LEADERSHIP DURING THE TIME OF DYSTOPIA AND FOREBODING MIASMA

By G. A. Finch

In the month of March, in the year of 2020, in the world, in the United States, the Era of the COVID-19 Virus has unequivocally and rudely arrived.   Many times, as executives or professionals, we have recently heard the exclamations from friends, families, neighbors, colleagues, clients, customers, and patients: “These are weird times!”  “It’s a crazy time!” “It’s scary!” “The worst is yet to come!”

We hear complaints of either too much happy talk and misinformation or too much Chicken-Little-like-“The sky is falling” negativity.

All would agree that the world and United States are laboring under extreme adverse circumstances both medically and economically.

We are experiencing an historical moment, and it seems surreal with all the empty streets, closed schools and businesses, sanitizing of surfaces and objects, and social distancing.

From conversations with my executive and professional clients and colleagues across the country, I have come to believe the following: In these kinds of circumstances, a leader must a) understand context, b) discern a proper perspective, and c) choose the right attitude.

Context

We must understand those facts in which a certain event occurs.

We live in a highly integrated, global world.  We are not insulated and major catalysts can happen instantaneously — in this case, rapid disease contagion and economic dominoes.  What happens in financial or regional food markets abroad can and does have immediate effects on every American.

Human beings on this planet are inextricably connected and interdependent.

As  the 1918-1919 Flu Pandemic ought to have taught us, our living in an impenetrable bubble has always been a figment of our imagination.

Perspective

We must discern all of the relevant information to establish a meaningful view point.

The United States has had epic catastrophic events before and has survived, becoming stronger: Civil War, two World Wars, Great Depression, 9/11, Great Recession and other monumental challenges.

This corona virus calamity, too, shall pass.

Attitude

We must choose the right orientation.  Optimism and positivity are actionable choices that individuals, teams, groups, and nations are free to make.

There are no short- or long-term positive returns on individual or collective pessimism.  Our expecting and working toward an eventual positive outcome has both immediate and deferred benefits.

SunriseLeadership

We are all leaders, whether you lead in a family, an organization, a team or a government.

Effective and memorable leaders, although mindful of being realistic, pragmatic and diligent, choose a vision of prevailing and winning.  Defeatism is not an option for such leaders.  How will you choose to lead?

 

Copyright 2020 by G. A. Finch.  All rights reserved.

 

CBA RECORD REVIEW OF THE SAVVY EXECUTIVE: THE HANDBOOK COVERING EMPLOYMENT CONTRACTS, COMPENSATION, EXECUTIVE SKILLS AND MUCH MORE

Gratified to see Judge E. Kenneth Wright, Jr.’s review of my book, The Savvy Executive, for the Chicago Bar Association’s magazine, CBA Record.

CBA Record Magazine September/October 2019         – Judge E. Kenneth Wright, Jr., Editorial Board Member, writes:

“If you represent corporate executives, or professionals, you should read The Savvy Executive by savvy Chicago corporate lawyer and [Chicago Bar Association] member,     G. A. Finch.  … Finch knows of what he writes, and imparts prudent advice. … Finch provides a compelling, interesting, and challenging source of insight and information on the corporate world and its executives. … The Savvy Executive offers solid, accessible, and practical answers to questions that corporate managers and their lawyers need to know.”

  SavageExecutive                             #savvyexecutive

 

 

 

 

 

ELEVATOR SPEECH

BY G. A. FINCH

An executive and fellow author I know had suggested that I write about “elevator pitches” in my book, The Savvy Executive: The Handbook Covering Employment Contracts, Compensation, Executive Skills, and Much More.  It was a practical suggestion but I needed to set limits on the length of my book.   I am making up for this omission by this blog post.shutterstock_734738725

I personally have two elevator speeches that, admittedly, I do not use as often as I should.

For those readers who are not familiar with the concept of an “elevator speech,” it is having a ready-made quick response to someone who asks “What do you do for a living?” or “What business are you in?”  The idea is that on an elevator you may have approximately 30 to 45 seconds to tell what you do before you get to the floor where you, or your interlocutor, or both of you have to get off and go your separate ways.  The point is to inform the person asking about your business or profession in an interesting, memorable way so that a connection might be made.   With an effective elevator speech, ideally, the person listening will feel compelled to either take time to ask you more questions or ask for your business card to follow up, assuming such person has a need for the services or goods that you  have to offer.

The term “elevator speech” is a shorthand way of saying that you need to be able, in any setting, to tell someone what you do for a living in a way that is informative and engaging.  For example if someone were to ask me at a reception “What do you do?,” and I respond “I am an attorney” or “I am an author” or “I am a partner at the Hoogendoorn & Talbot law firm,” then such a response does not tell them much of anything and I may have missed a business development opportunity.

So there is utility in having a succinct, pithy description of what you do for a living.  In most situations, you will have more time than 45 seconds to talk about your work or business.

The elements of an effective elevator speech in my view:

  • Short
  • Illustrative of the kind of work you do
  • Memorable enough to differentiate you

My two different lawyer-oriented elevator speeches depend on the audience and context:

1) “I represent executives and professionals who are being hired or fired, or advise companies or organizations that are hiring or firing executives.”

2) “I am a business attorney who makes it possible for executives and entrepreneurs to sleep well at night.”

My first elevator speech’s punch line is the notion that I represent clients when executives are being hired or fired.  The subject matter itself catches people’s attention.

My second elevator speech’s punch line is the notion that my business counseling will fix problems and ease the legal stressors for my clients.  Relief from stress is always an attractive proposition.

If I am asked for more information, then I will provide a brief description of my law firm (history, size, practice concentrations and location) and maybe an example of a matter that I have handled.

Here are two other elevator speech examples that two intrepid executives have volunteered and subjected to my few tweaks –  I have made these executives and their companies anonymous:

A) “We enhance high performing management teams in middle market companies to create the greatest value for private equity investors. I do this at ‘Acme XYZ Company’ where I am managing partner and can bring a lot of resources to each relationship.”

B) “I am with ‘ACE ABC Partners.’ We do executive search and staffing for the      insurance industry.  We utilize our specialized expertise to find the right talent for our clients so they can remain focused on executing their strategic initiatives.”

You should try out different versions of your elevator speech and ascertain which one seems to elicit the most interest.

What’s your elevator pitch?

 

Copyright © 2019 by G. A. Finch, All rights reserved.

 

RECIPROCAL COACHING

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By G. A. Finch

Have you ever set personal business, career or self-improvement goals, and you look up weeks and sometimes months later not having made progress on them?  You realize that you have been distracted and diverted by other challenges and tasks and your goals are in the doldrums.  Career, family and extracurricular demands get in the way.  Life happens.paper-3224643__480

You read, hear and know that you must set specific goals for yourself to get traction on your life’s ambitions.  You know further that it is preferable to have them in writing and with deadlines.  You know what to do, but it is not happening.

Try bi-lateral coaching.  Find a person you trust to be your coaching buddy.  You hold each other’s feet to the fire.  You meet to discuss your goals and why you have not met them.  You, of course, write them down with specific dates of completion.  You check in (preferably in person)  once a week with your coaching buddy and you tell each other what you have accomplished or not. Your goals may evolve over time.rottweiler-1785760__480

What is the effect of a coaching buddy?  Your knowing that you have to report to another human being on your progress toward your goals is a powerful motivator to get things done to achieve those goals.  It is called accountability.  What gets measured and reported gets done.  It is an inexpensive way to keep you motivated and on track.MH900071046

I am doing it now and it has helped to keep me focused and more on task.  I do not want to come up short when I report in to my coaching buddy, and, vice versa, nor does he.   It is a simple solution.  You do not need a drill sergeant or an expensive executive coach to kick you in the pants or encourage you – you just need someone to whom you made a commitment not to disappoint (other than yourself). For long range career development and holistic career counseling, an executive coach may be useful and needed.  For goal setting and execution, a coaching buddy is an effective tool you ought to try.

 

Copyright © 2018 by G. A. Finch, All rights reserved.

EXECUTIVES’ JOB INTERVIEW READINESS: G. A. FINCH CHATS WITH COMMUNICATIONS COACH CORINNE VARGAS ABOUT INTERVIEWING

Job interviews are so fundamental to professional advancement.  Every executive has had a few times, if not many times, when the executive did not get the offer.  The executive may feel that the executive “blew” the interview.  The executive may be thinking: Was I too nervous?  Was I too rambling in my responses?  Did I not ask the right questions?  Was my body language off putting?  Was my voice too squeaky?

The executive will analyze the perceived failed interview a thousand different ways.  What is more frustrating is that many executives extensively prepare for interviews by researching the company and its people, anticipating kinds of questions, and practicing scripted answers.    They were prepared, or so they thought.

What most executives do not know about or consider is an interview coach.  Even at the pinnacle of their talents, world class athletes hire coaches to improve their “skills.”  Why wouldn’t you get help on how to nail a job interview?

My blog guest, Corinne Vargas, is just such a person who can help you “up your interview game.”  She is the founder of CVC Consulting, a firm that offers, among other services, coaching for professional and business interviews.

FINCH:   Corinne, we know that a successful interview has a huge impact on whether an executive makes it to the next round and hopefully receives a job offer.  Why do you think it does not occur to most executives that it is worth the investment to hire someone to hone their interviewing skills?

VARGAS:  In my experience, the investment is often not the barrier to hiring a coach. Instead, I have found many executives do not consider interview coaching and support for two reasons: 1) they are eager to start the process of finding a new position and feel they want to tackle it as quickly as possible, which often means alone, OR 2) do not know coaching is available for tailored situations. Unfortunately, many clients find coaches after attempting to tackle the process on their own and in various states of rejection, frustration, and desperation.

However, post-coaching, clients often express the lessened anxiety and frustration they felt during the process compared to going it alone. They explain having a coach “on their side” to help them through various steps in the process proved invaluable. Skilled coaches can help clients though different steps or aspects of the process including interview question preparation, nervous and anxious manifestations, content presentation, transition story framing and storytelling in the interview context. Coached clients frequently state feeling more control over the process and a higher level of confidence and preparedness, ultimately bolstering a better representation of personal brand and better outcomes.

Fire someone with witness

My advice to an executive in transition or looking to transition, is that it is worth the time to at least explore a coach as it can save time, frustration, and help you achieve your goals with more confidence, focus, and many times speed. If an executive decides to explore the option, they should look for an interview coach who provides focused, tailored coaching sessions offering perspective and actionable feedback.

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FIVE SUCCESS LESSONS FROM MOM

BY G. A. FINCH

My mother, Louise Antoinette Finch, passed away last month just two and half months shy of her 100th birthday. She is survived by all six of her sons and one daughter. As an older brother gave a eulogy and the priest gave a homily about my mother and what she represented spiritually, I ruminated about her legacy and the impact of her teachings. Although we are far from perfect as individuals and have had our own share of ups and downs, and some of the siblings may be viewed as more materially successful than other siblings, she obtained the same result from each of her children: all finished college and graduate or University_hatprofessional school. How did she do that? She had a few maxims to live by that she drilled into us. These aphorisms would benefit anyone (executive, professional, and others) seeking to get a leg up in life. I share five of the most salient ones below:

1. When you start something, whether it is a project, a task, a job, an extracurricular activity, or a degree program, you must complete it. My mother abhorred quitters and lack of follow through. She correctly knew that the lack of follow through was a serious impediment to success. So despite unfair teachers, mean camp counselors, arbitrary coaches or a tedious activity, we had to finish whatever program we started. To this day, my siblings and I talk about the little voice in our heads, when times got tough in medical, graduate or law school or in a demanding job, that repeated the mantra: “When you start something, you must finish it.”

2. When we complained of being sick, whether severely or lightly, real or imagined, my mother would say, “Get up, wash your face, brush your teeth, put on your clothes, eat some breakfast, go to school, and, if you are still feeling lousy, then call me.” By the time we did all those things, our ailments seem to Smile Face with Colddisappear or become sufficiently mitigated that we forgot that we were physically or psychologically under the weather. This was her ways of saying a) have a strong work ethic, b) “show up” to where you are supposed to be, and c) adjust your attitude. This anti-slacker and anti-lazy approach again carried me and my siblings through many a school and work day.

3. Surround yourself with quality people and people of integrity. Your friends and peers will make or break you and you will be judged by the company you keep. I think of the hyper academic high school that I was fortunate enough to be able to attend; the super intellectual students forced me to up my game and pull myself up from the mud of mediocrity. Counterintuitively, I did not find the competitive atmosphere intimidating because it actually inspired and stimulated me. My siblings and I have never gotten into serious trouble or arrested because our friends are sensible and have a lot of impulse control.HandcuffsMany a prison inmate laments associating with the “wrong crowd” or corrupting friend that landed him in jail.  In short, choose your friends, associates and peers very carefully.

4. Don’t lie or cheat. Being an honest person meant a lot to my mother. A person of character was the benchmark by which my mother evaluated people. She had an expression, “Pretty is, is as pretty does.” A variant was “Pretty on the inside is more important than being pretty on the outside.”

5. Lastly, my mother was a big one in standing up for yourself when another is perpetrating a wrong upon you or a family member or trying to diminish you or a family member. Mom taught us not to look for fights but not to allow ourselves to be victims. She led by example and did not wait around for my father to get home to go address an injustice at any level or push us out the door to face a bully.Boxing_glovesShe made it clear that this attitude and posture must be based on our position being legitimate and righteous as well as our being without fault.

 

Often times you do not have to travel far to learn self-evident truths; they can be found within the four Home-clipartwalls of your own upbringing without ever stepping outside your own front door. I hear my mother’s voice as I counsel my young daughter and young son about how to stand up to bullies and admonish them to finish their activities.

EXECUTIVE WRITING

BY G. A. FINCH

We know that it is important that an executive have good speaking skills whether it is one-on-one conversation, small group discussions or large meetings.  An executive must know how to make small talk as well as know how to give presentations.

What about writing?  Is your writing up to snuff?  Whether it is a note, memo, letter or lengthy report, and, especially a resume, your writing cannot be filled with misspellings, poor punctuation, bad grammar, or inappropriate use of vocabulary.  It leaves a poor impression and people will judge you, even if they themselves do not know the difference between “its” and “it’s.”Business Woman with laptop

An executive need not be a Pulitzer Prize winner, but she must write effectively and in an educated manner notwithstanding the declining writing standards in texts, tweets, emails, and posts.  Her using the vernacular and improper grammar simply will not do.

Unfortunately, thorough training in writing can be missing in one’s high school, college, and graduate school training.  The level of writing skills is very uneven.  For many educated people, they must teach themselves punctuation and grammar.  As there are plenty of good books and articles available on grammar, punctuation and vocabulary, this article will focus only on providing some practical guides to have in mind when writing for business.

There are many elements of effective business and professional writing.  Here are a few to start:

  1. Generally, shorter sentences are better than longer sentences; sometimes a complex thought requires a complex sentence.
  2. Shorter paragraphs are better than longer ones.
  3. The fewer pages you can make a document without omitting critical information, the better.
  4. An active voice is more powerful than a passive voice; sometimes a passive voice just sounds better.
  5. Simpler words are better than complicated words, e.g. “walk” is better than “ambulate.”
  6. The fewer adjectives in your writing, the better, as the facts should be compelling enough for both writer and reader to form conclusions and recommendations.
  7. You should make sure you know how to use a word, e.g., when something is funny, it is “hilarious” and not “hysterical.”
  8. For long documents, your using headings and sub-headings will help guide the reader and break up dense writing.
  9. It is best to state your proposition or request at the beginning and then follow with arguments and evidence to support your proposition or request.
  10. If you have compelling data, use charts and graphs to illustrate your points as many people are visual learners.
  11. Triple check your numerical calculations and data; faulty numbers and simple numerical mistakes will destroy the credibility of your piece; a lack of attention to detail could be seen as a red flag of your possible sloppy habits and thinking.
  12. You should double-check to spell correctly a person’s or organization’s name  or place-name as people are sensitive about their names, affiliations, hometowns, or countries; and, again,  inattention to detail lowers the reader’s confidence in the writer.
  13. Never totally rely on word processing spell check as it cannot tell the difference between correctly spelled but wrong words like “to” and “too” or “be” and “bee” or “of” and “or.”
  14. Whether it is a four-sentence letter or a 30-page document, read it with a ruler at least three times and have someone else proof read it too; if you have the time, set the document aside a few days before doing a final proof read.
  15. Unless you are a novelist, poet, screenwriter, or playwright writing in those respective genres, do not use profanity, crude words, or off-color references in your business or professional writing.typing
  16. In formal writing, it is better to write out words fully and not use contractions like “can’t” and “don’t,”   because it adds a certain solemnity to the communication and shows respect for your audience.

As an executive or professional you are presumed to be educated, and your bosses, colleagues, clients, customers, and patients expect that you know how to write well.  You do not want to disappoint them.

Oh, and by the way – the only way to improve your writing is by writing.  Like anything else, practice makes perfect.

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