How Is Your Team Like Your Teeth?

A team can be naturally beautiful, or just pretty on the outside…Know whether your team has good hygiene, or just a good set of veneers.


One of the striking things about celebrities today, particularly U.S. celebrities, is that they rarely have questionable teeth. Their teeth are all pearly white, straight as a keyboard, and larger than life.

How can that be?

I mean, anyone need only look as far back as the 1980s to see natural teeth on actors of all types; perhaps the best illustrations would be Tom Cruise’s and Kelly McGillis’s choppers in Top Gun.  They weren’t bad by real people’s standards…they were real.  But by today’s standards, they were…subpar.  Both actors have taken steps since then, and both doubtlessly invested plenty of cash.

Today, even the lowest level budding stars get work done on their teeth (and other things) to the point that it’s hard to tell what’s real anymore.  The fundamental question one might reasonably ask is:  Who has good hygiene vs. just a good fixer?

That doesn’t matter when you’re picking your movie stars, but it does matter when you’re picking your next team, and that’s the point of this post.

Your teeth, your team

Like the glamorous celebrity’s grill, the team you are joining might be forged out of natural beauty, strong roots, and superb genetics, or it might be held together with a high-tech patchwork of braces, veneers, and chemicals.  It might be the result of great hygiene and spectacular care, or it might be the result of a shortcut to the local strip mall for some tenderness.

Is there a difference?

When it comes to teeth?  No.  But when it comes to your team?  Absolutely. That team you’re thinking of joining needs roots, genetics, and good hygiene.  It needs good relationships, alignment, and constant care.

But how can you tell whether your team is composed of veneers held by a brace?

Easy, test for hygiene.  Test for relationships, alignment, and—yes—joy; there is no joy in a team of artificial players.  Test for values. Ask whether team members regard each other as people; ask how they spend their time out of work. Plenty of teams will talk about concepts of doing good, values, camaraderie, and such, but those are veneers.  Fewer teams can point to times when fundamental values have been challenged and how they resolved the challenges.  That’s where teams are made…the defining moments.

This is a short post that is more about your career and your personal choices than it is about the team you’re a part of.  It’s rare that a single member can change the position of an entire team unless that member is the leader. So when it comes to your team, you can either grin and bear the reality of a team of veneers, or you can smile at the opportunity to be a part of something deeper.

Now it’s your turn:  What does a team you can smile at look like?  Leave a reply if you have a moment.

Top WGP Blog Posts of 2015

In case you missed them, these were the top posts of 2015…


Dear readers:

2015’s top posts were comfortably eclectic.  Top posts in 2015 had a good mix of behavioral, strategic, ethical, and practical leadership topics.  I thought you might enjoy a digest of the top posts along with an honorable mention list of hot posts from LinkedIn Pulse.

Though not an essential aspect of a blog targeted to managers and leaders of all stripes, your comments are always welcome; and form perhaps the best kind of feedback and “reward” I receive.

In fact… If your favorite post isn’t in the top lists, let others know what it is.

2015 has been a time of finding this blog’s voice.  I suppose that will never fully end.  Looking forward, I’m always interested in suggestions and topics for the blog.  Send them my way via

Here’s to a great 2016!



Top 10 posts on WGP in 2015


  1. In Defense of Honesty 
  2. Being Strategic Means Naming Your Elephants
  3. Good Governance Depends on Whom You Ask…
  4. When “Strategic” Cost Reduction is Really Just Whacking
  5. 90 Percent of Everything is Crap
  6. The Pornographication of Motivation and Values
  7. Why Your Entrepreneurs Leave
  8. One Habit to Create Action From Every Meeting
  9. The Pain of Virtual Leadership
  10. Coffee and a Do Not: Multi Tasking in Meetings


Honorable mention:  Top WGP posts as rated on LinkedIn Pulse in 2015


  1. #Likeagirl, evidence, and leadership
  2. New England Patriots and Uncanny Perfection
  3. Best Advice:  How to Assess Your Next Leader
  4. 8 Things Your Consultants Say About You
  5. Let’s Face It, I’m Smarter Than You


On Simplicity: Curly Got It Wrong

Reducing a life or business strategy to one thing leaves too much out.


Remember the movie City Slickers? Curly was the crispy, gruff drover.  Played by the late, great Jack Palance in an Oscar-winning performance, Curly is in some minds immortalized for his advice to Billy Crystal’s character Mitch in that movie; it was his philosophy of life.

The exchange goes like this:

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?

[holds up one finger]

Curly: This.

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.

Mitch: But, what is the “one thing”?

Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.

The secret of life is figuring out your “one thing.”  That’s what Curly had to say: Find the one thing, and the “rest don’t mean shit.”

But you know what?

Curly was wrong.  Reducing your life, work, or strategy to one thing leaves out too much, and it also leaves out the art of having to do more than one thing.

Simplicity, then, is too simple sometimes.

Life should be as simple as possible, and not one bit more simple.  That means that saying life is about one thing is probably insufficient for anyone who takes the time to read this blog.

I know executives who say that their “one thing” is financial performance. I know others who say it’s their people. I know others still who will say it’s their faith. But I don’t know a single one who can do one thing to the exclusion of all others and find success.  It may be true that none of us can truly serve more than one master, but it’s also true that we all have to attempt to do so.

That’s where too many executives fail: they talk simple, but life isn’t simple. They say, “Just grow the company and all will be fine,” but they end up with an Enron.  They say, “Just treat people well and all will be great,” and they end up with General Motors.  They say, “Worry about the customer and we’ll be fine” and they end up like WebVan.  Or they say, “Just do what gets us compensated,” and they turn into Lehman Brothers.

One thing can lead to dark stuff, and that’s why I’m writing this: as an antidote to “one thingism.” You may work with a one-thing executive, and that may work well for him or her at a moment in time, but for all the talk of one thing, actions have to take into account many things.

Any CEO worth her salt has exceptional focus.  That focus may be on building a team, closing a financing, developing a product, or influencing stakeholders.  Any of these could be a given CEO’s one thing, but the truth is that they have to be good at balancing their “one thing” at any given point. CEOs have to build teams, and boards, and products, and customers, and relationships, and bad CEOs get “one thingism” in their blood and never let go.

Notably, though, bad strategies do too. How often do we as management strategists find executives or their critics attempting reductionist, one-thingist views of strategy.  They get so high-level, so abstract, that they end up achieving a grand unifying theory of organizational strategy that is significant to no one.  They “one thing” their strategy to empty pablum like “focus” or “innovation” or otherwise.

Reality is messy.  Practical strategy is tough.

So, if you are working really hard to simplify and synthesize your strategy or focus, congratulations, that’s not a bad thing. A strong strategy should be reducible to simple terms, but no more simple than necessary.

In short, if you are simplifying beyond usefulness.  Watch out.

I suspect that a mountain of Dilbert cartoons could be drafted on the backs of strategy statements that state nothing.  Some jewels:

“We will be a growth company.”

“We will build a great company.”

“We will be innovative leaders.”

“We will have a winning culture.”

“We will be a community of leaders.”

Perhaps the best way I can convey this notion to more seasoned executives is to use an interesting case study:  A survey of millennials about their life goals showed that more than 80% of them had a major life goal to “get rich.”  That means they wanted to make a lot of money as a goal in itself.  This is a generation that is being somewhat venerated for its focus on purpose and meaning.

If you are on older worker or executive, with a family, hobbies, pursuits, relationships, and other sources of meaning that do not derive from your bank account, think about how hollow the goal of merely making money is to a good life.  You’ve probably had friends who have hurt themselves and others in pursuit of mere money.  Money isn’t an end (okay, you and I both might say “but it helps…”).  It’s a representation of value provided to someone else.

It’s a “one thing” that has no meaning to anyone other than the person who collects it.

And, that’s what’s dangerous about one thingism in strategy.  Your one thing (earnings growth, people development, customer service) may not matter one whit to a truly rich strategy.

Reducing a life or business strategy to one thing leaves too much out.

Now, a challenge for you:  Take a moment and leave a reply on this post about a “one thing” strategy that has or hasn’t worked.  What’s your gut reaction to this post?

Christmas and The Real Meaning of Business

Finding “real meaning” in business gets personal, gritty, and small. 


‘Tis the season. Christmas season, I mean.  And, it has me thinking.

We sit on the threshold of a holiday that for most comes to symbolize the warmth of gift giving and the joy of a pause in life to reflect on gifts received.  Sure, it’s commercial.  Sure, it’s loaded with obligation to dangerously hollow things like no other holiday in the western world is.

But it sure is fun.

Driving along a few days ago, I was fortunate to hear an ad on the radio.  “Come, learn the real meaning of Christmas” it said.  It then went on to outline the extravaganza that a large church was investing the time, money, and people into to outline the “real meaning of Christmas.”  It was the “real meaning” that struck a chord with me.  I wondered what innocent bystanders (that is, people who are neither Christian, nor steeped in western “Christmas” tradition) would say the “real meaning” of Christmas is by observing the actions we take during the season.

Would they say the real meaning was entertainment?

Gift giving?

Celebration of the birth of a single individual so long ago?

Establishment of the basis of a world religion and interpersonal philosophy?

I suspect that the innocent bystander would attend the Christmas extravaganza and come away with a sense that Christmas is quite a show, but perhaps not a sense of the”real meaning” of Christmas.  They wouldn’t understand the deeper personal and metaphysical meaning of Christmas from watching a show any more than from seeing a Christmas tree…

…and, you know what?  That’s fine.  You know why?  Because real meaning comes from experience, not an extravaganza. A life changed through the Christmas story rarely (if ever) happens because “you said so.”  It happens through reflection and immersion and individual commitment and confession.

In other words, It’s what’s inside the box that counts…Not the wrapper.

And that, my friends, is where real meaning in the Christmas sense has applicability to real meaning in a business sense.

A legion of consultants, practitioners, executives, and managers have put their faith in the power of extravaganza to create change.  They–like the church in the radio ad above–put together light, sound, and live animal shows (ok, maybe not the live animals) in hopes of creating an emotional experience for their organizations or clients. They hire outside speakers, event planners, and communication experts to expound on the great position a company is in or the great new direction it will take.  They make it clear that a charged emotion is the key to alignment with strategy.

And they are right.

But they are wrong.

Because a charged emotion may be necessary to conversion, but it’s insufficient for sustained change.  All the focus is on the wrapper, and not on what’s inside the box.

So, if excitement about a clear vision delivered in a compelling way is the wrapper, what is inside the box when it comes to corporate strategies that actually steer an organization?

Well, personal meaning may come first.  Does the steering of the strategy touch on the personal hot buttons of the organization.  This can be purpose (what are we doing for the community, our customer, etc.?).  It can also be self interest (what’s in it for me and my career?).  It can also be about others (how does this strategy impact Milton down in the basement?).  Personal meaning comes in different flavors.  One wrapper can seldom hit on them all.

The second is probably leadership credibility.  If I see the extravaganza, it hints at credible change to come. A leader is born.  A changed organization, renewed purpose, or new challenge are all both frightful and compelling things. They need credible leadership.

The third thing inside the box may have to be an honest appraisal. And, this is where the wrapper of an extravaganza most often falls short. In the push to put a glossy finish on the strategic vision of a company’s strategy, we lose the factual appraisal that we just rode for miles in pain on the back of a donkey and gave birth in a stable after being rejected from the local hotel.  Our circumstances aren’t glossy.  They are as humble as possible.  Sometimes, we have to admit it once we are inside the box.

The fourth thing inside the box deals with what people have to bring…It’s the requirements.  Our glossy wrappers tend to minimize requirements.  They tend to underplay the difficulty of actually steering an organization in a new direction. They underplay the late nights.  They underplay the hard conversations.  They underplay the personal commitments that will be challenged, change, or even cancelled. In the Christmas story, we focus so much on the baby in the manger that we often forget the journey of the kings, or the sacrifices of the parents. Transformative change comes with requirements.  Those are hard to convey in a glossy wrapper.

And, finally, I’d have to say that from personal experience we all need to have a sense of the consequences likely from the strategic vision.  Glossy extravaganza wrappers are great at booming out a new vision, but awful at being candid about the consequences of that vision. The Christian tradition actually does this quite well, once you get past the secular Christmas wrapper.  Adhering to the true meaning of Christmas is actually hard. It was likely hardest for the man the baby in the that feeding trough eventually became. But, it was still hard for anyone who chose to actually follow.  In corporate terms, consequences belong inside the box. Not all will make it to glory in a given strategy.  It’s ok to say so…Humane, even.

In this holiday season that has become so overrun with glossiness.  Let’s not forget the dank and, yes, small circumstances that underpin the real meaning.  The thing that corporate strategies that actually create changed organizations have in common with Christmastime conversions that stick is a focus on the gritty, dirty, and simple realities inside the box at the expense of the glossy, gold plated wrapper on the outside.

Maybe your organization can benefit from some time inside the box.  If you are reading this…Maybe it’s up to you.

Merry Christmas.



You Have Voted

When it comes to strategy, leadership, and life, you vote more often than you think you do.


Choices are everywhere.  You make them from the moment you wake up in the morning to the moment you fall fast asleep at night.

This is an article about choices…Votes, if you will.

When it comes to your life as a professional, you vote all day every day. No, it’s true. You vote for lunch (you know…”What do you want for lunch?” “Salad.” Easy, right?). You vote for when the next meeting will happen.  You may even be in a position to vote for what direction your company will go.

All of these are moments when you cast a vote.

But what about all the votes you make that you don’t even know about? The seemingly little votes that are actually huge?  You may know them as votes for poor sales strategy or a bad leader or a toxic company culture, but whatever the case, you are likely making them because you are staying put and shutting up.

One of the aspects I absolutely loved about the large professional services firm that I spent a good portion of my career within was a concept called the obligation to dissent.

The obligation to dissent was the notion that all people, whether the least tenured or the most, had the obligation to put their dissenting point of view on the table during any interaction.

Disagree with the path a strategy is taking?  Put a competing point of view out there. Think someone isn’t living up to the values espoused by the firm?  Say so. You had an obligation.  Voting “present” was not expected of you.

So how does this apply to you, today, as a professional?

I’ll give you one hint, and I ask that you act on it—here it is: Ask a question.

Yep, that’s all.

Ask a question.

You see a strategy that is poorly structured or conceived?  Ask “What about this better structured alternative?”

You see a leader who is behaving in a way that does not reflect the values of the company?  Ask “is this how you expect me to act with my people?”

You see people complaining about the status quo?  Ask “so what are we going to do about it?”

You might be listened to, and you might just retain a little bit of your own self respect.  In fact, the way people around you react to your placing a thoughtful, constructive question on the table will tell you plenty about where you stand.  Try it out.

Legendary rock band Rush has a classic track out there called Freewill, and it contains this doozy of a lyric:

“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

So, yes, you bear the blame for choices (or “votes”) you didn’t make. You work for an unethical leader?  Well, you voted for him, so stop complaining. You are executing a strategy that might be termed “crappy?”  Well, you voted for it. You live within a corporate culture that is toxic?  You got it:  All on you, my friend.

Some might say I’m blaming the victim here. They will say that I’m ignoring the personal situations of people who stay with bad leaders, companies, spouses, what have you.  To them I’ll say this:  You have a choice to be constructive or destructive. Endorsing a bad leader, environment, family situation, or whatever is destructive to you and to the people who are the victims of your tacit consent.

The sincerest form of constructive behavior, whether it be in forming global corporate strategies or simply deciding how to live your life, is to name the issues and work on them diligently.  If you are one who is content to run out the clock on your career by passively voting for a world you wouldn’t intentionally subject others to, just remember…

You have voted.

Google’s Team Traits and Your Executives

On elite teams, it’s about honor, not safety


Google is an interesting company to say the least.

In the midst of a behemoth company that has a very thin historical record to draw from (seriously, the company is essentially 15 years old as a player on the global stage) lies a fascinating combination of entrepreneurship, hard-core, old-school competitive behavior, and analysis of people issues.

It’s that last thing that has me questioning whether Google has gotten something wrong.  A month or so ago, Google explained the traits that make its best teams click, and here’s an article that hits on the topic; it’s a quick read. The list is a little bit ho-hum for any active observer or participant in strategic management culture development—that is, clarity, purpose, dependability—except for one piece: Psychological safety.

Psychological safety. It sounds like the latest in a long line of management theory gobbledygook, but it’s not. Google (and any number of academic papers out there, and a TED talk here) basically says that people tend to stay and produce better when they believe their teams are safe places for intellectual exchange.

I have no problem with that notion—not one. In fact, it makes good sense. If I’m being listened to on my team and not belittled for the things I don’t know, I will like it better.  Makes good sense, right?

But as a practitioner who has worked at and continues to work at the top levels of organizations, I think Google’s prescription is only half right, which means partially wrong.  And the part that Google gets wrong is the part that matters to the strong functioning of the highest parts of complex organizations—the elite parts, if you will.

The higher you go, the less “psychological safety” matters…


Here’s the rub: In the run-of-the-mill team, psychological safety matters.  As you go higher in the organization, people worry less about “safety.”  Safety isn’t a big issue to the average executive, or at least, it shouldn’t be; an executive who is worried about safety probably is not confident enough to be in the role.

But what does matter? Honor.

In other words, this difference in perspective between that of a mid-level team member and that of an executive team member is like the difference between a weekend rock climber and a global mountaineer.  The weekend climber is signing up for an experience for which safety is key to the integrity of the experience, and death isn’t part of the deal.

The mountaineer, on the other hand, is signing up for a gig that involves making choices that could very well end in his or her death, and bad choices aren’t even necessary for the gig to end in death.  The most elite mountaineers in the world run into bad luck now and then, and death is actually a very real part of the integrity of the experience.

Thus, such is the difference between low-level and elite teams when it comes to “psychological safety.”  Low-level teams sign up for gigs that involve performance, but not necessarily at the peril of their careers if they are wrong about something. So, a safe environment for sharing encourages risk taking and less selfish political posturing, and these are important things.

Elite teams, however, with their high-stakes choices and high-level visibility, are inherently less “safe.” A career-limiting move is always possible for executives who are actually trying to get things done; safety might matter, but what really matters for these executives is that they are part of organizations—as part of the executive team or as a CEO with a board–that will act honorably on commitments and policies when things go poorly or opinions differ.

Honor, as in fulfilling agreements and obligations—that is, fair dealing in the face of adversity.

To extend the mountaineer example, a mountaineer’s mindset is to weigh risks in light of the physics of a situation.  Gravity pulls down, certain rocks have certain levels of traction, equipment holds certain loads, and muscles and bones perform in certain ways.  You want your mountaineers (and executives) to think this way.

Now imagine that the mountaineer makes a choice, but then in the middle of acting, the physics change.  Gravity suddenly pulls sideways, not down. That carabiner now only holds half a ton, not 2 tons.  The honor of the situation is compromised, and the mountaineer is doomed.

Think about the roots of effective elite team functioning as being similar to establishing the direction of gravity or the load rating of a carabiner. A fall is a fall, but a fall in which the carabiner breaks far short of its load rating and gravity dashes the climber into the rock wall at a diagonal is an entirely different matter: it can be deadly.

On an executive team, gravity is all about how things fall when there is a slip. Usually, gravity is set by policy and values, but it can also be set by the caprice of a specific executive.  There is no honor when elite leaders change the direction of gravity mid-course, unaccountably and, potentially, only for individual members of the team.

What this looks like in real life


Okay, so perhaps there is some interesting imagery around the mountaineer vs. the rock climber, but what does executive dishonor look like in real life?  I’ll list a few tactics, and perhaps you can take it from there.

The most common tactic is scapegoating.  It’s used by the most insecure leaders and is one of the more dishonorable moves, and it goes like this:  An executive team outlines a high-risk move for one individual to take.  The team agrees to it, and the stakes are known; that is, gravity is established for the team. Then, the individual takes the risk, and the individual takes the fall, and gravity has no effect on the rest of the team or the leader. This happens a dozen times a day in business culture.

A second tactic is the bait and switch. Gravity is established as one direction in order to elicit a decision, but it is then switched to another direction after the decision is made.  It’s a corrupt influencing tactic in any context, but is one that some executives resort to. A good example of this on a poorly functioning elite team is when the leader establishes implicit cover for a decision and then pulls the cover back after the decision is made.  It’s “I’ve got your back” writ small.  Usually, a bait-and-switch move at elite levels starts with “we agree” and ends up as “you agree.” “We agree” to spend millions of dollars on a change program slowly transforms to “you agreed” to spend the money. Gravity is switched, and only one team member falls.

Bait and switch tactics are common in recruiting and hiring—almost to the point of being the expectation vs. the exception. Some recruiters and executives will entice top talent with the promise of milk and honey—an aggressive agenda (or promise) focused on change and growth–only to reduce the talent to a real life of drudgery, order taking, and politics once the job starts. Executives who do this are typically small minded and posturing…not strategic and expansive.

The final tactic is the non-obligation move.  This one is really a test of values, and it encompasses all of the rest of honor as far as I can see: it’s the question of how organizations honor the gravity that has already been  established even when they don’t have to.  A good example of this is when executives allow ambiguity to overwhelm organizations during “good” times because they individually don’t “have” to clarify things.  All is well. The health of the organization suffers.  To paraphrase clergyman Eugene Peterson: Often the values of an organization can be measured by what its leaders do when they don’t have to do anything. Non-obligation moves are prevalent at all levels of organizations.

How to watch out for it


Do your due diligence, and ask around. Specifically, ask how organizations or individual teams honor their commitments to individuals over both the short and the long terms. Ask what would happen if an individual executive took a reasonable risk but failed.  Ask what the implicit contract will look like. Ask whether policies exist for tough circumstances (and whether they have been followed in the past when the circumstances arose).

In other words, be diligent.

Even more direct, and once you are actually in or around an elite team, observe.  As with all people and things, you will know (dis)honorable people by their fruit.  Watch for the hallmarks of dishonorable bureaucracies everywhere:  CYA as a course of business.  If senior executives constantly confirm their commitments and expectations, and reconfirm them in writing, but they don’t act without reciprocal confirmation, they are operating in a dishonorable senior culture. When senior executives constantly exchange explicit contracts—or say that they should have after getting burned—you can bet that the culture is one that is based on contracts and not honor.  An elite team should have the honor necessary not to have its individuals constantly protecting themselves from shifts in gravity.

So what?


This topic should be dear to any executive, particularly to those who want to either join or build cultures of honor.  I care deeply about this after having witnessed dozens of senior management teams, including a handful that could be categorized clearly as dishonorable.  The dishonorable ones have invariably struggled to attract and retain talent, and as a result, they have struggled to form and enact any semblance of a strategic approach to growth and improvement.

If you are reading this and are a part of a mid-management level team, you probably get the notion of psychological safety implicitly: Teams are effective when people feel like they can share without repercussions for them personally. Google at least got this right.

The danger lies at the elite levels, where the safety to share shouldn’t really matter; if a person is on an elite team and won’t share perspective, they aren’t elite in the first place and should be removed; at the elite level, honor matters, and even a choice well made can still result in removal from the team.  The world is a tricky place, but what matters to honorable executives is that they will be treated honorably in return, and Google may have gotten that wrong.

Elite executives don’t mind taking big risks, but they do mind when gravity can’t be estimated. Thus, the call to action on this one is simply this: Watch out.  It only takes an instance or two of dishonorable behavior to label an organization and its leaders as either actively or passively dishonorable. If you’re in a situation like this, know what you are getting, and if you’re contemplating going there, weigh your options closely: There are other fish in the sea.

In sum, if you are an executive leading an elite team, the answer is short:  Establish gravity and honor commitments.  Dishonorable executives are well known and can have long lives, but they have short reputations

On elite teams, it’s about honor, not safety. Now, go figure out which way is up.

As Yahoo’s Case Shows…Somebody is Always Watching

Somebody, somewhere is doing the analysis…


Yahoo made a big splash by hiring Marissa Mayer as its CEO.  The bloom has come off the rose a bit.  As is sometimes the case with CEOs who are celebrities or otherwise insulated from common criticism, Mayer has been defended heartily for a few years for her decisions and record.

But the criticisms are accelerating.  More and more people are calling out the transparency of the empress’ clothing.  To wit, fund manager Eric Jackson, in a scathing 99 slide document released recently, outlined all the reasons that Yahoo’s supposed turnaround is no such thing.  He goes from comparable analysis to comparable analysis, then to a breakdown of the business, itself, then to a breakdown of other shareholders’ proposed plans…

…and then to an excoriation of the Mayer “strategy” overall, from the hire to the actual execution of change within Mayer’s tenure.  And, it’s a bloodbath.

This slide says it all:

What shareholders got instead…

When a “transformative” CEO’s tenure can be summed up as diametrically opposed to the “story” that got her hired, you know one thing:  The CEO hasn’t delivered.

Now, the Mayer story is getting a lot of play because of the potential severance package she stands to receive if Yahoo’s board actually fires her (valued at up to $110 million by some estimates).  That’s all fine…A deal is a deal.  But what is interesting here is that Yahoo has gone years with Mayer as its CEO, running a play that is clearly not what was advertised.  Just look at the slide above.

So, what’s the point?

The point in this case is less about Yahoo and more about the perils of “story” sales from executives.  Yahoo, in fact, is one tough turnaround situation.  As Jackson outlines, remove the Alibaba stock holding and what you’ve got is a very, very sick business.

What about “story” sales?  Well, no matter how good the story, somebody is watching the results.  Your CEO may “say” that new products are going to drive the company to new heights, but at some point that check has to be cashed.  Did they deliver on new product sales?  Did the video match the audio?

Have you been sold a bill of goods?

It’s an important question for shareholders everywhere. But, more importantly, it’s an important vignette for executives everywhere.

When it comes to highly visible executive roles, a story can only go so far.  At some point, the numbers will tell.  At some point, the power of personality and persuasion will cross the threshold of shareholders’ own financial interests.  Lincoln said it:  You can’t fool all the people, all the time.

At some point it becomes clear that somebody is watching.  And when that is clear, you no longer own the “story,” dear CEO.

The Yahoo case shows this in spades.



Sometimes, new is the only way through


If you are reading this post anywhere near its publication date, you’re reading it on a new website that is the result of many professionals’ hours of toil.  Over the past months, I’ve taken the time to think through a new brand, a more articulated approach to WGP’s work, and a clearer expression of my vision for Wilson Growth Partners.

These are all signs of renewal.  Specifically, they are, I hope, the outcome of and a significant hat tip toward the clients who partner with WGP. And all of this has me thinking: There is a time for and a need for renewal of everything.

With apologies to the Byrds, King Solomon said it best when he said there is a time for everything. I thought it worth a few reflections on Ecclesiastes as this journey of client service I’m on has developed; I do this in the spirit of acknowledging that the trappings of the business I have—especially this blog and website—represent in and of themselves a renewal and redirection on my own journey, but not the depth of it.

I’m just going to pick a few of Solomon’s thoughts (from Ecclesiastes 3 for those looking for the richness of the actual text and not my meager writing here) and reflect for a minute on each.  Maybe you will gain from them as I have over the years.

For sure, the art of renewal is not knowing exactly when it needs to happen but knowing that it needs to happen in the first place. Without that knowledge, we all get bogged down by ourselves or by others.


…A time to plant and a time to uproot 

I’ve been in a few organizations over the years.  During that time, I’ve counseled dozens of managers who, despite their own rationalizations, knew that it was time to uproot.  They endowed their current circumstances and (perceived in almost every case) stability with mystical powers over their own well-being.  I have also, I confess, remained in a role for at least a year longer than it took to gain clarity that uprooting was due. So I understand the inertia of endowment.  Maybe this is you?

On the other side, I’ve witnessed aimless professionals floating through a litany of roles and companies, trying to find “it” while never allowing roots to form. They fall into a trap of seeking meaning, but they move too quickly—they want it all, and now, and they allow those wants to create an aimlessness that is as sad as the rootedness of those who stay too long. Remember, inertia also means it’s hard to stop moving.  Maybe this is you?

…A time to tear down and a time to build

Tearing down old edifices is hard. An edifice in your life might be as simple as the way things have always been done, or it may be an entire institution that simply isn’t working (and, yes, I mean companies, but also relationships, contracts, and any other untenable situations).  Renewal depends on the ability to tear down; it requires strength, but also the ability to look at old things in new ways.  Leaving a job or a company or a leader, perhaps particularly when you feel sorry for them because you know your departure will hurt their effectiveness, is still a form of tearing down.

More to the point, tearing down old processes and ways of working can be hard. For some, finding efficiency in an organization for those within it can be extremely difficult. But for others, it’s quite easy, and they can tear down old institutions with ease.

The challenge, however, is finding renewal through building; building is also hard.  For those who specialize in tearing down, cutting costs, restructuring organizations and the like, building is the hardest thing, and they lose the knack. Finding the time and place to build in our own individual lives can be equally hard.

…A time to keep and a time to throw away

Clutter gets us all.  It can be the physical clutter of paper, documents, or other things, or it can be the mental clutter of divided loyalties, missions, loves, and joys—both can be toxic.  Finding renewal through deciding what to keep and what to throw away may very well be one of the simplest and best ways of starting.

For a professional services firm like mine, the keep/throw away dichotomy can be defined through the clients we choose to continue working with vs. those we choose not to, and it can also be the topics we choose to do more of vs. those we choose to defer.

In operational excellence initiatives, a massively valuable starting point tends to be the 5Ss. That is, the first visible and engaging step in finding operational improvement is to Sort, Straighten, Sanitize, Standardize, and Sustain: decide what to keep and to throw away.  Oh, and do it visibly, so that others get it—if it’s good for the shop floor, it’s good for the rest of us.

In other words, what am I keeping today and what am I throwing away are great starting points for renewal.

…A time to be silent and a time to speak


Many of my posts, now that I look at them, can be categorized as arising out of an ethic—a strategic outlook—that revolves around self-respect.  This final piece of guidance on renewal that I’ll pull from Solomon is another of those: We all need to know when it’s time to be silent and when it’s time to speak up.  We all need to be clear on when enough is enough when it comes to behaviors we can no longer tolerate or ethics that have gone off the rails.

Related to the above, renewal depends on breaking the silence. The silence may be internal to your own heart or it may be very external, but the first step of the immortal 12-step process is speaking up: You must “Admit it.”

All of which is to say, if we are seeking renewal, we have to admit it; at the least we have to admit it to ourselves, but we might have to admit it to others also:  Solomon was right.

So what…

Renewal…True renewal, in a professional, personal, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual sense, is two-sided, and Solomon laid this out so eloquently so long ago.  You and I can find renewal through moving, changing, uprooting, and, yes, being born again. We can also find renewal through stopping, reflecting, growing roots, and, yes, dying a little bit here and there.

This professional journey—the one we’re on for only part of our lives—is highly responsive to how we renew it; a promising career can wilt from too much movement, and it most certainly can wilt from being planted in the wrong ground.

Sometimes, new is the only way through.

So, go and reflect on renewal now. Oh, and enjoy the new website and blog. Please leave a comment if you care to.