Tag Archives: Success

Is Your Organization A Slinky, A Box Or Sacred Cow? Experiments In Leadership


On my office wall, where my degrees and other trinkets of achievement once hung, is a single framed picture. A gift from my mother; who knows, as only a mother can, what captures the imagination of her child. Beneath the glass is a reproduction of J.T. James’ nearly 70-year old patent, which depicts the use of a technological marvel we’ve all come to know as the Slinky

My interest in the Slinky stems from the work of Harvard trained scientist Donella (Dana) Meadows, who helped me see leadership in a whole new way.


  1. Perch a Slinky on your upturned palm.
  2. With the fingers of your free hand, grasp the Slinky from the top, partway down its coils.
  3. Now pull your bottom hand away quickly…
What happens? 
…the end of slinky drops and recoils like a bungee-cord, right?BUT what MADE the Slinky bungee up and down like that?
…if you think it all happened because you moved your hand, you’ve just made a critical leadership error!


Repeat the experiment, but this time replace the Slinky with the box it came in.

  1. Put the box in your upturned palm.
  2. Grasp the top of the box with the fingers of your free hand.
  3. Quickly remove your palm from under the box.
What happens?
…Nothing.THE POINT
The motion of the hands (your leadership efforts and your employee’s efforts to support you) mean little, if they don’t align with the nature of the system….

A Slinky’s got to be a Slinky and a Box has to act like a Box.

Organizational performance comes from the alignment of leaders and followers, working together in the right system.

How to get there?

  • Everything hinges on aligning leaders and employees, if you do that
  • You’ll earn the right to be wrong, because if you and your employees are aligned and you fail, you’ll receive rapid and unambiguous feedback, but
  • Leaders that act without employee alignment will never know, “Is it them or is it me?” and in all such cases, the answer is it’s you

Slinky or Box, so long as your system isn’t a Sacred Cow, you’ll have the opportunity to unleash the untapped leadership potential that exists in your organization right now!  

Wake up leaders, it’s time to lead!

And thanks for the picture mom…

Until next time, I welcome your stories, comments and ideas directly at jeff@jeffkaplan.com

Stay connected,


Meadows, Donella H. (2008-12-03). Thinking in Systems: A Primer (Kindle Locations 178-190). Chelsea Green Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Chief Hugs Officer (Creating A World Of Success – Part 2)

How Dreams & Happiness are Becoming the New Business Imperatives

Dateline – Hiawatha, Iowa

Among the storefronts of an otherwise unremarkable strip mall, one door carries no sign and its windows display no products. Otherwise indistinguishable from the countless cookie-cutter replicas that dot America’s suburban commercial districts, what makes this mini-mall and this storefront different, is the very particular executive who’s working there. Sitting alone, seamlessly moving between the laptop keystrokes, tablet and smartphone taps and whiteboard scribbles, Jerry Akers is thinking, tinkering and working to create a different kind of company.

A decade ago, with a successful and financially rewarding career already behind him, Jerry’s unbridled energy and heartfelt desire to help others succeed, made him a poor candidate for retirement. So, Jerry and his wife Mickey left their corporate pasts behind and decided to operate a small local business. At least that’s how it started. Never having run a retail operation and with no prior cosmetology or franchise experience, Jerry became an owner-operator of a Great Clips franchise.

Today, Great Clips has become the world’s largest hair salon brand and Jerry has become one of its most successful franchisees. What sets Jerry apart can’t be found in a profit and loss statement, can’t be expressed in a spreadsheet and doesn’t show up in an earnings call. Jerry wants to help peopleparticularly the young stylists he and his wife are dedicating their lives to.

In a far-ranging interview, Jerry recounted his personal journey as a young executive; how he’d followed the teachings of Zig Zigler and John T. Molloy to learn everything from how to get what you want to dressing for success.

Three decades later, having moved from style to substance, Jerry embraces practical and tactical ideas and rejects things that “might sound good in a lab but doesn’t necessarily work in the real world”. Jerry humbly suggests that the business would continue to be successful without him, the Akers’ daughters now run the day-to-day operations and Jerry’s wife Mickey has assumed the role of Chief Hugs Officer – the one that makes sure every employee understands how valuable they are.

What’s Jerry’s role? Changing the lives of others.

Whether he’s working with one of his employees, or another franchisee or teaching basic business skills to young people, Jerry is driven to help others succeed.  “What I’ve found about myself, is that I really just love changing people’s lives…” Jerry shared. Helping other people is not only good for the soul, it’s good for business as well, “if you can impact the life of an employee and their family, they’ll never leave you.”

Akers’ philosophy is translating directly to operational performance including a cutting-edge recruiting program that not only helps cosmetology students learn the beauty business but also ensures Jerry’s business enjoys a steady stream of the best talent. In addition, he’s created a unique bonus and incentive program that gives employees control over the speed and trajectory of their careers and how much they earn.  All of which has not only contributed to making Akers’ operations profitable, but has also generated an off-the-charts long-term employee loyalty rate exceeding 70%.

Reflectively, Jerry pauses and sums up the secret to his success as simply, “We’re successful because our salons have gotten happier.” That happiness starts with the first question Jerry asks each new hire, What big dream do you have that working here can help you achieve?

Know any people-first business leaders that are redefining success in your world? Share your stories with me directly at jeff@jeffkaplan.com.

Until next week,

Stay connected!


The Art of the Possible: Creating a World of Success (Part 1)

From boardrooms to wakeboards, the world of work is changing and over the next month I’ll be introducing you to a group of people that are changing how we view work, careers and even our definition of success. In this series, we’ll travel the globe to meet a group of top executives that are behaving in ways we’d never imagined, a couple of upcoming executives that are turning careful planning and hard work into off-the-charts career progression and a few exceptional young people that are starting their careers while they’re still in school and blowing up all the rules along the way…

Dateline – Brussels, Belgium

A sliver of sun peaks over the lush green tree line that boarders Cable Park Lake; signaling the start of a new day in Wakeboard Paradise. First to break the glass-still water, Fabrice Tardioli gears up to strut his stuff at a sport where boundaries are only temporary suggestions. A reflection of the sport he loves, Fabrice defies conventional notions of extreme athletes; this family-first father of two young daughters enjoys a well-established career as a high-tech sales executive. Fabrice offers a simple formula for success that starts at home, “My wife is my rock,” he says. From demanding physical preparation to “the numerous calls she receives from hospitals unannounced, she goes through a lot!”

I met Fabrice a few years ago, after a presentation and he’s stayed in contact. He writes me occasionally to share his perspective on a blog or just check-in. What impressed me most about his story was how he systematically set out to create the life of his dreams and did so without sacrificing any one thing at the expense of another. Fabrice doesn’t have it all… but he does have what’s important to him. He’s living life on his own terms and in the process, he’s giving back more than he’s taking.

As we’ll see over the next several weeks, success comes in many forms but it never comes alone. A solid base, a truly connected partner, engaged children, a career that satisfies your needs or provides you the flexibility to pursue what does; these are all parts of finding the kind of success that can help you become the person you were meant to be.

As always, feel free to share your comments directly by writing me at jeff@jeffkaplan.com.

Until next week…

Stay connected,



Tools for Tomorrow, Today!


Only a few more weeks and you will have successfully navigated another challenging year. Whether you got the project done, won the promotion, got in shape, went back to school or simply made it through the year without taking a swing at your boss… you did it!


Remember your struggle,

Remember the strength you summoned,

Remember how success felt!


Who’s there?

See, you forget already…

New Times

We’ve long since replaced the traditional view of success (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), with an appreciation for tireless tinkering (continuous improvement) and are now landing on a new success reality.

New Reality

  • Stop showing off all that you know, and start showing that you know how to learn what you don’t know.
  • Clarity is dead, long live ambiguous and incomplete…
  • Teamwork doesn’t work the same way anymore.
  • Yesterday isn’t soon enough; can’t you keep up?
  • Do more with less. When was the last time you had everything your needed to get the job done?

New Rhythm, New TEMPO

Success demands that we outlearn, outwit and outperform our competition.

In a world of ever-smarter, ever-faster, ever-more alternatives we must crowd source’ our success. Our latest research suggests tomorrow’s success demands a new and unique blend of networking support, what we’re calling the T.E.M.P.O. Effect — earning success by harnessing other people’s time, other people’s experience, other people’s money and other people’s people!

In the coming months, we’ll examine the implications of crowd sourcing success and how you can put the power of TEMPO Effect to work for you!

Until next time, stay connected!


Failure Becomes You: Why Failure Is So Hot… (Part III)

Success is exhausting!


Because success isn’t enough – we want perfection.

We want the unbeaten, perfect season.

We want it all and want to break every record along the way.

There’s is only room for one at the tippy-top of any endeavor, which is a real math problem in a world with 7.5 billion people.

If the pursuit of perfection weren’t tiring enough, we go to great lengths to avoid opening up about our failures.

We hide our insecurities.

We protect our secrets.

Up and coming transformationalist, Kyle Cease, suggests we acknowledge our shortcomings, “embrace our insecurity and stop trying to please others.” (Don’t know Kyle? Watch this video!)

The impossibly exhausting pursuit of perfection makes acceptance of failure seem like a breath of fresh air!

The founders of the demotivation website Despair.com have turned our growing interest in failure into a commercial venture stating,

Motivation products don’t work butour demotivatior® products don’t work even better… When we started Despair, we had a dream. To crush other people’s dreams!

The TedTalks.com library is fast developing a robust selection of failure talks, includinghiring people with imperfect resumes, admissions of organizational failure, thebeauty of being a misfit among many.

Acceptance of failure can benefit us personally, interpersonally, as parents and as business leaders:

  • Personally. Perfection requires rigid adherence to protocol and process, a little failure reduces formality, relieves the pressure and loosens everybody up,
  • Interpersonally. Admissions of imperfection allow us to act more genuinely, making us accessible and allowing others to connect with us more quickly and more deeply,
  • For Kids. Failure is crucial to healthy development. If they don’t fall, how will they ever learn to get back up again? (so no ribbon for coming in last again for 15-year old Jimmy Bobby) and
  • In Business. Celebrating failure is a powerful culture change tool, giving employees permission to try new things without risking the penalties failure typically brings.

Thanks to all of you that have shared your insights and perspectives. This topic has created several interesting conversations and I welcome hearing your thoughts by writing me directly at jeff@jeffkaplan.com.

Until next week, stay connected!


How to Succeed at Failure: The Failure Formula (Part II)

What do former Metropolitan Museum social media executive, Sree Sreenivasan, and sexting ex-Congressman, Anthony Weiner, have in common?

About the same age, both were incredibly successful residents of New York:

  • Sree, a highly regarded Columbia School of Journalism professor,
  • Anthony, a seven-term winning politician.

Both were the first to occupy the posts that would make them public figures:

  • Weiner occupied a newly created seat on the New York City Council and
  • Sreenivasan was the first to hold title of Chief Digital Officer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

That’s where the comparison ends.

  • Hailed as the executive that brought social media into the executive suite, the Met eliminated Sree’s role as a cost-cutting measure and
  • After making headlines as an up and coming political star, Anthony’s sexual indiscretions forced his resignation from congress.

When faced with failure, the sexter evaded and denied and the social media expert went public, told it all and told it fast. The Congressman didn’t listen, didn’t learn and repeated his mistake. Forever the professor, Sree asked the world for help and advice, offered to take any meeting, hear any ideas and consider all options.

The result?

Weiner has become a cautionary tale, while Sree faces the challenge of choosing amongst a growing list of options.

I am not – in any way—comparing someone’s job loss to the moral bankruptcy of a married sexter sending unwanted pelfies to young women. The issues are worlds apart.

Putting aside the moral and ethical gulf that separates these situations, there is a broader lesson to be learned – Is there a way to succeed at failure?

When faced with clear and present failure, follow the failure formula:

  • Don’t hide
  • Own the obvious
  • Shape the story
  • Listen and learn

Next week, we’ll meet a man that makes failure look good!

As always, I welcome your thoughts and insights directly at jeff@jeffkaplan.com

Stay connected…


Failure is the New Success! (PART 1)

And other de-motivational words of wisdom…

Did you ever have one of those everything-that-could-go-wrong-goes-wrong days?

Ever have the kind of day that leaves you thinking that the purpose of our life is only to serve as a warning to others?

No one is perfect.

Yet, we are inundated, tantalized and teased with perfection, every day, in every conceivable way.

From the wrinkle-free faces that grace People Magazine covers to the fat-free, speedo-clad, dripping-wet-with-success of Michael Phelps and his 28 medals…

We LIKE being better,

We ADORE being best and



When the only wrinkle-free thing on your body is the non-ironed work shirt you are wearing right now and the number of pounds and reasons that separate you from your own speedo pose keep growing—it’s not surprising that FAILURE is gaining in popularity!

There appears to be a growing space in our hearts for a few ill-conceived, poorly-executed acts of stupidity on the part of otherwise near perfect performers!

Why did the uber-decorated Olympian go Mike Tyson on an innocent Brazilian gas station restroom poster?

You’ll have to ask Jack, or

You can ask Jim, or

You can ask any of their friends.

But the answer really doesn’t make any difference, not in the face of North Korean aggression and Donald Trump’s comb over.

What matters is that we seem ready to acknowledge and accept failure—something we’ve previously kept under the rug!

Over the next three weeks we will be examining the acceptance of failure and what it means to our everyday lives. First, we’ll hear the story of how one man turned his pink slip into a social media event. Then, we’ll meet a new kind of thought-leader that embraces failure and questions the way we view success. We’ll end the series with a look at an emerging failure-industry that’s banking on our growing love affair with failure.

This topic is sure to stir up some of your own thoughts and insights. Please don’t hesitate to share your thinking with me directly at Jeff@Jeffkaplan.com

Stay connected!


It’s time for the B.P.G.C.K.Y.N.Y.R.

Best Practice Guide to Creating & Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year!

It’s January and the gym parking lot is filled to capacity as people show their commitment to keeping this year’s resolutions. If you are having trouble finding a parking space, don’t worry… the lot will be empty come February.

Don’t be part of the estimated 92% of people that fail to fulfill their New Year’s resolutions.

To help ensure that ’16 unfolds according to plan, I’ve complied our guide to help you create and keep your resolutions (unlike last year)!

As always, feel free to contact me directly at jeff@jeffkaplan.com if you’d like to discuss your resolutions or just have a question.

Wishing you a healthy and happy 2016!




92% FAIL – But Not YOU: Your Formula for 2016 Success

Forbes magazine reported that only 8% of New Year’s resolutions are ever achieved.

With the big ball ready to drop in just a few short weeks, it’s time for each of us to be thinking about what we hope to achieve in 2016. Here’s my plan to ensure you are not part of the 92% that fail.

Over This Coming Week:

  1. Think about what you are committed to doing or not doing in 2016.
  2. Write down your goals – detailed out specifically and in a single sentence for each.
  3. Limit your goals to 3-5. Fewer is better – you can always add new goals after you’ve cleared your initial list).

Next Week:

I’ll share a formula to help you dramatically improve your chances of sticking with your goal and achieving them when everyone else has forgotten what they set out to do!

Leading Up to the New Year:

In the following weeks we’ll put our plan into action so that when January 1st comes around you’ll be ready to hit the ground running.

Join me by sharing your plans directly (jeff@jeffkaplan.com) and I will respond to every note personally.

Special Note of Thanks:

As we in the USA enjoy a long Thanksgiving weekend, I’d like to take this opportunity to share my thanks to each of you. Together we’ve discussed some of the most important issues facing organizations and the people that run them. We’ve looked at careers, personal development and the new meaning of leadership.

All along the way, I’ve received invaluable feedback from you, and your comments and contributions are an important part of developing the New Leadership Challenge.

Thank you and I look forward to continuing the conversation in 2016 and beyond.

The New Leadership Challenge (Part 1)

A Sneak Peak at Leadership Research Findings

After interviews and conversations with 100’s of top executives from 26 countries around the globe, it has become clear that business as we know it is on the way out. In its place is a new type of enterprise that looks less like an assembly line and more like a community; a place where care, fun and yes, even love, have a place.

While this new world order of business promises levels of professional freedom and opportunity our parents never imagined, it also redefines the concept of a career and demands new skills for success. Achieving success in the future is what the New Leadership Challenge is all about.

Our research has identified the 11 essentials for becoming an effective leader in this new environment.

The first 4 steps deal with becoming an introspective leader – getting clear about who you are, what you care about and what you want:

  1. Personal Inventory: Great leadership comes with reflective honesty and self-appraisal, taking the time to specifically define our strengths and weaknesses AND the courage to validate your findings with others is the first step.
  2. Values: It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with what you have that matters and VALUES drive ACTIONS. List the 5 things you value most (in order of importance) and use that list to guide your actions.
  3. Unique Ability: We are many things, but each of us possesses unique talents, driven by our passions and what we value. Chicago consultant Dan Sullivan suggests that finding your unique talent is a key to unlocking your leadership potential.
  4. What Success Means to You: Success is NOT a destination. Success is an aggregation of effort, time and lots of lesser successes. Take a moment to define what success means to you and make an effort to become successful each day. Then every night ask yourself, was I successful today?

Next week we’ll provide the rest of the list (several of which will likely surprise you) and offer concrete ways to begin taking action to rapidly accelerate your vision of success.

AND… keep those cards and letters coming! Don’t hesitate to share your perspectives by writing me at Jeff@jeffkaplan.com.