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Hero: Jerry Ragovoy

Songwriter Jerry Ragovoy passed away on Wednesday, July 13 at age 80. Ragovoy leaves behind the legacy of hit songs performed by the Rolling Stones (“Time Is On My Side”), Janis Joplin (“Piece of My Heart”), Jimi Hendrix (“Stop”) and numerous others. A memorial piece in The New York Times shows Ragovoy’s career as a songwriter was just as intriguing as the hit songs he’s written.

Ragovoy began his career as a music buyer for a department store in Philadelphia. Though he started his own record company, Ragovoy had is sights set on being a songwriter for Broadway.

In New York, in 1962, he found his career taking a different turn. He started writing a number of songs for groups like The Majors and Garnet Mimmis and the Enchanters. His song “Time On My Side” was adapted and made into a hit by the Rolling Stones. By 1966, Ragovoy was the head of artists and repertory at Warner Bros Records and in 1969 he founded a new record company, The Hit Factory.

Jerry Ragovoy sought to work on Broadway, but ended up getting famous for writing hit songs for classic artists, earning praise from his contemporaries for his mastery of the R&B idiom. Because he was willing to put his theatrical plans on hold, he ended up taking his life in directions few get to tread.

What executive coaching lessons can we glean from this man and his remarkable career trajectory?

  • Your career path may allow you to expand, shift your focus, and even change your direction entirely. Opportunities in slightly different fields may be offered to you. If you’re interested, you may find yourself excelling in something new and unexpected.
  • Ragovoy “shelved” his plans for Broadway to write for musicians. You may have a specific dream or goal in mind – don’t let it close you off to new experiences that may become new realities. Be prepared to adapt.

JS

Understanding Change in Agriculture and Life

To avoid a global food shortage, changes may be coming to agriculture and food production. According to an article in the New York Times‘s environment section, “A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself,” experts in food cultivation and farming warn of dwindling crops due to climate change.

The rise in temperature is hurting agriculture and causing a rise in food prices. Dwindling food stocks also threaten less fortunate countries with starvation. That is, unless the food business and the food itself change with the times.

Farmers and scientists are creating new innovations in developing crops that can handle the rising temperatures and the sudden changes in weather. (For example, the article examines one Indian farmer’s surprise success with a new variety of rice.) But they stress that our habits and our assumptions about how we eat must adapt to avoid high prices and low yields.

Sudden changes can be daunting, but keep in mind some of these coaching techniques:

  • Keep yourself in the loop regarding technology, the environment and the food we will be eating. Read newspapers and news websites to keep yourself current with what’s happening. Keeping current with today can help you prepare for tomorrow.
  • Plan ahead. If the price of food is higher, alter your budget and your shopping habits to meet those changes.
  • Don’t do anything drastic. Recall that in 1999, some were convinced that computers would go haywire on New Year’s Day 2000, sewing mass chaos. In the end, nothing happened to those who spent way too much buying needless supplies.
  • Understand that everything is subject to change. If you feel anxious about something you don’t understand, then research it for yourself. In the online age, there are countless resources dedicated to everything from basic biology to agriculture.
  • Don’t believe everything you read. Some resources are more objective and reliable than others.

Should I Stay or Should I Sell?

For many entrepreneurs, it’s hard when deciding to sell part or all of their company. The New York Times piece, “Why It’s So Difficult for Entrepreneurs to Head for the Exit,” had a Q&A with, Paul Spiegelman about his reluctance to sell a company he built from the ground up. His story serves as a mirror for those in the same position. For Spiegelman and for fellow entrepreneurs, selling a company often goes beyond a paycheck.

Spiegelman considered handing over his company to investors for the sake of growth and fresh capital. Though he saw the advantage of an outside investor, the possible damage to the brand of his company was too big a risk. For those in the same position, it means looking at yourself as much as you look at your business.

There are some coaching tips to help those who are in the process of making one of the hardest decisions as an entrepreneur:

  • Ask yourself what you want as an entrepreneur. Do you think it’s time for you to move on? Do you have any interests beyond your company you’d like to seriously pursue? Is there more you want to do with your company?
  • Weigh the risk vs. reward of selling part or total control of your company. For instance, it could be useful to have outside investors with useful capital and new ideas. But it also might mean less or no say on company strategy.
  • Consider the doubts about selling. Would you regret it? What would you not want to have happen to your company if you were to sell? Would you feel better leaving it in the hands of a relative? Do you still want to work part-time?

Speigelman made his decision based on what he wanted for his company. In a decision like this, find out your priorities and be confident in your final decision, even if your answer is “no.” Sometimes capital is not a “good enough” reason to sell.

The Plastic Brain and Resolutions

2011’s New Year’s Day Op-Ep piece entitled “This Year, Change Your Mind” by Oliver Sacks concerns the ability of the brain to literally grow to handle new tasks throughout the life span. Dr. Sacks is the author of the book that inspired the Robin Williams film Awakenings. So a new year’s resolution regarding a new skill, job, hobby or adventure can actually stimulate the mind to grow and keep your mind agile and effective. Dr. Sacks uses some neurological patients as examples of the brains of adults reconfiguring themselves to demonstrate that learning a difficult new skill is not something that only children can do: mature brains can also be reshaped by new skills and talents. But ample evidence now exists that normal people can influence brain development throughout the many phases of life and work.

For years now I teach a coaching exercise regarding ONE BIG RESOLUTION. It’s hard enough to be successful at one important goal. So pick one thing you really want and make it happen. Start a new career; wake up energized in the morning; lose that ever-staying weight; do something completely out of the box! Do something new that you haven’t done before. Choose a big change in your life.

Here are some examples:

  1. Take dance lessons or learn a musical instrument. Dr. Sacks cites music as an important part of affecting the brain’s health, so try something rhythmic. Take up the drums!
  2. Start doing yoga. It’s not just trendy, it’s also fun and healthy; plus its mental components will help keep your mind limber.
  3. Start a business. There’s nothing more mentally stimulating than running your own business, even if it’s small at first. I have posted a number of blogs with resources for new business owners.
  4. Write a book. This will expand your mind in new and huge dimensions. A large project like writing a book will help keep your mind focused, organized, and productive.
  5. Volunteer for that organization you love and support. If you have wanted to volunteer, then it is time.

So pick a BIG resolution, and:

  1. Chart out an action plan to accomplish it.
  2. Then be sure to follow-up with your self to check that you maintain it over time.
  3. Consider that many people say that it takes about 3 weeks to form a new habit.

Remember, goals are set in definite strokes and missed in vague shades. Come up with your aspirations concretely and don’t let small slips poke holes in your dreams.

What are your big resolutions, and how will you accomplish them?

JS

More New Resources for Entrepreneurs

Last Tuesday, the New York Times ran an article about a kitchen for rent in New York City called “A Kitchen-for-Rent Is a Lifeline for the Laid-Off.” The article explores the benefits offered by the very interesting new business: underfunded chefs and aspiring restauranteurs without access to a kitchen of their own can pay reasonable prices to use top-of-the-line facilities by the hour to either practice their skills or cook up products to sell. The kitchen facilities include just about every basic appliance needed in a modern kitchen, and is kept very clean and in good repair.

This article has three areas of interest for me: for one, it’s a great way to save money and gain experience when starting out specifically in the restaurant industry. Secondly, it’s a great example of the expanded resources available to entrepreneurs afforded by the internet and new levels of creativity. Third, it’s an excellent example of a very unique idea for a business that creatively fulfills a market need while providing an excellent service.

As an entrepreneur myself, I can attest to the merits of services similar to this one. Last week I published a blog post about young entrepreneurs creating their own jobs just out of college, making do with low bank rolls by utilizing internet resources to save money. This is another example of a resource, and proof that it’s not only young entrepreneurs that are taking advantage of the new business world’s opportunities.

Here are a few options to consider while ruminating on entrepreneurial endeavors:

  1. Are there hourly resources for me to utilize like the kitchen-for-rent? Think about a potentially expensive necessity required by your business idea and find out if there’s a cheap way to outsource the investment by renting it or only using it hourly.
  2. Consider how long you’ll have to take advantage of these resources. Will it just be temporary while you build the capital to pay for your own? Or will it by the permanent business model? I, for example, rented an hourly distinguished mailing address and meeting space in Chicago when just starting out with Full Life before moving to our current office in Lincoln Park. You should consider how long this arrangement will last early on in the process.
  3. Calculate which arrangement will be more pragmatic. If you’re planning on keeping the enterprise up for such a long time that it would save you money to, for example, put together your own kitchen, then consider that option.
  4. Don’t be afraid to adapt your plans as events transpire. If business takes off more than expected, consider flexible rental agreements so you can be flexible in how you expand over time.

These types of creative resources have made starting a business easier than ever before, and those with business ideas should re-examine choices with these possibilities in mind.

What are your thoughts?

JS

Entepreneurial Solution to Job Shortages

If you’re like millions of new college graduates, you’re having a very hard time finding a job now that you’re out of school. Unemployment is high, and competition for the few open entry-level positions is fierce. Is there a better way?

This Sunday’s New York Times article “No Jobs? Young Graduates Make There Own” explores and often-overlooked option: entrepreneurialism. More and more college graduates are starting their own entrepreneurial projects and taking advantage of specific market niches. This is made possible by the internet, which has made starting a business cheaper than ever before.

Actually, I think this is a great idea for all people having trouble finding a more conventional job. As an entrepreneur myself, I can speak to how rewarding the undertaking is if it’s managed right. Here are some of my tips to potential entrepreneurs just getting their start:

  1. Plan on something simple with high demand for your products or services in the marketplace.
  2. If you don’t have an idea already, start brainstorming with what you know.
  3. Use a shoestring budget to make the most of your limited resources. Save money wherever you can.
  4. Take advantage of all shared or open resources afforded to you, including the Young Entrepreneurial Council started by the entrepreneur at the center of the NYT article.
  5. Do as much of the work needed by your company by yourself. Use open-source software and anything free to save money. The article mentions entrepreneurs teaching themselves HTML and using free online resources so that they could design their websites themselves without hiring a web designer.
  6. Set up a professional “front’ office by using a hourly office service. This is especially useful for startups, especially since they have hourly rates for conference rooms and phone answering services. Most major cities have services like this, including New York City and Chicago.

Though entrepreneurialism is always a risky enterprise, now is the time to take a shot if you’re young and serious about your idea. It’s a difficult way of life, but the best if you learn to love it.

What are your thoughts?

JS

Stand Out in a Job Interview

A recent article in the New York Times called “I Asserted Myself and Got the Job” by Marat Gasiev and Patricia R. Olsen demonstrates one of the most important truths about job hunting: you need to stand out from your peers, and the best way to do this is by bringing specific insights and innovations to the interview. Ask yourself: if you were filling positions at a company, who would you be more impressed by: a candidate that answers questions simply and generally, or someone that can demonstrate experience and forethought about your industry?

HR representatives are always on the lookout for people that can bring new innovations to their field. That’s the major draw of hiring outsiders. Before you even apply to a specific job, research the company’s background and brainstorm what new ideas you can bring. As Gasiev reports doing, tailor your résumé and cover letter to each application, rather than relying on a boilerplate to suffice. The more specific, the better.

I have found that applicants who report unique ways of handling a specific job are much more interesting than someone who speaks in vague generalities. Once you have the opportunity to separate yourself from other applicants, demonstrate your familiarity and research by bringing up the innovations you would make. Be careful: you don’t want to sound arrogant, but the more specific and realistic your suggestions, the more you will stand out.

Key approaches to the job search:
1. Research the company behind every job posting before applying.
2. Customize your résumé and cover letter to fit every application you send out.
3. Brainstorm a short list of innovations relevant to your area of expertise that you could suggest the company institute at interviews.
4. At your interview, make a few key suggestions based on your research without seeming smug or arrogant.
5. As you work your way up the interview chain, demonstrate your foreknowledge early so that your interviewees recognize your familiarity with the industry.

Don’t strive for the middle of the pack. Sometimes hundreds of job-seekers apply for one opening; you need to distinguish yourself. The best way to do this is by demonstrating your competency, humility, and creativity.

Do you have any other suggestions? Please send your thoughts.

JS

Simplify and De-clutter Your Life

An exchange variously attributed to an interviewer and either John D. Rockefeller or J. Paul Getty—both astronomically wealthy oil tycoons—goes like this: A reporter asks the interviewee how much money is enough, and the response comes: “Just one dollar more.” Indeed, mankind has grown more and more materialistic and possession-motivated in the last century. A new movement resisting this notion is gathering steam, however, claiming that people might be happier once they actively limit their possessions and focus on relationships with those close to them.

An article in the New York Times called “But Will It Make You Happy?” contains an overview of the movement. Most commonly, websites that support the minimalist philosophy gauge the metrics of how simplified your life is by counting your possessions. The blog Stuck in Stuff has a number of articles about limiting what you own to 100 items, and it’s this type of site that inspires the people discussed in the NYT article. 100 items is an extreme, but we all have something to incorporate regarding simplification.

The effect of cutting off superfluous attachments is to drastically simplify your life and eventually allow you to focus on being happy. It works like this: as you limit your possessions, you need less space and less transportation to go about your everyday life. This means you spend less money on smaller apartments and transportation, which means you can work to earn money to support yourself, not your possessions.

An unhappy worker is unproductive, no matter the industry. Cutting ties to possessions and trimming fat can be a very liberating action, and can contribute to happiness. If you feel like you’re working for those around you and to support your habits, not your choices, maybe simplifying your lifestyle is a good idea.

What are your thoughts?

JS

Habits: Challenging How We Think About Study Habits

A terrific article describes groundbreaking effective study strategies in “Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits,” informing us about new cognitive research that challenges conventional ideas about the best ways to learn and study. I have never identified with boring and repetitive study habits, and instead have found that mixing up and varying one’s approach is the way to go when it comes to effective studying or work output. I was intrigued to find that this research confirms my own preferences and the methods I teach to Full Life clients.

There are two main ideas that the article takes issue with: first was the idea that students should have a set place where they always study. Actually, as I’ve found and as the article reports, it’s better to learn and work from a variety of different locations. The article explains that we make numerous subtle associations between the subject we’re studying and our surroundings while we study it; and by changing our location, we force the brain to make multiple associations to increase retention. I noticed this practice helped me greatly when I was writing my book, Fire Your Therapist, which I wrote in many different places: one day I would work from home, one day from the office, another day from Starbucks, then in Florida. This kind of alternating also helps you from getting fatigued: by varying your surroundings, changing the background “noise” and keeping the routine from getting boring.

The second convention that the article challenges is the idea that the best way to learn large amounts of new material is immersion in each separate subject. I’ve found that it helps more to turn studying into something of an exercise regiment—just as you vary speed, weight, and power training in a workout, you might consider sampling different kinds of subject matter in each study session to build mental connections between the different subjects, thereby replicating a multitasking testing experience while you study. Immersion may still have a place in a study regiment, but it’s good to see it supplemented with more innovative and effective study methods.

So new study approaches include:
1. Vary study locations
2. Vary background noise/music
3. Vary light, temperature, smells, tastes
4. Study by sampling and limit immersion

It’s always difficult to disregard conventional thinking, even in the face of empirical research. This has always been evident, and we can see it in the article: the research that led to claims that alternating a study space is helpful comes from 1978, yet students are still widely told to set aside a dedicated study space and stick to it. In fact, there are more conventional beliefs about learning that don’t hold up to scrutiny. Study habits are widely stuck in antiquated ruts, and need to be supplemented with modern innovations.

What are your thoughts?

JS

Possibility: 40 Years of Talk or Getting Results

Daphne Merkin’s August 8, 2010 article My Life in Therapy demonstrates how a long-term patient can become disillusioned with therapy, in part due to the discipline’s top-down and judgmental approach. Unfortunately, therapy is often more concerned with the therapist’s interests, not with your desired outcomes. Whether or not we want to admit it, the history of therapy has involved judgment, where the therapist interprets your ambitions and issues as problems or mental disorders. Also, for this reason, many minorities avoided therapy since the word spread that people were often more hurt than helped. What is needed now is a time-efficient and respectful multi-cultural approach for all clients to both manage issues and achieve goals, while implementing their own ideas of the life you want.

Like a lot of other people, Merkin’s article speaks of growing disillusionment with therapy, in part due to how the discipline is often therapist-centric, as opposed to chiefly concerned with your well-being.

Coaching is actually an “architectural” and design-oriented process with problem solving and goal-setting technologies for clients to utilize. Therapists have historically been called shrinks, and the new generation of coaches (ideally with clinical training as their foundation) are better described as “expanders”. Coaching helps you construct your career and life in order to achieve greater satisfaction and even “optimal performance”. It’s an exciting time, as coaching can combine the effective aspects of therapy with pursuit of your vision and goals. People are growing frustrated with the frequently narrow and “pathologizing” therapy process. Clients yearn for useful tools to survive in this increasingly competitive world. As the paradigm of therapy wanes, coaching provides an exciting client-centric alternative.


JS

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