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Monday, December 6, 2010

Connecting The Dots...

He handed me the envelope.  It was sealed, dated, and said simply Steve.  “Save this and open it when we finish our work” he said, with a slight upturned grin.
4 months earlier, Vince and I began collaborating on a strategic planning project.  Several weeks ago, he gave me this envelope.  Knowing him as well as I did, I knew this had something to do with the project.  So into my briefcase went the letter sized envelope, almost forgotten until today. 
Today, we met with the CEO to present our final report and recommendations.  We were very prepared.  Our respective Teams had done their research, compiled data, and aggressively challenged each other on options and final paths.  We were confident of the new direction the Organization needed to go, and now we needed to convince the Charismatic leader.  
As Vince offered a brief introduction of our agenda, I placed the thick deck in front of him.  The CEO placed his hands around the binder, and then slowly let it fall back on the table.  “Guys”, he said, “I want to take a brief diversion.  It may change the course of your recommendation”.  Great, I thought.  We did all of this careful work, and the CEO had been holding out some important information we should have considered.  But we did our homework.   We had open access to everything.  What else could there be?
The CEO’s eyes focused carefully on each of us in this moment of silence that seemed to last 15 minutes, and then spoke strongly and slowly...“I have decided to resign”.

Separate from our work, the CEO had realized the Organization needed to go in a direction he was not prepared or interested to lead.  His self assessment of his skills, his passions, and his own personal goals made it clear to him it was time for a change.
The meeting took an obvious turn, and the CEO was correct.  Throughout the next 45 minutes, he was able to predict almost every recommendation and path our Teams had decided upon.  The plan met his approval, but with his imminent departure, there was now an additional step required to make it succeed.
As we drove away together, I was still a bit shocked.  One of the issues Vince and I struggled with, was a concern about the CEO being able to successfully lead this new venture.  But how did he know?  Vince asked me if I still had the envelope he gave me.  I reached into my crowded briefcase and there it was, still sealed.  I carefully slid my pen under the glued seal and tore it open.  Inside was one piece of yellow legal pad paper, tri-folded.  I opened the page and there were three words printed in Vince’s handwriting.  “He will resign”.
“What?  How?  How did you know?”  I immediately thought the two of them had colluded, speaking secretly behind me.  Vince said, “I just have this ability to connect the dots.  I can’t explain how, or why, but I see things coming together very quickly and over the years, I have been correct most of the time”. 
I reminded myself that Vince was himself a retired President, CEO, and Board Chair of several very successful organizations. “But how did the CEO know” I asked?  
This CEO is a remarkable Leader.  On one hand he knows the organization, and the business very well.  All the research and data we collected and analyzed, he either knew previously or sensed.  While he sees the successes and achievements, he also lives with daily stress, roadblocks, and frustrations.  Think about the number of balls he is juggling at one time.  But most importantly, he has a wonderful ability to focus.  He takes all of these details and visionary trends both big and small, and like puzzle pieces, fits them all into the big picture.  
On the other hand, he knows himself.  He knows his strengths.  But most importantly he understands his weaknesses.  And in the end, he knows when it is time to walk away, and look for the next challenge he will passionately pursue towards success.
It’s like connecting the dots I asked?  “Yes...It’s just like connecting the dots...the correct dots.”
These are two Leaders who can accept and promote the ambiguity of leadership.  They can connect the dots, and put all the pieces together into the puzzle.  But most of all, as a Rare Leader™, they also instill this into their Team.
  1. Who do you follow that can “connect the dots”?
  2. What does it mean to “connect the dots”?
  3. Where can you see “connecting the dots” as a leadership behavior?
  4. When will you begin to “connect the dots”?
  5. How can “connecting the dots” help you Lead?
If you want to learn more about the Rare Leader™ in you, 
or if you are interested in retaining Steve as your Executive Coach, 
Contact Steve Riege via: twitter, or his website.


  1. Connecting the dots is the challenge, in my business I have to be able to read my customer's needs, goals, desires, challenges to bring solutions that is the outside-job, but I also need to do my inside-job, which is my understanding my own company goals, my managers, my downlines, and lastly my own internal goals. I have to be able to connect the dots from all the angles (Myself, Family, Company, Customers, Competition, Society)

  2. Thanks for the comment Juan.

    I certainly agree, the balance in your life is paramount. In addition to self, family, company as the obvious (as well as customer and competition), your addition of "Society" is great insight.

  3. Steve,

    Excellent and intriguing read. I can relate to this individuals decision, albeit not at the CEO level, but believe everyone that is a true leader knows when to leave and look for new challenges. About two years ago as Director of Supply Chain Management I gave a presentation at our company communication meeting entitled "Connecting the Dots" (inspired by an excellent commencement speech by Steve Jobs). It was to remind everyone that sometimes you need to look backwards to see the future, recall how you got to where you are, as a person, a leader and where you want to go within your company or elsewhere.

  4. Good connection. Another lesson I learned relative to connecting the future to the past, "Past behaviors will undoubtably predict future behaviors".

    I like your end thoughts relative to where you want to go. The Vision of your own personal path is an ongoing discovery. Too many times people feel they have "grown up", and lose the drive and creative hunger to grow into their passions.

    There is so much to learn from our own historical path, and to glean dots that can connect into the future. Thanks!