Coming Attractions at the Management Excellence Blog

image of a box with new and improved on the labelNote from Art: There’s a lot of new and a fair amount of “new and improved” coming soon at the Management Excellence blog. I value your readership and look forward to supporting your professional development and career growth in some new and exciting ways.

The Leadership Caffeine™ Podcast is Back!

I’m excited to be kicking off the latest incarnation of the Leadership Caffeine podcast series! This initiative was a temporary casualty of my multi-year corporate immersion and is something a number of faithful followers have repeatedly asked me about bringing back to the Management Excellence blog. It’s also something I love producing and sharing with you!

Cover art for Leadership Caffeine PodcastThe first incarnation of the series found me interviewing and sharing insights some of the leading management thinkers and authors of our day, including: Geoffrey Moore, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Bob Sutton, Scott Eblin, Dan McCarthy and many others.

For this round, I’m expanding the reach to incorporate business professionals in a wide-range of industries, entrepreneurs and individuals striving to change the world through creative business practices. And yes, I’ll talk with the leading authors of the day as well!

I hope you enjoy the series and I welcome ideas and recommendations for our growing line-up of guests. First up in the new series will be Laura Macleod, founder and principal at: From The Inside Out Project, who will describe her unique approach to solving those vexing communication challenges between management and hourly workers in many businesses.

Incoming: the Management Excellence Holiday Book List

If you’re a regular visitor here, you know that my perspective is if you’re not reading and learning, you’re moving backwards at the speed of change. There are a number of great and important new books available for the professionals in your life and I’ll share my thoughts on my top picks for this holiday season. Look for this feature during the first 10 days of December, leaving plenty of time to add them to your holiday wish lists!

The Leadership Caffeine™ e-Newsletter is All New with Subscriber-Only Content

Quickly approaching 10,000 subscribers, the Leadership Caffeine e-news is dedicated to providing pragmatic guidance aheader2websitend provocative ideas for consideration in your professional work. We continue to tune the content to match the interests and requests of our readership, and the recent makeover has been well received. I keep the newsletter and blog content separate, although I do reference some of the latest blog posts, in case you missed them.

From feature articles to short, action-focused suggestions, links to great professional resources, the content is intended to help you along on your leadership and professional journey. The promotion is limited to a brief section at the end of the newsletter outlining my latest offerings and we absolutely respect the privacy of your e-mail information.

If you’re interested in just a bit of exclusive Leadership Caffeine (or my New Leader enews) thinking, you can join here.


Coming in 2016: Live Coaching Calls with Art

I’m introducing a series of Coaching Calls (audio/VOIP) designed to help you jump start your professional development in 2016. The audiencelevelup focus will vary for each call, ranging from those striving to “Level-Up” and reach the next rung on the career ladder to those later-career professionals searching for “The Next Act” as they evaluate how to apply their talents and passions in new ways after long, successful stretches in their careers. The format will include a number of no-fee sessions followed by a subscription series for the balance of the year. Every session will include dedicated content, live q/a, spotlight coaching and frequent guests sharing their well-informed perspectives. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to interact directly with many of the great readers/commenters here! Stay tuned for the January schedule.

Just One Thing—The Hard Work of Pivoting To Purpose

Just One ThingA good number of individuals I know are battling professional adversity in one of its many forms. In these particular cases, circumstances converged to push them to embark upon personal quests.

One is responding to an unanticipated career interruption to pursue what she believes is her true calling via a start-up business.

Another has had enough of workplace toxicity and is writing a book to help people victimized by bad bosses.

A third person is shifting her focus from pushing the top-line as a leading sales representative to pushing the development of others as a sales trainer.

Whether it’s a life-stage issue or a sign of the times, I seem to regularly run into individuals who are active in pursuit of vocations that focus on helping others. They are pivoting to purpose.

With the view gained from decades in the work place, I believe that too many (most) people stop short of their life’s goals. Like so many Hollywood movie scripts, time takes them far away from the “change the world” aspirations and dreams that propelled them through their early years. The goals and aspirations give way to acceptance of something far short of those original goals. The memories of these dreams remain safely tucked away, occasionally surfacing for a moment in the form of, “What if I… ?” or, “Only if I had… .” thoughts. Those thoughts are painful and are silenced quickly by rationalizing them as the silly dreams of youth.

In conversations with each of these individuals, I hear common themes. The mission is exciting. The end-goal is tangible. But obstacles are everywhere. Forward progress is measured in small increments. One feels like he’s trying to run with his feet encased in cement. Another describes herself as feeling as if she’s perpetually running uphill against the wind.

Ask them if they are going to quit and the reaction is fierce and immediate. “Heck no,” or some colorful variation of that answer was what I heard from each individual.

“This pursuit has given new meaning to my life,” offered one.

“If I quit moving forward, I feel like I’ll wither,” said another.

Change is always difficult. Changing ourselves…our situation…our livelihood is extremely difficult. It’s easy and tempting to stop. For many, the idea of pivoting away from what we know and what we’ve done and who we are (at least in our own minds) is unthinkable. It’s too hard, too abstract and too risky.

For those who wake up and dust off those dreams and then pivot to pursue them, it’s your time. Keep moving. You inspire us.

Read more in the “Just One Thing” series.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Assessing Power and Politics in Your Organization

Text image with New Leader Tuesday and a variety of management termsMuch of the writing about leadership leaves out two of the most critical topics: power and politics. That’s a problem, because the political environment defines the playing field and those with the power dominate the organization’s agenda. Ignoring these facts of organizational life is a formula for futility.

I’ve encountered more than a few great professionals who were uncertain over why they had plateaued in their climb up the corporate ladder. Upon closer review, they discovered that either ignoring or being ignorant of the political environment in their organizations was part of the problem.

Just to make certain you’re thinking through these issues, here’s a checklist of questions to ask and answer about your own workplace. The best way to answer these questions is to become a careful observer of “how things happen” in your workplace.

A Checklist to Help You Assess Politics and Power in Your Workplace:


1. How did the people you perceive as the most powerful get into their current roles? Seriously, what is it they did to arrive at their current lofty levels? Did it emerge from being problem solvers? Did they take and succeed with big risks? Were the rewarded for loyalty or longevity?

2. Who sets the agenda? Typically you’ll have to look below the C-level to find the individual(s) responsible for deciding what gets done and in what order. This individual parses top management goals and objectives and brings them to life. This individual is a power broker. Along with deciding what gets done, they often decide who is involved.

3. How are decisions made? Contrary to popular belief, most decisions take place somewhere below the senior management level. Study the processes of the informal decision-making culture in your firm. Who has a voice? Who has a vote? Who’s consulted? What are the criteria for moving forward on issues? Who can block issues?

4. Who’s working on the most strategic initiatives? Study the make-up and leadership of teams responsible for executing on key projects. How do people become attached to these initiatives?

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development words5. Who’s rising and who’s falling? Who’s gaining responsibility and who’s losing it? Power is typically a zero-sum game in an organization. For someone to ascend, someone else has to fall…or leave. Harsh, but most often true. Play close attention to the behaviors being rewarded and there are always lessons to be gained from those being edged or pushed out.

6. Who has the ear of top management? I particularly like the idea of observing who makes up the CEO’s “kitchen cabinet” …that informal group of advisors he/she draws upon when faced with critical issues. Surprisingly, this group often comes from the ranks below the CEO’s senior management team.

7. Who does everyone want to work for? Ambitious professionals strive to attach themselves to people they perceive can help them advance in their careers. In many organizations, there’s a senior manager who has developed a reputation as a career-maker. This individual is leading the big initiatives and the closer you are to him/her, the more likely it is that you will be selected for one of these high visibility programs.

8. How toxic is your environment? Gauging organizational toxicity is an imperfect science. I advise people to look at the strength (or absence) of the organization’s values in key decisions. Look at how people are treated. Watch top management closely to see how they behave in their roles. Does their do match their tell? This is one area in particular, where careful observation of the behaviors and approaches of those in charge and those striving to be in charge over a period of time will generate an increasingly accurate reading.

9. How powerful is your boss? In gauging your own power situation, it’s good to look at your boss and understand how she fits in the bigger picture. Is your boss involved in the big issues or part of the CEO’s “kitchen cabinet?” Is she active in both supporting and drawing upon resources and initiatives from other groups? Is she a rising star or a manager who has topped out at her current level?

10. When “It” hits the fan, who comes to the rescue? Is there a go-to person or team that is called upon for tough situations?

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Anywhere people gather, a political environment emerges with some individuals slightly more equal than others when it comes to making choices and gathering and dispensing resources. Instead of ignoring or assuming you are above the fray of these topics, work to strengthen your Political I.Q. by carefully observing how things happen in your workplace. Of course, the difficult issue is to move from observer to participant in a manner where you are engaged in a manner that doesn’t challenge you to compromise your ethics and values. That’s another topic for another day. For now, start paying attention! What you learn might just make your life in your organization a bit more rewarding.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Just One Thing—The Future of Work Now Arriving

Just One ThingThere’s a must-read article at Fortune from the November 1, 2015 issue, entitled: “Every Aspect of Your Business is About to Change,” by Geoff Colvin (author of the excellent new book: Humans are Underrated.) The article reads a bit like some fantastic pulp magazine view to a future of work and business, with one major exception: this future is already here.

From radically changing business models to rampant creative destruction driven by digitization and globalization to a world where ideas are the primary form of capital and the purveyors of ideas move freely through this friction-free environment (think: gig economy), this emerging world of work and career has little resemblance to the one of even a mere decade-ago. Change is truly changing, as Gary Hamel suggests.

In a world where Apple is classified as a manufacturer (but doesn’t actually directly manufacture anything itself—it’s outsourced), and the world’s largest purveyor of rides doesn’t own a single car, the idea of building a company to scale with just a few employees isn’t far fetched. Former Cisco CEO, John Chambers, known for calling future trends fairly accurately, suggests, “soon, you’ll see huge companies with just two employees—the CEO and the CIO.”

While it’s exciting for all of us to have a front-row seat on all of this change, it’s important that you don’t just observe, but that you participate. If your expected career span is measurable in something beyond a few years, it’s essential for you to remain current, remain relevant and remain open-minded in a world where what you know and what you experienced is increasingly just nostalgia. Your first and most important job is to develop yourself.

Running in place in this world is tantamount to moving backwards at the speed of change. Keep moving.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

The Next Act—Pivot to Focus on Your Superpower

what is your mission?The Next Act series at Management Excellence is dedicated to helping experienced leaders and professionals revitalize and reinvent.

In the dozens of discussions I’ve held with 50-somethings on this Next Act career topic, I can literally count on one hand the number of individuals who expressed satisfaction with their work. It seems that after several decades of hard work, people are growing tired of the corporate grind. The most common answer to, “What’s next?” has been, “retirement.”

And please note, I’m not seeking out people who are dissatisfied or leading the witnesses in this informal research initiative. I’m simply reconnecting with old friends and colleagues and if the career discussion emerges (and it always does), I ask questions. 

When asked how they might spend their time in retirement, the typical answer is, “play more golf.”  While that’s an option, playing golf for the next 20 to 25 years might not be as interesting or fulfilling as they imagine. Frankly, it strikes me as a potential tragedy and loss of potential to have so many wise, experienced and capable people out on the links chasing around a little white ball.

Rethinking Your Options—Pivot to Your Superpower:

After listening to their career and job laments, I eventually work in some form of the question, “What is it about your work that you still love?I watch people light up as they focus on aspects of their work that give them energy and joy and fulfillment. One senior executive went on and on over his passion for mentoring younger professionals. Another loved the challenge of solving vexing technical problems and several senior sales executives described their passion for working with customers. While they didn’t use the word, “superpower,” it’s clear to me that these areas of enjoyment reflect their own unacknowledged or under-utilized superpowers.

The answer to this dilemma of late-career fatigue is simple. Simple, but not simplistic. This is the point-in-life when we are finally able to tap our great reserve of know-how and discover the incredible source of fresh energy that comes from tapping our respective superpowers. I’m not sure what laws suggest that the senior executive who loves mentoring cannot create a new, productive and yes, even lucrative role out of coaching or advising. (No one said you have to take a vow of poverty as part of this finding fresh joy in your work.) The senior sales executives might prefer to pick up a bag again, perhaps in another firm or more likely as a contract or manufacturer’s representative. The technical expert is needed in all manner of different environments.Extending the process, there are a tremendous number of problems in our world looking for solutions.

How might you pivot to focus your considerable experience and wisdom on solving one of those problems?

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsFor most of us, our work up until our early 50’s is about our families and our security. If that mission has been accomplished, it’s time to turn our abilities towards making a difference for someone else and as a result, for ourselves. Success was the driver before and shifting gears to significance can be career and life extending.

The real challenge may be finding the courage to escape the golden handcuffs binding you to your corporate situation as part of pivoting to your superpower. After a lifetime of climbing the ladder and earning the rewards of success, the gravitational pull of the status quo is strong. It’s easy to do the math and to rationalize running in place for a few more years. And for some, this is enough. For many however, there’s still the urge to do more, achieve more and help more. It’s just that the definition of success has changed.

The trappings of corporate life in our later years are mostly illusory. The office, the title, the power are all superficial and capable of being taken without our consent at a moment’s notice. Yet, you have something you are great at…something that you are passionate about and an audience waiting for you. Somewhere.

The answer to “what’s next?” other than marking time on golf greens until you die is likely right in front of you. It’s your superpower. You just need to take the time to see the intersection of your skills and your passion. Most of us know right where to find this sweet spot. However, we stop short of making the pivot. It’s uncomfortable to think about and frightening to undertake. Until you do it.

If you believe there’s something more for you to do with your productive time in life, it’s essential for you to figure out how to make the pivot.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

When the fire goes out on your urge to participate in the issues of your time, it’s a loss for all of us. Before that pilot light is extinguished, take the time to remember what it is you love to do and how that might play in fixing, helping or guiding someone or some group. While pushing away from the corporate desk might seem impossible, it’s not. The only one holding you back is staring at you in the mirror.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.