal of getting him to work on a different task while showing him respect and maintaining his dignity.

His observation: The accounting work that was due on June 20th came in on July 1st. This has happened each of the past 3 months, and we have had several conversations about the importance of timely accounting work over the past 3 months.

His feelings: He feels frustrated and anxious. 

His need: A work environment where people are respected, they get their work done, and they can find joy in the workplace.

His request: “Would you be open to helping onboard a new controller over the next 3 weeks, and then transitioning your work to the marketing department afterwards?”

The result…his controller was open to it! The CEO mentor of mine may not have perfectly implemented the keys to Nonviolent Communication, but he did them well enough to achieve his desired goal. This part is important: you won’t get it perfect on your first try. But practice makes perfect, and even imperfect execution can help you solve your people problems. 

His controller, now marketing assistant, helped onboard the new controller, and because he was so well-liked by others at the company, his transition to marketing was smooth. So far, he is getting his work done on time and finding a greater passion for his work in marketing compared to accounting.

As business leaders, we may scoff at the idea of showing emotion at work and sharing our feelings. And if we do, they may come out as massive generalizations that can be hurtful and negative to culture. In this example, this CEO mentor of mine showed emotion, vulnerability, and subsequently leadership and was able to accomplish his goals and his company goals. 

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