Author Archives: Jim Hess

About Your Photograph…

Category : 2022

If a picture is worth a thousand words, some people don’t know when to stop talking.

A review of photos professionals select to represent themselves across social media prompt this brief and candid reminder about first impressions, lasting influence, and annoying incongruence. Thanks to social media, your personal and professional lives are no longer separate—you have a life. Anyone anywhere anytime can dig into your life and draw conclusions about you without ever meeting or interacting with you.

Multiple experiments by two Princeton psychologists determined we form an impression from someone’s face in one tenth of a second. The traits assessed most quickly are attractiveness and trustworthiness. While you may not be able to do much about the first factor—you can do a lot to impact the second.

The dynamics of first impressions compound when creating the impression online. Jeremy Biesanz, Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia engaged with over 1,000 people exploring the accuracy and bias of first impressions formed under differing circumstances. Biesanz found the accuracy of impressions varied little between mediums, but impressions formed on-line tend to be more negative than those created in-person. Another study found that after forming a first impression, people tend to hang on to the impression, even after they are given facts that contradict what is believed.

A casual scan of LinkedIn profiles shows glamour shots, avatars, a Hollywood character’s photo, wedding photos, a shirtless weightlifter, and someone slugging their way through a Tough Mudder. Here are tips to help ensure your immediate impressions are as positive as possible.

Avoid location shots: It appears that when some people were told to update their LinkedIn photos, they jumped in their cars, grabbed their phones, and posted what they got. The result is an arm’s-length image that stirs reminders of wet soccer clothes and stale French fries. Unless you are Flo from the Progressive Insurance commercial, the interior of your car is a lackluster setting for a business photo. Slightly better (or worse) is an image shot by a friend for whom photo composition is not a marketable skill.

Watch the background: The background of a professional photo should align with your profession, not your hobbies, weekends, or causes you support. An online image shouldn’t raise a question you don’t have an opportunity to answer. A plain background with colors that contrast your hair and clothing makes you stand out—instead of raising questions about what you do in your spare time.

Fly solo: Your online image isn’t the place to highlight your ability to crop a picture. Capturing a slice of yourself from a picture taken at a family gathering looks efficient—and cheap. That treasured photo of you shaking the hand of a famous person is memorabilia, not good marketing.

Keep it current: Your visual images are part of your brand. Like houses, brands show their use over time. While the structure and character remain solid, the visual aspects can begin to shout, “dated.” An executive in his 50s that dresses like he did in the 90s screams “update needed” as much as a 30 year-old house with the original wallpaper. If you are past 40 and your professional photo is more than five years old, it is time for trip to a professional photographer. Few things spell awkward at the start of a networking meeting or interview more than, “Oh, you look a lot different than your picture on LinkedIn.”

Clothes, like people, often lose their shape before they wear out. “This still looks okay,” is not the mantra of a personal brand that shouts relevance. A professional on the back nine of their career shouldn’t dress like a mid-life crisis waiting to happen. Neither should that person look like the last suit they bought was the year John Molloy’s “Dress for Success” started making its way to the shelves of Half Price Books. As we all emerge from various forms of pandemic-driven isolation, none of us should look like we spent the past two years tucked safely away in a cave.

Align the platforms: While LinkedIn is used more for professional networking, what you post on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are part of the package. It is undeniable that surveying social media often occurs in a hiring process, and in other circumstances. Facebook and Instagram postings often leave little room for imagination and too much space for interpretation. While photos inspired by the moment make memorable family photojournalism, they also become part of your public record and should be posted with discretion.

We may not get a second change to make a first impression and it can take a lot of work to undo a first impression after it is made.

If you want to explore how to create a congruent and effective personal brand message, give Leapfrog Executive Services a call.

Making a Tough Call

Category : 2021

In the rarefied air of executive suites, following a tough act is a daunting proposition. Equally formidable is the admission that it’s time to make a tough call—

  • A board knows it’s time for an aging and revered CEO to retire.
  • The venture capital company financing a start-up needs to tell the founder he isn’t equipped to run the business he birthed.
  • A business recognizes a brilliant market expansion made in 2019 is a post-COVID albatross.
  • A talented executive realizes the job of her dreams has become a nightmare that won’t end.

From aging CEOs to brilliant entrepreneurs to superstar executives, the toughest calls are those that involve people. From his investigation into 82 CEO failures, business advisor Ram Charan concluded the most prevalent root cause of failure was, “putting the wrong person in a job and then not dealing with the mismatch.” Charan noted, “It’s usually obvious who needs to go, and most of the time CEOs know it in their gut but don’t do anything. It’s hard to admit the error, or they have a psychological bond with the person or think they can coach him or her. Sometimes it’s a matter of misjudging performance, because they don’t dig into the causes.” (You Can’t Be a Wimp and Make the Tough Calls, HBR,

Unpredictable market forces notwithstanding, CEOS tell us that by their initiative, 2021 will be a year of change. PWC’s 24th annual Global CEO Survey states that, “Over half (57%) of US CEOs plan to pursue new mergers and acquisitions in the next 12 months, compared with 38% of CEOS globally.” The report also says, “Twenty-six percent of US respondents who ranked new M&A at the top of their list to drive growth said their primary motivation is to acquire capabilities, including different technologies . . . Innovation also drives growth, and most US CEOs plan to . . . [develop] new offerings: 63% said they plan to launch a new product or service in the next 12 months, compared with 56% of CEOs globally,” (

The transitional nature of 2021 is forcing boards, CEOs, and individuals sitting in the executive suite to develop the acuity to see through uncertainty and determine whether the people in key roles possess the business acumen and interpersonal capabilities required to lead through the immediate transition and succeed in whatever evolutions are still ahead. A senior leader lacking the vision and appetite for authentic diversity and inclusion, broad-reaching digital transformation, innovative employee engagement in a hybrid workplace, and adjusting their sails through waves of adversity won’t succeed in the next 18 months.

Most often, tough calls become more difficult, not less, if circumstances calling for a decision are left to resolve themselves. Without regard for education, expertise, or history, our brains hesitate to revisit an initial assessment of and decision about a person or situation. We are uncomfortable with the feeling we are wrong, so all of us tend to stay with a decision well beyond when an outcome or results tell us the choice was not optimal.

A board, CEO, or individual can leverage a few critical actions to facilitate and accelerate making a tough call.

  1. Get an outside perspective.

The likelihood is extremely good that without something interrupting their thinking, five people sitting around a board table haven’t had any executive epiphanies to radically alter their current approach to a problem. An unbiased perspective from someone with nothing to gain or lose from the decision can be monumental in helping a board take desperately needed action. At a personal level, it is easy to rearrange earlier conclusions and call it thinking. An insightful and candid advisor that will tell the emperor he lost his shirt can help a struggling leader see through the fog of familiarity and take steps to make a change.

  1. Set aside egos and biases.

Ego is a natural part of personality and biases (fallacies in logic) often quietly sneak into our thought processes. An outside perspective can help reveal where fragile egos and unchecked biases are complicating a decision and delaying action. When facing a tough call, confirmation bias encourages us to draw conclusions from evidence that supports our existing beliefs or preconceptions, even when more glaring proof suggests another explanation. Confirmation bias directs how we search for information, what information we favor, how we interpret information, and what information we recall.

  1. Pursue explanations beyond what is visible.

Elite marathoners die of cancer. Three-decade marriages quietly dissolve into divorce. Successful companies become footnotes in B-school textbooks. CEOs give up the cover of Fortune to be the lead story of a tabloid. Data tells what is happening. It takes thorough analysis, asking questions no one wants to raise, and engaging in healthy conflict to get to why. Boards, C-suite teams, and executives at all levels easily get caught up in relieving symptoms while the underlying disease that is the root cause of failure remains undetected and unresolved.

  1. Make a decision, not the decision.

When the demand for a tough call lands on your desk, the aversion for a difficult decision perpetuates the pursuit of a perfect decision. Not wanting the scenario to repeat itself, you do everything possible to ensure the decision intended to resolve a problem doesn’t conceive another problem that emerges six months from now. While admirable, this approach confuses risk with uncertainty and the effort to make a perfect decision free of uncertainty causes you to take too long to act. You didn’t know the outcome of the last decision before you made it and you won’t know the outcome of this choice until after it is made. There is no perfect, so go for timely.

Theodore Roosevelt remains the youngest person to ever sit behind the Resolute Desk, becoming the 26th President of the United States at age 42, following the death of William McKinley. While many disagree about some of Roosevelt’s decisions, once can find wisdom in his insight that, “In any moment of decision, the best thing is to do the right thing, the next best thing is to do the wrong thing and the worst thing to do is nothing.”

If you’re looking for a fresh perspective as you consider the next chapter in your career, call Leapfrog Executive Services.

Following a Tough Act

Category : 2021

Before America’s Got Talent, American Idol, and The Voice catapulted unknown wannabes to stardom, scores of people in the early decades of the 20th century searched for a stairway to the stars in vaudeville. Each show’s 10-15 unrelated acts might include acrobats, animal shows, comedians, musicians, and lecturing celebrities. If you had the good fortune of following the human frog, Guy Visser and his singing duck, or the guy swinging a chair held by his teeth, you had a good chance of leaving a memorable impression with the audience. But if Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Bert Williams, or Eddie Foy and the Seven Little Foys performed before you, you’d likely look wistfully from off-stage and sigh to yourself, “That’s a tough act to follow.”

After a carefully planned and well-executed succession and selection process, in February 2020, Michael Miebach was named CEO at Mastercard as Ajay Banga transitioned from CEO to Chairman. By any measure, Ajay is a tough act to follow. During his tenure, revenues tripled, net income grew sixfold, and the company’s market cap ballooned from less than $30 million to over $300 million. While the coming months will measure the outcome of the move, Mastercard’s planning and Miebach’s preparation clearly position him for success.

You don’t need to achieve stellar results to be a hero if you are hired to turn around a situation where your predecessor floundered. Examples from business, non-profits, and every other corner of life give evidence that following a superstar has its own set of risks and challenges. As England’s Prince Charles walked behind his father’s casket during the funeral of Prince Philip, one can’t help but wonder if Charles’ mind drifted to when he will walk behind the bier of the beloved Queen Elizabeth II, thinking to himself, “Mummy is a tough act to follow.”

Consulting firm McKinsey reports that after two years, between 27 and 46 percent of executive transitions are measured as disappointing or an outright failure. Those numbers haven’t changed in over a decade. It is worth noting that the executives who stumbled were intelligent, capable, and brought a history of success and results in a previous executive leadership role.

There are several steps an executive can take to help ensure success when following someone who previously crushed a role. These are adapted from HBR’s article titled, How Insider CEOs Succeed, cited below.

Get out of the Shadows

Someone like Indra Nooyi, Jack Welch, Bill Gates, or Ursula Burns can leave an enduring shadow from which a successor quickly needs to emerge. If the new executive is promoted from within the company, he or she also must quickly step beyond the shadow created by a previous role. More than one talented leader has struggled to gain broad acceptance across an organization because people were slow to embrace the person in a broader or different role.

Act for the Future, While Respecting the Past

After making even a minor change in the business, any executive following a star is likely to hear, “Marsha would have never done that,” or “I knew someone from Ops was not right for that role,” or “He is forgetting who helped him get where he is.” While prudently protecting a predecessor’s legacy, a new executive easily becomes another McKinsey statistic if he/she does not concisely and with certainty chart a course for the future. The plan may require adjustment along the way, but a new CEO will struggle if people don’t see a clear path to the next milestone in the journey.

Get Over It and On with It

An internal promotion to a senior role, or a move from a competitor places before a new executive an enticing and potentially perilous opportunity to fix the past. If a previous leader ignored or allowed inequities or disparities in diversity, pay, and opportunities, a new leader has an opening to set a new course and clean up the past. The danger lies in the temptation to use new levels of authority to settle a grievance or resolve a grudge with a former peer who is now a direct report. A sure way to burn through relational capital and create distrust in a new team is for a leader to invest time and energy in fixing what needs to be forgotten.

Keep the Right Plates Spinning

Any new CEO or senior executive finds the job, at least initially, quickly takes on the feel of the guy spinning plates on the Ed Sullivan show. (The Guinness record is a couple in Thailand keeping 108 plates simultaneously in motion.) An enterprise is successful when the leaders of the company focus on and balance their energies toward generating cash flow, growing consistently, creating profitability and shareholder value, investing in the people that ensure success, and managing assets effectively. It is easy for an internally promoted executive to stay involved in a previous role or for any leader to favor one aspect of the business over another. Companies with a record of strong, repeated performance are organizations where the leaders know how to balance the drivers of success.

Make Your Leadership About Influence, Not Authority

Ken Blanchard is right when he says, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” A new leader improves the likelihood of success if his or her investment in executing a strategy is married to a commensurate investment in building the relationships that ensure the results endure. Listening until people feel heard, communicating with transparency, caring enough about a relationship to engage in and resolve a conflict, telling the truth, and keeping commitments are fundamental to building the relational web that can protect a leader when they miss the bar and fall.

Two reliable executive resources offer a deeper look into this subject:

How Insider CEOS Succeed,

Why Smart Executives Fail,

The Terror of a Blank Page

Category : 2021

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration; the rest of us get up and go to work.                                                                            –  Stephen King

Writer’s block. Even the most talented authors collide with it. Could-have-been writers let it defeat them and dam up the flow of great ideas. Successful writers recognize writer’s block for the myth it is and find ways to defeat this crippling curse of composition.

Before you click on the next item in your inbox, pause for a moment to consider the parallels between writer’s block—the inability to produce or create something new on a page, and leader’s block—the inability to create or produce something new in a career. Whatever the level of responsibility or the industry focus of a role, most executives have a brief, or extended encounter with that debilitating feeling that somewhere in the past, the executive “peaked” and his or her market value is now static or perhaps, on a downward trajectory.

Novelist James Ellroy discovered a quick cure for this adversary of achievement—”the necessity of earning a living.” For some leaders, upkeep is sufficient motivation keep them going for a while. But from the boardroom to the mailroom, the simple exchange of time and energy for money—even a lot of money—quickly loses its motivating power and ability to keep the engine of productivity running indefinitely.

A brief scan of the alleged sources of writer’s block reflect many of the forces that plague an executive staring at what feels like a blank page in a career.

  • Uncertainty that promotes indecision.
  • Boredom that smothers motivation.
  • Perfectionism that fuels immobility.
  • Stress that precipitates inaction.
  • Distractions that cloud the end goal.

Changing the analogy momentarily, experienced pilots know you can’t get out of a stall by coasting. Counterintuitively, to recover from a stall, you push the nose of the plane down and accelerate. Only when adequate speed is achieved can you level the wings and return to normal flight. Writers and executives wanting to regain altitude act purposefully and decisively as well.

  • Embrace the reality—not the myth. Admitting you’re burned out, stuck, or just sick of what you’re doing will advance you much faster than listening to the mental reasons that justify your inaction. Experienced authors know writer’s block is solved more by perspiration than by inspiration.
  • Do something. In every industry and every role, one differentiator between those who succeed and those who do not is that successful people learn to do things they don’t like or want to do in pursuit of a greater objective. When it’s time to explore a new opportunity forward momentum is easily generated by choosing to do one thing every day to change the current situation.
  • Release your expectations—so you can grasp something new. By any measure, 2020 created a corporate upheaval unlike anything we have seen before. Thousands of businesses closed forever. Millions of people filed for unemployment. And while that whirlwind of economic pain swirled around us, new business applications in 2020 surpassed those filed in 2019 by over 20%. Thousands of people facing the blank page of a COVID-driven career change opted to write a new story. Economists call this “creative destruction,” a process where, as one economic structure dissolves, another is created in its place.
  • Expand your thinking. By the time people reach the second or third decade of a career, they become extremely skilled at thinking the same thoughts over again and calling it “exploring new options.” Any executive serious about overcoming career inertia will benefit greatly from reading widely, listening to new voices, and choosing to invest time with people holding viewpoints the executive doesn’t embrace.
  • Take a break. When facing complexity, uncertainty, and the need for action, initially slowing down or even stopping, can result in faster, more purposeful action later. While it was nice to save money on oil changes and travel insurance in 2020, shelved vacation plans and delayed breaks prompted some to fill time normally allocated to leisure with more work. Zoom now brings work into any room where you allow it. Allocating a few hours every week to something other than work will feed your ability to move past a blank page of complacency to a book full of possibility.

If it’s time for a change, a good place to begin is with a conversation. Leapfrog Executive Services can help you evaluate your options and prepare yourself for the next chapter in your story.

Wait A Minute!

Category : 2021

Depending on which research, opinion, tweet, or meme you favor, a lot of life is invested in waiting. The acceleration provided by technology intensifies the frustration we feel during moments when we can do nothing but . . . wait.

During 2020, a large amount of wait time was invested in—

  • Waiting for a download
  • Waiting for meal delivery
  • Waiting for someone to open a Zoom or Teams meeting
  • Waiting for a quarantine period to end

After winter forced a week of disaster and dismay into our lives, the wait list now includes—

  • Waiting for the end of a power outage
  • Waiting for a pipe to thaw
  • Waiting for a pipe to burst
  • Waiting for a plumber

Teaching the value of waiting is much preferred to learning the value of waiting.

The internet brims with platonic blather about the value and importance of waiting. But it is worth noting that the author of the quotation, “Anything worth having is worth waiting for,” is unknown. That probably means no thinking person in touch with reality has ever made that statement anytime or anywhere. For most people, the more honest sentiment is, “Anything worth having is worth screaming for, demanding, fighting for, and whining about until you get it—now.”

When Mozart introduced his The Abduction from the Seraglio opera in 1782, Emperor Joseph II allegedly told the brilliant composer the piece was beautiful but contained, “Too many notes.” Mozart responded, “Just as many as necessary, Your Majesty.” Therein lies Mozart’s genius—knowing how many notes were necessary and when a note became superfluous.

While COVID’s economic and social tsunami changed the notes for many executives, it didn’t alter the tendency for many leaders to continue filling every space in life with as many notes as possible. It is tempting to smother the uncertainty of change with the clamor of activity.

Whether it arrives by circumstance, choice, design, or default, waiting is like a rest in a musical composition. While filling one measure, one beat, or only a moment, a rest in a piece of music indicates an absence of sound. A rest isn’t an interval when nothing is happening, but rather a deliberate moment when space is leveraged to give greater meaning or emphasis to what just happened or to what is to come.

Professionally, a brief or protracted period of waiting invites a leader to take a breath, reconsider priorities, reimagine a strategy, or jettison something that waiting reveals is no longer worthy of time, attention, or energy. When circumstances push us into a period of waiting, we adjust our perspective, tap our perseverance, and act with persistence to do what we can while we wait on what we desire.

Effective communicators know the value of active listening—making a conscious effort to hear and comprehend the words, emotions, and intent in what is spoken. Active listening keeps us engaged in an interaction, so we respond, rather than react. Executives wanting to engage fully and effectively with what is ahead in 2021 will invest time in learning the skill of active waiting—deliberately capturing insight from and fully using the present moment, while anticipating and planning for the future.

Even athletes and performers at the top of a game value the competitive edge offered through timely coaching. If you want to use the current moment to help you prepare for your next step, Leapfrog Executive Services can help. Call us today to learn more.

Your Professional Stress Test

Category : 2021

“The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions.” (Peter Drucker)

Most people welcome the news they need a heart stress test with about the same enthusiasm they throw at learning it’s time for a colonoscopy. In both scenarios, the patient isn’t very keen on the procedure. But what makes both events daunting is the anticipation that the conversation afterward might bring the individual face-to-face with information they don’t want to hear.

Reverting to Drucker’s comment at the top of this article—any of us can be tempted to adopt the strategy that says, “If I don’t ask the question, I don’t have to deal with the answer.”

A heart stress test evaluates how well your heart handles the workload you give it. The simple activity of walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike can expose potential problems and help a doctor prescribe the best plan of treatment. In response to the financial crisis a few years ago, financial institutions are required to conduct computer-simulated stress testing to analyze how a bank, its financial portfolio, and the institution’s internal controls would handle a drastic and unexpected economic shift. At a personal level, there are a plethora of assessments, evaluations, and even silly questions you can use to assess your internal responses to the circumstances and events of your life.

Whether targeting your physical health, unexpected events, or your responses to what happens, it is helpful to remember—

We don’t fall apart because of life’s pressures. We fall apart when we respond to life’s pressures with inadequate resources.

Men and women and the companies they lead demonstrate endurance, resilience, and even growth in good, bad, and ever-changing circumstances when they know survival doesn’t depend on the right set of conditions as much as it depends on responding to life’s situations with adequate resources.

Ten years ago, Harvard Business Review featured Stress-Test Your Strategy: The 7 Questions to Ask by Robert Simons ( Though directed at a business, with slight adaptation, Simon’s questions offer a valuable framework for stress-testing a professional’s career strategy. A few minutes invested in answering these questions might expose an area of vulnerability that you would be wise to address as you engage with 2021.

  1. Who is your customer? Periodically ask yourself who or what motivates you to do what you do. The need for clear focus and a balanced perspective never diminishes.
  2. What values drive you? A lack of congruence between our values and our actions clouds our vision and complicates decision-making.
  3. How do you measure success? We all face the possibility the ladder we’re climbing with determination and relentless effort might be leaning against the wrong wall.
  4. What do you do with the inherent tensions in life? Decisions always involve logic and emotion. Every action carries with it a level of risk. The need to balance timely action with prudent reflection never goes away. Successful leaders leverage tension—they don’t avoid it.
  5. How do you create accountability? One of the risks inherent in career progression is having fewer people in your orbit that challenge you and ask hard questions. Wise leaders choose to be accountable before they are told to be accountable.
  6. How prepared are you for the unexpected? If 2020 taught us anything it was the cold reality that when you think things can’t get worse—the can and do. Personally and corporately, planning for contingencies and the unanticipated is a life habit more than an annual exercise.

Health experts tell us that beyond fundamental health and lifestyle choices, physical fitness is measured by three things—strength, endurance, and flexibility. Professional fitness can be assessed the same way—having the resources you need, staying at it when you want to quit, and adapting to changes as an expected part of life.