The Tricky Middle

I still remember the final exam for lifeguard certification during my freshman year in college.  After a semester of being in the pool multiple times a week, of learning and practicing maneuvers in the water, it was time.  Standing on the deck of the pool, shivering from nerves more than temperature, I heard the instructor call out, “Levitt!” as he paired me with a classmate who was 6’tall and solid muscle.

My exam was to successfully pull him out of the water.

In the middle of the Olympic-sized pool, my partner did his best to thrash, yell, and submerge himself, while I did my best to swim out, get him secured, and carry him back.  He was heavy with all that muscle weight, and I was swimming as hard as I could.  At one point, I clearly remember thinking, “I’m going to drown trying to get my lifeguard certification.”

Writing a book has made me take new notice of the middle.

It’s the tricky place that is neither the exciting beginning, nor the light at the end.  It is the place where, if we succumb to fatigue or frustration, our endeavors might drown.

But it is also the place that slowly, eventually, recedes, if we just keep swimming.  It becomes the place that we passed through.

I became a lifeguard that day.

And my manuscript is on the cusp of being turned in.

Keep swimming.


I have a friend who is a runner.  A really fast runner.  He’s also quite modest, so if I want to tease him, all I have to do is call out “5:48!” as a greeting.  That’s the time it took him to run each mile of a half marathon.  On a good day, my time for much shorter distances is around 9:30.

Which is why I’ve asked if he wouldn’t mind pacing me a few times as I look toward elevating my running performance over the next couple of years.  I don’t have any illusions that I’ll be able to run as fast as he does.  It’s not as if by some magic, his running time will become mine.

But what if, by asking myself to run faster than usual, I could eventually run as fast as I can?

The people we surround ourselves with make a difference.

Who are you enlisting to help you stretch?

To aspire?


Next month, I’m speaking about aspiration and Magnificent Leadership™ at the NCSHRM State Conference where I’m joining a fantastic speaker lineup that includes Marshall Goldsmith.

In October, I’m delivering the closing keynote on Magnificent Leadership™ at the Richmond SHRM Strategic Leadership Conference where I’m proud to join a keynote roster that includes Dorrie Fontaine, Dean of the University of Virginia’s School of Nursing, and Lisa Horn, Director of Congressional Affairs at SHRM.

Just One

One good leader is all it takes to create a ripple-out effect of:

More aspiration and accountability to it
Faster productization, monetization, and increased market share
Greater courage to steer through uncertainty and push the boundaries of what’s possible
Exemplary client service, delivery, and recurring revenue
More magnetization of superstars and less attrition
Stellar internal best practices with greater efficiencies and fewer errors
More movement on what really matters and less on infighting

Imagine what two or ten could do.

For more on how to create a ripple-out effect of Magnificent Leadership™ in your organization, you can reach me at:

When You’re Drinking From a Fire Hose

You’ve landed the role.  Maybe it’s the one you’ve been working toward for most of your career or it’s the stepping stone before.  No matter, it’s big.  Everything’s grand except that you have more on your plate than ever before: more projects, more direct reports, more meetings, more expectations, and more relationships to manage.  You’re more visible in this role, too, with more responsibility.  The stakes are high if for no other reason than that’s where you aim.

You’re giving this all you’ve got, of course.  The challenge isn’t your drive or hard work.  The issue is that there isn’t enough of you to go around, not in this new capacity.  Where to most effectively focus your time, energy, and attention?  You need to be more strategic, you know, keeping your eye not only on short term deadlines, but on longer term goals.  And you also know you need to delegate more, get things off your plate, but which?  After all, you’re the person who is ultimately responsible for the division, the GBU, the (fill in the blank).

Oh, and on top of all this?  There’s your team, looking to you for guidance, mentorship, leadership.  You need to be a leader like never before, more confident and decisive, all the while bringing your direct reports up to speed as you find your own footing.  You want to communicate well, inspire those around you, help your team to function as effectively and autonomously as possible while precisely walking the line between being of help when needed and not micromanaging.  You want to be the leader who delivers results and is also good to work for.

And we haven’t even gotten to your EA.  You know they’re underutilized, that they could be better leveraged, of greater help managing your schedule and running interference, but when would you find the time to sit down and have that conversation?

If any of this is sounds familiar, one of the most common reasons I’m invited to work with already-super senior executives is when they’re preparing for new leadership roles or have just landed in one.

If you’re tired of drinking from a fire hose or want to avoid it altogether, you can reach me at to have a mutually exploratory conversation about working with me directly.

The amazing leaders that I work with know that investing in themselves yields dividends far beyond their own success.  Although that’s a great place to start.

You’ve Been Poached. Now What?

Three Questions to Ask:

Might others in the organization be vulnerable, as well?

What happened, and what, if anything, needs your attention for future retention of your superstars?

What’s the time required to fill the position, and who will do what in the meantime? (And is your bench strength being given enough attention?)

Three Items to Take Action On:

Assess whether you’re hiring for the culture of your organization.  (And be an organization that attracts and retains top talent.)

Get super-creative in the perks that you offer compared to your competitors.  Your sales people want to be home on Friday night in time for the weekend after being on the road all week?  What can you do to make that happen? Superstars always have choices.

Create “stay” interviews if you haven’t already, so that you’re dialed-in to what matters most to team members at different levels and positions within the organization.

Bonus #4: Be prepared to address and be tuned-in to morale after a superstar leaves.



How to Compete, Part 4

It’s July 4th weekend, and I go mattress shopping.  I walk into a department store, bounce around on a few mattresses, and I’m ready to make a purchase.  I keep bouncing, thinking that a sales associate will surely show up at any moment.  Another customer comes over, asks if I work there.  Nope.  They take off in search of a salesperson.  Customer comes back with associate, and I offer that they are next in line.

I’m still bouncing an hour after I first arrive and have work to do on my manuscript.  The sales associate is on the phone when I leave, they’ve been placed on hold while trying to help the other customer.

I ask what their hours are for the week.

Mattress sale lost.

The next day I’m at a competitor.

The same day of the mattress excursion, I’m expecting a certified package and I head over to my post office after the morning mail service.   The package has not yet arrived.  Let me check on it for you, one of the postwomen offers.  My post office is tiny, its parking lot often overflowing.  Despite lines that can extend out into the lobby, the two employees behind the counter have always made it their business to know me, deftly combining efficiency and service.

Within minutes, the postwoman has the location of my package and tells me it might be delivered later that day.  Would I like her to call me if it arrives, she asks?  (Remember, the line at this place often extends out the door.)  I accept, with many thanks.

An hour later my phone rings.  The postwoman tells me that they’re open until 4:30, and if I arrive when they’re at lunch, (the office closes their counter service for this hour each day), just call her and she’ll bring the package out to me.

As I pick up my package, I express my deep appreciation for her going well beyond the call of duty.  She matter-of-factly says, “I always take care of my customers.”

The combination of efficient execution with superior service is where the future lies.

(Think Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods.)

Whether post-M&A debris has left your organization fractured and siloed, or rapid growth has unearthed a crisis of leadership (think Uber), or pervasive underperformance is impeding stellar execution , in these times of speed and uncertainty, competitive advantage goes to those organizations with both visionary leaders and exemplary employees.

Without either, you’re impeding growth at best.  Or, at worst, enabling your competition.


I work with extraordinary senior leaders who create the future.  If you’re preparing for a new role with greater responsibility and visibility than ever before, or find yourself in a new seat and drinking from a fire hose, you can reach me at to have a mutually exploratory conversation about working with me directly.

My most requested keynote is on Magnificent Leadership™ and I’m booking 2018 now.  To inquire about having me speak at your national conference or corporate event, you can reach me at

The Equation

As I write my book on Magnificent Leadership™, I listen deeply to each of the interviews that will be featured.  During the first few minutes of talking with Tim Toterhi, something really caught my attention.  Growing up in a not-so-great neighborhood in New York, he said that the greatest challenge was getting “out of your own frame of reference” for what was possible.  This, he told me, “was really the hardest thing to do.”

But he did.

If you think that your frame of reference, your vantage point — as a leader, as a senior leadership team, as an organization — doesn’t drive your future, I’m here to tell you with all compassion and candor that you are mistaken.

Your view, the lens you look through, isn’t part of the equation.

It is the equation.

And it has the power to bring people with you.


I work with extraordinary senior leaders who create the future.  For more on working with me directly to transform the challenges before you, you can reach me at to schedule a mutually exploratory conversation.

I’m currently booking keynote presentations for 2018 and have had the honor to speak at leadership conferences and events at Oracle, BASF, the American Bankers Association, Blue Cross Blue Shield, the National Association of CEOs, and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, among others.  For more:

Succession Made Simple, Part 2

Are you and the Board in agreement (on the roles that need to be filled, their competencies, and the time frame in which things need to be accomplished)?

Do you have agreed-upon criteria for how you’ll assess a prospect’s fit against the requirements of the position?

And, does your organization invest in the resources necessary to accelerate the success of your new leadership, either in preparation for the role or after they’re seated?


I’ve created a succession diagnostic to help you discern where you are in your planning and preparation.  Drop me a note at and I’ll send you a copy.

Succession Made Simple

What are your organization’s leadership needs, immediate and long term?

What is your bench strength relative to those needs?

And what are the competencies required for the holes that need to be filled?

Daunting But Not Daunted

They’ve all navigated significant change, tumult, and transition and come out on the other side to create something greater.  In my conversations for The Making Magnificence Project®, some of the interviewees have confessed to feeling overwhelmed at times by what has been before them, by the enormity of the responsibility, or by the stretch that was required of their abilities.  But the common thread that runs among these leaders is that despite those challenging circumstances, despite the obstacles, they’ve not been daunted.  At least not for long.  Instead, they’ve chosen aspiration, however rough-hewn it looked at the time.

If you aspire to use all of your talents and gifts to maximum potential, I’ve designed a questionnaire to help you do just that.  Just drop me a note at and I’ll share it with you.