.
I

can count the times when things went south in my business. They are but a handful and all had the same exact two characteristics: I was unwilling to see that things were indeed going south and I felt paralyzed about making a drastic course correction. There is a bit of hubris that comes with the first statement, I must admit. This unwillingness to admit errors or that a direction, venture, partnership, etc. are in their final breath, stems from overconfidence that what should have worked, must work. Feeling paralyzed comes from the desire not to disrupt the status quo—as dysfunctional as that may be. Being so confident and so insecure at the same time is paradoxical and likely not a surprise condition for most entrepreneurs (or solopreneurs) and leaders.

Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South | Lisa Gable | Idea Press Publishing | October 2021.

Naturally, when I read Ambassador Lisa Gable’s new book “Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South”, I found myself nodding in agreement—and not just because every chapter resonated with examples of my own journey as a founder. I have known Lisa Gable for almost the entirety of my entrepreneurial career. As one of my early champions and board members, I had the distinct benefit few entrepreneurs have at my age: a very generous with her time and resources advisor. In fact, for every single occurrence I mentioned earlier, when things had gone horribly wrong, Lisa was there to help me course correct—even as recently as this year. So, I am not overstating when I say her advice on Turnaround is timely and prescient.

I’ve followed Lisa’s career with great interest. For one, I have been interested in her agility; her ability to reinvent herself from business executive to policy insider to civil society leader. Today, we talk about our generation changing multiple careers, not just jobs, but when Lisa was doing it, that wasn’t the popular thing to do. In Washington, where granular expertise in one sector is revered, Lisa broke the mold. She went from advising four U.S. presidents to leading entire industries (some on the verge of major disruption and distress). In a town where you are defined by which political side you’re on, Lisa is a peacebuilder to political factions and interests. I can say this with confidence, I know very few people that can do that in Washington—especially in this polarizing political environment.

As one of our longest-standing advisory board members at Diplomatic Courier, I wanted to give an opportunity to our audience to get to know Lisa like I do and benefit from the advice that has helped me and my organization thrive in over a decade and a half. Whether you are a student, entrepreneur, executive, or a diplomat, there is tangible advice here for you.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What made you decide to write this book? Who is this book for?

I am at a point in life and my career in which I find myself with the flexibility (due to COVID-19 I was not traveling and was living on our farm) and the desire to engage from a place that can make a difference and, in some cases, touches people’s hearts. I know that together we can find solutions to advance society in every way and allow us to learn from the creativity that arises during times of crisis as this book leverages lessons learned and processes developed in my 35+ years of experience orchestrating successful turnarounds in business, philanthropy, and government. These methods are particularly relevant today as we need to connect with everyone’s unique and diverse perspectives that we may arrive at the best possible solutions to the many challenges before us today and down the road.

This book will benefit anyone who needs to up-level a struggling team, respond to new market forces, navigate a crisis, or lead wholesale leadership changes. If you are in any of these situations and have recognized the need to act upon it, this book gives you simple tips and tools to breakthrough and realize the future you envision for your people, your organization, and the customers or community you support.

In this crazy cycle of hyper competition, reinvention, and disruption, how can leaders survive and even thrive in disruption?

A good turnaround specialist is someone who combines process with diplomacy.

• Staying focused on fewer things (I call them Jobs 1, 2, and 3 in the book) and then executing them better, faster, and more cost-efficiently than your competitors.

• Being a good partner. A team made up of smart people who are willing to align around common goals accelerates innovation.

• Admitting when you don’t know something. No one expects you to be an expert in everything. Ask for help, assess the facts, make a decision, and move on quickly.

• Understanding and appreciating the diversity of your customer base. Be willing to have deeper conversations with real people who are impacted by the work you do. Understand them and their needs.

• Checking your ego at the door and remembering that you are a custodian acting on behalf of an institution, the customers, and the constituents you represent.

• Making the tough decisions quickly, consistently, and firmly but with heart by treating the people impacted by those changes with dignity and respect.

When in the midst of disruption or change, what should a leader consider first in course correcting, and why?

When I meet with someone who is struggling with a project or an organization, I ask them to describe their perfect world scenario. What is the end point you want to achieve?

Without understanding where you are going, there’s little chance of getting there. And along the way, your team will get distracted. You risk becoming obsessed with the problems you are trying to solve and tweaking around the edges or believing that a tactical solution can bring about big picture types of results.  

The power of vision and the power of the big idea becomes Job #1 for any leader looking to create sustainable change and seeking to guide an organization, a project, navigate a merger, or change the world.

By clearly defining Job 1, you maximize and leverage the core competency that your project or organization is uniquely qualified in and that drives your position of strength.

In the business world failure is an anathema. How can failure help us achieve greater success?

A successful person is the individual who can dispassionately assess the mistakes they made (not engage in self-flagellation) and evaluate where things went off course. Clearing your mind of self-recrimination, provides clarity. You discover the key to your future success. For example, a scientific discovery may be buried in the work you did before. One doctor with whom I work refers to it as the idea that is half baked sitting on the shelf. You take it down, dust it off, and possibly realize that due to new discoveries or technological innovations you may have the right formula for the next breakthrough. What had been a failure or a period of non-achievement ends up being the answer to your current problem.

In other cases, it may be that you learn that your motivations were tied to what you thought you should do (building the perfect resume) instead of what you are uniquely capable of doing.

During moments of failure, I take out a letter that I received from my dad during my late 20’s: “Remember to look beyond what is currently in your life and try to visualize what is unseen. Count your blessings and it will also help you challenge the crisis you are experiencing...Some of the greatest stumbling blocks I have ever faced have also resulted in being my greatest steppingstones.”  

All successful people have failed at some point in their life. The failure may have been public or it might have happened in a way that was more personal. Lead your life with humility and a focus on continuous improvement as that prepares you for the next big challenge and unanticipated success.

When is a good time to course correct? Does tenacity to make things work against the leader or the entrepreneur?

Hitting the pause button on an idea or a project for which you have made sacrifices-financial, personal, emotional—is one of the hardest actions an entrepreneur or leader can take. Sometimes, God literally slams the door in my face, as I will never give up otherwise; however, deep down, I know another door will eventually open. You may go through a rough transition. You may zig and zag. But keep your eye on the ultimate objective you wanted to accomplish—the good thing you wanted to do. Let go of the “how you planned to accomplish it” as this action releases you to creatively identify a new path forward.  

I want to share one note of caution as it is critical to accept. The path forward for your project or institution may include you or it may not. You may merge your business or non-profit to ensure the needs of the customer are still met. You may step away from your leadership role and let someone else take the organization to the next level of performance using different methods then yours. Neither option should be considered a failure. In fact, either option may lead to your greatest achievement as leaving a deliverable at every step of the way speaks to your impact on the world around you.

What are the ingredients for course correction or a turnaround process?

Getting to the big idea is critical, but it's rarely easy. It requires vision. And as it turns out, vision is very practical; it’s not just consulting speak and PowerPoint. Vision is the critical ingredient in getting to the end state.  

In my book, I take you through four straightforward but rigorous steps to help you must take to pull off a successful turnaround and move your vision into reality:

Visualize the future. Stop thinking of the problem and tweaking what’s already there. Focus on where you want to end—your future perfect scenario.

Break down the past. Analyze what is working today and can bring your new future to life—and what is not, needs to go.

Create a path from present to future. Map out the critical decisions you need to make—and build the right team to move forward with them.

Execute with speed, confidence and heart. Set aggressive goals and partner well so you can speed towards your goal.

When, in your experience, did you struggle most with a turnaround moment? What was your most challenging turnaround moment and why?

I accepted my role as CEO of FARE with the understanding that I would need to restructure the organization. By the end of 2019, the FARE team increased revenue by 62% while keeping expenses relatively flat, achieved reductions in management and overhead by 30% and reduced fundraising expenses by 10%—resulting in a profit increase of 676%. However, to achieve a sustainable financial position we executed a restructure of 49% in the first 80 days and ultimately an 83% restructure.  

In my book, I focus a great deal of attention on the impact of critical business decisions on people. Leaders make hard decisions, which can disrupt people’s lives. It is important to remember that in the majority of cases, a position is eliminated due to market dynamics or a result of a change in the priorities of the organization or project—not due to issues around competence.

Inevitably in a turnaround, you will have to make some tough decisions about who to keep, who to let go, and who you can inspire to rise to the occasion. I can honestly say that a day I spent rightsizing FARE was the most difficult 12 hours of my professional life as dedicated employees—good people—were impacted.  

Having compassion and empathy for people as you’re setting up the new organization is not only the right thing to do from a human perspective, but it pays dividends when the remaining team sees that people have been treated with dignity even as they leave the group.

How you treat people is an asset for a leader in creating the organization's future; it also becomes a big part of your legacy.

What is your parting advice for entrepreneurs and leaders?

As a fellow leader, I leave you with is this: Think big and create a bold vision of the end state. Embrace data and process so you can right the ship and measure forward progress. Build a strong team; they are your path to the future. Invest in and mentor your people, be generous with your time and guidance. Make time to network; opportunities and partnerships come when you least expect them to. Start with how you want to be remembered, follow a plan, and hand over an organization more robust and even more capable of thriving after you leave.

Editor’s Note: Join our Publisher Ana Rold as she interviews Advisory Board Member Lisa Gable on Fishbowl Live on Tuesday, October 5 at 7:00 pm EST on her new book Turnaround and ask your own questions from the author.

About
Ana C. Rold
:
Ana C. Rold is the Founder and Publisher of Diplomatic Courier. She teaches political science courses at Northeastern University and is the Host and Producer of Future Tense podcast. Follow her on Twitter @ACRold.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

a global affairs media network

www.diplomaticourier.com

How to Change Course When Things Are Going South

Illustration via Adobe Stock.

October 2, 2021

In Turnaround – How to Change Course When Things Are Going South Ambassador Lisa Gable, drawing from decades of experience in the private and public sectors, shares her simple but powerful method for breathing new life into the most troubled ventures.

I

can count the times when things went south in my business. They are but a handful and all had the same exact two characteristics: I was unwilling to see that things were indeed going south and I felt paralyzed about making a drastic course correction. There is a bit of hubris that comes with the first statement, I must admit. This unwillingness to admit errors or that a direction, venture, partnership, etc. are in their final breath, stems from overconfidence that what should have worked, must work. Feeling paralyzed comes from the desire not to disrupt the status quo—as dysfunctional as that may be. Being so confident and so insecure at the same time is paradoxical and likely not a surprise condition for most entrepreneurs (or solopreneurs) and leaders.

Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South | Lisa Gable | Idea Press Publishing | October 2021.

Naturally, when I read Ambassador Lisa Gable’s new book “Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South”, I found myself nodding in agreement—and not just because every chapter resonated with examples of my own journey as a founder. I have known Lisa Gable for almost the entirety of my entrepreneurial career. As one of my early champions and board members, I had the distinct benefit few entrepreneurs have at my age: a very generous with her time and resources advisor. In fact, for every single occurrence I mentioned earlier, when things had gone horribly wrong, Lisa was there to help me course correct—even as recently as this year. So, I am not overstating when I say her advice on Turnaround is timely and prescient.

I’ve followed Lisa’s career with great interest. For one, I have been interested in her agility; her ability to reinvent herself from business executive to policy insider to civil society leader. Today, we talk about our generation changing multiple careers, not just jobs, but when Lisa was doing it, that wasn’t the popular thing to do. In Washington, where granular expertise in one sector is revered, Lisa broke the mold. She went from advising four U.S. presidents to leading entire industries (some on the verge of major disruption and distress). In a town where you are defined by which political side you’re on, Lisa is a peacebuilder to political factions and interests. I can say this with confidence, I know very few people that can do that in Washington—especially in this polarizing political environment.

As one of our longest-standing advisory board members at Diplomatic Courier, I wanted to give an opportunity to our audience to get to know Lisa like I do and benefit from the advice that has helped me and my organization thrive in over a decade and a half. Whether you are a student, entrepreneur, executive, or a diplomat, there is tangible advice here for you.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What made you decide to write this book? Who is this book for?

I am at a point in life and my career in which I find myself with the flexibility (due to COVID-19 I was not traveling and was living on our farm) and the desire to engage from a place that can make a difference and, in some cases, touches people’s hearts. I know that together we can find solutions to advance society in every way and allow us to learn from the creativity that arises during times of crisis as this book leverages lessons learned and processes developed in my 35+ years of experience orchestrating successful turnarounds in business, philanthropy, and government. These methods are particularly relevant today as we need to connect with everyone’s unique and diverse perspectives that we may arrive at the best possible solutions to the many challenges before us today and down the road.

This book will benefit anyone who needs to up-level a struggling team, respond to new market forces, navigate a crisis, or lead wholesale leadership changes. If you are in any of these situations and have recognized the need to act upon it, this book gives you simple tips and tools to breakthrough and realize the future you envision for your people, your organization, and the customers or community you support.

In this crazy cycle of hyper competition, reinvention, and disruption, how can leaders survive and even thrive in disruption?

A good turnaround specialist is someone who combines process with diplomacy.

• Staying focused on fewer things (I call them Jobs 1, 2, and 3 in the book) and then executing them better, faster, and more cost-efficiently than your competitors.

• Being a good partner. A team made up of smart people who are willing to align around common goals accelerates innovation.

• Admitting when you don’t know something. No one expects you to be an expert in everything. Ask for help, assess the facts, make a decision, and move on quickly.

• Understanding and appreciating the diversity of your customer base. Be willing to have deeper conversations with real people who are impacted by the work you do. Understand them and their needs.

• Checking your ego at the door and remembering that you are a custodian acting on behalf of an institution, the customers, and the constituents you represent.

• Making the tough decisions quickly, consistently, and firmly but with heart by treating the people impacted by those changes with dignity and respect.

When in the midst of disruption or change, what should a leader consider first in course correcting, and why?

When I meet with someone who is struggling with a project or an organization, I ask them to describe their perfect world scenario. What is the end point you want to achieve?

Without understanding where you are going, there’s little chance of getting there. And along the way, your team will get distracted. You risk becoming obsessed with the problems you are trying to solve and tweaking around the edges or believing that a tactical solution can bring about big picture types of results.  

The power of vision and the power of the big idea becomes Job #1 for any leader looking to create sustainable change and seeking to guide an organization, a project, navigate a merger, or change the world.

By clearly defining Job 1, you maximize and leverage the core competency that your project or organization is uniquely qualified in and that drives your position of strength.

In the business world failure is an anathema. How can failure help us achieve greater success?

A successful person is the individual who can dispassionately assess the mistakes they made (not engage in self-flagellation) and evaluate where things went off course. Clearing your mind of self-recrimination, provides clarity. You discover the key to your future success. For example, a scientific discovery may be buried in the work you did before. One doctor with whom I work refers to it as the idea that is half baked sitting on the shelf. You take it down, dust it off, and possibly realize that due to new discoveries or technological innovations you may have the right formula for the next breakthrough. What had been a failure or a period of non-achievement ends up being the answer to your current problem.

In other cases, it may be that you learn that your motivations were tied to what you thought you should do (building the perfect resume) instead of what you are uniquely capable of doing.

During moments of failure, I take out a letter that I received from my dad during my late 20’s: “Remember to look beyond what is currently in your life and try to visualize what is unseen. Count your blessings and it will also help you challenge the crisis you are experiencing...Some of the greatest stumbling blocks I have ever faced have also resulted in being my greatest steppingstones.”  

All successful people have failed at some point in their life. The failure may have been public or it might have happened in a way that was more personal. Lead your life with humility and a focus on continuous improvement as that prepares you for the next big challenge and unanticipated success.

When is a good time to course correct? Does tenacity to make things work against the leader or the entrepreneur?

Hitting the pause button on an idea or a project for which you have made sacrifices-financial, personal, emotional—is one of the hardest actions an entrepreneur or leader can take. Sometimes, God literally slams the door in my face, as I will never give up otherwise; however, deep down, I know another door will eventually open. You may go through a rough transition. You may zig and zag. But keep your eye on the ultimate objective you wanted to accomplish—the good thing you wanted to do. Let go of the “how you planned to accomplish it” as this action releases you to creatively identify a new path forward.  

I want to share one note of caution as it is critical to accept. The path forward for your project or institution may include you or it may not. You may merge your business or non-profit to ensure the needs of the customer are still met. You may step away from your leadership role and let someone else take the organization to the next level of performance using different methods then yours. Neither option should be considered a failure. In fact, either option may lead to your greatest achievement as leaving a deliverable at every step of the way speaks to your impact on the world around you.

What are the ingredients for course correction or a turnaround process?

Getting to the big idea is critical, but it's rarely easy. It requires vision. And as it turns out, vision is very practical; it’s not just consulting speak and PowerPoint. Vision is the critical ingredient in getting to the end state.  

In my book, I take you through four straightforward but rigorous steps to help you must take to pull off a successful turnaround and move your vision into reality:

Visualize the future. Stop thinking of the problem and tweaking what’s already there. Focus on where you want to end—your future perfect scenario.

Break down the past. Analyze what is working today and can bring your new future to life—and what is not, needs to go.

Create a path from present to future. Map out the critical decisions you need to make—and build the right team to move forward with them.

Execute with speed, confidence and heart. Set aggressive goals and partner well so you can speed towards your goal.

When, in your experience, did you struggle most with a turnaround moment? What was your most challenging turnaround moment and why?

I accepted my role as CEO of FARE with the understanding that I would need to restructure the organization. By the end of 2019, the FARE team increased revenue by 62% while keeping expenses relatively flat, achieved reductions in management and overhead by 30% and reduced fundraising expenses by 10%—resulting in a profit increase of 676%. However, to achieve a sustainable financial position we executed a restructure of 49% in the first 80 days and ultimately an 83% restructure.  

In my book, I focus a great deal of attention on the impact of critical business decisions on people. Leaders make hard decisions, which can disrupt people’s lives. It is important to remember that in the majority of cases, a position is eliminated due to market dynamics or a result of a change in the priorities of the organization or project—not due to issues around competence.

Inevitably in a turnaround, you will have to make some tough decisions about who to keep, who to let go, and who you can inspire to rise to the occasion. I can honestly say that a day I spent rightsizing FARE was the most difficult 12 hours of my professional life as dedicated employees—good people—were impacted.  

Having compassion and empathy for people as you’re setting up the new organization is not only the right thing to do from a human perspective, but it pays dividends when the remaining team sees that people have been treated with dignity even as they leave the group.

How you treat people is an asset for a leader in creating the organization's future; it also becomes a big part of your legacy.

What is your parting advice for entrepreneurs and leaders?

As a fellow leader, I leave you with is this: Think big and create a bold vision of the end state. Embrace data and process so you can right the ship and measure forward progress. Build a strong team; they are your path to the future. Invest in and mentor your people, be generous with your time and guidance. Make time to network; opportunities and partnerships come when you least expect them to. Start with how you want to be remembered, follow a plan, and hand over an organization more robust and even more capable of thriving after you leave.

Editor’s Note: Join our Publisher Ana Rold as she interviews Advisory Board Member Lisa Gable on Fishbowl Live on Tuesday, October 5 at 7:00 pm EST on her new book Turnaround and ask your own questions from the author.

About
Ana C. Rold
:
Ana C. Rold is the Founder and Publisher of Diplomatic Courier. She teaches political science courses at Northeastern University and is the Host and Producer of Future Tense podcast. Follow her on Twitter @ACRold.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.