SARAH'S BLOG

The 5 Strategies for Leading Through Limbo, Part 2

Maybe you’re in the beginning stages of an M&A.  Or the dust has finally settled and you’re trying to build cohesion and reduce the territorialism that crept up when everyone in the organization, including the SLT, was wondering who would remain standing.  Or, perhaps, there’s been good news: Your company’s market value is ever-increasing (think Paypal) and with that comes potential new directions and new decisions.

No matter, things are in flux, uncertain.  And you’re tasked with leading through those waters.  In this, the second part of Leading Through Limbo, I’m going to share the remaining four key factors for successfully leading yourself and your team through the uncertain.  As I wrote in the initial episode of this series, the first factor is to accept what is to assess what can be.  What follows is what comes next.

These factors are drawn from the real and lived experience of the leadership exemplars that I talked with for The Making Magnificence Project® and who appear in my forthcoming book, Magnificent Leadership (Business Expert Press, January, 2018).

#2: Frame and Re-Frame.

Create a helpful narrative that enables you to make sense of the uncertainty.  One of the CEOs that I interviewed, told me that of all the things required of him, by far the most important is conveying and communicating meaning to his employees.  And he told me that it’s equally important in good times as tumultuous.  If circumstances are challenging, what narrative can you create that will make them less so?  If an outcome is unknown, or won’t be known for awhile, as is so often the case in business, how can you frame the events so that your team is inspired and galvanized rather than defeated and siloed?

#3: Find and Protect the Passion.

You want to be the best in your field?  You find fun in closing the deal?  Maybe your jam is to lead and develop your team.  Or, perhaps, you’re fueled by working on some of the world’s toughest problems.  Find that thing in your work that is your excitement and fun and joy and don’t relinquish it.  Particularly when things get topsy-turvy.  The world may be spinning, but whatever you’re passionate about will sustain you.  It’s one of the three fuel lines of Magnificent Leadership® for endurance over the long haul.  It matters.  A lot.

#4: Take Appropriate Action.

You’ve accepted that things are upside down for the time being.  You’ve found meaning in the circumstances or have created a narrative that makes sense to you.  You’ve held on to your love of what you do, even in the midst of the whirlwind.  Now make a plan.  Keep a sharp focus on future success while at the same time remaining open to iteration.  In times of tumult, the landscape is often shifting, and often rapidly.  Holding a steadfast gaze on future success in conjunction with taking appropriate action, while at the same time being open to the alternate possibilities that present themselves, ensures that you’re responding to the circumstances at hand while remaining future-focused.

#5: Find Someone to Hold the Vision.

In the realm of the uncertain, doubt and fatigue can be our greatest enemies.  Over and over again, the successful leaders that I spoke with all had at least one person who “got” them, someone who not only supported their aspirations but was there in times of trial.  Someone whom they trusted to confide in, let down their guard with, and who reminded them of what was possible when it became obscured.  Magnificence is not a solo journey.  Find someone who will help you re-ground to your own possibility, strength, and the bedrock of what you know to be true.  That bedrock can often be captured in simple mantras (all the CEOs that I interviewed had them), those pieces of wisdom that we turn to in times of challenge that give us comfort and reassurance.

All of the leaders that I interviewed for The Making Magnificence Project® navigated significant periods of uncertainty and limbo, times when they didn’t know what would come next, good or bad, when the outcome was likely not known for quite some time, when the sands beneath their feet were shifting.  For my clients in executive leadership, that’s often a daily reality.  Common examples include: key projects that have substantial glitches; star team members that leave and leave a hole; racing to get to market first; prolonged mergers that leave things up in the air with a tight lid on communication and information; shakeups on SLTs that make people nervous; new CEOs who turn up the dial on expectations and culture in the best ways and are met with deep resistance.  The list is long.  Infinite, really.  You could probably give three examples right now of important matters at stake with unknown outcomes.

The best leaders know that an ability to withstand the discomfort of uncertainty, to sustain themselves and their people, to name it and then take appropriate action in its midst, tend to come out on the other side, better for it.  As I told an audience last week, I consult across industry, and uncertainty is one of the constants.  Some organizations and leaders courageously acknowledge and embrace it and then up their game.  Others bury their heads in the sand.

Which leader do you aspire to be?

 

For more on working directly with me to lead through uncertainty and accelerate, rather than diminish, team performance, you can reach me at: sarah@sarah-levitt.com

New Keynote for 2018!  By request: How Magnificent Leaders Maximize Profits.

My two most popular conference keynotes are Magnificent Leadership® and The Heart of Innovation – Building High Performing Teams.

I’ve spoken to both leaders and individual contributors at BASF, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Oracle, The American Bankers Association, Ignite International Leadership Summit, Hewlett-Packard, and the National Association of CEOs, to name just a few.

For 2018 booking information: sarah@sarah-levitt.com

You Control the Narrative

A funny thing happened on the way home from delivering the closing keynote on Magnificent Leadership® at the Richmond Strategic Leadership Conference.  At the behest of my GPS, I was ascending an on-ramp toward a toll that required exact change of 30 cents.  And I didn’t have it.  As I tried to maneuver off to the side and figure out my next move, I heard a loud honk from the car behind me.

I assumed that meant one thing:

Get out of the way.

Perhaps it did.  And fair enough, I hadn’t quite yet.

What happened next creates a different narrative, though.

As he drove around me, the driver of that car pulled his vehicle alongside mine, rolled down his window, and asked how much I needed.  He then stretched over to put 25 cents in my hand.

And I was again reminded of how powerful our narratives are.

And how they can be helpful.

Or not.

What’s your narrative?

 

I’m booking keynote engagements late into 2018.  For more information on having me speak at your corporate event or national leadership conference, you can reach me at: sarah@sarah-levitt.com

And if you want to take your already-good leadership game to magnificent, you can reach me directly at sarah@sarah-levitt.com to schedule a mutually exploratory conversation.  I work with successful, talented, ambitious leaders senior leaders and will have openings in Q1 of 2018.

Dear CEO: The 10 Things You Need More Than an MBA

  1. A calm demeanor, particularly in the face of challenge, and self-regulation. Your actions and words carry more weight because of the seat in which you sit.  Use them with care.
  2. The ability to make decisions with confidence that are based in good information and grounded by your convictions.
  3. A genuine desire to harvest opinion other than your own and to surround yourself with those who disagree, thereby making you more robust and informed in your decision-making and more valuable to your organization.
  4. An outside perspective to shine a light where you can’t see, in a safe space where you can let your guard down.
  5. The communication skills and savvy to read, know, and relate to a variety of key stakeholder audiences (the Board, your SLT, employees, and shareholders).
  6. A self-monitored pressure release valve that you are able to re-set by taking time and space away from the cacophony and pressures of your responsibilities to clear your head and re-center yourself.
  7. A real inclination toward inspiring and leading those in your organization toward the full aspiration of its mission and vision. And believing in it, yourself.
  8. A connection to the contribution you want to make, the legacy you wish to create, and the overarching reason you work so incredibly hard and push so much. Without that, you’ll lose momentum, at best.
  9. The ability to delegate important responsibility to those around you and not allow yourself to get caught in the weeds, resulting in a steady focus on the horizon, near or far.
  10. The pursuit of continued learning, achievement, self-mastery, and your own magnificence.

 

To have a mutually exploratory conversation about working with me directly to unleash your own Magnificent Leadership®, you can reach me at: sarah@sarah-levitt.com

Next week I’m delivering the closing keynote at the Richmond Strategic Leadership Conference on “Magnificent Leadership® – Leading Through Change and Maximizing Profits”.

In advance of my book’s publication in January, I’m booking well into 2018 for speaking engagements.  To book me for your corporate event or conference, you can reach me at: sarah@sarah-levitt.com

The Certain Uncertain: Leading Through Limbo

While I was writing Magnificent Leadership, I noticed that the state of uncertainty is defined by what it is not.  In other words, by what is absent.   At the core of uncertainty is limbo, the state of suspension where we don’t know what comes next.  Missing are the answers and the outcome.  Perhaps we began an endeavor but have no idea how it turns out.  Or maybe we’re waiting for something to end, to be complete, and we have no knowledge about where that finish line is.

And most often, under these circumstances, we really want to know what comes next.

In the world of business, limbo and wanting to know what comes next might look something like this: You’re the CEO in the throes of an M&A and are tasked with leading the initiative but don’t know if you’ll still have a job afterward.  Or you’re the VP who’s been working toward and preparing for a new, elevated role as SVP, and are wondering and waiting.  Will you be selected?  Or perhaps you’re the Chief Strategy Officer at a pharma company who’s overseeing the new product launch, and there’s been an unexpected glitch that will hamper getting to market on time.

What then?

If uncertainty is characterized by limbo, then limbo is characterized by discomfort.

And over the coming weeks, I’ll be writing about The 5 Strategies for Leading Through Limbo.

The first is to accept what is.

That doesn’t mean you don’t want to change your circumstances.  Or that you don’t want things to be different.

It just means that you accept what is so that you can begin to assess what can be.

Stay tuned.  More to come.

 

If you’re interested in having a mutually exploratory conversation about Magnificent Leadership® for yourself and your team, or you’re trying to find your own way through leading through limbo, you can reach me at: sarah@sarah-levitt.com

Assuming the Mantle of Leadership

One of my clients still teases me about this phrase.  It’s how I describe the ability of an executive to step into their own powers, talents, and abilities and use them to full capacity for the requirements of a new position.  Maybe an executive is preparing to move from a North American role to one that is global in scope, or from being the top salesperson to being the Vice President of Sales and running a P&L and a team.  No matter, the common theme is that to be truly successful in their new seat, these executives can’t continue to do things the way they always have.  The rigors, responsibilities, and expansion of the new role are simply too great.

So, what needs to shift?  Well, in addition to being more strategic, and getting comfortable delegating real responsibility, it’s crucial to prioritize where to allocate time, energy, and focused attention.  And where to not.  But those three key elements — delegation, prioritization, and strategic thinking — are predicated on assuming the mantle of leadership.

How do you lead with confidence and decisiveness?  What does it take to self-lead so that you can effectively lead others?  Below you’ll find some questions to help you get there.

Do you believe that you belong in the seat?  I’m not asking if you’re scared or overwhelmed by the requirements.  Deep down, do you think yourself not only capable but worthy of being in that role?

Do you have a physical way of being that connects you to your center of calm, the place where your power comes from?  Are you able to access it under duress?  Do you know what it feels like to be grounded and centered?

Do you have the words to express and communicate what you wish?  Are you able to articulate what you mean in a concise and coherent fashion, one that conveys confidence and inspires it in others?

Are you able to challenge yourself to use new tools and skills that you might not have had to use before?  Do you feel comfortable experimenting and trying out new elements of leadership strategies and making them your own?  Are you open to using different language, behavior, and even meeting design?

When you have a success, do you celebrate and deconstruct it to understand what you did well so that you can repeat and replicate that thinking and behavior?  You aced a presentation in front of the Board?  You navigated a difficult conversation with direct report?  You confidently took the reins and the initiative in an important senior-level meeting and it went off without a hitch?  Ask why and how.  And then repeat.

Do you have someone in your back pocket, someone with whom you can let down your guard, talk openly with about successes and mishaps, someone who will help you to ascend and assume the leadership mantle that you know yourself capable of?

Great leaders are almost always great because somewhere along the way they decided that they wanted to lead and perform at their optimum best.  And then they went out and sought the knowledge and skill to take their abilities to the next level.

If you’d like to have a mutually exploratory conversation about working together to assume your own mantle of leadership, you can reach me at: sarah@sarah-levitt.com  I work with talented, smart, ambitious senior executives who take charge of their success.

I’ll be speaking next week at the NCSHRM conference on September 29th.  Marshall Goldsmith and I are part of the lineup at this multi-day event.  Join me as I share some of the key factors for Magnificent Leadership® success from my forthcoming book and some of the extraordinary stories of the leadership exemplars from The Making Magnificence Project®.

And next month you can find me at the Richmond SHRM Strategic Leadership Conference on October 11.  I’m delivering the closing keynote on Magnificent Leadership® and join a speaker roster that includes the Dean of the UVA Nursing School and the Director of Congressional Affairs at National SHRM.

I Should Have Done This a Year Ago

Is probably one of my favorite things to hear from clients.  There is no greater compliment to the results of our work together than that statement, and I got to hear it last week.

But.

As glad as I am that we’ve knocked it out of the park, that statement also means that there was loss and cost.  Lost opportunity, time, profit, performance.  And cost to the individual and whomever they reach in an organization.  At the highest levels, that can be quite expansive and expensive.

Feeling ready is important.  I get it.

But I’ve never had anyone tell me that they wish they’d waited longer.

Questing for self-mastery is a trait shared by the clients I work with.  It’s also a key factor for Magnificent Leadership® success discussed in my forthcoming book.

Those who quest usually don’t feel completely ready.

But nor do they wait.

 

If you are interested in working with me directly to knock it out of the park in your new role or prepare for one, you can reach me at: sarah@sarah-levitt.com to schedule a mutually exploratory conversation.

You can find me speaking at:

NCSHRM conference, September 29th.  Marshall Goldsmith and I are part of the lineup at this multi-day event.  I’ll be speaking about Magnificent Leadership® and sharing some of its key factors for maximizing leadership and organizational performance, particularly during turbulence and uncertainty.

Richmond SHRM Strategic Leadership Conference, October 11.  I’m delivering the closing keynote on Magnificent Leadership® and join a speaker roster that includes the Dean of the UVA Nursing School and the Director of Congressional Affairs at National SHRM.

 

Summer’s List

In honor of summer’s fade into fall, I reached out to a handful of clients, colleagues, and participants from The Making Magnificence Project® to ask for a favorite summer read.  The list below is what came back.

Enjoy!

 

All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

Destiny and Power, Jon Meacham

Here I Am, Jonathan Safran Foer

Leadership BS, Jeffrey Pfeffer

Soul Keeping, John Ortberg

The War That Ended Peace, Margaret MacMillan

Wet Places at Noon, Lee K. Abbott

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

Just Say It

Well, my manuscript for Magnificent Leadership is in to the publisher.

What kept me swimming to the finish (see last blog post on The Tricky Middle) was The Making Magnificence Project®, itself, and the courage and generosity of the people who shared their stories.  My book is the product of that courage and generosity.

Commitment is important.  But without context and a connection to contribution, commitment isn’t enough for sustained aspiration.  Certainly not for the long haul, and definitely not in the c-suite.  The tasks are too big, the challenges too great, the responsibility too much.

The CEOs featured in Magnificent Leadership talk about contribution, about the meaning of their work, and also the central importance of conveying to employees the meaning of theirs.

On that last point, Dan Michelson, CEO of Strata Decision Technology in Chicago, says there is no more important part of his job.

For what are you showing up?

And do you tell your team the ways in which it really matters that they do?

Do you say it?

 

I’m honored to be speaking or delivering keynotes at the following events:

Members in Business and Industry Fall Conference, North Carolina Association of CPAs, September 11.  I’ll be speaking on “The Heart of Innovation: Building High Performing Teams.”  If you want more from your people, if you’re leading through change, or if you’ve just stepped in to a new leadership role, I’ll be talking about how to leverage leadership and drive performance.

NCSHRM conference, September 29th.  Marshall Goldsmith and I are part of the lineup at this multi-day event.  I’ll be speaking about Magnificent Leadership™ and sharing some of its key factors for maximizing leadership and organizational performance, particularly during turbulence and uncertainty.

Richmond SHRM Strategic Leadership Conference, October 11.  I’m delivering the closing keynote on Magnificent Leadership™ and join a speaker roster that includes the Dean of the UVA Nursing School and the Director of Congressional Affairs at National SHRM.

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.

5:48

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.