Tactical Success. Strategic Failure.

High Potential Failure

High-potential Failure?

Companies investing in developing “high-potential” employees also need to invest in helping top performers not drown in the wake of their own success.

From sales to finance to technology to marketing, the technical and tactical strengths that get an individual recognized and promoted are not the skills that will make the person successful as a senior leader. New executives often don’t realize that the independence that got them to a senior role can derail them once they arrive. Fast-tracking high-potential employees is another version of the scenario that has played in sales organizations for decades–a top performing sales person is promoted to sales manager where the individual stumbles, struggles, and eventually fails.

A successful marketing executive was hired by a world-renowned non-profit and she quickly set out to accomplish the aggressive agenda placed before her. She achieved what she was hired to do, but she did it without building a network of relationships in the organization. As soon as she completed the initiative, the executive’s employment was terminated. Tactical strength resulted in strategic failure.

Dartmouth management professor Sydney Finkelstein has conducted extensive research into corporate mistakes and failures. His insights are captured in his book titled, Why Smart Executives Fail. Finkelstein says that one of the most prevalent warning signs of executive failure is success and the arrogance that often accompanies it.

Outstanding results in one role won’t equate to great performance in a senior leadership position unless the individual is equipped with the interpersonal skills needed to interface with, lead, and relate to diverse groups of people. Finkelstein notes, “It is important to remember that corporate mistakes are about people.”

How to Know When It’s Time to Go

How to Know It’s Time to Go

What do Jeff Immelt, Travis Kalanick, and Howard Schultz share in common? Besides a healthy net worth, these executives were three of the 919 CEOs in publicly traded North American companies that either resigned, retired, or got fired in 2017—the most movement in the top spot in a decade. Transition.

Shultz wanted to get back into the workings of the business, specifically, the emerging Starbucks Reserve brand. After 16 years at GE, Jeff Immelt’s move was planned, but acccelerated by three months. Travis Kalanick left Uber after five major investors demanded his resignation—at the same time the company was short a CFO, CMO, Gen Counsel, Chief Diversity Officer, and Senior VP Engineering. But who’s counting?

C-level leaders with low social capital (a weak professional network) tend to stay where they are until forced to move. Executives with a broad network of business relationships are more likely to proactively explore options.

How can a C-level or senior executive stay ahead of the wave of corporate change and make an orchestrated transition rather than face an abrupt departure? Here are five questions C-suite executives need to answer when contemplating a move.

  • Does the company need to go where you can’t take it? While few of us are omnicompetent, boards increasingly expect the CEO to be successful at everything. While a C-level executive needs a broad knowledge and skill base, trying to do everything equally well or attempting to create the impression you can do it all is counterproductive. If the company needs to move in a direction the CEO isn’t equipped to take it, the top executive needs to demonstrate the courage to move to a job that is a better fit.
  • Are board conflicts increasing in frequency and intensity? Any group of highly-intelligent, honest people will engage in conflict. Patrick Lencioni reminds us that is a trait of a healthy team. The conflicts that signal it’s time for a move are more than disagreements about the business. When working relationships deteriorate into mutual toleration, board members transition unexpectedly, or when direction is determined without input from the affected executives, the forces of unwanted change are beginning to build.
  • Are there more bad days than good days? If a C-level leader isn’t having a rough day here and there—maybe even several in a row, he/she is likely not doing much. When a leader dislikes the job more than he likes it or finds that her energy is gone by 10 AM most days, it may be time to find a place that will again capture the leader’s passion.
  • Were you not selected for a promotion that fit your competence profile? While this is not a tell-all indicator, it is one to keep in mind. When an opportunity that fits a leader goes to someone else less qualified without explanation, or with an explanation straight from the marketing department’s pen, it might indicate it is time to move on. When you are not “in the loop” for important conversations, when decisions are made that affect you without input, or when responsibilities mysteriously get shifted to another team, change isn’t far away.
  • Do you have a reputation you can’t outgrow? Although he has performed in a wide range of roles, when you think of Jim Carey, Dumb and Dumber or Ace Ventura quickly come to mind. Even when acting in a comedy, Morgan Freeman comes off like a wisened Zen master. Alec Baldwin is one of a few people in the world who can be a jerk and get paid for it. Actors can get type-casted. A leader can get role or reputation-casted. If an executive can’t convince senior leadership or a board he can perform well in another role, it might be time for a move. Every leader encounters a failure or two. But if a mistake or a period of poor performance hang over a leader like a cloud, it is time to consider a move.

Novelist Ayn Rand is right—“You can ignore reality, but you can’t ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.” An effective leader is a prepared leader, someone firmly grounded in reality—even when that reality indicates it’s time to consider new options

Is Your Brand Positioning You for Your Next Job?

Prepare now for your future role.
Are you prepared for your future?

Are you prepared?

The perks of some jobs are nothing short of regal. How would you like a no-limits salary package, frequent first-class travel to exotic destinations, multiple residences, luxury cars, and guaranteed employment for your lifetime?

If that sounds like a job for a king (or queen), you’re right. The world’s 29 reigning monarchs enjoy privileges like these — and more. From the well-known House of Windsor to the lesser-known kingdoms of Bhutan, Brunei, and Tonga, being king is a career to die for—or more often, a career that isn’t yours until someone dies.

Earlier generations occasionally sped up a royal succession with a bit of homicide. In modern empires, the long life spans of reigning royals create a unique challenge for their successors: How do you prepare for and demonstrate you are ready for a job that won’t be yours for decades?

How Can You Prepare?

While most executives aren’t in line for a gilded throne, they share with future monarchs the need to use a current role to prepare for the next. For a leader wanting to move to the C-suite, using this interlude to enhance a personal brand is a vital step. Consider these actions:

  • Know yourself. Few of us are omnicompetent. While a C-level executive needs a broad knowledge and skill base, trying to do everything equally well or attempting to create the impression you can do it all is counterproductive. Leverage your strengths and develop the ability to quickly identify people who can compensate for your non-strengths.
  • Seek insight from those around you. Complete a comprehensive 360 review with anonymous input and use what it tells you. However far off something seems, there is a modicum of truth you are wise to consider.
  • Get a mentor. Very few companies provide the coaching and guidance a developing executive needs to move up in an organization. Find someone who has succeeded where you want to go, has nothing to gain or lose in your success, and learn all you can.
  • Cultivate accountability. The farther you go and the higher you get in an organization, the less people around you will tell you the truth. Accountability is not a tough conversation when you don’t accomplish something. It’s getting insight and input, so you don’t fail. Include regular conversation with someone you trust who will ask candid questions and challenge your thinking.
  • Invest in the package. The brilliance of a brand is easily dimmed by dated packaging. You can’t avoid the reality that people make an initial assessment about who you are by what they see. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Ensure you have the physical stamina to lead a team of energetic, young professionals.

In a highly-competitive market, investing in yourself while you prepare for your future is more than good branding, it’s smart business.


Adapted from Sharpen Your Life, by Joe Jordan. Available on Amazon Kindle.

Executive Presence: It’s More Than Commanding a Room

Executive Presence: It’s More Than Commanding a Room

executive presence
Executive Presence isn’t projected–it is a cumulative effect.

Executive recruiters look for it.  Leadership surveys try to measure it. A long list of consultants and coaches want to help people get it.

This hard-to-define, yet widely desired trait is executive presence.

Search for a concise definition of executive presence and the 1.2 million results Google offers include an endless list of attributes and behaviors—appearance, charisma, communication, gravitas. humility, social skills, style, body language, composure, decisiveness, and more.

One of the “experts” defines executive presence as “the ability to master perception.” That’s making people feel like you are honest or compassionate—even if you aren’t. Coaching people to master perception, project an image, and command the crowd makes the journey to develop executive presence sound like a manipulative sales technique or a one-style-fits-all formulaic approach to leading people.

Presence happens. Executive presence is a cumulative effect. What composes presence is paramount. Presence is the outcome of developing authentic character, expressed through the self-awareness, social awareness, likeability, engagement, communication, and appearance that frame genuine character into executive presence. Without character, executive presence is posing at best, and in a weaker moment, a well-positioned ruse.

Emerson said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”  When an executive focuses on perception and projection, people will likely see an inauthentic representation of who the leader supposes they should be—not who the leader is.

When you have authentic presence, you are able, as John Eldredge suggests, to “let people feel the weight of who you are.”

A New Edge for Ockham’s Razor

A New Edge for Ockham’s Razor

Ockham's Razor
Ockham’s Razor

Hanlon’s razor is funny – “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

Alder’s is alegedly sharper – “If something cannot be settled by experiment or observation, it is not worthy of debate.”

Rand’s is a bit of a head-scratcher – “Concepts are not to be multiplied beyond necessity, nor are they to be integrated in disregard of necessity.” Huh?

But since the 14th century, Ockham’s razor has sliced through more layers of complexity than any other philosophy. Friar and philosopher William Ockham proposed that “among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”

If Ockham were sitting in a corporate board room instead of his convent, he’d likely say something like, “Simplicity and focus lead to the best outcomes. Don’t waste time assuming anything, especially that more options result in better choices.”

Unneeded complication arising from superfluous options is a common malady in corporations today. Outcomes are often more related to individual competence than to the size or breadth of an organization. Diversification can dilute focus as much as it reflects versatility. Global sounds impressive, but not if you need help in a small town in Iowa.

The next time you face a decision, get out your razor and trim away the complexity. DaVinci reminded us, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

You Can’t Build a Puzzle (Team) if all the Pieces Are Round

Your Team: You Can’t Build a Puzzle if all the Pieces are Round

Think for a moment about your team.

Is your team cognitively diverse?

Those jigsaw puzzles with pieces that are all the same size and shape were designed by people who love to inflict pain on others. Imagine what kind of person would create a puzzle with pieces that are only round. That person seems to be driving how teams are built in companies today . . .

From Starbucks to Salesforce to Staples, workplace diversity is getting some much-needed attention. The Census Bureau says the U.S. population is over 35 percent multicultural. That fact and some uncomfortable analytics are promoting companies to actively pursue greater diversity in their teams.

Beyond it being the right thing to do, building greater diversity across our enterprises has a direct impact on results. McKinsey&Company found “a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance: for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent.” Boston Consulting Group’s study of 171 companies found “a clear relationship between the diversity of companies’ management teams and the revenues they get from innovative products and services.”

Cognitive Diversity

But one dimension of diversity we don’t hear much about—where the round puzzle piece is dominant, is cognitive diversity. Harvard Business Review researchers Alison Reynolds and David Lewis define cognitive diversity as “how individuals think about and engage with new, uncertain, and complex situations.”[i]

The impact of cultural diversity is lost if companies continue to hire “in their own image” or if recruiters take the safe route and only present candidates who are highly skilled and highly compliant. To streamline and accelerate decision-making, many senior leaders build teams of executives that think alike and readily agree, when what they need is a better process for making decisions within highly divergent points of view.

From problem solving to decision making to innovation to market expansion, executive teams accomplish more when there is both cultural diversity and cognitive diversity. In other words, the most productive teams don’t readily agree. They engage in what Patrick Lencioni calls “productive, ideological conflict: passionate, unfiltered debate around issues of importance.”

That kind of diversity will make people uneasy. It will challenge the insecure. Cognitive diversity will force static organizations to change their xenophobic cultures and willingly consider issues from multiple angles, giving equal consideration to unpopular options when making decisions that solve real problems and accelerate profitable growth.

Cognitive diversity is apparent in teams that pursue—

  • Collaboration more than cohesion.
  • Alignment more than agreement.
  • Unity of purpose more than unanimity of thought.

Regina Dugan, head of Facebook’s secretive Building 8 hardware team is right. “You have to get to the place where you aren’t made comfortable by the fact that everyone is the same, but rather feel inspired by how different we are.”

Executive branding helps a leader define that difference and use it productively to advance a career—and bring value to an enterprise.


[i] Harvard Business Review, March 30, 2017. Teams Solve Problems Faster When They’re Cognitively Diverse



A Second Look at the Value of Employee Engagement

If your company invested $700 million to $1 billion in a market opportunity with little or no revenue growth, you would quickly reconsider the proposition behind the investment. U.S. companies are spending that amount trying to increase employee engagement while Gallup tells us engagement remains flat at 32% in the U.S. and 13% globally.

The connection between employee engagement and productivity, profitability, client satisfaction, and absenteeism is well-documented. Separate studies from McKinsey and Gallup state that productivity improves 20-25% with connected employees.

To foster engagement, new corporate campuses look like city parks, loaded with places to collaborate, exercise, engage with colleagues, enjoy free gourmet meals, and relax. Deloitte’s list of factors that contribute to a positive work environment includes—

Employee ENgagement
Rethink Employee Engagement
  • Humanistic workspaces
  • Time for slack
  • Inspiration
  • Self-directed, dynamic learning
  • Culture of recognition

Accountability for results is not on the list.

Yet, telling someone their effort makes a difference, is one of the most powerful ways to fuel an employee’s passion and energy. Realistic expectations and accountability for achieving them are more impactful than any other corporate benefit. You can easily identify people not motivated by accountability. They are the people that don’t want to do what they are supposed to do.

Let’s rethink employee engagement. The desire for full engagement across an organization leads to the plethora of initiatives consuming that $700 million. What if companies stopped trying to engage everyone in the enterprise and focused those investments primarily on the emerging leaders, high potential employees, and the people the company can’t afford to lose to another organization—or to their own apathy?

If the Pareto Principle is true, wouldn’t it make more sense to invest engagement dollars in expanding the 20% producing most of the results to 40%? The ROI should increase exponentially for companies that focus more effort toward high-potential leaders most likely to become fully vested in their own and the organization’s success.  And, in the process, the same 20% are highly likely to influence the engagement of other key talent, now and in the future!

Job satisfaction, personal happiness, and engagement with life (including work) are not the result of a perfect environment. They are the result of personal choice. A percentage of every workforce is disengaged with life and will likely never become engaged at work. To invest equally in that group as in the people most likely to grow and contribute is a questionable strategy.

One component of executive branding is helping a leader recognize his or her unique value contribution and how a distinct combination of skills, personality, executive presence, and potential defines current and future success. Build the brand of the people willing to take responsibility for their—and your company’s success.

Treating every employee fairly is isn’t treating every employee the same.

The Texas Talent Grab

The Talent Grab of a Competitive Market

Texas Talent
Gone to Texas Talent Grab

In the mid-1800’s, as scores of people (outlaws included) pursued opportunity in Texas, the phrase “Gone to Texas” or GTT would frequently appear nailed to the doors of abandoned houses or on fences beside vacated property. More recently, the Texas Governor’s Office of Economic Development gave GTT a second life by attracting new businesses to the Lone Star State with the promise of “Texas: Wide Open for Business.”

This 21st century GTT invitation is working! As home to 54 Fortune 500 companies, Texas ranks No. 2 in the U.S., ahead of California and Illinois. In the past six years, 75 major corporations have moved to Dallas/Fort Worth. Start-ups, company expansions, and corporate growth in DFW generated over 119,000 jobs between February 2016 and February 2017. An accelerating business environment creates an exponential competition for talent.

The Dallas Business Journal recently detailed the talent grab spreading across north Texas. None of the companies moving to Texas have announced an interest in candidates from the bottom half of the talent pool. The best companies are implementing ways to find and hire the top ten percent—and they are getting what they want.

Talent Matters

Toyota announced their move from California and in a few months received 19,000 resumes aimed at the 1,000 openings the automaker is bringing to Plano. Tractor manufacturer Kubota’s move to Grapevine is driven by the need for innovation, efficiency, and talent. On a smaller scale, private equity firms are considering the talent in an acquisition as carefully as their quantification of a company’s financial results.

More than ever, human capital investments are being analyzed, quantified, and measured for impact to the business. In designing themselves for the future, companies must address the need for visionary leaders who can build a culture, the impact of workplace automation, and the on-going demand for employee engagement. These challenges become opportunities for differentiation when the leaders charged with resolving these realities are the most talented people the market offers.

How well is your executive leadership equipped to excel in a market where talent, technology, and transformation are driving forces in every organization?

Your Brand Isn’t What You Do. Your Brand is the Impact You Bring.

Your Brand Isn’t What You Do. Your Brand is the Impact You Bring.

Companies aren’t buying what many executives are selling.

In a cut-to-the-chase, hyper-competitive, globally uncertain business environment, Boards of Directors, and CEOs pursuing exceptional talent are looking for people with a history of creating results, not people doing the things that should create results.

If you compile the findings of surveys querying CEOs’ biggest concerns, top executives consistently state their angst is linked to:

  • Leading Digital Transformation
  • Creating Disruptive Innovation
  • Securing Global Data
  • Finding Critical Talent
  • Ensuring Organizational Alignment and Employee Engagement
  • Navigating Geopolitical Uncertainty

Driving revenue growth, increasing cash flow and profitability, creating client loyalty, and improving shareholder value come with the job. If a CEO isn’t achieving these, he or she will quickly add to the statistics about rapid CEO turnover.

This means executive branding isn’t about creating awareness and market perception about what you do. Executive branding is building a reputation, crafting a powerful message, and clearly communicating your impact on what matters to CEOs and Boards, and how effectively you engage with the people around you.

Your brand is:

  • Knowledge – What you know or the answers you can get.
  • Relationships – Who you know or who you can connect with.
  • Results – How what you do produces results that impact what matters.
  • Reputation – Your history of delivering outcomes that drive corporate success.

A scan of executive resumes and LinkedIn profiles reflects a gap between what many committed and successful leaders are talking about and what the people hiring them care about. Whether you want to advance in your current company or are considering outside opportunities, it’s time to refresh your brand around your results more than your activity.

Source: Leapfrog Executive Services 

Personal Branding Service for Senior Executives Now Available

Exciting news about a personal branding service for executives. I am delighted to work with my colleague, Jim Hess to launch this enterprise–as an addition to the speaking and training solutions I provide through Jordan Development.




Brand Enhancement Service Available for Senior Executives

 Dallas/Fort Worth, TX  (June 15, 2017)  Leapfrog Executive Search, a boutique retained search firm, today announced the formation of  Leapfrog Executive Services,  a new division dedicated to helping senior executives enhance their personal brands.

In response to a market demand by currently employed, C-level executives wanting to pursue new leadership roles, Leapfrog Executive Services will provide resumes, marketing biographies, LinkedIn profile optimization, and social media enhancement to help executives create greater differentiation, increase visibility, and gain personal credibility in the marketplace.

Jim Hess, Founder and Managing Principal of Leapfrog Executive Services and Leapfrog Executive Search said, “In conversations with sitting senior executives, we learned that a C-level executive wanting to initiate the pursuit of a new career opportunity needs a trusted, quality resource, that can provide personalized, confidential, and timely branding and marketing assistance. Unlike outplacement, our services will help executives proactively advance themselves in a market without waiting for opportunities to come to them. We are excited to offer this valuable service and become an organization to which others can confidently refer executives.”

About Leapfrog Executive Search:

Founded in 2001, Leapfrog Executive Search provides retained search expertise that is focused primarily on HR leadership roles.  The company is uniquely positioned to complete searches for talented performers who impact bottom-line performance. Organizations choose to engage Leapfrog Executive Search because of a demonstrated commitment to building relationships with HR leaders, functional leaders, and vendors, giving the firm unparalleled access to talent. Leapfrog Executive Search brings clients broad industry knowledge and solid domain expertise that ensures candidates are aligned with each client’s business challenges, strategic opportunities, and organizational culture.


Media Contacts:

Jim Hess                                                                      Joe Jordan

214-435-5409                                                              214-714-3987

jhess@leapfrog-services.com                                      jjordan@leapfrog-services.com