I came of age in an anti-authoritarian time when executive gravitas rang false to many of us. The suits and ties, the gloves and girdles of the ‘50s were replaced by the sandals and long hair of the hippies. One of our catchphrases was, “If it feels good, do it.” The phrase captured a mindset that being true to yourself and living the good life meant acting on your impulses and sharing everything — thoughts, feelings, desires, and choices.
The current emphasis on “authenticity” shows just how much this stance has swung back into favor. Both in our personal and professional lives, some coaches are advising us, as people and as leaders, to be open and true to our feelings and preferences.
The best time to ask how to write an exit letter is before you need one. Wait too late, and you’re likely to send the kind of missive that burns bridges — and burn yourself in the process.
Consider, instead, that you’re planning to leave your job sometime in the next few months. You’ve already started to disengage a little. You’re not working quite such long hours and you’ve stopped making long-term plans for your department. You find yourself thinking about what you’d like to say on your way out.
Once again, there’s a war for talent and leaders are desperate for a high-potential employee assessment to ferret out their best workers. The last time I heard this much scuttlebutt about a shortage of people with leadership skills was before the Great Recession. But here we are, ten years later, and succession planning is back to being a hot topic.
As a performance coach, much of my work centers on “soft” leadership skills – influencing without authority, executive presence, giving meaningful feedback, etc. All of those skills are critically important for successful leadership, but none of them does much to help the leader struggling with a business fundamental like financial acumen.
Etiquette matters in the business world. In spite of the frequent media portrayals of business executives as aggressive boors, in the real world most successful senior leaders are meticulously polite and even formal. For example, I have received numerous hand-written notes from business leaders, even though this practice is fairly rare in my non-business social circle. My business colleagues typically shake hands at the beginning and end of a meeting and are careful to introduce people who don’t know each other.
As I was working my way through my Ph.D. program, I didn’t know that the skills I learned from waitressing would prove their own education. For several years I waited tables at La Trattoria in Bloomington, Indiana, a fairly high-end restaurant where most of the employees were university students. It was a great job at the time. It paid better than most office or retail jobs, it had flexible hours, and I was on my feet so much that I didn’t have to watch my weight. Nonetheless, I wasn’t sad when I graduated and moved on to professional work.
You may have heard the Texas slang, “big hat, no cattle” — referring to a person who makes him or herself look important, without the substance to back it up.
We’ve all met business leaders who always want to be seen as “the smartest person in the room.” Sometimes they really are highly intelligent. Other times they are empty suits. But it’s always wildly irritating to watch them swagger about. They are terrible listeners, they don’t contribute well to team goals, and often their communication is dripping with condescension.
Everywhere you look, people are feeling stressed, overworked, and inadequate. In our hyper-stimulating environment, we’re trying to do it all and we end up feeling exhausted and empty. We talk about finding work/life balance, but nobody is balanced and the concept just makes us feel worse. As I work with my executive coaching clients to help them be the best leaders they can be, this issue of how to manage yourself for peak productivity is very often on the agenda.
Everyone’s favorite fictional performance coach, Wendy Rhoades, is back at it in the first episode of Showtime’s Billions, now in its third season. She has her work cut out for her — her boss, Bobby Axelrod, is banned from trading, and his employees at Axe Capital are struggling to find their way forward. For inspiration, she turns to another fictional character. Wendy offers to help Bobby deal with his dilemma by taking him through a technique created by real-life coach Tony Robbins called the Dickens Process.
“Plans are great until you get punched in the face.” Although Mike Tyson is not a role model for business leadership, this quote of his points to the necessity of being agile — willing to change or even abandon your plans in extreme situations. It reminded me of an old Jewish proverb, “Man plans and God laughs.”
It turns out that once again the general consensus, paradoxically referred to as “common sense,” is wrong. For decades we have believed that, while psychopaths may not be nice people, they are great for beating the competition and making the big bucks. So while you may not want to marry a psychopath, or even work for one, when it comes to your money, you do want a psychopathic investment advisor who can play the game for blood.
It’s not that business leaders are uncaring, it’s just that their job is to focus on one thing: profit. Diversity may be a good thing for the world, but let’s face it, for-profit companies are not social-service agencies. For them there are two primary questions about diversity. Does increasing workplace diversity affect my bottom line? And if so, how?