Business Reality

Current Business Reality: Do You Have the Courage to Confront It?

Courage to Confront the Current Business Reality

Martin Luther King eloquently shared his “I have a Dream” speech and inspired all of us to not just focus on what is possible but also the current harsh reality of racism in the 1960s in the United States.

Peter Senge, the noted management and leadership scholar coined the phrase, creative tension, to inspire all of us to focus simultaneously on both our vision and our current business reality. He said that if we only focus on vision, others could consider us to be too optimistic and naïve. Dr. Senge said if we, however, only focus on our current reality, we could become discouraged and doubtful of ever achieving our vision and goals. How does this affect our current business reality?

Dr. Senge encourages us to focus on both; our vision for what is possible for our teams and our organizations as well as simultaneously focusing on the current business reality so we are not in denial or delusional.

Jim Collins, in his book, Good to Great, writes about a conversation he had with US Navy Vice Admiral and aviator, James Bond “Jim” Stockdale who shot down over Vietnam in 1965 and was a prisoner of war for the next 7.5 years. In this discussion, Collins asked Stockdale about his coping strategy during this period of captivity. Stockdale reported, “I never lost faith in the end of this story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

When Collins asked Stockdale who did not make it out of Vietnam, Stockdale replied, “Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, “We’re going to be out by Christmas.” And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. They they’d say, “We’re going to be out by Easter.” And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.” Stockdale then added, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end-which can never afford to lose-with the discipline to confront the brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

Witnessing this philosophy of duality, Jim Collins went on to describe it as the Stockdale Paradox.

I’ve seen leaders who lack the courage to confront the current business reality. Sometimes they don’t want to deal with the harsh facts or they remain naively optimistic about other people’s capacity to drive positive results regardless of the situation.

I worked for a leader early in my career that was absolutely delusional about the professionalism of his key leaders. He trusted but did he not verify. He let some of them bully him. He did refuse to acknowledge the high cost to the organization. The new leaders at all levels did not feel safe to share their concerns or even observations but he could not connect the dots to his key leaders and their styles. He hired change agents but then he allowed their peers to withhold information and resources so their success was limited or painfully prolonged. He never found his voice with his key colleagues, or at least he never demonstrated this when I worked for him.

When we remain in denial or even delusional, we tend to create a lot of chaos and confusion within our teams. When we have the courage to confront the brutal facts and take action based on those facts, we are able to create alignment at all levels. Then we find our business reality.

The key to having the courage is to focus on the facts and the data. Without the facts, it’s human nature to make up stories and put our own spin on these stories. “I know next quarter will be more robust”. “I know Bob and I know Bob didn’t mean to blow up that way in front of the team.” “I know everyone is committed to the same things.”

In order to build alignment, grow organizations and exponentially increase shareholder value, we must:

  • Get the facts backed up by data
  • Articulate to ourselves our values, our vision and our commitment to this organization
  • Find our voice so we can articulate all of this to others clearly, concisely and consistently
  • Demonstrate the courage to install consequences for bad behavior.

If you are interested in an executive dashboard in a cloud-based platform that supports everyone in staying focused on the facts in a positive, productive way let me know. We’ve analyzed them all and can give you a balanced perspective on the best ones.

Katharine Halpin has been facilitating transitions and M&A transactions since 1995. Long before that, however, she was able to identify leadership and management gaps and became a change agent leading efforts to close all those gaps.
The clients of The Halpin Companies consistently report they make more money and work fewer hours as a result of using our proprietary, proven methods to build alignment at all levels and grow shareholder value by a factor of 2-3 consistently and quickly.

Happy Father’s Day Jack!

John F Halpin 01.10.1929.03.30.1984We lost our Dad 31 years ago on March 30. I joke about him and even mention him in my ‘speaker intro’. It says that I have 45+ years of work experience and the first 13 years were in his office, John F. Halpin, CPA, where he was my first people problem.


That’s all true!


Today, Father’s Day, I want to celebrate him and all the many gifts he gave his children.


But first, let me share a few things that did not translate well between the generations in our family.


A love of fishing was not one of the gifts he gave us. He loved to fish from the pier off Bonelli Road at Eagle Lake and we did that often (often for him was maybe once every year or so). We caught catfish big enough to eat once. For some reason, none of his five children ever go fishing….


He took us camping, and none of us are campers as adults either. He only bought a camper when we got so big that the entire family of seven could not sleep in one Holiday Inn room. He bought a pop-up camper when I was in the fifth or sixth grade. I can remember taking my best friend, Kelly, with us on a camping trip to a Mississippi State Park. The camper slept eight, so why not take eight people, right?


Momma had to drive our big Dodge Station Wagon with the newly installed trailer hitch pulling our pop-up camper. Dad wasn’t a good driver around town because he was always focused more on keeping his pipe lit than watching the road. They seemed to have some secret agreement that she did all highway driving.


Of course, she could not back up our station wagon with the camper attached. That was not a significant issue during our treks. We didn’t make a lot of stops en route and when we did, for instance at an IHOP for breakfast after she had driven all night, she would find a way to pull into a parking lot next door to the IHOP where she could park without backing up during either our ingress or our egress.


When we would finally arrive at our destination, often at dusk during the on-site campground manager’s supper, Momma would insist we be assigned to a spot positioned at the end of a triangle so she could ‘pull through’. When that option was not available – which was often – she would then insist that the campground manager drive our station wagon and back our camper into our assigned spot, even if he was in the midst of eating his supper.


This is when my Dad would disappear to entertain the other campers.


As soon as we arrived at the state park or KOA Camp Grounds, he got out of the car wearing his usual leisure attire: shorts with a dress shirt (no worries – he only wore short sleeved dress shirts), black socks, and black dress shoes. He would then go from campsite to campsite looking for people he could meet and entertain with his stories about Vicksburg, MS.


The rest of us were left to set up our own campsite.


Setting up a campsite was fairly simple except for one important task: leveling the camper. With a pop-up camper, it’s critical that the camper be level, because four people were sleeping on the beds that ‘popped out’ after popping up the entire camper. If the camper were not level, one side could tilt and those two sleepers could have easily been injured as they slipped through the canvas sides.


I don’t recall much discussion about this at home. I imagine our Uncle Bubba came over to check out the camper and most likely would have pointed out the importance of this task. I imagine my baby brother, Willie Boy, was probably taking note. Regardless of whether or not any of that happened, I do remember vividly how we got our camper level once we arrived at our destination.


If I was in the sixth grade, that would have put Willie in the second. I can remember this as if it were yesterday. At this point Willie was just a little fellow. But he would go from corner to corner of the camper adjusting and re-adjusting each bar that, as I recall, dropped down from the underneath of the camper and could be adjusted based on the ground and sand where we were parked.


He worked meticulously, as if he were an engineering genius. He never failed to get the entire contraption level. Willie would later demonstrate this engineering genius in lots of ways but in the second grade that had not yet emerged.


But here’s what my Dad did give me that remains with me every day.


He gave me an example of living by faith. He was never much of a church-goer, but our friend, Marian Alvarado, badgered him incessantly until he attended a Charismatic Prayer Meeting with her. These were held at the Carmelite Monastery on Terry Road in Jackson, Mississippi. He only had to go once to experience a full conversion and a peace that he had never known. He then went about sharing this experience with anyone who would listen. Momma and I attended those prayer meetings with him. We all loved that faith community, the music and the experiences. What an amazing thing to be able to experience with your parents when you are still in your formative years.


He gave me a love of people. He loved connecting with people and swapping stories. He loved meeting people and then reporting to his friends about the interesting people he had met. He was curious about everyone and, with his photographic memory, would remember details most everyone else forgot immediately.


Jack loved his friends. He loved having high-balls with them. He loved competing to be the center of attention with the funniest stories with the most outlandish characters.


Dad gave me a love of storytelling and he taught me the power of telling stories. I remember so many of his stories he shared with me in his office on Saturday mornings. He told me stories about his clients and their businesses.


He also gave me a love of business. How revenue was generated, where customers came from, what were the driving forces in the success of his clients. He talked with reverence about each person because he loved and respected everyone.  He considered everyone a good friend; from the elevator operator to the bank president.  He never met a stranger.


He instilled a love of community. He volunteered for over 35 years as the Board Chair of the Warren County Welfare Board. He served as a founding Board Member of the federally funded Children and Youth Clinic.  He worked to build community and ensure everyone had access to basic human rights regardless of race or financial ability.


He loved being from Vicksburg, Mississippi and loved that his great grandfather had been the first Mayor of Vicksburg after the Civil War, during reconstruction. He spoke with authority about those who did harbor prejudices based on race. He explained to me that if people are insecure, they need someone, a group of people, or even an entire race, to look down upon.


He loved that so many people remembered his own father, who was killed when he was eight years old. He relished in the introductions that those people made for him when he returned after college and established his CPA practice.


Because he did take me to work with him on Saturday mornings he gave me a love of all of these things – business, storytelling, and community – though it might not have been the best way to raise a child! These experiences did cause me to hurl my way into my own CPA career with a lot of unproductive baggage. However, I’m grateful every day for Jack and for all the gifts he gave me. My love of business, people, story telling and my own faith are my critical success factors today in my life and in my own small business.


Even in Mississippi it’s not a good idea to put an eight-year-old child to work on the family farm or in the family CPA firm. But it’s all good!


Happy Father’s Day Jack!





Why Some Executive Demonstrate Bad Behavior

Brian Evje had a recent piece in Inc. Magazine titled, “Why Executives Are So Bad At The Behavioral Side of Management”.

After a 40-year career, I certainly do not believe that all execs are bad at the ‘soft’ skill issues (which we all know are really the hard issues to address).

Mr. Evje states that “In reality, there is nothing ‘soft’ about the skills need to relate to people well enough to lead them.  True leadership involves both hard skills and harder skills”.  I love this quote.

He summarizes that there are ultimately 3 things leaders have to do to be more effective:

1) Admit that inter-personal skills are important.  He even posits that we must be able to lead ourselves.  I call this self-management.  Being able to bring the required perspective to every situation and to do this ‘in the moment’ requires presence, discipline, thoughtfulness and a feeling of being grounded.  Humans don’t gain this ability without getting exercise, getting out in nature, taking think time, and having a variety of reserves of time in place every day..

2) Rethink your definitions of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills.  He’s got great questions to ask yourself.  See the full article here:

3) Get some help.  As a Leadership Strategist for almost 18 years, I, of course, love this idea.  Just like in sports, we don’t know what we don’t know about our levels of effectiveness. An outsider can help you raise your awareness and ultimately, make different choices.

When I re-tweeted this article yesterday, one of my Facebook friends added a comment that most execs put their self-interest over the interest of their employees, companies, communities.  Again, I don’t agree with the broad generalization.  I have seen more execs do this than I’d like to admit. However, the key here is to only hire values-based people and people who share your values.  If you value transparency, figure out what questions to ask in the interview to assess the applicant’s perspective on transparency.  If you value integrity, ask them to share an experience when they’ve been asked to compromise their integrity.  The interview might  be very short based on their response to this question.

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Getting the Right People in the Right Roles Requires Hiring The Right People in the First Place

Yesterday’s Corner Office Interview by Adam Bryant in the Sunday Business Section of the New York Times hit the ball out of the ballpark.  Sandra Kurtzig is Chair and CEO of Kenandy, a software management firm in Redwood City, CA.

She had a number of very valuable points.  The title is Don’t Chase Everything That Shines and she speaks about the need to have good boundaries and high standards.  Not every idea is, in fact, a good idea!

The most compelling pieces to me were her hiring questions.  She asks “Why are you here? What do you know about our company that made you want to interview for this job?”  She says if they have not done their homework about her company that’s a real red flag for her.

An even more important interview question is this: “Why do you want to leave the company you’re at right now? Looks like you’re doing a pretty good job, and you’re doing well.  What is it that you don’t like there?”

She says the answer to this question is ALWAYS an eye-opener.  She uses this to mine for their perspective on a number of topics.

I highly recommend the entire piece.  It will take all of about 3 minutes to fully digest.  It will take some extended period of time, however, for most of us to build in the discipline and clarity that Ms. Kurtzig demonstrates.

See the full article here:

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Total Team Alignment Daily Question

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be offering a Daily Question.  In my opinion, the person asking the questions is the person being the Strategic Leader.  I hope you enjoy these questions.

If “Bob” is not meeting our expectations, what structures are missing?

Perhaps a better opportunity to gain full understanding of our expectations?

Additional Resources or Guidance?

If you find this question and your  subsequent ponderings valuable, you might want to participate in one of our complimentary public Webinars on Total Team Alignment.

Here’s the link to find the schedule.

This link provides the opportunity to register and the opportunity to be interviewed during one of these Webinars.  Please feel free to share these links with your colleagues, team members, and leadership team.

What Does Total Team Alignment Take on a Daily Basis?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be offering a daily Question.  In my opinion, the person asking the questions is the person being the Strategic Leader.  I hope you enjoy these questions.

Who are we being that is giving “Bob” permission to not meet our expectations?

If you find this question and your  subsequent ponderings valuable, you might want to participate in one of our complimentary public Webinars on Total Team Alignment.  Here’s the link to find the schedule.

This link provides the opportunity to register and the opportunity to be interviewed during one of these Webinars.

Please feel free to share these links with your colleagues, team members, and leadership team.

Honoring Our Elders

In some spiritual and religious traditions, today is All Soul’s Day.  While I no longer subscribe to those belief systems espoused by these traditions, I do love the rich heritage and rituals associated with days like today.

As someone whose life as been heavily influenced by my Dad, I can’t help but think of him today.  He died at the age of 56 in 1984.

He looked around the breakfast table one Saturday morning when I was about 8 or 9 years old and saw me among my siblings and said, “why don’t you come into the office with me this morning?”.  He owned a sole-practitioner CPA firm, John F. Halpin, CPA, in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  The firm had about a half-dozen ‘girls in the office’ and I became one of them that day.

I started my career that day by operating the microfiche machine to maintain permanent records of his client’s bank statements.

I continued to work with him after school and on week-ends through college.  He’s why I became a CPA.  It took me 20 years to determine I was not well suited for that work.

I can’t help but think of Melody Beattie’s quote today as I think of my Dad and am grateful for all the bad things he taught me workaholicsm, putting the clients’ needs ahead of my own and being a hard worker.  He taught me many good things too.  I learned how to laugh and tell a funny story from my Dad. More importnatly, I learned how to engage people in a way that makes them want to be forthright about their deepest concerns.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”                                                                   Melody Beattie


Katharine Interviews One of Her Mentors about the Important Topic of Mentoring

Today we present a recent interview conducted by Katharine Halpin with Dr. Lois Zachary of Leadership Development Services. Click on the hyperlinks under each interview question to listen to the live response to each question.

I’m very pleased this morning to be interviewing Dr. Lois Zachary. Dr. Lois Zachary is the President of Leadership Development Services, a Phoenix-based consulting firm that specializes in both leadership and mentoring. She is the Director of The Center for Mentoring Excellence. She’s an internationally-recognized mentoring expert and has been cited as one of the top minds in leadership today. She’s published over a half dozen books and publications as well as over a hundred articles. And, she’s created a comprehensive set of resources for promoting the practice of individual and organizational mentoring excellence. This June, Jossey-Bass launches the publication of five pocket toolkits on mentoring excellence.

Katharine Halpin: Lois, tell us more about this whole field of adult development in learning and how it contributes to this practice of mentoring.

Dr. Lois Zachary: Many years ago, I was asked to develop a mentoring program. I went in to a corporation as a consultant, and I found that there were all kinds of different mentoring practices going on in the name of mentoring. Much of practice was very pediatric. And yet, here we had adults who were engaged in adult learning. What we’ve come to know about adult learning since that time (25 years later) has increased exponentially. So, we know more than ever before in terms of the depth and breadth of mentoring.

All that knowledge has come to inform and change the paradigm by which we practice mentoring. Now we look at mentoring as a relationship in which the mentee is an active learner, the mentor is a facilitator of learning. We have more than one on one mentoring: we have group mentoring, reverse mentoring, and much of our mentoring today is done virtually, even in face to face relationship. And instead the focus being on knowledge transfer, what we’re really talking about today is critical reflection and practice and application as a way of moving mentoring forward.

Listen to Question 1 Podcast

Katharine Halpin: In October of 2011, you came out with a revised edition of The Mentor’s Guide, your book that was initially published in the year 2000. I’m wondering why a second edition was needed.

Dr. Lois Zachary: That’s a great question. In the 12 years between when I wrote and published the first edition, our knowledge of adult learning has shifted, and it continues to shift with all this expansion in cognitive science. Technology has added a whole new component to mentoring. We have also come to understand the critical role of context. “We bring who we are to what we do.” So, it affects how we come to mentoring.

Mentoring is about learning, and it’s about relationship. You have to have all of those pieces. Context is the conditions, the circumstances that contribute to how we connect, interact, and learn with one another. And, there isn’t a mentoring a relationship that is not embedded in context. It is so important to understand context, because it determines how we perceive things, what we see as being possible, and what’s achievable.

Listen to Question 2 Podcast

Katharine Halpin: Yes, I can totally agree with that. So now why is the context of connection so essential in a mentoring relationship?

Dr. Lois Zachary: They add a layer of complexity to the relationship, and they also offer new ways to create and enhance our mentoring relationship. Let me tell you what I mean by that. First of all, it affects how we get together. So much of mentoring is taking place wholly or partially virtually. Understanding what’s going on in somebody else’s world, whether you’re a mentor or a mentee, is really important.

What’s also important is that a mentor may be at a different phase, age, or stage than a mentee. And we make assumptions based on our own experience and reality, and that might not be the same for our mentoring partners. It’s really important to check out our assumptions and to be clear about the context, and try and walk in the shoes of your mentoring partner.

Listen to Question 3 Podcast

Katharine Halpin: You have to be sensitive to the context that they’re coming from, their cultural or intergenerational issues. Now, in your new book, which by the way I understand is an even bigger best-seller than your prior book, you outline a new four-phase cycle for the mentoring relationship. Tell us about that cycle.

Dr. Lois Zachary: Katharine, it’s not so much that it’s new. I’ve added a full full section on to it. And, I received feedback from other folks on the names of the phases. So, I renamed a couple of the subtitles of each of the phases. But the important thing to understand is that mentoring goes through phases. You get ready, and that is, you prepare for it, you prepare yourself, you prepare the relationship, and then you establish agreements and negotiate that with your mentoring partner. What are your ground rules? What are your agreements around confidentiality? What are the goals you’re going to focus on?

Then you spend most of your time in what I call the enabling growth/facilitating learning phase. (That’s the third phase of it.) And that’s the time of the highest highs. That’s the time when you might come up against some mentoring challenges. You want to keep your mentoring fresh. You want to keep it vibrant.

The fourth phase is what I call the coming to closure phase, where you look back and you move forward. A moment ago, we talked about critical reflection. So, this phase is a good example of it. In the closure phase you look back at where you’ve been, and you move forward, and in the process you think about how you can leverage your learning and move forward.

Listen to Question 4 Podcast

Katharine Halpin: In your new book, why is there so much focus on conversation?

Dr. Lois Zachary: Conversation is how we come together. It keeps the lines of communication and connection open. It helps engage the mentee as an active partner or an author of his or her own learning. It needs to be front and center throughout a relationship or else mentoring becomes a transaction.

Conversation is something that people don’t readily think about; they take it for granted. As result, what they often do is shortchange themselves and engage in a series of transactions instead. So, if you think about the best conversation you ever had and what the key elements were and keep those key elements front and center in your mentoring relationship, you are going to strengthen your mentoring relationship and enhance your learning.

Listen to Question 5 Podcast

Katharine Halpin: Now, in your four-phase cycle, you talk about the second stage as one of negotiating and establishing those agreements and those ground rules. Why have a conversation so early in the relationship about accountability for each partner?

Dr. Lois Zachary: Katharine, that really builds the foundation. The agreements and ground rules that grow out of it define the work of the relationship, and they become a touchstone for staying on track. They are actually an accountability mechanism. With accountability, you can move your work forward faster.

Listen to Question 6 Podcast

Katharine Halpin: Of course. So even in a mentoring relationship, we can move our work faster by focusing on those ground rules and those agreements. Tell us more about your five mentoring pocket tools, because you know everybody’s attention span is so short nowadays. I imagine these pocket tools would be very powerful.

Dr. Lois Zachary: What we hear from the people who have used them is that they take them out and review them prior to a mentoring meeting. They serve as a reminder, a refresher of what you need to do to stay on track. They include strategies, concrete actions that people can take, and also include a checklist so that you can make sure that you are on track. They serve as a pocket accountability mechanism.

Listen to Question 7 Podcast

Katharine Halpin: I love that. And that’s the key, as you said earlier, to critical reflection, practice, and application. The application is the key. If we don’t apply what we learned, and we don’t apply these tools, then it’s all for naught. But those pocket tools give us a chance to be more mindful in the moment right before we go into the meeting.

Dr. Lois Zachary: Absolutely. And we’re very excited that Jossey-Bass has chosen to publish them. We have published themselves for many, many years, and Jossey-Bass has seen them as a companion to the other mentoring books that they’ve published for us.

Listen to Question 8 Podcast

Katharine Halpin: That’s great. If our listeners would like to reach Dr. Lois Zachary, I want to share a couple of ways. Her latest book, The Mentor’s Guide, is her best-selling book that you can purchase on Amazon.

You can also find Lois on Twitter @LoisZachary. Her two websites are and