Here we go again…

“It doesn’t get easier. You get stronger” – Unknown

This past Monday, August 30, the US reported 280,000 confirmed new COVID cases, falling just short from the 300,000 peak we saw in January of this year. This, following a spring and early summer that suggested we might be seeing the pandemic in our rear-view mirror. Unfortunately, the last two months have seen a dramatic reversal of that downward trend, and it seems we are right back where we started, deep in the middle of yet another COVID outbreak.

Here we go again.

The challenge we now face is a COVID mutation that is much more contagious. The random nature of evolution has resulted in a new pandemic, but one with a much stronger culprit. It has found a way to linger, to infect, and to make our lives difficult once again.

It doesn’t get easier.

But unlike before, we’ve learned from the past. The challenges we faced with the original virus taught us how to compensate, how to overcome. We developed vaccines that can defend against the virus, or at the very least, minimize the impact of infection. We’ve gained patience and understanding in the use of masks in large gatherings. Our infrastructure has evolved to test more quickly and treat more effectively.

Here’s the thing. My message today isn’t a lesson on COVID. It’s a metaphor for life. That constant cycle of facing challenges and learning to overcome them. Only to find that similar challenges will reappear, only this time even more difficult.

So much in life – and in business – follows this very same cycle. I’ve seen so many situations where we’ve successfully grown the company, only to hit an economic downturn that forces you to retrench, restructure, and rebuild. I’ve seen branches lose half their business and account managers lose almost their entire book, only to have to build back to where they were before.

It’s a painful process. But it makes you stronger. You learn from those experiences. As a business, you recognize that these challenges come back. Economic cycles happen, and they are unavoidable. But you also learn how to compensate. How to build in safeguards to weather them more effectively. Leaders learn this – painfully – but they learn it.

Same goes for us as individuals. In sales and recruiting, you work so hard to build your business only to have a client change direction, leaving you empty handed. Or you chase that huge deal, putting countless hours into the pursuit, only to lose it to a competitor.

Or maybe you are in a different role, working on several critical projects necessary to support the business. And then it happens. Something goes sideways. A system crashes. You lose all your hard work. And this project was a big one. It will take weeks, maybe months, to get back to where you were.

But you learn to compensate. The next time it happens you’ll be prepared. You won’t put all your eggs in one basket, you’ll have a more diverse client base to weather these challenges. You’ll learn how your competitor beat you, and you’ll approach the next pursuit differently. You’ll put in safeguards for that project, so lost files or system failures won’t set you back.

Life is just like that, isn’t it? The hardest of steel is cast in the hottest of fires. And the sharpest of knives come from repeated endurance of the roughest of stones.

“It doesn’t get easier. You get stronger”

Achieving Success

“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out” – Robert Collier

I heard a story the other day about a woman in the UK who won a $33 million lottery jackpot and didn’t realize she had won for several weeks. That she didn’t know she won wasn’t what struck me as odd. Rather, it was what she told the reporter when interviewed – “I don’t typically play the lottery, and I probably won’t ever play it again”.

Well, no kidding!!! The odds of winning a lottery are 1 in 300 million. And the odds of winning a second lottery jackpot are astronomical – 1 in 10 billion. The very fact that she won in the first place is extraordinary. And for the rest of us, we could play the lottery every day from now until we die and statistically never have a legitimate chance of winning.

Success in life rarely follows the lottery formula. Instead, it follows a much more predictable and attainable formula. One built on practice, persistence, and repetition. And thank God for that!

One of my favorite authors is a gentlemen named Malcolm Gladwell. No doubt many of you have read his works. If you haven’t, it’s a must. He has one of the most compelling ways of telling a story and driving home a message – mixing theory with fact, often with an interesting twist.

Among his most popular works is a book called “Outliers”. This book chronicles the story of several overachievers – asking the question “what makes them successful”. And while traditional success factors like grit and determination play a huge part, he highlights another important but lesser promoted factor – the impact of repetition.

In fact, he coined a new phrase that many of you will recognize – the 10,000-hour Rule. According to this concept, “Outliers” also share a dedication to practice, persistence, and repetition, suggesting that the math supports a minimum of 10,000 hours needed to truly “master” any pursuit.

Think about that for a minute. 10,000 hours. If you worked 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, specifically focused mastering a new pursuit, it would take you 5 years. And that’s doing it 8 hours a day.

Apply this to your own work and personal life, and you’ll get my point. Success doesn’t come overnight. It comes through hard work, practice, persistence, and repetition. It comes from trying over and over again until it becomes routine. And once it becomes routine, it requires continuance. And it doesn’t end when you reach that 10,000 hour mark, because the game changes and requires new techniques, new approaches, new solutions.

Just under 5 years ago I joined Genuent. Working with my leadership team, we started a journey to rebuild Genuent into a recognized market leader, providing qualified, experienced technologists for our clients. Today, our business stands apart, with above market growth and a growing reputation of the value of our offering. That same story applies at an individual level for many of our team members.

So many of you are on that same journey. Stay the course. Success may not come overnight, but it will come, so long as you keep the focus and rhythm, day after day.

Winter is Dead

“She turned to the sunlight and shook her yellow head, and whispered to her neighbor: ‘Winter is dead’.” – A.A. Milne from When we were very young.

Spring is in the air – both literally and figuratively. April showers have no doubt brought May flowers, and the whole world is exploding in the cyclical rebirth of nature’s beauty following its dormant retreat in winter. I love this time of year because it provides the release from “cabin fever” that always results from months stuck inside escaping the cold, dead grasp of winter. But it also reminds us of the cycle of life, and that even in the darkest hours, there is a promise of light and life on the other side of tomorrow. Life has built its entire existence around this seasonal nature of our existence on this beautiful planet we call Earth.

These last few years have reminded us of the seasonal nature of so many other elements of our lives. Not in a literal sense, as annual seasons tend to bring. But in a figurative sense. That there is a cyclical rhythm to our own existence. It reminds us that we don’t live in a world where “spring” is always in the air. Instead, we go through periods when darkness surrounds us. When the world is cold, damp, and harsh, and the prospects for the future look grim. But alas, spring always follows the winter.

2020 seems like that dark, harsh winter we’ve all been hoping would never come. The pandemic brought literal and figurative death to so many of us. For many, it has left lasting heartache for friends and loved ones lost along the way. For most, it left us forever changed in some way, whether it be socially, psychologically, and/or economically. I’ve promised myself at least a dozen times to stop talking about the hardships we all faced throughout 2020. But by not recognizing those hardships, we disrespect the struggle we endured to get through them. And, we lose the relative perspective to recognize when things get better.

Today seems like a million years from this time in 2020. Literally, one year ago today we were in a nationwide “quarantine”, businesses were closing left and right, and COVID cases were increasing almost exponentially. I can only hope that history properly writes the story to convey the physical and emotional toll the past year has exacted on us all.

And as if by some divine intervention, we find ourselves in a very different world today. No, we are not past these struggles, but we are certainly seeing the signs of prosperity that often follow a dark winter. Businesses are re-opening. Mask mandates are abating. Job recovery is on a feverish pace, and there are encouraging signs everywhere. More importantly, we are able to “leave our houses” and rejoin family and friends to reinforce those emotional connections that only physical proximity can provide.

So today’s message is not a lesson in leadership. No, it’s a lesson of life. Of cycles. And of the nature our existence. Its enduring the hardships that allow us to enjoy life’s return.

And knowing that for now, today, winter is dead.

Embracing Uncertainty

“Trust the wait. Embrace the uncertainty. Enjoy the beauty of becoming. When nothing is certain, everything is possible.” – Mandy Hale

As many of you know, I write these leadership blogs as a way of sharing wisdom on the lessons I’ve learned over the years. But I do so with a twist – each message is carefully scripted and targeted to a person, group, team, or population I feel needs to hear the message. And there are times these messages are written for one specific person. I never tell anyone who that is – rather I hope the message resonates on its own for that individual. In doing so, inevitably the message speaks to others dealing with the same issue.

But today I am going to break confidence and tell you who this message is for. Today’s message is for someone special. Someone I don’t often given enough time and attention to. Someone who is working feverishly to control their own situation in the midst of uncontrollable change. Someone who is impatient and wants things solved today. Someone who needs things in the right place all the time. Someone who is so focused on fixing things right here and now that they fail to stop and see the beauty that uncertainty can often bring.

That someone is me. And I’ll bet I’m not alone.

Trust the wait. For those of us who are impatient, this statement makes no logical sense. Time kills all things, isn’t that how it goes? Actions speak louder than words? There is no time like the present? And yet, there are times when patience is not only necessary, but often brings a better solution. That doesn’t need to imply inaction, but rather more patient and calculated action.

Put that’s not easy for someone like me to do. I solve things. I fix problems. I take action – now. There’s an old saying my team members would use with me when they would come to me with an issue. They would say “I want to bring an issue to your attention, but you have to promise not to do anything right now…”. Why, because otherwise, I would have the phone in my hand dialing while they were still explaining the situation. In my efforts to be a “fixer”, I never let them get to their solution. I never stopped long enough to determine if it was even an issue. I never thought to see if time might be the solution.

Kip – trust the wait, time might just be the answer.

Embrace the uncertainty. At no time in my life have I seen so much uncertainty in things that surround me. Between COVID, lock downs, economic disruption, social unrest, and a charged political environment, we live in the most uncertain of times. But what has come from those uncertainties? New ways of working. New business opportunities. A recognition of what’s important in our lives. An awakening of the importance of racial and gender inequities. The uncertainty pushed us all out of our comfort zones, and in doing so, revealed new ideas, practices, and beliefs we never knew possible.

This is a lesson my family, friends, and even my own leadership team is teaching me. It’s OK not to always have an answer. It’s OK not to know how it will turn out. Not everything has to fall in place the way you think it does. It may just be the uncertainty that gives those around you the chance to see what others can bring to the table.

Kip – embrace the uncertainty and let the results surprise you!

Enjoy the beauty of becoming. It’s the journey, not the destination. It’s the experiences – both good and bad – that shape who we are. Those experiences make us unique, make us different. They make us who we are.

I have a bad habit of trying to solve problems for others rather than letting them solve for themselves. For example, with my own daughter I’ve spent her lifetime telling her what to do. Mapping out her hobbies, her studies, her friendships, her career, and her beliefs. Even to this day we argue over this. Why? With the best of intentions, my efforts were preventing HER from becoming her (or who she was meant to be). At times, I realized in hindsight that the ability to develop her own thoughts and beliefs without too much input from me, was going to be key to her personal and professional development.

Kip – enjoy the beauty of becoming, and watching others become!

None of these are lessons I’m good at taking. I’ve spent my life planning specifically what and who I would be. Where I would go to college. What I would study. What I would do in my career. I’ve always taken the more certain path. The one I could control. I’ve minimized risk at almost every turn, opting for what’s safe and clear. And to be fair, it’s worked very well for me.

However, there were key moments in my life when I didn’t take the safe and certain path and it often worked out even better for me. Raising my hand to work on projects or run businesses where I lacked the experience I believe the job required forced me out of my comfort zone to both learn from others AND take risks I wouldn’t have otherwise taken. Trusting others to step forward on a different path than my own approach often results in better outcomes. Embracing the process of becoming – both for myself and those around me – results in richer, more fulfilling experiences.

Sometimes it’s best to trust the wait, embrace the uncertainty, and enjoy the beauty of becoming. Because when nothing is certain, everything is possible.

Overcoming Adversity

“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but by all means, keep moving.”

“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

We can and will overcome adversity. In fact, it is that very adversity that can provide us with strength and power we need to reach our goals, to achieve new heights, and to live a more meaningful life. Simply put, this is the message I want to convey today.

This past year has been a true testament to this point. A worldwide pandemic, quarantines, economic shut downs, disrupted holidays – any one of these is enough adversity for any of us to weather. Collectively, they reflect one of the most challenging years of a lifetime for many of us.

For me, this adversity has hit far too close to home lately. I’ve seen far too many family and friends hit with the repercussions of this virus – dealing with sickness, lost employment and business challenges. In fact, I myself spent the week of Christmas alone in the hospital dealing with challenging health complications.

Add to that the social and political challenges surrounding the election. Never before have I seen such division in our country. Friendships lost; families torn apart. Regardless of your political or social positions, this divisiveness will become far more difficult than the pandemic if not addressed quickly.

As if the macro challenges of last year weren’t enough, I’m seeing a number of those close to me dealing with other personal struggles. Strokes, cancer, death. It’s enough to stop you in your tracks and take your breath away. I pray every night for all of those dealing with these difficult and personal situations.

I know we were all anxious to turn the page to 2021 in the hope that we would start to see some improvement to the challenges of last year. Sadly, 2021 is off to a rough start. Although it’s nothing that we as a country and people can’t overcome, it’s another hit to our psyche as the struggles continue.

It is in this context that I offer this message – we can and will overcome this adversity. Life will not only return to its normal course, but it will be better on the other side. Lessons will be learned. But so too will silver linings appear. New opportunities will emerge. New perspectives gained. New practices will be embraced.

Many of us will find an appreciation for the things we once took for granted. Health, family, relationships. Others will reflect on what’s important and what’s not and will make decisions that result in a more prosperous and enjoyable life.

But we can only do so if we turn and address the challenges head on. We must look them straight in the eye and face them directly and with purpose. The consequences of this adversity can be used as strength to overcome them. It will take courage, grace, forgiveness, determination, and frankly, a lot of leaning on those around you – but it can be done.

Remember that hopeful feeling we all had when we turned the page to 2021? Remember the things that you wanted to achieve both personally and professionally as you approached the New Year? In many aspects, the events of last year made us battle tested – and dare I say battle ready – for the challenges that we will continue to face in the near term. However, if I learned anything last year, it was that there are many things in life that are out of our control. The best that I can do, and what I hope for all of you, is to not lose sight of that determination to embark on this year with the promise of brighter days ahead.

I love the metaphors offered in the quotes above by Dr. Martin Luther King. Appropriate to be celebrating his legacy this month by reflecting on the wisdom he left us with. He understood the challenges of facing and overcoming adversity. He knew that it would not happen overnight, that it would be a struggle, and that it would take determination and perseverance to overcome. But he also knew what was on the other side. The promised land.

Let’s all dig deep, press forward, and make this happen. We can and will overcome this adversity – even if it takes crawling.

No One Gets What They Deserve

“Don’t focus on what you think you deserve; Take aim at what you are willing to earn” – David Goggins

Recently a friend of mine suggested I read a book called “Can’t Hurt Me” written by David Goggins. His book is a story of heartache and triumph, chronicling the challenges he had to overcome as a poor African American child with an abusive father and an abused mother, overcoming poverty, racism, a learning disorder, obesity, and a congenital heart condition to become one of the most successful veterans and athletes in the world.

To be fair, when I agreed to read the book, I didn’t expect to gain lessons that I could apply to my own life. Frankly, I thought it was just another entertaining book about the strength, grit, and determination of our military, and in particular the Navy SEALs. I thought I might read another heartbreaking while inspiring story of his time served as a SEAL in defense of our country, much like the book “Lone Survivor”. Boy was I wrong. The book and its lessons were far more impactful than that.

What’s interesting about this book is that he makes no apologies or excuses for his background and the challenges he had to overcome to become the man he is today. Instead, he gives insight into the thought process and mental fortitude he developed to overcome those challenges. Some examples:

• He grew up as an abused child – mentally, and physically. For any one of us, that would have been enough to throw in the towel and blame failures on this setback. Instead, he and his mother dug deep and found a way to escape and start a new life.

• As a high school student with a learning disorder, he realized late in his junior year that in order to graduate and enroll in the military, he not only had to bring up his grades, but had to pass a difficult enrollment exam. He found a way to overcome his learning disorder through sheer will, determination, and hard work.

• As a recruit for the Navy SEALs, he was 100 lbs over the weight limit for his height. In a 3 month period of time, he dropped enough weight to qualify and enroll in BUDS training.

• David had to endure the brutal conditions of Navy SEAL BUDS training not once, but three times because of injuries that forced him out before graduation.

This is just a sample of the stories he tells in the book. And to be fair, he gives you the full detail – as ugly as it is. What makes his story amazing is how he learned to unlock his own potential not through inspiration or motivation, but through sheer determination – a fanatical commitment to suffering whatever is necessary to earn the rewards of those efforts.

I’m fairly certain that the entirety of my readership are not aspiring Navy SEALs. Or even ultra marathoners. Most of you are just like me – hard working, determined individuals trying to make their mark in this world we live in. And if you read this blog, you no doubt have ambitions around being successful in your life – whether that’s your job, your health, your marriage, your family, your friends, or any number of achievements that define who you are and what you want to be.

But how many of us do exactly the opposite of David Goggins? We spend all our emotional energy reliving the mistakes, challenges, and setbacks of the past – allowing it to define who we are today? Placing boundaries, restrictions, or limitations on our ambitions because we just don’t think we can get where we truly want to be.

Worse, how many of us believe that the system is rigged – stacked against us in a no win situation? That our background – ethnic, economic, abusive, etc – are to blame for our failures? How many of us use that as a yardstick for what we achieve?

On the other hand, how many of us feel we are somehow entitled to success – as if it’s a God given right? We deserve that beautiful house, that luxury car, that fat bank account, right? We deserve that promotion at work because we have been here longer than they have. Or because we have more experience? Or a better education?

Well I have news for you. Wake up and smell the coffee. You get what you earn, not what you deserve. There is no replacement for determination, fortitude, grit, persistence, perseverance, hard work, and some good old-fashioned suffering.

Take it from David Goggins – if you want success, go earn it!

Hispanic Heritage Month – An Interview w/ Nina Vaca

“[My family] had faith that if they worked toward their goals, they could achieve them. So, I grew up believing that if I wanted to do something, I needed to work to achieve it… and I would” – Nina Vaca

For this edition of Leading Wright, I’m going to shake it up a bit. As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, I thought it appropriate to recognize and feature a successful Latino leader – providing insight to a leadership approach and perspective different than my own. That’s the beauty of diversity isn’t it? Different backgrounds, different experiences, and different perspectives provide the fundamental building blocks for new ideas and approaches to solving the challenges we all face in leadership.

With that, I asked a fellow business leader, successful entrepreneur, and good friend of mine – Nina Vaca – to join me in writing this message by sharing some of her thoughts and insights on the secrets of her success, the importance of diversity in the business community, and what advice she can offer to those aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs to help them achieve similar success.

Nina is both an accomplished leader and a fierce advocate for the Hispanic community. Born in Quito, Ecuador, she and her family immigrated to California early in her youth before eventually taking permanent residence in Texas. Her academic career includes an undergraduate degree at Texas State University, and a number of executive education programs at several prestigious schools – Harvard Business School, Tuck School of Business, and Kellogg School of Management. She also holds honorary degrees from Northwood University, Mary Mount University, and Berkeley College.

Nina is the founder and Chair/CEO of Pinnacle Group (a direct competitor of my own Genuent). She and her leadership team have led Pinnacle on a tremendous growth curve, including recognition as one of the fastest growing Women Owned Businesses in 2015 and again in 2018. She also serves as one of the few Latinas on the boards of publicly traded companies, & has dedicated much of her time to empowering women and minorities and expanding their opportunities.

Her background not only includes success in business, but also an active role in the promotion of women and Hispanics in business and leadership. In 2014, Vaca was appointed by the White House as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship to help inspire entrepreneurs worldwide. Last year, she was also elected as a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute.

A passionate advocate for higher education, Vaca supports many organizations helping grow the next generation of global leaders, including through programs like Pinnacle Group Academic WorldQuest and Dallas ISD/Dallas Community College District’s P-TECH program. She has also spent two decades raising scholarship funds for minority students through the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Law School Yes We Can, and the Nina Vaca Foundation, among many others.

Vaca was named an EY Entrepreneur of the Year and has been called one of the country’s 100 most intriguing entrepreneurs by Goldman Sachs. She has also been named one of the top 101 Most Influential Latinos in America by Latino Leaders Magazine for over a decade.
Impressed enough yet? Good. Now let’s hear directly from Nina.

Kip:
So Nina, tell us a little about yourself – your background and your journey.

Nina:
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, and my dream was always to grow a business that no one would want to leave while supporting my family.

Pinnacle’s evolution and astronomical growth is the result of fearless approach to overcoming challenges and intense focus on two core values: delivering impeccable service to clients and putting people at the heart of everything Pinnacle does.

Some of the important early lessons are the same lessons that still apply today – you must be able to adapt to changing circumstances – the current pandemic is a perfect example, but another early example was 9/11 which happened after we were in business for less than 5 years, and then again the Great Recession in 2008-2009 – each time we’ve had to reinvent the business based on what customers need now.

Kip:
You have achieved amazing success – entrepreneur, public company board member, philanthropic leader – What has been the secret of your success?

Nina:
When I started my own business, I wish I had known that I was not alone and in fact belonged to something much larger than myself or my company. I had become a part of the American economic engine. I didn’t yet understand everything that I was capable of achieving until I started working on the business, not just in the business.

Being an entrepreneur is extremely hard work. It’s time consuming, risky, frustrating, and, sometimes, downright terrifying. But it’s also the most rewarding work you can do. So, to put yourself through all of the tough things that come along with entrepreneurship, you better have a really solid reason why.

Kip:
As a female Latino entrepreneur, you can appreciate the importance of diversity. Can you give us your thoughts on the importance of diversity for corporate America?

Nina:
As a Latina entrepreneur, I am living proof of the ways that immigrants can make positive contributions to this country. I’ve been blessed many times to be the first Latina at the table, but I don’t want to be the only Latina.

For me, true success is opening doors for others and expanding opportunities for women and minorities in business. I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to invest in people and what motivates me is helping the next generation to reach even greater heights than we ever dreamed.

As a business leader, I have seen firsthand how diversity and inclusion fosters a more creative and innovative workforce. These benefits translate into improved bottom line performance for companies, which has been studied and reported on by McKinsey and others for several years.

Kip:
For aspiring future leaders, what advice would you give them?

Nina:
Surround yourself with people who truly want to be successful. After all, no one accomplishes anything alone, in business or in life. Look for groups, like councils and chambers, who can share experiences and wisdom with you.

Mentorship is another invaluable tool on the journey to success. Find someone to guide and push you to achieve greater.

Understand the realities of your situation and what you’re facing, both in terms of business impacts and the significant personal impacts this is having on your team.

And finally, leaders must respond, not react. This means taking the time necessary to gain perspective and be thoughtful in setting a course before taking action.

Amazing insight from a Latino leader who has not only achieved professional success in business but has a clear and impactful history of giving back to the community and helping others in their own personal path to success. I’m grateful she was willing to share her thoughts here on Leading Wright.

It’s Time to Embrace Change?

“Its not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change”  – Charles Darwin

“Adjusting to the new norm”. Are you as tired of hearing this new phrase as I am? If you are, I have good news for you. There is no new norm. And I certainly wouldn’t spend time adjusting to THIS new norm, because if this year has taught us anything, it’s that the “norm” can and will change in an instant.

Maybe the better term to use is “Adjusting to constant change”. That certainly seems more appropriate for this year, and if my intuition is right, this won’t be limited to 2020. I suspect the only constant we will have for the foreseeable future IS change. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Continue reading