Friday, September 23, 2022

Empathy, not presumption, is key for leaders!



This is a quick essay from a leadership moment I had this week.  Leading in the context of the past few years has been challenging for me personally and for leaders across industries and organization size.  The dynamics of Covid with a large employee base (for us the majority of our organization works in the plant or on the farms every day), combined with massive supply chain disruptions, and wild inflation swings have created the most significant leadership challenge of my 35+ year career.  In this context, we have had numerous young leaders “step up” into big roles, with expanded responsibilities, to face the challenges across various departments.  It’s in this context that an exchange from earlier this week prompted this essay.


In a discussion with another senior member of our team, we were discussing the situation of a young exec who had stepped up into a larger role over the past few months.  My senior team partner expressed their worry about the young exec, concerned that they might have too much on their plate, and suggested that maybe we should “move something” to another young leader to help “balance the load.”  I listened and understood where they were coming from but suggested tht instead of just “moving some responsibilities to help out,” I thought we should have someone check in with them to see how they were doing…. Simply put, let’s ask before acting!


That suggestion turned out to be a good move because when the young exec was asked “how they were holding up with the new responsibilities?” they responded that they were energized by the new departments and all the new things to learn, and while they were working a ton, they knew they would get it “dialed in” soon and didn’t want to change a thing.   A well-meaning senior leader almost “trampled” the energy and performance of a growing your exec just because they “presumed” a bit too much about the situation without asking a singe question.


Its important to remember that this is tight balancing act and for leaders, especially in challenging moments, its critical to have an “empathetic” eye/ear directed towards the organization.


Empathy:  noun

  1. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.


This need to be tuned into the company and the team is hard and often is a shifting landscape, so leaders actually have to work hard to their “empathy” radar up and working at all times.  The key in my mind is to not let that empathetic “radar” so too far without actually asking much needed questions.



Presumption:  noun


an idea that is taken to be true, and often used as the basis for other ideas, although it is not known for certain.



Take a moment as leaders to reflect on this “balancing act” yourselves.  My encouragement is to keep you attention tuned into your organizations, but don’t let it go too far based soley on “your opinions!”  Ask some key questions through your process, and I am sure you will keep “presumption” out of your leadership toolbox.




Sunday, September 4, 2022

Eyes Forward!


The past few weeks have been filled with challenges and setbacks from multiple angles.  Tough business issues, combined with senior executive changes and frustrated equity partners have led to a few weeks of mounting stress.  In the midst of that “whirlwind,” once again I received some heartfelt and “on-point” advice from my long-term business partner and good friend Cathy…advice that I think is applicable to so many of us in these broadly challenging days.


The setting was an early morning drive (and I mean VERY early) from Los Angeles to Bakersfield two weeks ago.  The stress of the mounting situation was digging into my sleep so on that morning, I was awake well before 4am and on the road before 4:30.  Heading north on the 405, I called to check-in with Cathy and shared the dynamics of everything that was going on… a helpful and sympathetic “ear” in a very tough moment.  After listening to my venting, she said “Bill, I have some advice for you today” … and boy was I listening… I needed something!  “She said, “remember as you head to Bakersfield today… Eyes Forward.!”  Those two words, “Eyes Forward,” were helpful that day and have stayed with me over the past few weeks.


While Cathy’s advice on that Thursday morning was applicable to the challenge of driving over the Grapevine on the 405, she was really talking about working to have a clear headset and focus on the challenges ahead, not being distracted by the distractions around us… nor the missteps of the past.  More that 10 years ago I posted an essay titled “over the hood-over the horizon” (you can find it at: ) that touches on this idea of how to successfully navigate a challenging “road” in business or in life.  Cathy’s advice is a very good compliment to that idea, and in some way, they really make very good sense together.


As I reflect on this essay, I am pretty consumed by the challenges of the moment, both in my business life and across the world.  The past few years of living in a Covid plagued world, with accelerating political divisiveness, global military crises, escalating climate change issues, ( and I could go on…) have seemed daunting to the point of overwhelming.  The issues and challenges seem so omnipresent that charting a path forward appears out of reach.  It’s in this context that Cathy’s advice rings true… “Eyes Forward!”  If we take a moment, we need to remember that there have been daunting challenges across the centuries…  dramatic issues of plague, war, starvation, cultural crises, etc.  That historic perspective is not meant to be depressing and fatalistic.  It is intended to remind all of us that living and leading in the context of massive challenges is nothing new.  In those historic moments, just like today, Cathy’s advice is helpful and needed!


As you the reader take on the challenges in your world, whatever they are and from whatever direction they emanate, keep your focus on the road ahead and remember… “Eyes Forward.”  Companies, countries, and organizations of any size need leaders that help make sense of the chaos of challenges that face us and help chart a course FORWARD working to make the path of tomorrows a bit better and more productive than the days that are past.  I have often said that we have an infinite inability to affect yesterday, and an infinite ability to affect tomorrow ... and all the tomorrows in our future. 

Eyes Forward!!