Olivia de Havilland just passed away at the age of 104. The tribute to this great movie star in the Chicago Tribune (July 28, 2020) praised her “talent, ambition, and luminosity,” which pretty much says it all. As Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind, as Maid Marian in The Adventures of Robin Hood, and in numerous other starring roles, she lit up the screen.
She was a standout off-screen as well. At a time when the Hollywood studios locked movie stars into oppressive contracts, de Havilland challenged the system and won. The result of her court victory is called “the de Havilland law” to this day.
Sounds like a life well-lived. That may have been at least in part because of her very clear-eyed vision of what she wanted. At the age of 18, de Havilland tested for a starring role opposite Errol Flynn. She won the role and went on the star with him in six more films. During that screen test, when they were off-camera, Flynn asked her, “What do you want out of life?” She thought for a moment and responded, “I would like respect for difficult work, well done.”
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.
A global retailer was facing increased competition and was fighting to maintain and grow its market share. The senior team realized they needed to fundamentally restructure the relationship between the corporate leadership and the store personnel. Their goal was to empower the people who were closest to the customers, so that their change initiatives were clearly linked to customers’ needs and wants.
Dan (not his real name), an Executive Vice President in a professional services firm, was under consideration for promotion to President of the company. As a leader of one of the firm’s largest territories, he had been highly successful in increasing revenues and growing his team. He had a reputation as a tough, aggressive, competitive leader who knew how to get the job done. In order to move from a regional to an enterprise-wide leadership role, Dan needed to build strong strategic relationships with peers across the company. This required him to modify his leadership style, emphasizing collaborative skills and softening his competitive style.
The senior leaders of a major financial services institution wanted to ensure that the next generation of leaders was adequately prepared to step into senior leadership roles. They knew that it is usually more economical and effective for companies to grow their internal talent rather than compete for top talent from the external market. Each senior leader had identified high potential talent within his or her division of the company, and a psychological assessment company had provided profiles of each of the identified high potential leaders. The senior team wanted to provide a targeted, challenging leadership development program to accelerate the growth of the identified cohort.
An executive in a financial services organization was experiencing conflict with her peers, who saw her as arrogant and domineering. They perceived her as over-stepping her authority and felt she was willing to step on others to further her own career. They experienced her interpersonal style as rude, abrasive, and condescending. Others felt she did not listen to their point of view and took credit for their work. Her manager was tired of people coming into his office to complain about her. The company leaders wanted to retain her because of her technical expertise and business acumen. However, they were considering terminating her because of the negativity she aroused.
A talented young director in a large, global packaged goods company had been selected to participate in the company’s high-potential leadership development program. The first step in the program was an initial assessment with a consultant from Gail Golden Consulting. In the interview, it was clear that the director exhibited many leadership strengths, including high intelligence, strong analytic abilities, and a drive for execution. However, her interpersonal impact led others to underestimate her leadership abilities. Her dress was very casual, her posture and eye contact did not convey confidence, and her voice was quiet and lacked enthusiasm.
The Board of Directors of a large, national non-profit organization was dissatisfied with the performance of the CEO. Two years earlier, the Board had determined that the rapid growth of the organization required a CEO who could demonstrate a new skill set that was beyond the capabilities of the then CEO. They elevated their COO to CEO and the former CEO became a Board member.
The new CEO demonstrated strong leadership in a number of areas. Not surprisingly, he was a highly effective operational leader, as well as an effective external voice for the organization. However, the Board found him to be overly timid, lacking initiative, and weak in his strategic thinking. They were concerned that he did not have the vision and forcefulness to take the organization to the next stage of its development.
A regional office of a national financial services company was experiencing a leadership crisis. The productivity and the profitability of the office were not meeting goal. Complaints about the two leaders’ interpersonal style and the office culture had reached the level that the CEO and the VP of HR were concerned about legal exposure. It was critical that the company’s corporate leaders demonstrate their responsiveness to the concerns they were hearing. If the office could not become more financially profitable and less tumultuous, the company was considering shutting it down.
A large mid-market retail company was initiating a new program to sell luxury products and services to high-end customers. In order to rapidly ramp up their program, they needed to hire a large cadre of highly motived sales people with a history of success in relationship-based selling to high-end customers – a different kind of salesperson from those who were already working in their stores.
The company leaders were relying on the new initiative to bolster the company’s bottom line. They wanted the program to be a success right from the start. Initial branding was critical to the growth of the program, and they could not afford any mis-hires on the sales team.
J Group was a rapidly growing web development and digital consulting firm. As their success grew and their staff expanded to fifty employees, the leadership team had brought in new people into new roles. In addition, the roles of some of the long-term leaders had evolved. This had created some confusion for both new employees and longer-term staff around roles, deliverables, and how the new people added value. In particular, there was some tension between the developers and the new leaders who brought expertise in areas like marketing and project management.
The continued success and growth of the firm depended on creating clarity and structure for these new roles. In addition, J Group was a company which placed great emphasis on company culture and employee engagement, so it was critically important to build alignment across the firm.
E Group was a fast-growing company which anticipated continued increasing demand for its product. Sales had increased by 400% in 2011 and the company’s full production for 2012 was already sold out by September. However, in past years the market had been very volatile, which made predicting the future difficult and uncertain. The owners had concerns that some predictions were “too good to be true.” They had invested a significant portion of their personal financial assets in the company; they wanted to protect their investment and to maintain sufficient personal resources to meet their family’s needs. Key issues included:
- How should the company expand?
- How can production be made more efficient to keep up with demand?
- What kind of outside investment should be sought?
- How and when can the company pay the owners back?
An international consumer goods company was selecting a new Chief Marketing Officer. Their search process had identified a number of highly qualified candidates. The CEO and other senior executives met with the candidates and selected one who seemed to them to be an excellent fit. They were pleased to have found this leader and were ready to hire him, but they decided to include a psychological assessment in the selection process as a final data point to help them make their decision.