SARAH'S BLOG

Setting Your 2018 Strategy? 5 Questions to Ask

After returning from a meeting with a CEO earlier this week, the day’s light had gone, temperatures had dropped, and the treadmill, rather than the pavement, was calling.

Although not my favorite, in a pinch the treadmill will do.

It even has its advantages.

Chief among them, it says: How fast can you run and for how long can you sustain that pace?

I decided to ask that question.

But what came back was more interesting: My baseline had changed.

After running full tilt and then dialing back the speed, I discovered that my cruising pace, the speed at which I could run comfortably and efficiently over distance, had gotten faster.

A lot  faster.

And it didn’t feel like much effort.

At all.

In the world of business, speed often matters above all else.

Are you and your team able to run sustainably faster than your competition?

As you look at your organization’s strategy for 2018, I suggest the following 5 questions:

  1. Do you know where you are and where you’re going? (Market share, revenue, margin improvement, improved delivery and customer satisfaction, new product to market, for example.)
  2. Do you know the one area that is most critical, on which the others hinge, and where you need to move faster?
  3. Do you know what will most rapidly move the needle in that area? (Flawless and autonomous team performance and execution with the right people in the right seats, employees with entrepreneurial drive, improved delegation and getting out of the weeds so you can focus on and accelerate success, for example.)
  4. Is your strategy designed so that it is able to be executed by all those who have assumed its responsibility? Is it built to withstand the daily job requirements of those committed to it?  And is it dispersed among your team rather than resting only with the president, CEO, or EVP?
  5. And, perhaps most importantly, is your strategy the extension of your mission and vision? And is that mission and vision current, relevant, and embodied by you, your team, and your organization?  Do you believe in what you’re striving for?

I work with talented and successful CEOs and Fortune 1000 senior executives to accelerate performance and drive business outcomes.  If you want to greet the opportunities of 2018 with preparedness and speed, I’ll have openings in late January for working with me directly.

To have a mutually exploratory conversation about partnering, you can reach me at: sarah@sarah-levitt.com

 

And stay tuned!  My book, Magnificent Leadership, is weeks away from being released!

A Personal Leadership Strategy for 2018

Recently, a good friend of mine had a person very dear to them pass away unexpectedly.  And as my friend and I sat talking about life and loss, I was reminded of something I’d heard years ago when someone relayed how they’d been stricken with a disease that took them to the edge of death before making a recovery.  They reported that on that edge, in their bed, there were only two things that remained: love and regret.

So, as we roll into a new year, I’m asking myself the following questions, and I offer them to you:

What and who do I love?

Who are the people in my life that I want to be sure that I get the most time with?  Savor?

How can I do even more of the work that I love to do?

What are the activities that feed my soul?  Fuel me?  Open me?

Am I mostly doing those things?  Spending time with those people?  Organizing my life by and around them?

What will I regret not doing?

Am I stretching myself to my outer limit, stepping through fear, for the things that I yearn for, behaving as though I already have permission to live my life?

 

For more on having a mutually exploratory conversation about working with me directly: sarah@sarah-levitt.com  I work with talented, inspired, ambitious senior leaders who aspire to magnificence and want to bring people along with them.  I’ll have openings in Q1.

Staying Grounded in the Storm

The pressures of executive leadership can be extreme.  Incredibly jam-packed days, responsibilities to different audiences and stakeholders, high visibility.  There is often little space to check-in with oneself, to recalibrate if going astray.

And yet, CEOs are finding that the simple practice of meditating permits them to be better at bearing the responsibility and leading themselves and their organizations.  A recent WSJ article reported that the CEOs of Tupperware Brands, Aetna, Salesforce.com and others are meditating.  I’m not going to tell you that you have to meditate — I am an intermittent meditator at best and running outdoors is my form of meditation — but I will suggest that having some practice that drops you into the center of your being, the place that is calm, where the waters are smooth, is awfully helpful in the midst of the daily.  It makes for better leadership and better decisions.

A client once told me that he almost didn’t come to our session.  As he was sitting down, he said that   he had so much to do, that he didn’t think he could spare the time.  And as someone whose own default is to bear down and work harder, I told him I knew exactly what that felt like.  I got it.  But he did show up.  And he continued.  Over the course of our engagement, he led his team to revolutionize their productivity in the midst of a storm, at a time of year that was their most challenging, when people were fatigued.  They developed internal best practices that removed duplicative work, routed out errors, and ultimately made his job more enjoyable and filled with strategic, future-focused work rather than the grind of micromanaging and monitoring.  But that happened because he lifted his head and took the space so that we could identify the areas of challenge, to consider how he could engage his team to solve them, to evaluate what was going well and how to leverage it.  His team’s success was his success, and at the end of our engagement he was promoted.

Two questions:

Do you know what it feels like to be off-center and no longer grounded, to be reacting to external circumstances?

Do you have a way to find your way back to the calm place that resides within us all?

Whether you’ve just come through the frenzy and strain of an M&A and you want to build a strong, cohesive team, or you’re in a new role and want to do more than tread water, or you want to take the leadership of yourself, your team, and your organization to new heights in the new year, I’ll have openings for working with me directly in Q1.  I work with smart, talented, ambitious senior leaders who aspire to magnificence and care about the work of leadership.  You can reach me at sarah@sarah-levitt.com for a mutually exploratory conversation.

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing you and yours an abundance of all good things as we celebrate Thanksgiving in the US this week.

The Price of Incivility

My dog’s veterinarian once called me a walking billboard.

Great service and expertise always catch my attention.  I mean, really catch my attention.  It doesn’t matter if I’m in a hotel, restaurant, retail shop, mechanic, or talking with a voice from a far-away customer service center.  When I experience exemplary service and effort, I note it.  Most often to the person’s boss.   And then I tell everyone I know how fantastic the company or person is.

I’m the customer you want.

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal there was an article on incivility in the workplace and how it’s on the rise.

You might shrug, thinking that performance and results demand high standards.

And you’d be right.  They do.

I tell my clients all the time: Have high standards that are clear and consistent.  Expect people to meet them.  Hire people who want to.  Ask employees to stretch.  Keep raising the bar of aspiration.  Bring people along with you.  Invite opinions into the room that are different from your own.  Ask for dissent.

But high standards and incivility are two different things.

Very different.

High standards make leaders and their companies better, hardier, and more vigorous.

Incivility makes them weaker, less competitive, and open to all sorts of problems.

Among them, that miserable, fearful employees don’t excel or soar.

And customers like me take notice.

 

I’m thrilled and honored to be attending the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame this week to see Brad Wilson, CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield, be inducted.  Brad’s leadership journey is one of the extraordinary stories featured in my forthcoming book, Magnificent Leadership, due out in early January.  If you’d like to purchase Magnificent Leadership for your organization’s leadership development curriculum, you can contact me at: sarah@sarah-levitt.com  And if you’d like to get a copy just for you, pre-order information for Amazon is coming soon.

And, if you aspire to your own high standards of Magnificent Leadership®, I’ll have openings beginning in Q1 for working with me directly.  I work as a trusted guide to CEOs, Fortune 1000 senior executives, and corporate business leaders to elevate leadership performance and drive business outcomes.  For more information: sarah@sarah-levitt.com

Brand Management: Your Own

One of the almost-predictive markers of how well a client will use our engagement is how they respond to my suggestion for key stakeholder interviews.

Those who enthusiastically jump in are typically driven to surpass their previously-successful performance.

Mind you, this is brave.  Together, we’ll choose key people who will anonymously provide feedback to me about my client.  I’ll ask what’s going well.  And I’ll ask what can be improved.

I call it Leadership Brand Management.  And it provides a clear window into three crucial questions:

Are my behaviors and words helping, rather than hindering, my efforts to drive the business outcomes that I’m committed to?

Am I attuned to, and effectively moving among, crucial audiences with ease?

Am I reaching the right people with the right message, and am I leaving the lasting impression that I want to?

If clients can accurately and affirmatively answer those three questions, they can move mountains.

 

I have the honor of working with some pretty talented leaders: CEOs, Fortune 1000 senior executives, and corporate business leaders who care about their work, their leadership, and their people.  The next openings for working with me directly are in Q1 of 2018. To have a mutually exploratory conversation, you can reach me at: sarah@sarah-levitt.com

Stay tuned for Magnificent Leadership’s release date and pre-order information!

NEW for 2018!  If you want to launch the new year not only on the right foot, but the best foot, I’m accepting applications now for Magnificent Leadership® VIP Days.  Perhaps you’re an executive who wants to strategically prepare for a promotion.  Or you’re a consultant or coach who wants to substantially grow your business.  Or maybe you’re a senior leader who’s already landed in a new role and you want to know what and how to prioritize.  No matter, you’re serious about the new year.

I’ve reserved three dates in January for these concentrated, rapid-results sessions and am taking a total of three people.  You’ll get prep work, a gourmet meal with me at a luxury property, and 30 days of access to me after the Magnificent Leadership® VIP Day for help on execution.  If you want to learn more about this opportunity to engage with me for an intensive, deep-dive strategic session to make fast tracks in 2018, you can reach me at sarah@sarah-levitt.com to inquire about a mutual fit. Pricing begins at $8500.

And if you want to get everyone on your senior leadership team on the same page at the same time to set direction, focus, priority, and measurements in 2018, I’m booking Q1 Strategic Leadership Team Sessions now.  You can reach me at sarah@sarah-levitt.com for more information

If your national conference or leadership summit needs an engaging, inspiring, and practical keynote speaker who tells stories that uplift and provides actionable tools and strategies for making them stick, I’m booking well into 2018 now.  My most popular keynote is the same as my forthcoming book: Magnificent Leadership: Transform Uncertainty, Transcend Circumstance, Claim the Future and is suitable for executive and general audiences, alike.

Delegating For Real

In the last week, I’ve had three different conversations with three different executives on the subject of delegation.  These leaders are in different industries and different positions.  One is a CEO, two are VPs.  They all have the same challenge: What and how to let go so that they can attend to the more strategic matters in their organizations.  They all are hesitant to delegate.

And I get it.  Being hands-on has gotten all three to where they are now, to their elevated roles.  They’ve not just succeeded, but thrived, on being in the weeds, putting out fires, being the go-to, the person who has delivered results.

The only problem is, those skills, while very important to their current success, will inhibit their future trajectory.  In these new leadership roles, they must be able to take an aerial view, step back, assess, see the bigger picture, chart a course, bring others along with them, manage key relationships, markets, and numbers.

And that means delegating some of the responsibilities that got them where they are.  Some of the things they’ve worked really hard for and have been really good at.

When I interviewed Glen Tullman, former CEO of Allscripts and current CEO of Livongo Health, for The Making Magnificence Project®, he spoke to the crucial importance of delegating what he calls “real responsibility.”   (You can read more about Glen’s leadership story in my book, Magnificent Leadership, due out in January.)

So, what does real delegation look like?  Here are the 4 key elements that I suggest to clients:

  1. Determine WHAT can be let go. Take a hard look at where and when you’re in the weeds.  Unnecessary meetings might be at the top of the list.  One of my clients was spending 20 hours a week sitting in meetings where they weren’t needed for either decisions or input.
  2. Assess the landscape for WHO on your team can take on some of these responsibilities. In the case of those meetings, we found a deputy on the team who was more than capable to attend, participate, and then report in on critical matters.  As you take a look at your team, be sure to ask team members where they think they can, and want to, take on additional responsibility.  You’d be surprised at what comes back.
  3. Next, begin to transfer responsibility with – and this is key – guardrails in place. HOW will the transfer occur? Gradually or at once?  At a minimum, set expectations in the following areas: key responsibilities, check-ins (micro – how did a particular task turn out – and macro – how is this new responsibility going), key performance expectations, and deadlines.  Encourage autonomy but make it clear that you’re available for questions and support.  And, be sure to establish what circumstances warrant a check-in with you before proceeding.  What throws up a caution flag before moving forward ?  This third element of delegation is crucial.  It creates safety, reassurance, and parameters for both the leader who’s delegating and the team member who’s taking on new responsibility.
  4. Know the WHY of letting go. Recognize what you, as a leader, still want to be connected to, regardless of what responsibilities you relinquish.  If you want to have a finger on the pulse of the heartbeat of your organization – your people — how can you accomplish that without being in the weeds?  Can you hold town hall meetings, company-wide conference calls, have an open door policy that keeps you in touch with their concerns, ideas, and aspirations?  Maybe you still want to be client-facing and have a sense of market reception.  How can you do that in a way that minimizes your labor but gets you the information and connection that you seek?

In many ways, letting go of key responsibilities means letting go of one’s own prior success to stretch to new heights.

A daunting task, for sure.

But I tell clients to try it anyway, to take measured steps.

Because there are even bigger things on the horizon that require their talent, attention, and leadership.

 

I work with CEOs and senior executives to optimize leadership performance to greatest organizational impact.  If you’d like to have a mutually exploratory conversation about working with me in Q1 of 2018, you can reach me at: sarah@sarah-levitt.com

And if your national conference or leadership summit calls for a keynote speaker who’s described as engaging, inspiring, and real and relevant, you can reach me at sarah@sarah-levitt.com

I’m booking well into 2018, and my most popular keynote is the subject of my forthcoming book:

Magnificent Leadership — Transform Uncertainty, Transcend Circumstance, Claim the Future

If You’re Missing Dissent, You’re Missing High Performance

“You think completely differently than I do,” they said to me.  It was the reason they’d picked up the phone to call.  My consulting colleague was asking for my input on a particularly challenging situation, and that was the reason they cited for seeking me out.  We have different ways of looking at things, they said.

Which made me think about one of the key elements of Magnificent Leadership® gleaned from my many interviews for The Making Magnificence Project® with leaders across all different domains: The quest for self-mastery.  Integral to that quest is a real desire to challenge one’s own thinking, and get all of the opinion into the room.

Two of the leaders featured in my book speak about the crucial import of soliciting contrasting opinion to their own.  Brad Wilson, CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC, made it part of his leadership’s work to create an environment where opinion that was distinctly different from his was not only accepted but expected from his SLT.  And although Logan Bennet, who leads a team in avalanche mitigation and rescue in the Canadian Rockies, works in a very different arena than Brad, they share a common belief about high performing teams under high stakes situations: Different opinion makes them better.  Much better.

If there is disagreement on your senior leadership team, the question is not how to quell it.

The question is how to use it.

Will it fracture and silo your organization?

Or make it more competitive and robust?

 

For more on working with me directly: sarah@sarah-levitt.com

I help to optimize and accelerate the performance of successful, talented, ambitious senior leaders and their teams who want to be magnificent.

You’ll be able to read about Brad and Logan in early January when my book, Magnificent Leadership, is released.  Stay tuned for pre-order details.

I am booking 2018 keynotes and speaking engagements now.  For more information on booking me for your national conference, corporate event, or leadership summit, you can reach me at: sarah@sarah-levitt.com

My two most popular topics are Magnificent Leadership® and The Heart of Innovation™.  Both are designed for leaders and organizations that want to drive exceptional performance and business results.

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.