COUNTING & CARING A Winning Combination for Leadership Success

I can’t prove it, but I suspect that in 1985 I was the only MBA, Fortune 500 trained, CEO in Duck, North Carolina. Back then Duck was still a sleepy, small seaside town. But things were about to change.

A lawsuit against a developer was decided in favor of the plaintiffs. No longer would the only road north to Corolla be restricted to property owners. In October of 1984 the guard gate came down and a 20 year long real estate boom was about to begin.

And I was smack dab in the middle of it all, ready with my MBA, my corporate experience and a partner with a CPA.

We were young, we were dirt poor, and we had nothing to lose… a lethal combination that proved difficult for any competition to face.

We started our resort real estate business using the same principles, structures and systems of any big multi-national. We had business plans, strategic plans, financial statements and ratios. We had metrics, budgets,  marketing plans and targeted sales goals. We had the support of a great banker who believed in us and a secure line of credit.

We were really good at COUNTING! We had the financial side of the business nailed!

We also had the CARING side of business in place.

We hired only the best and brightest. We trained, we recognized, we retained and we motivated. We had inclusive incentive plans, our operations and decisions were transparent. Our mid -week rum Punch parties and conch shell blowing contests brought hundreds of beach lovers (new customers!) through our doors. Our Christmas parties were legendary.

We cared because we were in love; in love with our fun and engaged employees, in love with our early clients who were willing to take a risk with a young and unproven start-up. We were in love with the opportunities and possibilities, in love with the hard work and challenges. And we were in love with the beach and the ocean, its cool waters providing immediate relief from a long day filled with stress and worry.


Not only were we really good at COUNTING, we were exceptionally good at CARING.

This combination of Counting & Caring propelled our business to the top of the heap of the burgeoning real estate market on The Outer Banks of North Carolina. We were successful on all fronts. We grew and prospered and we shared our good fortune with our staff, our customers and our community.

And 12 years into the business, we attracted the attention of three Venture Capitalists.

To be continued in my next blog that addresses what happens when:

Leadership Forgets to Care in a Relentless Pursuit of Profits”

The Best Things in Life are Free

If ever there is an awesome place to go mountain biking, DuPont State Forest south of Asheville, NC is it! With sunshine and blue skies beckoning, my husband and I recently grabbed our water bottles, strapped the bikes on the car and set out on a day of adventure in DuPont.

After a straight shot up Conservation Trail, we made a “have to” detour to an abandoned airstrip. Lining up we pretended to take off down the runway on wheels and since we weren’t airborne at the end, taxied off and took a road less traveled. The tiny sign said “Lake Julia”.

A light rain had made the path slightly muddy. The overhanging forest kept delivering unexpected and intermittent short showers. We were alone, no other bikers or hikers around and the quiet enveloped us.

A quarter mile in and we could see the lake, its outline blurred by its size. It first appeared as a big blob of reflective gray in a green panorama of trees. We parked our bikes and walked down to a small dock. We sat at the water’s edge and stared at the immense expanse of nature that lay serenely and silently in front of us. It was one of those rare and beautiful moments of awe.

After a while, we got up and started back up the gentle slope to our bikes. As we walked away I heard a loud splash from the opposite shore. A dog, I thought turning back around to see.

Did you hear that I asked my husband? With our curiosities in agreement we ran back down to the lake. In the distance we saw a light brown head moving across the placid lake. There was no one on the opposite shore throwing a ball nor any sign of civilization that might belong to a frisky water loving retriever. We stood still and stared as the creature swam gracefully through the water.

Could it be a deer? In all of my time in nature I had never seen one swimming. But there it was; head held high, destined for a far distant shore.

We sat mesmerized by this silent panorama of lake, forest and the deer, swimming through the water painting a perfect v shaped wake in its path. She seemed to know where she was going; not the shortest distance between two points but a specific destination. Once there, in a surge of power, she lunged to shore and disappeared, leaving the two of us breathless.

Wow! What a moment of awe and wonder. What a chance to appreciate the simple power and beauty of being alone in nature, dangling our feet in fresh, clear water, feeling the sunshine, taking in a natural setting , mesmerized by an animal in the wild, unafraid.

With that memory etched in our brains, we left and biked back to Conservation Trail and our car to gather swimsuits and towels. We were in pursuit of the feelings we had just witnessed.

We chose a smaller, closer lake for our submersion, Fawn Lake. With its proximity to parking we arrived to a noisy arena. Same natural beauty but this time the addition of people painted a totally different picture.

Kids were yelling at the top of their lungs with their young parents shouting reprimands and orders while dragging on cigarettes and drinking beer. Others sat under a gazebo, playing loud music and unwrapping paper shrouded fast food; the odor of grease wafted from fries.  Cans of sodas, bags of chips, packages of cookies. Young bodies padded with the extra weight that comes with processed food. No one was in the water except for a few children.

The contrast between the deer and the people and their respective relationships to nature was sharp and distinct. The deer was fully alive and alert in its environment. The Fawn Lake crowd had a noisy, distracted detachment from their surroundings. Unaware of the comforting feel of the weightlessness of the cool, clean water, they sat on trodden, littered earth, preoccupied with all the things they had brought with them; giant plastic bottles of sodas, colorful tote bags filled with stuff, iPods, I Pads, IPhones, the latest fashion in swimwear, jewelry, cool sunglasses… all packaged in noisy conversation and attention getting antics.

Distracted by the material world, the crowd at Fawn Lake had no connection with the powerful and supportive simplicity of the natural world surrounding them.

A lone deer swimming through the water… quiet, strong, powerful, peaceful, beautiful…in harmony with its natural surroundings.

As humans we too are part of nature, we too can really feel the sun on our skin, the power of our bodies, nourished by healthy foods and fueled by refreshing cool water. As humans we too can gain immense insight from solitude, strength from physical exertion, and power from breathing in deeply our natural surroundings with appreciation.

Simplicity, nature, solitude, caring for our physical, spiritual and emotional selves brings true, authentic value to our precious and fragile time on earth.

Take time today to put aside the noise and distractions that so dominate our lives and step into and be a part of the natural world. With gratitude for your shot at being fully alive, make a promise to stay connected with the simple gifts our planet offers, free of charge.



The Leadership Challenge of Finding Balance

There are lots of critical numbers in aviation; airspeed, stall speed, never exceed speed, magnetic headings, engine temperatures…there are hundreds of numerical indicators that keep planes and passengers aloft and get them safely back to earth.

There is one number which is crucial and core to aircraft performance. It is determined during the design, engineering and manufacturing process. That number is the CG or Center of Gravity ; the point where when weight is evenly distributed, the plane will be balanced and stable.

I know how important CG is, not just from the books but from firsthand experience. I made an error in calculating it once.

It was my first flight in a new twin engine plane. I calculated the CG, loaded the suitcases and passengers in accordance to that calculation and off I went. I knew immediately that I had made a mistake. I felt it in the mushiness of the controls and heard it in the sound of airsick passengers behind me. I knew the plane was on the edge and made immediate in flight weight redistributions to correct it. It was a lesson that drove home to me the critical importance of maintaining balance in flight through the correct identification of the Center of Gravity.

Leaders, like pilots, are at the controls of their organizations and departments. Leaders are responsible for balancing profits and purpose, performance and potential, vision and details, generosity and generating  shareholder returns, directing and listening, hard work and health. The art and science of leadership is an on-going balancing act of a myriad of opposites. Successful leadership lies in the balance.

Exceptional leaders are adept at finding the CG of organizational and business demands. Some know it intuitively, others need to be reminded that extremes cannot be sustained (i.e. the mortgage and financial markets in 2007) and that tipping points are real (revisit the stories of Wachovia, AIG, Lehmann, Long Term Capital, Countrywide).

Take a few moments now to check the CG of your leadership. Are you pushing the edge or are you close to the center? Are you reaching tipping points or are you conscientiously moving towards equilibrium?

Where is the CG of your leadership?

Upcoming articles will address specifics on finding your leadership CG.

Betty Shotton is a lifelong leader who is committed to reminding leaders of the critical need to balance the financial side of business with a commitment to serving the greater good. She is a nationally recognized thought leader who speaks on Profits and Purpose, Exceptional Leadership, Defying Gravity & High Altitude Leadership. You can see her in action on YouTube  She blogs and writes. Liftoff Leadership, 10 Principles for Exceptional Leadership, her first book, sold out in 18 months. She is working on her next. Visit her website www.liftoffleadership; it is loaded with leadership resources. She welcomes your interest via FaceBook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Herb Kelleher , founder and CEO of Southwest Airlines. He was an exceptional leader who mastered the fine art of balance. He knew the importance of maintaining the CG.

Start your day with this Simple but powerful Reminder of Choice by the late John O’Donohue

John O’Donohue
The world is not simply there. Everything and everyone we see, we view through the lenses of our thoughts. Your mind is where your thoughts arise and form. It is not simply with your eyes but with your mind that you see the world. So much depends on your mind: How you see yourself, who you think you are, how you see others, what you think the meaning of life is, how you see death, belief, God, darkness and beauty is all determined by the style of mind you have.
Your mind is your greatest treasure. We become so taken up with the world, with having and doing more and more that we come to ignore who we are and forget what we see the world with. The most powerful way to change your life is to change your mind. In this evening’s talk, we will explore ways of awakening, enriching and refining your mind. We will use lecture, conversation, story, poetry and meditation.
When you beautify your mind, you beautify your world. You learn to see differently. In what seemed like dead situations, secret possibilities and invitations begin to open before you. In old suffering that held you long paralysed, you find new keys. When your mind awakens, your life comes alive and the creative adventure of your soul takes off. Passion and compassion become your new companions. As St. Iraneus said in the 2nd Century, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”

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COURAGE A Leadership Attribute for Our Times

I was greeted by an email from Prakash Idnani with the attachment below. Prakash lives in India and has over 20 years of experience in business & leadership marketing, branding and seminars for internationally recognized firms. He saw LIFTOFFF LEADERSHIP in an airport bookstore on a trip to the US to visit a son and has taken on the challenge of getting the LIFTOFF message into the hands of Indian leaders and executives. And he is doing an incredible job at it! Excerpts from the book have appeared in several of India’s leading business publications as well as the Economic Times. His efforts are supported by JAICO publishers who recently released LIFTOFF LEADERSHIP in paperback in India
Thank you Prakash and I look forward to speaking in India in 2013.Liftoff Leadership (Outlook Business) 2012

The Power of Accountability in Leadership: Investor’s Business Daily Interview with Betty Shotton

Take Responsibility Instead Of Blaming Others


Posted 07/19/2012 01:30 PM ET

Hold yourself accountable for outcomes instead of waiting for others to do it for you. The concept will spread across your firm, productivity will climb and you’ll develop core values in the organization such as honesty and trust.

If you tell an employee you’ll do his performance appraisal by a certain date and you miss the deadline, you lose credibility. “Then trust has eroded, and it can happen over the smallest thing,” Betty Shotton, CEO of Ocracoke Island, N.C.-based consultant Liftoff Leadership, told IBD.

Battle the tide. It’s tough for many people to hold themselves accountable because of their own obstacles, says Joe Tye, CEO of Solon, Iowa-based leadership training firm Values Coach. They have negative thoughts and low self-esteem, so they wait for someone else to set deadlines. There’s no need to hold off, though. “It begins by facing up to those inner barriers,” he said.

Set expectations. Be clear about what you want people to achieve. Let them do it their way, as long as they get done what you want. Then they’ll take initiative, Tye said: “Sometimes that means biting your tongue. You want to say, ‘I wouldn’t have done it that way.’ But you have to be willing to accept the fact they might do it their own way.”

Measure yourself. Do a self-assessment to gauge how well you accept responsibility rather than blame others. Shotton’s firm offers a test that asks leaders to figure out what they can do to rectify a situation rather than point the finger elsewhere. “It’s simple, but it’s a good reminder to accept responsibility,” she said.

Get others’ input. Ask a coach or mentor whether you’re holding yourself accountable. Shotton suggests getting 360-degree feedback from co-workers, including those above and below you. You might be surprised. “Leaders are often taken aback if they stop and look at the reality around them” she said.

Develop patterns. Tye’s employees focus on a different principle each day. When the firm targets self-accountability, the workers tell themselves they won’t let barriers get in the way of being responsible for hitting their goals. “They’re simple rituals that remind us who we are when we’re being our best,” he said.

Share the load. Get peers to hold each other accountable. Tye uses a pickle challenge to keep employees’ attitudes positive. If someone hears a co-worker being negative, the witness makes sure the complainer puts a quarter in the pickle jar. “It’s a way to keep each other accountable for the attitude they bring to work,” Tye said.

Point fingers inward. Learn to say to yourself, “I’m responsible. What can I do?” Watch yourself when you blame others, Shotton said: “That’s basically pushing off responsibility to someone else.”

Set an example. Shotton lauds Reed Hastings for doing that at video provider Netflix(NFLX). The CEO said publicly he screwed up after the company split its subscription model and raised prices last year, angering many customers.

Gain efficiency. If each person in a workplace holds himself accountable for the jobs, the boss doesn’t have to do it. No one questions whether the assigned job will get done. Productivity soars.
Shoe seller did that with its core values, Tye says. It gives customer service reps free rein to make decisions.

Build a culture. You can get people to keep each other in line, but only if it’s part of the firm’s value system, Shotton says.
“Then it allows people to admit mistakes,” she said.


Order Up a Plate of Integrity

I arrived at the Lenoir Golf Club in Lenoir, North Carolina this morning at 6:30am. I was their speaker/program for the morning . I was prepared and ready to talk with these leaders about the importance of balancing the financial side of our businesses with the human side. I was prepared to talk fundamental values and prompt them to self reflect on their own.

Before I spoke and quite out of the blue, I received a serendipitous gift of the “value of values” when member “Rickey” was the lucky recipient of that morning’ s rotary raffle. Next he  was given the option of taking a riskier chance with that money  for a larger pool. He took his chances and low and behold he won the big pot!

And if that wasn’t enough winning for an early morning Rotary meeting, they raffled off a signed hardback edition of “Liftoff Leadership” 10 Principles for Exceptional Leadership” that I donated…and dang if he didn’t win that too.

Pretty good to be a three time winner at 6:45 in the morning! I wonder what the rest of his day was like?

Well it turned out that Rickey had put 5 dollars into that raffle and was mistakenly given six tickets. He sat down, counted and gave back the 6th.

A small but solid example of integrity and it payed off in three quick wins for him.

I made a point to meet Rickey after the meeting ; we talked and he shared with me that his Mother was the primary reason for his solid foundation of integrity and other meaningful values. He said that no matter what, she was one positive woman .

Rickey recently took over the restaurant at the Lenoir Golf Club so if you are in the area stop by and enjoy the hospitality and great food served by a  man of integrity and his great staff!

Thanks Rickey for the simple but powerful example of “doing the right thing”.

A parting word on integrity…if each of us as leaders did the right thing, even when the costs are high, the world would work alot better. We know what is right; let’s lead by example and take a stand for it. We really need integrity in our world today. It starts with you.


LEADERSHIP Presentation to Human Resource leaders & professionals in Hampton Roads, Va

A Journey to Exceptional Leadership to be presented in Hampton Roads, Va May 10, 2012”event

The Sweet Salve of Success

A leadership trait that can be very valuable in the face of challenge and disappointment is the belief that everything happens for a reason. That is not to suggest that you adopt a nonchalant, do nothing attitude in the face of setbacks and failures but rather that you have the wisdom to understand that when events occur that are out of your control or not what you expected, you understand that they can be blessings in disguise.

As I grow and develop on my own personal leadership journey, I continue to be amazed at how difficulties and problems that occurred years ago, were pieces to a bigger puzzle that have shaped and defined my career and life, directing me towards purpose.

One such insight occurred last weekend while shopping for Easter basket fillers for my stepson.

While roaming up and down the aisles of Town Hardware(a tourists’ favorite

in Black Mountain, NC ) , there it was;  a specter from my childhood sitting innocently and ubiquitously on a shelf alongside Burt’s Bees and Calamine lotions. Cloverine Salve , “skin protectant since 1860”.

It had been over 50 years since I had seen a can of Cloverine Salve but when I did, the memories of my childhood experience and lessons associated with this seemingly innocuous can of salve re-surfaced like a submarine.

When I was around 8 years old I saw a full page ad in a comic book that featured a FREE ring. I managed to tear out the page, scribble in my name and address and get my request for the ring in the mail.

Lo and behold it soon arrived but the box sure was big for a little ring. Much to my surprise, in addition to my coveted piece of faux jewelry were 24 cans of Cloverine Salve? Needless to say I had not read any of the small print.

I took it all to my mother who sternly told me that the ring was a gift for agreeing to sell 24 tins of salve. My mother, a strong believer in dealing with the consequences of your choices, then informed me that I had to deliver on the agreement that I unwittingly made. There has never been much room for argument with my mother.

So off I went the next Saturday, up and down the streets of my neighborhood, door to door, sheepishly and shyly asking if anyone would like to buy a can of Cloverine Salve.

I spent two days and several miles walking and asking. I sold one can… to the kindest person in my community.

The other 23 cans were packed up and shipped back with my apology for poor performance.

That childhood event gave me early leadership lessons on accountability, perseverance and how to keep trying in the face of rejection. These are all attributes that I have relied on throughout my career as an entrepreneur and CEO.

And from a perspective honed by 35 years in the leadership trenches, no stranger to failure, adversity and uncertainty, the reappearance of Cloverine Salve into my visual and emotional awareness kindled my appreciation for the lessons that I have learned the hard way .

May we all, as leaders, have the wisdom to remember that there is a reason for the events and consequences of our lives, intended and unintended.

And may we seek to elevate our perspectives and the perspectives of those we lead in seeking solutions and moving beyond the failures and setbacks that are inevitable parts of our journeys in corporate and business life.


The story continues. Banks and investment firms put their own interests and wealth accumulation  before the needs of their clients and customers. Despite public outrage at the reckless and self serving behavior that has unfortunately come to characterize many at the helm of our country’s largest financial institutions, the behavior continues on. Congress and the Administration appear to be unable or unwilling to put checks and balances back into a system that allows it to take excessive risks for personal and company gain with the promise of tax payer bailouts. To add insult to injury, this indecisiveness might well be due to strings attached to campaign donations in an election year.

Sorry Mr  Client, Customer,Investor!

Thanks to those who have the courage and the integrity to stand up for what is right and speak their truth regardless of the consequences. Recently Greg Smith quit Goldman Sachs and spoke up for the values that should be upheld by those institutions in which millions entrust their money. Here is his Op-Ed piece in the NY Times.

I hope that Greg Smith’s voice is heard and helps to increase the public’s awareness of the damage being done by many seemingly untouchable financial titans whose self serving interests have wrecked havoc on Americans.

The chance of another 2007 meltdown is still there because not enough has changed in the trading of derivatives and other speculative investments that buoy individual and company balance sheets while leaving pension funds and thousands of other investors hanging.

Fundamental to our lives and our work are the values that guide us. Courage, integrity, accountability, altruism, faith; all powerful motivators for successful endeavors. When these and other values that provide meaning to humanity are ignored and over ridden by greed, collapse is inevitable.

While we wait and watch another meltdown due in part to a lack of morality and ethics, each of us can uphold those values that we know to be of great personal importance in living a life that makes a positive difference to mankind.

I know that for me, I want to walk away from my life with the knowledge that I truly cared about people, and our planet and that I did my best to make a difference in the lives of others.


To get in touch with your finest attributes and fundamental values take the Liftoff Leadership Value Clarification checklist exercise; here it is:

Remember what is good and true and let those concepts guide you.