LinkedIn Tip of the Week


I recently posted this update on my LinkedIn.  “If you want to connect to someone you don’t know, DON’T use the auto-populate message. Tell me why you want to connect and personalize it. Give me a reason to say yes.”  I actually posted it twice because I wasn’t sure people saw it.  It then occurred to me that the people I wanted to see it, weren’t in my network and so they aren’t going to see my updates.

I continually get requests to connect from people I don’t know. They indicate they are “Friends” but we both know that isn’t true.  I make my email address very easy to find so this isn’t an impediment.  I want to connect and build my network.  I want to help others build theirs.  I am selective about saying yes.  No matter what box someone checks though, I hate getting the auto populated message that LinkedIn provides.  Did I say hate?  Yes, I HATE it.  It shows me that you have nothing more to say, you don’t take an extra 20 seconds to introduce yourself, you just want to take advantage of my network.  Here’s an analogy- imagine someone walking up to you at a cocktail party and rather than saying hello, shaking your hand and introducing themselves, they reach into your pocket/purse and take your wallet.  Yes, that may be a bit of a stretch, but it makes sense, doesn’t it?

So, slow down.  Give me a reason to accept your invitation.  Maybe, just maybe, there is a relationship to be built and cultivated.

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The Leadership Lattice presents: Paul Larkins, CEO SquareTwo Financial, Building Culture through Values


What are the lessons for leadership in the financial services industry  from the meltdown in the capital markets?

The jury is still out in terms of what really happened to cause the meltdown of the capital markets in 2007-2008 but, had there been more transparency, some of the damage could have been mitigated earlier and there would be less suspicion of the leadership of the impacted organizations.

How does your leadership approach change based on the new regulations  enacted in the industry?

It changes the way I think about leadership but shouldn’t change my approach.  I believe that  regulation is inevitable in this (financial services) or any industry and the more transparent one is, the less concerned you need to be about regulation and stepping over a line.  You have to communicate more today than ever before.  Our entire leadership team shares information about decisions, how the company is performing, the good and bad news.  A leader needs to think about empowering the entire organization to  communicate through multiple media- one on one, intranet, quarterly meetings. We find that different employees hear the communication through different mechanisms.  It can’t be one voice or one  format.

What have you had to do differently in this economy?

From a strategic perspective, we have to constantly evaluate what the economy is doing and how to react. The economy hasn’t been stable, it’s been bouncing around.  We have to react when necessary but, not be reactionary.

What is your approach to leadership?

There are three tenets of my approach to leadership: One, put the right people in the right seats, two, empower them and three, facilitate a culture.  As a leader, if you address properly those three things, you have a recipe for success.  As a leader, you have to support your team; making sure they have the resources to do their job.  Culture is the responsibility of a leader.  I believe that in order to make a culture  stick you need a value system.  People who like that value system will stay.  At SquareTwo we have a very open value system that has 5 components: Focus, Alignment, Accountability, Integrity and Trust.   We ask our employees throughout their careers here to ask themselves, are they doing work that is consistent with that value system and if not, tell us. That creates a culture.  They can feel it; they know what is expected of them.

What have been some important leadership lessons for you?

Lessons come in the form of scars.  I have developed some scars with age and experience.  One of those lessons is reacting to something too quickly or directly, which may not always be the best course of action. I try to take in as much information as possible and consult the team we have built.  If I can gather the thoughts of my team, I will make better decisions.

Did you have a mentor that had a big impact?

I have been very fortunate to have 2-3 strong mentors.  Early in my career, I had a mentor who had a  huge impact on me and taught me not to get ahead of myself.  This person had global experience, a very  large staff and he was seemingly unflappable. He taught me to think things through on a balanced basis as well as to be accepting of people with many different backgrounds, who come from different places and cultures and to value all voices.  Another mentor that taught me how to drive performance metrics, the power of a scorecard and the sharing of goals and objectives. We use scorecards here that are very public and are used at every level.  The linkages are key- how my scorecard is linked to the department and the entire organization.  It is an extremely powerful tool that helps to make sure our company is on track.

How do you hire?

The starting place is attraction and that comes from culture.  From an interview and talent perspective,  we have to be clear about our objectives and expectations so there isn’t a mismatch.  I don’t want any hostages.  I want employees who understand why they came, what they bring and are comfortable with that.  I look for professionals that are smart and balanced.  They want everyone to bring their A game every day to the office.  We want people who want to come to work every day.  I personally want to know about someone’s  background but also equally important is that I want to know what they do outside of work.  I believe that balance is very important.  We want people inside the building who are outwardly focused and balanced.

Thanks for following along!

For the video of this interview, please go to www.executivelattice.com and look for The Leadership Lattice.

The Leadership Lattice presents: Richard Lewis, CEO of RTL Networks – How Would Gen’l Patton Lead?


  1. What is your approach to leadership?

General George S. Patton was once quoted as  saying, ‘Never tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and they’ll  surprise you with their ingenuity.’ That sums up my approach to  leadership.  It’s my job to create our  vision, direction and goals.  I allow my  employees to take ownership and drive toward those goals.  I’m only going to be as successful as my  people will allow me to be. I focus on making sure my people have the right  tools and remove any roadblocks to ensure their success. When they’re successful,  the organization is successful; when the organization is successful, I’m successful as the leader.  My focus is on the business, not in the business.  This is the important distinction.

  1. What were some important leadership lessons for you?

I remember as a young Lieutenant in the Air  Force, I went home one break period and was venting with a good friend from high  school; talking about all of the things I was dissatisfied with and how I  wanted things to be different. He asked me, “Aren’t you in charge?” He told me  that I had been groomed to be a leader and so I needed to lead.  I realized that I had control and options and  had to take responsibility.  This conversation started to push me in the right direction.  I don’t think he realized the impact he had, even to this day.

Also, I remember my early days in both the military and in corporate America, when unexpected things happened, things we didn’t plan for, it was hard not get frustrated or flustered.  Now, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected.  We still continue to plan.  We are shooting for greatness, trying to accomplish big things, and we know that there are always going to be obstacles.  But, I teach my people not to lose their cool and to keep moving forward.

  1. Did  you have a mentor early in your career?  If so, what was it about that person that impacted you in the  biggest way in your career?

There is another expression – when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  I’ve had many mentors-  whether they have known it or not.  Some
have taught me how to be and some, how not to be.  Everyone is a mentor to some degree.  It’s very apparent when someone wants to be the ‘Boss’ because their ego demands it or whether someone wants to get something done and is focused on accomplishment. I work very hard to be the person who wants to get things accomplished.

  1. How do you hire? What questions do you ask?

There are so many qualities that we look for like  timeliness and attention to detail. These are no different than any business, large or small. But, as a small business, I had to learn that everyone has to  wear lots of hats.  When I started RTL, I  developed an organizational chart that had all of the typical boxes.  The difference was that my name was in every box.  My employees have to be flexible and pick up the ball with little or no support sometimes.  You have to have an entrepreneurial spirit to  be successful working in a small company.

  1. What qualities are you trying to get at in the interview?

Interviews are very important. They give you the chance to get to know someone who you will be living with professionally, hopefully for a long time.  Everyone has prepared for the canned questions and they have their canned answer.  I even expect a certain answer before the candidate begins to speak.  To counter this, I like to create scenarios and see how people respond, both through their body language and what they say, what questions they ask.  These scenarios tell me if they will be a fit in our company, in our culture and in that role.

Thanks for following the Leadership Lattice!

The Leadership Lattice Presents: Rodger Stewart, CEO on the Importance of Communication


The Leadership Lattice– an interview series conducted by Ann Spoor, CEO of Executive Lattice. These interviews are designed to cultivate conversation about building strong leadership in the public and private sector. The Leadership Lattice presents: Rodger Stewart, former CEO of Ultrashape, Sorin Group and COBE Cardiovascular.  Rodger now leads 2 Nonprofits in the Boulder area. 

  1. What is your approach to leadership?

A great leader establishes a clear and compelling vision and communicates that vision throughout the organization.   They always put the success of the organization on the shoulders of their team, is a great listener and is able to identify and attract top talent. An effective leader is capable of using multiple management styles depending on the situation.  A visionary style is necessary to set and determine long term vision and focus.  In a time of crisis, you need to use a directive style but, this should be used as little as possible because it can be negative.  A participative style is helpful for consensus building and coaching.

  1. How does leadership change in virtual and/or international teams and organizations? 

Leading an international and virtual team creates many unique challenges.  It’s important to spend time, face to face, in their environment, country and culture to develop understanding and relationships. In my last role at Ultrashape, I had half of my management team in the U.S. and half in Israel.  The cultural differences were vast.  We spent lots of time team building and developing a respect for each other’s roles, expertise and culture so that we could better function virtually which we had to do because of the geography and time differences.

  1. What were some important leadership lessons for you early in your career?

The first lesson was the first time I assembled an extremely high performance team. I made the assumption that these high performing individuals would function well as a team and this was not the case.  Luckily, through the use an executive coach, we were able to turn this around. The CEO has to take full responsibility for building an effective team.  The second was very simple but extremely hard for me to do.  I had to learn to be quiet and listen.  In my career, I have been very passionate about my opinions about issues and solutions to problems however, as CEO, your subordinates don’t hear opinions, they hear decisions.  I have worked very hard to be quiet and let the other ideas around the table surface.

  1. Did you have a mentor early in your career?  If so, what was it about that person that impacted you in the biggest way?

My mentor was the person who was the CEO whom I ultimately replaced.  The most impactful thing I learned from him was how to manage, set up and drive sales across the globe, from South America to the Middle East.

  1. How do you hire? What questions do you ask? 

Every time I make a hire, I am looking for a successor.   I look for the smartest, most talented and most experienced people I can find, more so than myself in their particular areas of expertise.  But aside from skills and experience, it’s critically important to assess team fit.  If someone is a fantastic individual performer but not a good team fit, then that’s a deal killer for me. I assess this by putting candidates into difficult, real life team scenarios and asking them how they would approach the situation.  I will dig deep into their answers. This approach will usually reveal their style and fit. 

Thanks for following the Leadership Lattice!

The Leadership Lattice presents: Rob Meilen – Communicate Relentlessly


The Leadership Lattice – a Leadership Interview Series presents: Rob Meilen, Chief Information Officer


This interview was conducted and summarized by Ann Spoor, Founder of Executive Lattice, in Denver Colorado. 

  1. What’s your approach to leadership?

I see the role of a leader in setting the vision for their organization and communicating relentlessly about it – what is it and why is it important.  People come to work for lots of different reasons but a key aspect is that they want to be part of something larger than themselves.  It’s the responsible of the leader to make that tangible.  Why should someone dedicate their efforts to the project, organization and company?  The leader has to make that case and make it regularly.

  1. What were some important leadership lessons for you early in your career?

Early in my career, I was working in consulting and got a lesson around dealing with ambiguity.  I had a great boss who at the right time took the time to plan and at other times just rolled up his sleeves, sat down and got working – sometimes you can plan and be thoughtful but at other he would sit down and get rolling, which brought energy and momentum to the team or project.  He could generate momentum and creativity even when there were unknowns.  As leaders, we need to create an atmosphere of momentum.  

  1. Did you have a mentor early in your career?  What was it about that person that impacted you in the biggest way?

Yes, at Ann Taylor I worked on an initiative which ran into trouble.  The Board of Directors brought in a consultant.  Steve had both broad and deep experience in leadership, retail and technology. The key thing I learned from him was around succeeding by connecting with others in the organization.  He was able to talk to all levels, across all functions.  He taught us the value of building relationships across boundaries, especially when it came to solving big problems.

  1. What have you been doing differently in this economy as a leader?

In the past, when the economy was strong, we could look at projects that had a single driver (cost saving for example).  In this economy, where capital is more constrained and we are operating with fewer resources, we have to look for opportunities that hit on several drivers: cost saving and revenue, process efficient and driving strategic growth initiatives.   These are harder to find but they do exist.

  1. How do you hire?

A key part of the hiring process is that I personally interview every finalist who will have supervisory responsibilities. I look not only for people who can win today but, can also consistently win in the future.  I look for people who can collaborate and help to grow their own teams.  Candidates have to be strong technically, functionally, interpersonally and managerially.  I look for the complete package.

  1. What other qualities are you trying to get at in the interview?  

The two other qualities I look for are people who can deliver superior customer service and thought leadership.  IT is a service to the business; it’s not the primary business.  We need to bring solutions, ways to use IT that can advance the business.  Technology skills are easy to train but thought leadership and the attention to the customer is not.

  1. What was your first job and how old were you?

My first job was a Paper route – at about age 11. What I learned was about customer service and building relationships although, I didn’t necessary know it at the time.  My tips depended on it.  You have to get up early on Sunday morning regardless of the weather or how tired you are.

  1. How long have you been in Colorado?

I came to Colorado about 7 years ago for my job at Sport Authority.  We feel very fortunate to be here.

  1. What book are you reading right now?

I’m reading “Cyber War” – by Richard A. Clarke. Clarke is a national security and counter-terrorism expert; worked in White House under Pres. Reagan, both Pres Bush and Pres Clinton. Sadly, the threat to information in private and public sector is growing.  As IT leaders we own the responsibility to capitalize and to safeguard that information.  I picked up the book because I was interested but it’s directly connected to what we do as IT leaders.

Compensation Strategies and Communication


When there is no internal alignment on compensation

It is critical in an organization to have alignment across all functional areas on the compensation strategy.  All of the executive team has to understand and agree on what types of people they are trying to hire.  The strategy must be communicated and the Hiring Managers can’t operate in the dark

When HR says we want to be at 50% in the market and a business unit charges its staffing team to only go after the top players, you have a recipe for failure.  Those leaders are not talking to each other or are not communicating effectively to their teams. 

Let’s get everyone on the same page.  Compensation shouldn’t be a mystery.

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