Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Living in a vibrant urban environment is chock full of sensory input every day. Lights, sirens, televisions in airports, all add to the constant din of people in perpetual motion. It's irrepressible, and can make this girl very grateful for her little personal sanctuary at the end of the day. I'm a fairly energetic gal and have a job that keeps me on the go, so I am out and about regularly. Like many urban dwellers, I rely heavily on public transportation and, often for business meetings, use air travel to get to other cities quickly. The multitude of people I encounter along the way is considerable. I swear, sometimes walking down the street I wonder what everyone else is doing. I mean, they can't all be going to meet clients, so what on earth are they up to?

Well my friend, you only need to sit still for two minutes to answer that last question. I have heard more intimate details than I could ever imagine on what is otherwise a fairly benign metro ride. I am beginning to think I know everything about my neighbors. And their families, employers, doctors, lovers, best friends, and worst enemies. Boyfriends dumped, jobs resigned, marketing strategies debated, health problems revealed (ewww), and goods and services procured. All involving names, addresses, phone numbers, and the occasional credit card or social security number.

I am not eavesdropping, or trying in the slightest to hear this stuff. I'd rather not hear it, to be honest, my little brain is busy enough thinking of the fifty things I need to do that day and need all the help I can get in keeping it all straight. But the oversharing by my neighbors is impossible to ignore because these folks are talking, or more like shouting, over their mobile phones to conduct their business. Just because you CAN do all your business on the phone does it mean that you have to do it in clear earshot of the rest of the population? In public?! An identity thief would have a field day, and for all I know there might be one sitting next to me at any given moment.

I hope you are scared by now, or at least thinking a bit about what you say when you are out in public. Hey, I rely on my mobile phone as much as the next person and I am all for multitasking on the go, but are these people stopping to think about what they are revealing? Not only about themselves, but about whoever is on the other end of the phone and/or subject of their conversation. Case in point, a few months back I needed to work remotely for the day due to an office move and I was having some work done in my house so I parked at a local coffee shop for a few hours to catch up on email (using the secure VPN, of course). A young woman at the next table over was joined by an HR representative from a prestigious consulting company in what quickly became apparent as a job interview. In a scant 30 minutes it was all laid out for anyone within earshot (and I was not the only one): the name of the company and its growth strategy, the position at stake, the composition and culture of the team ("we are such good friends we are like a sorority"), the compensation of the position as well as the person being interviewed. The judgment of the HR person for conducting a full blown job interview in a coffee shop aside, this could have been a field day for a competitor or identity snoop. Far from an innocuous conversation, they exchanged real actionable data. It was somewhat shocking that there was so little regard for personal privacy in this exchange. And what ever happened to decorum?

Every day we learn about something like a systems glitch that momentarily exposes 100,000 credit card numbers, or old medical records destined for the shred bin somehow ending up getting windblown down the street. We all gasp, shake our fingers at the offending party, and quickly change our passwords to protect ourselves. If only people were as careful about what they say and where they say it, personal privacy would be a whole lot easier to control. Think about it the next time you answer your cell phone running to and fro, or call your business partner from an airport gate to hash over that last deal negotiation detail. Revealing sensitive information like this in public can have consequences for the parties directly and indirectly involved. And it might not be so pretty.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Blazing trails is a solitary task. Wikipedia defines a trailblazer as "a person who marks a trail through wilderness area.” They look beyond their own often less than ideal circumstances to break through. There is no one ahead to light the way and those behind might be afraid or doubtful in the wisdom of moving in the same direction. Forging a new path takes tools, creative thinking, vision, grit, timing, a little luck, and a lot of chutzpah.

Anyone who has the intestinal fortitude to challenge society's status quo gets my attention. Standing up to governments or sitting down to protest societal norms takes a lot of guts. I admire the rabble rousers. The sprit and strength it takes to move mountains is like a whole other world to me. Where does that steely determination come from? It seems as varied as the DNA of the trail blazers themselves. It is one thing to confront your own fears, but quite another to stand alone in confrontation with institutions, laws, and the powers that be blocking your course. I have a hard enough time pushing past my own apprehensions when dealing with an uncomfortable situation, however I can usually bear down and get the job done. But the big frontier of the complete unknown, how do you make that leap? Maybe it’s reserved for the chosen few who change our world, but I want the motivation formula. What is in it, where does it come from, how can I get it? Where is my genie that is going to capture that magic?!

This has all been on my mind in part due to Women's History Month. Much of the publicity surrounding the event naturally focuses on famous women who have marched through the wilderness. In their quest for progress, they each made a difference in some realm and found a new way forward. Controversy swirls around some of these women and in fact may endure as part of their legacy. Setting new boundaries can involve encroaching on someone else's turf which is bound to rattle someone's cage. It comes with marking new territory.

What makes the women trail blazers so special? Face it, in the history of humanity there has never been gender parity. For women to mark extraordinary achievement, they have more hurdles to overcome than their male counterparts. Add race to the equation (at least in the America) and the challenges become even more significant. These women have starred down daunting challenges: women had to be recognized by people as the law before pushing for the right to vote…and then find their way to the halls of Congress; they had to be admitted to and graduate from college to gain entry into law school…before being considered for a Judicial appointment; they had to find gainful employment as riveters, garment workers, miners, scientists, journalists, and (even) as maids before they could penetrate the obstacles that holds us back.

A myriad of motivational factors pushes these women on. But page through any list of these women's stories and you will find a common theme. Someone told them it couldn't or shouldn’t be done. Lesser people walk away, but the trailblazer doesn’t see that as an option.

I marvel at the stories of women who all hail from vastly different backgrounds and circumstances spanning centuries and geographic boundaries to all carry on in their own right. They have challenged, fought, and fought for governments and institutions not of their own choosing but of their vision. All they had before them was possibility, but they nevertheless summoned the courage and resilience to bring about change. You may not agree with their philosophy, or even view what they did as an accomplishment. But there is no disputing that trail blazers create a path so that others may follow and reach beyond to create even more ways forward.

The absolute beauty in what trail blazers leave behind is this: inspiration. Ladies, I, for one, thank you.

P.S. Just in case you are wondering who is on my list (and while by no means exhaustive), a few of my favorites are Hon. Sandra Day O'Connor, Hon. Joyce Kennard, Sarah Weddington, Hon. Betty Roberts, Florence Nightingale, Margaret Sanger, Harriet Tubman, Grace Hopper, Gloria Steinem, Madeleine Albright, Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Helen Keller, Shirley Chisholm, Rosie Bonavita (aka Rosie the Riveter), Women's Airforce Service Pilots, Angela Bambace, Sally Ride, Anne Frank, Sojourner Truth, and the grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, and women everywhere who are strong, courageous and spur us on to greatness.


The postings on this site reflect my own views and don't neccessarily represent the positions, strategies, or opinions of Major, Lindsey & Africa.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Among the most common topics for which candidates seek my advice is about resume preparation. Most often I am asked for feedback regarding content or construction yet some questions are quite specific such as whether it is appropriate to use bulleted text or how much employment history to include. In the legal profession it is not uncommon for law firm partners to have a summary bio prepared by the firm’s professional marketing staff. I have talked to very accomplished lawyers who have never prepared a resume for themselves and genuinely need some guidance when they decide to proactively seek a new opportunity. Aside from the few who probably want me to write their resume for them (which I won’t do, for good reason), at the crux of this is confusion about the purpose one’s resume is intended to serve. 

Wait a minute, what is confusing about the purpose of a resume? It should seem intuitive by simple definition of the end goal. In plain speaking it is the starting document that will get a candidate from point A to point B on the career ladder. A lot rides on that little document as it is THE entry point to the proverbial foot in the door. If the right things are not on that resume, a candidate won’t get noticed. Factor in anything which increases the competitiveness of the candidate pool or the desirability of the job and you can see how the need to make one’s resume stand above the rest becomes more urgent. Candidates need to distinguish themselves in a crowded pool. The resume has become the flag all candidates carry which screams ‘CHOOSE ME!’ It is no small wonder that the mere mention of the word whips people into a frenzy.

During the go-go days of the late’90’s, candidates would do all sorts of wild things to get their resume noticed. I still have the shoebox a candidate sent to me complete with a pair of shoes and a note suggesting he was trying to get his ‘foot in the door’ for an interview. (Yes it was from a lawyer, no the shoes were not my size, and no he did not get an interview.) One of my colleagues at a very large technology company received a resume wrapped in plastic and taped to the top of a fresh hot pizza conveniently delivered to her at lunch time. All sorts of quirky information began appearing on resumes, usually in an ‘interests’ tag line which I can only assume is intended to make the candidate seem more human. Do we need to know that you can simultaneously speak Japanese while eating chicken livers? What on earth does that have to do with practicing law? Nothing! Spare me. Sure I remember the resume, but it did nothing positive for that person’s candidacy.

Thankfully these examples have not become widely adopted tactics, but other disturbing trends have emerged. “Dumbing down” a resume by removing experience or omitting dates of employment has become more prevalent among senior level candidates wanting to compete for a job advertised as seeking less experienced candidates. Title inflation, which is using a more desirable job title on the resume different from the candidate’s current official job title, has crept into the mix. There has even been recent press about ‘whitening’ one’s resume. Sure, a few candidates cross the line from enhancing a title to outright false information. But how did the state of the resume deteriorate to this?

Market pressure on candidates alone is not the answer. Recruiters and hiring managers also shoulder some of the responsibility. At a macro level candidates are responding to signals sent into the applicant stream by virtue of how recruiters and hiring managers respond. In an attempt to be all things to the right employers, candidates are responding to the business of filtering engaged in by many in the recruiting profession. In the sake of expediency and to tackle the volume of incoming inquiries the recruiting staff spends a big chunk of time screening incoming resumes in the hopes that the perfect person appears. They are filtering, not recruiting. Key word identification was the first big introduction of technology in the recruiting process. Instead of plowing through piles of paper a recruiter could do a key word search for something on the resume, like intellectual property, and instantly locate the candidates with that word in their resume. It didn’t take long for candidates to get the message and start adding key words even if it was a fraction of their overall expertise. Boom, the vicious cycle was born.

Don’t get me wrong, key word search capability is a helpful tool. Unfortunately it contributes to a process that is designed like a sieve. It excludes people without the right word but makes no distinction as to relative strength of other characteristics that may be relevant. Yet recruiters are usually the first to say that their best candidates do not come from whoever happens to land in their inbox, particularly where a niche skill set is required. The recruiter who affirmatively reaches out to those with the necessary skills and expertise is more apt to zero in on the right candidate. A focused approach adopts a process that is designed more like a target, where the center circle encompasses all appropriate requirements. Less filtering and more recruiting is in order.

Even though it is a bit of a catch-22, the filtering cycle can be broken if both candidates and hiring decision makers contribute to the solution. Candidates need to cut the fluff and focus on the substance of what they have to offer. Tell us who you are, what you do, where you learned it, and who you have done it for and when. Don’t write what you think a recruiter wants to hear, just tell it like it is. Recruiters need to get off the filtering treadmill and build pipelines of qualified prospects. You can add value to the hiring managers and increase the quality of the overall outcome by knowing their business wherever possible and using technology to track who you want rather than just who randomly finds you. Hiring managers can help by educating their recruiting partners about their business, focusing on candidate skills and competencies in evaluating prospective hires, and being realistic about the timeline it takes to find the right person. Employers that don’t have the resources internally to do this can and should engage an external resource appropriate to the relevant area of expertise.

Before internet technology was widely adopted in the recruiting process, like many recruiters I literally clawed through stacks of cover letters and resumes on a daily basis until it felt like my eyeballs were on fire. I cannot begin to fathom how many resumes I have looked at during my 18+ years of recruiting and let me tell you I have seen the gamut. Behind every resume is a person whose talents and value will accelerate in the right environment. We’ll all be better off if the obstacles are cleared and the state of the resume can shine.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


The fuel door on my car is busted. We had a little mishap at the gas station the other day and the fuel door latch was thankfully the only minor casualty. It won’t take much to replace it however the interruption to the crush of work and holiday schedule is annoying. It sounds odd perhaps but I think it was my car’s way of telling me to slow down the usual pace before moving forward. Compatible to the inevitable year-end reflection and resolution-making, the following is my glimpse in the rear view mirror and course corrections for the road ahead:

o Encouragement. This has been the all-purpose road sign of the year! Vague ideas, frustrations, cocktail conversation, and constructive feedback all incited action in 2009. Starting the blog, my recent published article (“Be the CEO of You”), and a significant de-cluttering of the clothes closet were a few new things that made it into the line-up. Support and encouragement from others indicate that people are listening, observing, and willing to engage. We all need propping up when the going gets rough, but encouraging someone when they have momentum or enthusiasm is just as important. It can come from anywhere and you have to be open to receive it. Many consider encouragement the personal green light giving you permission to go-go-go. I view mine as a yield sign, allowing me to assess the surroundings appropriately before moving ahead.

o Patience and Persistence. This combination is my fuel. I need more and will use more to go farther. One without the other is like sand in the gas tank! I have learned to be more persistent about achieving my goals, and to be patient so that results will come with the right level of persistence. Onward.

o “Social” is my word of the year. Yeah yeah, “social networking” is the latest buzz phrase. “Tweet” is not a verb in my vernacular, although I make good use of online networking tools. It provides an avenue to stay connected with clients, customers, colleagues, friends old and new, family members (who are among my very best friends), and assorted professional contacts developed over the years, all who have and are becoming more than just a roadside attraction. Online activities prompted more in-person interaction which is both professionally and personally rewarding. My chosen career as a legal search executive requires constant interpersonal interaction which is one reason I like it so much! Lawyers, business executives, recruiting and HR professionals, it’s a fascinating mix! Best scenery for this driver is one that changes all the time. Social is always part of my course.

o Community. Regardless of your political views, election and inauguration days were momentous occasions in our nation’s history. Voting speaks. So does other political activism like writing to elected officials or engaging in political forums and political action committees. The future is too important to abdicate by inaction. Contributing to community helps people help themselves, which has never been more important in a time when others are struggling. You are likely reading this because you have access to the internet, which puts you among a privileged group of people. Good, that means you have something to spare.  Time, money, goods, or services – write a check, cook dinner at a shelter for families in transition, help out once a month at a legal aid clinic…. it isn’t rocket science. Contributing improves life for others. We all live in each other’s ripple. Speak up! Get with it! Get on the bus Gus and take the damn wheel!

o Wildlife encounters. From bears in the backyard to seals on the city beach, animals are sure to cross our path. Animal interaction reminds us we all share the planet. Be mindful that we share a precious resource and we will all have somewhere to go for many years ahead.

o Humor. My motor won’t engage without this essential. Drama is meant for the theater. As my cousin Kai was fond of saying, “get over it.” Sometimes you have to stop and see the levity. Be willing to snicker at your own foibles. A little good-natured giggle on occasion keeps your blood pressure down and the fun factor high.

The 2009 road was riddled with the potholes of a lousy economy, and careers and retirement plans for many detoured by recession. The signposts of fabulous family, friends, and colleagues all kept my roadblocks manageable. For that fact alone, I could not be more grateful. My packing list for the next journey includes those lessons learned, a bright-eyed wonder of what lies ahead, and the confidence to maneuver around the roadblocks. As soon as that fuel door is fixed, it’s a quick trip through the car wash and back on the road to 2010. I’m just hoping for fewer mishaps!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

All stoked up about that job offer? The details in hand, now is decision time. Go down the list – job scope and title, your new colleagues, company stability and prestige, corner office, compensation and benefits, check that list and yep everything is in place so time to accept that offer. Now the hard part, telling your current boss who you know will be crest fallen because after all they love you in your current job but just aren’t paying you enough money. If only they had told you how valuable you are then maybe you would not have looked elsewhere for another opportunity. But this might work out once you tell them you are leaving; maybe they will find the money and ask you to stay. Renewed confidence, you break the news to your boss that another company wants you and……what’s this, they make you a counteroffer to keep you? More money, better title, and you get to stay put, how could this be anything but a bonanza? Score!

Hang on my friend, accepting a counter offer from your current employer is often a bad bargain. There is more to it than your immediate perspective, and there are consequences that may not be immediately apparent in this situation. Here’s what you are gambling:

o Credibility: If you take a counter offer you are damaging your credibility with both companies. You just went through the hiring process with a company that brought you to the point of offer. They invested time, resources, and a hiring manager at least has stepped up internally within that company to be your advocate to bring you to the point of offer. By accepting a counteroffer from your current employer, you are essentially saying that you were using them as leverage to get a better deal out of your boss. That employer will be frustrated that you used them solely as leverage and feel tricked by your apparent previous interest in their company. The double whammy is that you have now also planted the seeds of doubt with your current employer by revealing that you are looking elsewhere for career opportunities. They will doubt your loyalty and, even if you accept their counteroffer, will doubt your longevity. In fact, a lot of employers will start looking for your replacement immediately even if you stay, assuming that you won’t stick around much longer. You may as well light a match to your believability with either of these companies because you just burned two bridges simultaneously. If you did this all through a search firm, then you hit the trifecta because you just damaged your credibility with the recruiter. Good luck working with any of these people again.

o Money does not buy happiness: We are not talking the lottery jackpot here. Maybe your current compensation is contributing to your lack of job satisfaction, but compensation alone is not going to solve your motivational problem. Job hunting is not a sport, so be honest with yourself about why you were looking in the first instance. There are all kinds of perfectly legitimate reasons why you are pursuing a job change. Be honest with yourself about what those are, and what will ignite and excite you in your next role. The money in a counteroffer is never enough to offset your pursuit of different/better/more elsewhere. There are trade offs in every move and you should evaluate them carefully, but be circumspect about replacing money for other values.

o It is never what you think: Chances are that counteroffer comes with strings attached. It’s not as if the company just found money in the bank they forgot to pay you. It could mean greater scope of responsibility, more travel or investment of time on your part, or higher level of performance expectations, all of which may come at a personal sacrifice on your part. Even if it is more money for the exact same job you have been performing then you best check the fine print for claw-back provisions or stricter non-compete provisions. No counteroffer is free.

o Ego: Are you trying to get your employer to say you are indispensible by manipulating them to come up with a counteroffer? In this economy? What are you thinking? The best way to get your employer to demonstrate their appreciation for your contribution is through excellence in performance. Period. If you think you are not getting the credit you deserve, have THAT conversation with your manager, and think carefully about how you market yourself and the accomplishments of your team internally.

o Apples to oranges: When comparing an offer and a counteroffer, there can be several components which factor into the equation of how the comp packages end up looking different. Lawyers for example are compensated very differently in a corporate environment than they are in a law firm. Public companies structure their pay differently than privately held companies or non-profit entities. Along with those differences are also subtle differences in the style of the role. Add that up and of course the compensation looks different. By the same analysis, the exact same job in a substantially similar sized company is not going to have a huge disparity in compensation. You should not expect to substantially improve your compensation by taking the exact same job you have now by moving to a competitor.

Other articles describing counteroffer effectiveness mention studies which suggest that the majority of people who accept a counteroffer leave for another job within a year. I wonder how many of those people burned bridges along the way and found that what they bargained for was a bust and not the bonanza they expected?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Recently Workingmother.com published its list of the top 50 law firms for women that by virtue of their numbers and programs are among the best places for working-mom lawyers. The legal profession and law firm partnerships in particular have long had the image of being dominated by white men. The female enrollment demographic at law schools has really only seen an appreciable increase during the last 30 plus years so from the historical standpoint the image is not too surprising. In the modern day however law schools are fairly well balanced with many if not most law school student populations hovering at around 50% women. Law schools are the feeder candidate pools for law firms so it stands to reason that many firms are also reporting that approximately half of their incoming associate classes are women. The published data in the aforementioned top 50 law firm survey bears this out.

Steadily over the last twenty years greater emphasis has been placed on diversity in the lawyer workforce generally and more women and people of color are entering the profession. (The plethora of goodness that comes from this is well stated elsewhere and not the subject of today’s post.) The firms mentioned in the top 50 list are implementing worthy initiatives to attract, retain, and develop the incoming female talent to insure they have the tools to develop and contribute as equals. Those firms should be applauded for their results and encouraged to continue their winning ways. I am optimistic that these firms get it, and are pushing for even greater results in the years ahead.

But I am alarmed at something. Puzzled. Frustrated. Okay, downright irritated if you must know….The percentage of incoming women associates is at the 50% mark which is consistent with the available talent pool. Great. But “the best” firms average just over 20% female partners. Whoa!! That means that women are leaving law firms in droves during the formative years of their careers, and at a rate significantly higher than their male counterparts! Something more than the childbirth years is at play. This is a level of attrition among a single workforce population is way beyond explaining away by women choosing to be stay-at-home mothers. What is happening between the time of entry and the time when partnership decisions are made that is causing this huge drop in population? My sister, where are you going?

The reality is that we don’t know where these women are going. Statistics on lawyer demographics are not readily available in aggregate form for comparison or analysis. We do know from law firm surveys like this that women are leaving law firm life at a rate that will quickly deflate the progress of women in the legal profession if it is allowed to continue. If you are a law firm leader – partner, committee chair, HR – I hope you are as disturbed as I am over this situation, because it is unacceptable. A significant portion of your greatest asset, your lawyers, are leaving in droves. Your talent is walking (at this rate more like running) out the door. Your clients demand to see their matters staffed with diverse lawyers from all levels in your firm, and if that is not a message you are hearing from them now I can guarantee you will hear it when you go to develop new business. This is a situation of urgency that needs your attention.

Here’s the good news – this is a situation which has the ‘everybody wins’ potential written all over it. The recession is ripping into the traditional law firm business model and turning recruiting and retention on its head. Law firms are being forced to rethink summer program and entry level associate recruiting models because their cost and efficiency is no longer sustainable. Compensation based on billable hour production is facing opposition from in-house counsel like an oncoming train in the form of demand for fixed fees and other cost control measures. How lawyers develop professionally, demonstrate their value, gain skill and expertise, and ultimately how they are evaluated for entry into the partnership is all tied into this and is being tested. Traditional methods of training, compensating, and ultimately retaining talent are on their way out. Firms that are creative and visionary enough to develop a new strategy will come out ahead in the longer term.

If you are a law firm leader, this is the perfect time for you to examine every aspect of how you run your business and make it all that it can be. This is no time to be complacent with old ways of doing things. A *true* leader has to be willing to challenge the status quo. Competition for "the top 10%" is no longer defined by virtue of elite law school law review membership. Greatness is not defined by the logging of time any more than it relies on a person's gender or race. Dispense with the old worn out definitions of how you evaluate and promote talent and you may well uncover the potential that has been in your organization all along. This isn't just "a women's issue" that you can appoint the women in your firm to solve for themselves. It takes commitment and action from the top. It isn't something to be delegated to the firm's recruiting committee, a small handful of mentors, or the marketing department. Roll up your sleeves and make it a business priority with accountability, timetables, and measurable goals. Get creative.

Your talent base, to be attractive as service practitioners to your clients, must be as diverse as their businesses and their customers. That population is really all of us in the working world. If you are a law firm leader, the solution to your competitiveness as a firm lies in your ability to attract, retain, and foster a diverse talent base, most certainly including women. Look no farther than half of your incoming associates as the first step in the equation. As a law firm leader, you can demonstrate your true leadership by solving this dilemma. You can create a rewarding workplace replete with happy clients and hold out your firm as being a leader in the profession. Half (or more) of your incoming talent, that you worked hard to recruit, will turn over at a much lower rate and be happier and more productive. High turnover costs money, you keep that money in the bank and your profits will be more sustainable. Everybody wins.

I really really really hope when I read the workingmother.com survey next year that someone has moved the needle. There is so much opportunity for progress. Don’t let next year’s story be a sad déjà vu.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…..” This lilting jazz standard written by George Gershwin in the 1930’s evokes the feel of a lazy gentle summer day. You can almost imagine swinging in a hammock, sipping lemonade, or a leisurely stroll. Ahh, summer. Personally, it is my favorite season.

Besides the opportunities for quality lounge chair time, the treats of July include two things of which I am a HUGE fan: Le Tour de France, and The Blue Angels annual air show during Seafair in Seattle. There is nothing like these two events that fuel my inner sports fan! I marvel at extraordinary athletic accomplishments, and these two events are right up there for what it takes to perform. My personal sporting life is all about the leisure and amusement for others, largely due to my complete lack of eye-hand coordination. (No snickering from those who have seen me fall countless times, please.) Neither of these events are without some controversy, but at the very least each requires unique remarkable ability to accomplish, and can easily end in disaster if not executed with proper precision. I have to believe that even the most physically adept among us appreciates a world class performance like this that only few achieve. How do they do it?

I became an avid follower of Le Tour after reading Lance Armstrong’s book, “It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life.” The book was a gift from my cousin in 1999 who was battling breast cancer at the time. She found it inspirational and thought it would help me understand her battle with the insidious disease. Love him or hate him, with seven Tour wins and a foundation devoted to wellness, Lance has quickly become a modern day icon among those battling cancer and fans of the elite bike racing circuit. The Tour, if you don’t know, is a month long bike race through the valleys and Alps of France and neighboring countries during the month of July. This is no unhurried pedal through the Loire, folks, it is a grueling 2,000+ mile bike race that includes inclines so steep they are beyond classification! Fast! In the heat! Are you kidding me?! Shift your vision quickly to the impact of chemotherapy on someone’s physical stamina and assume if you must that it takes a good year or two for the average person to regain daily stamina. Back to the Tour, seven wins in a row after *that*?! That, my friends, takes more than devotion to bike riding. Let’s not forget the other 150+ guys that actually finish the race every year (out of 180 or so who start.) Surely they have top of the line equipment, coaches, sponsors, and countless hours of training, but where does the motivation come from, why, and how?

The Blue Angels are the US Navy’s elite jet demonstration team. They frequently perform at air shows mostly around the US and are known for their grace and precision, flying up to 700 miles an hour with the jet wings seemingly inches apart, sometimes upside down, sometimes side by side, sometimes flying directly at each other, and usually 6 in the air simultaneously. The fortitude required to endure Mach speeds alone can sideline the physically adept, and usually claim some local news reporter’s lunch when they are treated to a quick guest ride when filming for the local media. You think a baseball hurled at 90 miles an hour is scary, imagine the skill and precision it takes to twirl a fighter jet in the air like a baton…without dropping it, ever!

Accomplishment in the aforementioned feats is certainly not possible without focus. It has to be much more than that to reach this cream-of-the-crop level. Focus can be defined by its fixation on a vision, goal, or purpose. It is the clarity of the sight line. It is a critical element to reaching the pinnacle and achieving any goal. What does it take, and how do we build this for ourselves to achieve the greatness we are reaching for in business or in our daily lives?

o Goal: Articulate what you want to achieve and believe in it. Make it actionable, tangible, achievable, measurable, and most importantly, make it your own. Unless you are passionate about your purpose, building motivation and sticking to your plan will feel like an albatross.

o Skill: Equip yourself with the knowledge and ability necessary to be credible. Technique and skill can be learned through “practice, practice, practice” as my mother reminded me when I played the viola. Apply yourself to mastering manipulation of the equipment and push yourself to learn its limitations and possibilities. Blue Angels pilots do not wear a Mach suit and are required to have a sophisticated knowledge and skill in flying a jet. Thankfully they have simulators for a learning environment, but the rest of us are more like Lance in that the pavement reminds us when we get it wrong. The important thing is to acquire the skill, and in every situation that takes trial and error.

o Performance: Learn by doing, repeatedly. It’s part of the skill mastery process utilized in the real world. You might not come in first every time, but only by performing outside of the wind tunnel will you know what it truly feels like to battle a head-wind and internalize what you have to do in the moment to get break through consistently.

o Precision: Doing the same thing repeatedly gets you nowhere if you can’t execute it cleanly. Lance talks about this in his book in understanding why he lacked consistency in his hill climb times. A random approach is behind why it was not always working out for him. Even in a three week bike race, winners and losers are sometimes separated by mere seconds.

o Endurance: Tasks are solitary actions. Goals, regardless of the timeline, require commitment to the purpose for some duration. Be prepared to stick to it, and understand that you probably need more than an adrenaline rush to get the job done. Learning to deal with setbacks and course corrections will equip you for the long haul.

o Determination: Goal attainment requires work and discipline of effort. You have to want to succeed and be willing to hold vigilant in working through obstacles. Don't even think about quitting mid-stream. If you stand still everyone else will blow right by you. Motivation is your friend and fosters momentum when the going gets rough.

The great thing about bringing focus to what you do, who you want to become, or a goal that you want to achieve, is that you can create and follow your own sense of purpose. It may seem big, inordinately challenging, and complicated. Focus helps you to spot the blur and tackle that which obfuscates your success. Focus makes extraordinary results possible. Just ask Lance.