Good Foundations

Category : 2022

Any competent structural engineer will tell you—a skillfully designed, and properly constructed foundation is a big deal. A good foundation—
• Creates the map for a building’s construction.
• Supports the constant and variable weight loads of a structure.
• Stabilizes a structure to withstand movement when external forces shift.

When purchasing a house in Texas, discussing the building’s foundation is more than an academic exercise . . . Seven of the top 15 U.S. cities with foundation issues are in Texas.

Some foundations are historic for their engineering genius—
• The Willis (Sears) Tower in Chicago sits on 114 reinforced concrete caissons set in bedrock and reaching 100 feet below ground.
• The Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai reaches 163 stories into the sky while resting on 192 five-foot in diameter piles, buried 164 feet below ground.

Other foundations are well-known for what they failed to do—
• When the Canadian Pacific Railway constructed the 13-container Transcona Grain Elevator in Winnipeg in 1913, inadequate accounting for the clay soil resulted in the structure sinking one foot within the first hour of filling the containers and tilting by 27 degrees within 24 hours.
• Construction of South Padre Island’s Ocean Tower halted two years into construction when builders discovered the core of the building had dropped 14 inches. The implosion of the 31-story structure provided a short-term economic boost for the south Texas town.
• As construction of the iconic Tower of Pisa began 840 years ago, the builders spotted immediate problems with the structure’s stability. While the tower continues to settle, tourists continue to gather, much to the delight of Pisa businesses.

Enduring careers are built on solid foundations as well—consistent results, measurable impact, and quantified contributions to the people served by an organization. Without these, an executive’s career journey is as unstable and unpredictable as the gumbo clay of north Texas or the sandy uncertainty of south Florida.

Executives positioning themselves in a current role and planning for future opportunities are wise to invest attention and energy toward ensuring the supporting elements of a professional foundation are in place as well—
• An engaging biographic profile that tells the executive’s story in a compelling and informative way.
• A results-focused resume that provides as much value to the executive as it does the market, by pressing a leader to quantify his or her success at creating cashflow, improving profitability, leading growth, and developing people.
• An engaging presence on social media that aligns with and supports the executive’s market position, role, and brand focus.

Without purposeful attention, these three dimensions of a career foundation are often approached like a neighbor’s home remodeling project in a community without a HOA. A room is added here, a window is added there, a slab for another car is poured beside the standing garage until the home begins to look as much like a Rube Goldberg contraption as a house.

Like a well-designed structural foundation, the bio, resume, social media triad—
• Creates the map for telling an executive’s story and keeping that story fresh as a career journey progresses.
• Supports the executive by ensuring a personal brand is properly positioned, well-supported, and accurately clarified through organizational changes—like finding out the world’s richest person suddenly deciding to buy the company where you work.
• Stabilizes an executive to quicky adapt to the market, prepare for an unexpected change, or orchestrate a late-career innovation in response to the external forces that buffet every organizational leader.

If the first four months of 2022 have told us anything, it is to prepare for another wild ride. What is ahead will look vastly different from the pandemic-driven roller coaster of the past two years. The market volatility, economic uncertainty, and a responding need for personal adaptability will be greater than ever.

If your foundation isn’t as solid as you’d like, call Leapfrog Executive Services. We’re experts in career strategy, executive coaching, and creating the piers that support a foundation of executive success.

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.

Reminder: Charting A Course Through Desperate Times

Category : 2022

Skilled mariners know there is no margin for error when charting a course. Careful review of a map’s scale, notes and corrections from other sailors, GPS positions, and visual and radar fixes are critical data points for any sailor wanting to reach an intended destination. Marine Insight states that, “The safety of navigations depends upon the quality and reliability of chart plotting . . . A wrong course line or position can mislead the vessel and . . . make way to accidents.”

Charting a course through relentless market and business uncertainty requires the same planning and attention to detail required to sail across an ocean. Our last blog Desperate Times mentioned the lodestar to which an executive is wise to chart a course–market your expertise, not your experience. This fixed point of reference helps ensure a leader is not bringing yesterday’s solution to today’s challenge.

Here are two more navigation points that will help a leader sail with certainty throughout the new year.

Give more attention to your systems than your goals.

Carefully worded goals are like navigation points for a mariner. Goals tell us where we are going. They define a desired outcome. They articulate the intent of a vision or mission. Goals are woefully inadequate at ensuring their own achievement. Atomic Habits author James Clear captures this reality by simply stating, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

In this insightful book, Clear points out that many people want to be financially stable but cannot create or are unwilling to follow a system that will make that goal a reality. Masses of people say they want to “get in shape” while never finding or following a system that can result in a long-term change in behavior. If having a goal of writing a book was all that was required, publishers would be overwhelmed with worthy submissions from new authors.

An executive wanting to sail through the high seas looming on the corporate horizon will invest time in evaluating, adjusting, or building a system that ensures relevance and articulates expertise through a clear brand message that is effective across all channels of personal communication. A prepared leader will proactively identify roles and opportunities not yet defined, where she/he can bring value.

Separate yourself from the status quo without threatening those whose survival depends on it.

Any executive wanting to create opportunities at any port-of-call faces the dicey challenge of separating from the status quo that is carefully nurtured and protected by those who depend on the homeostasis of the present to survive. An emerging leader charting a course into the future may discover someone who built an enterprise, to whom a leader owes much of his/her early success, now cares more about personal survival than proactive succession.

By 2025, Millennials will comprise 75 percent of the workforce. By 2030, all Baby Boomers will be age 65 or older. The average age of a Fortune 500 CEO is 57. Knowing these three facts, it is not an exaggeration to predict a dramatic shift in the power centers at many enterprises during the next 5-7 years. It is worth considering that the reason some boards and senior teams aren’t giving more attention to thoughtful succession planning is they are happily rowing in the waters of denial, or they aren’t confident they have people ready to assume the leadership of an enterprise. Executives wanting to accept greater levels of responsibility will purposefully and carefully find ways to demonstrate they are ready, capable, and can be trusted to lead a company without destroying what previous leadership birthed and nurtured.

William Ward reminded us, “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” As businesses emerge from the financial tsunami of a global pandemic, it is time for leaders serious about their futures to set sail, navigate a course, adjust for the winds, and plan for a wild ride to a positive outcome.

If you would like help exploring some new seas, connect with the skilled mariners at Leapfrog Executive Services.

Desperate Times

Category : 2021

In Spanish, it sounds like a line from an old western movie you can’t remember the title of, “Tiempos desesperados requieren medidas desesperadas.”

Italians probably say it while eating bruschetta, risotto, or something carbonara, “A mali estremi estremi rimedi.”

The French pair it with a glass of Merlot, “Aux grands maux les grands moyens.”

With due respect to our friends in the Netherlands, “Wanhopige tijden vragen om wanhopige maatregelen” has an appealing lilt, but it is a mouthful to pronounce.

In English, we know this line simply as, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Forget about COVID, the latest natural disaster, or the political crisis du jour. For a moment, apply this iconic statement to your career and your brand. In the unpredictable, ever-evolving environment in which we now work, what measures have you taken to prepare for a strategic or unexpected move to a new role or different realm of responsibility?

For many corporate boards, the 2020 priority was keeping people in their C-suite chairs and hanging on for dear life while the repercussions of a pandemic repeatedly slammed into every industry and business across the globe like an ominous creature from a Steven Spielberg movie. Boards of Directors and senior leaders invested endless hours in monitoring the pandemic’s impact on corporate financial stability, employee well-being, and what it would take to keep customers engaging with an enterprise. The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance reported that at companies in the Russell 3000 (the largest 3,000 U.S. companies, representing about 98% of the investable U.S. equity market), CEO transitions dropped in the second quarter of 2020.1

The uncertainty emerging in C-suites across the globe seems characteristically close to the wistful musings of Mary Poppins’ friend, Bert.

Winds in the east, mist coming in,
Like something is brewin’ and bout to begin.
Can’t put me finger on what lies in store,
But I fear what’s to happen all happened before.

During 2021, Andy Jassy at Amazon, Tom Nolan at Kendra Scott, and Bob Jordan at Southwest Airlines benefitted from these winds of change as Jeff Bezos, Kendra Scott, and Gary Kelly announced they would vacate their CEO chairs for successors. In less-visible enterprises, boards and those responsible for a cohesive plan of succession are assessing whether the team currently enjoying the rarefied air of execudom can lead their organizations through the next iteration of what the business will look like—back to the office, hybrid, work-from-home, or text-from-outer space.

Boards can’t allow the relentless pandemic, political pandemonium, and supply chain gridlock to distract them from their responsibility to anticipate and plan for executive turnover and develop the leaders needed to assume broader roles of responsibility. Few companies can absorb the expense or fully mitigate the risk of replacing all the top talent with outsiders. It will likely take a blended strategy of recruiting a few new voices, while strengthening the capabilities of select leaders in the organization.

A competent executive presenting a definitive personal brand can harness these winds of uncertainty and change to create a new opportunity in the coming months. The first of three ideas is here—with two more to follow in our next blog.

Market your expertise, not your experience.

One of the greatest risks facing leaders as they progress in their careers is mistaking experience for expertise. Corporate histories are punctuated with accounts of executives who tried to replicate what they did in a past role in a new setting with unfortunate results.

Experience is personal contact with an event—an acquisition, a new product launch, a global expansion, or a business reinvention. Expertise is relevant knowledge and pertinent skills taken from an event that can be repurposed and applied in a new context. Length of time on a road does not equate to distance traveled and exposure to an event does not ensure anything valuable was learned through the experience. We don’t become effective decision makers because of our experiences. We become wise decision makers when we develop expertise in effective decision making while going through a spectrum of experiences.

Even if expertise is gained through an event, a wise leader is careful to not assume the same approach, strategy, or plan can be directly applied in a new context. After researching the good and bad decisions in scores of recognized companies, Dartmouth professor Sydney Finkelstein made two observations any executive wanting to capture the winds of opportunity will be careful to remember. Finkelstein noted,

“. . . more than half of flawed decisions result from leaders working from memories or experiences similar to the current situation but really aren’t,” and

“. . . We are at most risk of making bad decisions when we have enough experience to believe that we are right.”2

Distinct personal brands communicate capabilities and expertise as measurable value contributions, presented in a way that an executive team or Board of Directors can easily recognize as relevant and bringing needed expertise independent of an industry or business sector. Experience often requires industry context to have relevance. Expertise is relevant and transferable across multiple industries and markets.

A wise executive can use the experience/expertise dynamic to evaluate potential opportunities as well. If the questions asked by a recruiter or board are more about what you did than what you learned, more about what happened than what you took away from what happened, it may be an indication the company is looking for yesterday’s solution for today’s challenge.


2 Finkelstein, Sydney. Think Again: Why Good Leader Make Bad Decisions.

Broken Tools and Misused Words

Category : 2021

Words are like tools. Over time, misuse, neglect, and carelessness can render a tool or a word incapable of accomplishing its original purpose.

  • If you use a screwdriver as a chisel enough times, you’ll need to buy a new screwdriver.
  • Repeatedly tapping in nails with a crescent wrench will get the job done—and trash the wrench.
  • Cut enough of the wrong stuff with a hand saw and its only use will be as a musical instrument in a country band, next to some dude playing rhythm with a clay jug.

Common words that are shop-worn and severely damaged by misuse or outright neglect include leisure, recreation, and downtime. In our hyper-speed business culture, we tend to throw these words into one bucket of meaning, making them synonyms for the same idea, while they hold vastly different meanings—and distinct value for us.

The word leisure debuted around the 14th century meaning time at one’s disposal, freedom from necessary occupations and doing something without haste or deliberation. There is nothing new to see there. Most of us think of leisure as time remaining after priorities are cared for, after work is done, or when we have “free time.”

The deeper meaning of leisure is hidden in its French and Latin origins where the root of the word means to “be allowed.” The original intent of leisure is time we allow for ourselves or give ourselves. Leisure is allocated purposefully, deliberately, even judiciously. Leisure isn’t something we get as a reward for what we’ve done. Leisure is something we give ourselves as an investment toward what we want to achieve. Making time for leisure recognizes there are always competing priorities with voices much louder than our mind or body’s cry for relief. By engaging in leisure, we choose to ignore the Siren’s call for more activity and allow ourselves to pause and engage in other pursuits.

We throw the word recreation around like an old hammer, thinking it is indestructible, so it doesn’t require much attention or maintenance. When we hear recreation originally meant to “create again, renew, regenerate,” we smile affirmingly, telling ourselves that’s what we think recreation means, so no big deal. The disconnect comes when we look at what we do in the name of recreation.

Early use of recreation included recovery from illness, invigorating, and restoring. For many people, efforts to re-create leave them more tired and in worse shape than they started. While sitting in a stadium consuming beer and bad pizza for three hours may be fun—it misses the mark for recreation. Netflix binging provides an enjoyable, perhaps desperately-needed distraction, but it falls far from the goal of recreation. A week of late-night partying at an exclusive resort looks far more re-creative on a website than the lame attempt at restoration it offers in real-time.

Our journey through the jungle of misused words takes on new intensity when we look at the word downtime. A casual dinner with friends, a visit to a museum, reading a good book, or channel-surfing on a Friday night are all ways people say they’re getting some “downtime.” Unfortunately, those activities don’t come close to capturing the intent of this important component of a healthy life.

Downtime has its origins in industry and manufacturing, referring to deliberate, planned periods during which a computer system, machine, or assembly line is taken out of action and unavailable for use. Downtime is costly, so like people, businesses don’t allocate predictive maintenance well and this neglect is estimated to cost companies $50 billion annually. When a piece of technology or equipment is not proactively given downtime, the machine takes it—usually at a very inopportune time and with greater expense to the business.

Our minds are far more complex and sophisticated than any piece of equipment, and they require deliberate, planned periods of inactivity to operate with optimum health and efficiency. Emerging research indicates the human brain has two important systems that operate together—and distinctly different from one another.

The Task Positive Network or TPN is active during attention-demanding activities. This system includes conscious attention toward our external environment, use of our senses, awareness of our internal condition, and the execution of mental and physical action. When we are at work, juggling a myriad of responsibilities, engaged in critical thinking and decision making, and implementing our latest strategic plan, the TPN is in full operation, giving us the cognitive skills we need for these executive functions.

The Default Mode Network or DMN becomes engaged when our focus goes inward rather than on our external world or circumstances. The DMN is linked to our ethical framework, memories, creativity, and how we define our sense of self. The regions of the brain linked to DMN becomes more active when we are alert, but not focused on or processing information—when we meditate, daydream, envision the future, or recall pleasant memories.

Here is where definitions become important. Scrolling through the last wave of posts on Facebook or Instagram is not downtime. Three hours of playing video games is not downtime. Posting a dozen Tic Tok videos is not downtime. These activities all demand attention and while they may be ways to use leisure, they are not downtime.

Genuine downtime is like allocating time to predictive maintenance in a factory. Deliberately choosing to energize memory, creative thinking, and purposeful daydreaming can make a significant contribution to our effectiveness when we again focus the TPN toward cognitively challenging responsibilities. Without adding needless angst, research by the National Institutes of Health is exploring whether common neurologic challenges like Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and mood disorders may have links to dysfunction or disease in the DMN.

To function at full capacity and capability, our bodies need what leisure and recreation provide. To engage with full mental strength and capability, our minds need another kind of leisure, a purposeful shift from that which demands attention to mental actions that refresh our emotional systems and ensure that when we make critical decisions in life and business, we are acting with the confidence that body and mind are working in full cooperation.

Trivial Pursuits

Category : 2021

It only required the frustration of some lost Scrabble tiles, 45 minutes, and a napkin for high school dropout Chris Haney and his friend Scott Abbott to birth what would become the popular board game Trivial Pursuit. The game debuted in 1981, and five years later, 20 million copies were confirming the “importance” of the mass of minutia tumbling around in human brains. The game is now available in 26 countries and 17 languages.

Trivia is defined as “that which is of little value or importance.” The Latin origin of the word is trivium or crossroads, and the meaning of trivium evolved to define information that is commonplace or found everywhere. Closely related is the concept of minutia, “the small, precise, or trivial details of something.” Whether motivated by curiosity, entertainment, or an innate competitiveness, when we are right about a piece of information, a drop of dopamine is released in our brains, and we like it, giving trivia a subtly addictive power in our minds.

While trivia offers a nice diversion or the foundation for an evening of fun around a table, an executive consumed by data, details, and the unimportant easily loses strategic focus and personal impact quickly diminishes. The quest for differentiation among peers can subtly intoxicate a leader into believing something no one else knows makes a defining difference, and the executive wanders into what British historian G.M. Young called, “ . . . the Waste Land of Experts, each knowing so much about so little that he can neither be contradicted nor is worth contradicting, ” (Victorian England: Portrait of an Age).

It is easy for a talented leader to articulate a vision for an enterprise or a company, while slowly losing the vision for his or her own life. The Greeks referred to this as lacking telos—losing sight of an ultimate objective or aim. Before long, a leader’s mental and emotional systems will look for a way to resolve the cognitive dissonance. If resolution isn’t found, the executive’s ability to see and create energy around a corporate vision is minimized while the leader searches through the fog to find the telos for his or her life.

Some clear indicators reveal when a leader is losing telos—

·        Getting things done becomes more important than doing the right things.

·        What becomes more important than why.

·        Expedience becomes more important than truth.

·        Maintaining an image becomes more important than living authentically.

·        Accomplishments become more important than relationships.

·        Achieving a promotion becomes more important than delivering results.

When telos is lost, boredom quickly fills its place. A previously engaged and effective leader lacking a personal vision pursues mental and emotional stimulation in the trivia, the minutia of a job. Leadership is replaced with control as a micromanager is born, and orchestrating activity quickly becomes more important than driving results. Legendary entrepreneur and business icon Mary Kay Ash noted, “In absence of clearly defined goals we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia.”

Burned out and bored executives don’t lack for ideas. They may drive a flurry of activity and change in the form of—

·        Marching toward an acquisition long after due diligence says the quest will create value.

·        Pursuing a new product or different market to gratify ego more than to capture an opportunity.

·        Leading a corporate reorganization that creates the chaos the leader needs to feel engaged.

·        Encouraging teams to compete for resources because the relational tension is entertaining.

Our information-rich culture doesn’t help a leader trying to regain a focus on information that is valuable more than what is available. Immediate and ubiquitous access to a computer screen or a mobile device can give a leader an easy, and often addictive shot of trivia-stimulated dopamine. Click rates and reviews define importance. In his characteristic candor and dry wit, veteran broadcaster David Brinkley admitted, “When there is no news, we will give it to you with the same emphasis as if there were.” It is helpful to remember Brinkley worked most of his career when there were three news networks deciding what was important and when you should hear it.


Former General Electric chairman Jack Welch had very Welchian way of helping strategic leaders avoid becoming trivia-driven executives, suggesting, “An overburdened, overstretched executive is the best executive, because he or she does not have the time to meddle, to deal in trivia, to bother people.” Thanks, Jack.

What can an executive do to regain a lost vision?

·        Get away from the noise. Effective leaders that produce enduring results know the value of temporarily, and regularly separating themselves from a ceaseless flow of trivia into their lives. They determine what is important by volition, not volume. They welcome, even nurture a new thought in their minds. They believe silence is more than golden—it is essential to survival.

·        Resist the urge. A trivia-addicted mind will convince an executive that he or she cannot survive without a nearly real-time awareness of what is happening, who is saying what, and predictions about what will happen next.

·        Read a book from an earlier century. The vocabularies and sentence structures employed by late 19th or early 20th century writers force a reader to slow down, pause, and think deeply. Writers of that era were informers more than entertainers, so their insights have an enduring relevance designed to last beyond a news cycle.

·        Refuse to allow your calendar to define your value. A full calendar measures activity, it does not define value. Rube Goldberg’s machines illustrated that a flurry of activity can look productive, while leaving you near the same place where you started. Any executive lacking the inner strength to allocate time to reflection and thinking will quickly become consumed by trivial pursuits.

Though she lacked sight after the first 19 months of her life, Helen Keller believed, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight and no vision.”