Person standing in front of a wall with many items to choose from

Uncertainty in decision making lets great leaders shine

Professionals don’t experience uncertainty in decision making — as an amateur, I “knew” this. Before I worked in a medical center, I thought medicine was an exact science: Doctors were trained to evaluate data and come up with precise diagnoses and treatments to benefit their patients. Before I went to business school, I thought all business leaders were quantitative experts: Executives were trained to crunch numbers and come up with clear-cut decisions to benefit their businesses.

Of course, neither proved to be true. Science is certainly the foundation of medicine, but much of what medical practitioners do is art, based on their intelligence, experience, and listening and communication skills. Similarly, much of what business leaders do is educated guesswork, based on their intelligence, experience, and listening and communication skills. Even my fellow student Hazim, the “quant” on our team, would usually start his guidance to us with the phrase, “We assume … ”

Clipboard and paper that says 2021 with glitter scattered

Cautious, sometimes optimistic, predictions for 2021

Don’t even try to forecast the future! If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this mind-boggling year, it’s that our ability to make accurate forecasts is highly unreliable. I remember several panels of experts last January making predictions about 2020: With the exception of possible uncertainty resulting from the presidential election, they were very positive about the prospects for this year. 

‘Nuff said about that.

woman standing in office with mask

Thriving in a Pandemic – Top 10 Tips from a CEO

How would you like to be running a high-end wine production and distribution company about now? Think about it for a minute – there’s bad news and there’s good news. The bad news is that sales at all your “on-site” customers – wineries and restaurants – have plummeted. The good news is that retail wine sales have risen. The challenge, as in every business right now, is how to make the most of an extraordinary situation.

I recently listened to Bill Terlato, the CEO of Terlato Wine Group, talk about the choices he and his leadership team made over the recent months to keep their company healthy. Although his advice was based on his industry, most of it was relevant for leaders across the board. So here’s my summary of Bill’s top ten pearls:

woman looking at laptop

How Understanding Brains can Make you a Better Leader

Prior to 1990, when scientists wanted to directly observe how the brain works, they had to open up people’s skulls and attach electrodes to their brains. Guess what – it was really hard to find people to sign up for that kind of experimentation. So a lot of what we “knew” about how the brain functioned was guesswork. Then in 1990, the invention of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) made it possible for scientists to study how the brain works while leaving people’s skulls intact. The field of neuropsychology exploded and has become one of the most exciting, fast-paced areas of science. 

man holding phone and coffee outside

Productive work breaks — the dos and dont’s of managing energy

For the third time in a row, Bill used up most of his time in our coaching session to talk about how anxious and overwhelmed he was feeling. A senior executive in a large transportation company, Bill normally had a very calm demeanor, to the extent that others sometimes perceived him as remote or disengaged. But now, week after week, he was finding himself reactive and overwrought.

My first thought was, “Well, of course!” Almost everyone I’m talking to these days, both personally and professionally, is reactive and overwrought. By now we’re all exhausted from the uncertainty, sadness, fear, and relentless accommodations we are making as we try to navigate through the crisis. It seems endless. This is the world we’re living in.

woman standing in doorway

What to do when you get laid off: First mourn, then organize

Twice in my career, I’ve had to answer the question of what to do when you get laid off.

In 1980, the psychiatric hospital where I worked half-time eliminated all the part-time jobs. I was laid off. I had just had my first child and we had just bought our first house. It was awful.

In 2009, when the economy was tanking, the consulting firm where I was working laid off one-third of its consultants in one day. It took me one week to realize that there were no jobs for someone in my field — no one was hiring. It was awful.

But in both cases, it didn’t stay awful.

wendy on billions

Billions therapist Wendy Rhoades brings real coaching to fiction

I like writing about Wendy Rhoades, the high-flying performance coach on the Showtime show Billions. Having said that, I want to make two things clear. First, Wendy Rhoades is a fictional character. She is not real. This is important in a world where fact and fiction are often very muddled. Second, Wendy is not a moral exemplar. She lives and works in a world whose moral code is highly problematic. She has already gotten in trouble for a lapse in her professional ethics, and my guess is that she’ll continue to make some very shady choices.

So why do I keep writing about her? She is an intriguing character, she’s a powerful female figure, and she demonstrates some of the tactics of successful performance coaching. It’s the last point that keeps me watching the show and writing about what I see.

older man young woman at work

Bricolage in business: How to make the best of what’s around

I love it when I discover a great new word — a word I’ve never heard before that describes something in a useful and specific way. A few years ago my treasured new word was “sprezzatura,” an Italian word that means “the art of making things look easy.” What a great word — and what a great description of how to carry yourself in many difficult situations.

My newest word is “bricolage.” I came across it recently in an article about innovation. It’s a French word that means “the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available.”

two women in front of whiteboard

What’s Going to Get Businesses out of this Mess?

We’ve been talking about a VUCA world for a long time. VUCA stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Ha! We didn’t have a clue what VUCA looks like. The business environment we’re in right now – this is VUCA, this is the real thing.

What are the qualities that will enable a business to survive and thrive in this VUCA world? A recent article in Consulting Psychology Journal provided a very interesting framework to answer this question. 

man holding book at desk

JOMO: Time to embrace the joy of missing out

Move over FOMO, it’s a new age of JOMO.

A panel of economists recently presented their predictions for 2020 at The Executives’ Club of Chicago. This annual event is always thought-provoking, controversial, and occasionally funny. This year the major theme was the unusual level of economic uncertainty. Between the upcoming US presidential election, Brexit, the fraught US-China trade relationship, and on-going concerns about climate change, the experts were decidedly uneasy.

But the chief take-away for me was not some great tip about where to invest my fortune, such as it is. It was a toss-off comment by “Dr. Bob” Froehlich. In his usual witty manner, Dr. Bob proposed four important trends that would, in his opinion, affect the economy this year. One of them was “JOMO.”