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Pivot Points: Five Decisions Every Successful Leader Must Make

ISBN: 978-1-118-89473-6
256 pages
May 2014
Pivot Points: Five Decisions Every Successful Leader Must Make (1118894731) cover image


A Roadmap for Transforming Ambition into Achievement

In the sea of thrown-together, stereotypical leadership advice, Julia Tang Peters’ Pivot Points stands out like a beacon. This book is not the result of trite 10-step recipes or unstudied observations. Instead, its source is in-depth research conducted among some of the country’s most effective leaders.

Intimate interviews and broad survey data reveal that the leaders who stand out are the ones who fearlessly face the decisions that characterize career turning points. Amazingly, the people who break through barriers to transform industries encounter—and effectively confront—the same five critical decisions. In Pivot Points, you’ll read how five inspiring and approachable leaders made the choices that cemented their legacies.

Pivot Points is a unique opportunity to learn from the leaders you should learn from—authentic, independent-minded people with a genuine desire to help others understand how to lead. Tools developed from their candid accounts will help you measure and assess your own career trajectory. With a self-diagnostic questionnaire based on the book’s unique framework, you’ll be able to identify warning signs of stagnation and sustain the passion to achieve.  Gain practical insights from this valuable aid for professional development of high achievers in every career stage.

Pivotal decisions can turn an ordinary career into an extraordinary journey to success. The journey is a highly individual one, and Pivot Points will inspire and guide you in the processes of finding your own path to exceptional results. Take a rare look into the process of shifting from the science of management to the art of leadership, and let this one-of-a-kind book propel you toward achieving your best self.

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Table of Contents

Preface: A Different Approach to Leadership and Careers v

Acknowledgments xi

1 From Ordinary Career to Leadership Journey: What Separates Leaders from Managers? 1

Decision-Making Leaders, Leader-Making Decisions 2

Are Five Pivotal Decisions the Experience of Just Leaders or Everyone? 4

Pivotal Decisions Determine the Journey 6

Five Characteristics of a Pivotal Decision 9

The Art of Leading and the Science of Management 11

The Leaders We Should Learn From 12

2 IDEA: Bud Frankel, Founder and Former Chairman of Frankel & Company 15

Why You Should Know Him and about His Work 15

What Matters to Bud Frankel 17

Bud’s Pivotal Decisions 26

The Leader’s Legacy 41

3 CHANGE: Glen Tullman, Managing Partner of 7wire Ventures; Former CEO of Allscripts Healthcare Solutions 43

Why You Should Know Him and about His Work 43

What Matters to Glen Tullman 46

Glen’s Pivotal Decisions 60

The Leader’s Legacy 73

4 TEAM: John W. Rogers, Jr., Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Ariel Investments LLC 75

Why You Should Know Him and about His Work 75

What Matters to John Rogers 77

John’s Pivotal Decisions 90

The Leader’s Legacy 108

5 CULTURE: Al Golin, Founder and Chairman of GolinHarris 111

Why You Should Know Him and about His Work 111

What Matters to Al Golin 113

Al’s Pivotal Decisions 120

The Leader’s Legacy 139

6 PASSION: Dale Dawson, Founder and CEO of Bridge2Rwanda 143

Why You Should Know Him and about His Work 143

What Matters to Dale Dawson 145

Dale’s Pivotal Decisions 156

The Leader’s Legacy 177

7 Lessons from the Journeys of Five Leaders 181

What Do Leaders Have in Common? 181

Leaders Continually Create Their Jobs 191

8 Lessons from Survey Findings 193

Do Pivot Points Occur in Most People’s Careers? 194

How Do People Make Pivotal Decisions? 200

To Lead Is to Create 208

9 Your Pivotal Five: A New Career Road Map 211

Connecting Your Dots: Your Pivotal Decisions 213

Connecting Your Dots: Your Decision-Making Behavior 216

Leader, Manager, Wanderer, and Clock Puncher 220

Warning Signs 225

Your Authentic Path 228

About the Author 231

Index 233

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Author Information

Julia Tang Peters works with leaders and their teams when bold clear leadership and organizational support are imperative. Her clients include Fortune 100 global corporations as well as entrepreneurial companies. With a career spanning business, academia and clinical psychology, Julia has held leadership roles at Leo Burnett Company, Aon Hewitt, a tech incubator, Northwestern University, and The Family Institute. Extensive global travel also informs her perspective on values-based leadership and success. Pivot Points is Julia’s first book. She earned a Masters of Management degree from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, a Master of Science degree from Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, and a Bachelor of Arts in history from Lake Forest College. Also a Licensed Family Therapist, she has a Certificate in Family Therapy from The Family Institute. Julia lives in Chicago with her husband, and has four adult children.

To learn more, visit juliatangpeters.com/.

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Pivot Points is an important book for anyone who wants to understand that leadership is a journey of becoming.  The five-pivotal-decisions approach to leadership will enable you to discover what is truly important in that journey."
—Harry M. Jansen Kraemer, Jr. Professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, Former Chairman and CEO of Baxter International, Author of From Values To Action: The Four Principles of Values-based Leadership

Pivot Points is the leadership book to read if you read only one this year.  Most can only write about leadership as an art or science given their vantage point but Julia Tang Peters writes authoritatively from both perspectives." —Oliver Sicat, CEO of Ednovate, Inc. and former Chief Portfolio Officer for Chicago Public Schools

Pivot Points is a must read for anyone interested in mastering the art of leadership.  It clearly and compellingly addresses leadership as an evolutionary process of discovery, reflection and creation—an "art" to be mastered.”
—Ken Werner, President of a division in a major entertainment studio

“In Pivot Points I saw my own life.  It clarifies my experience and strengthens my resolve to meet the next challenge and keep my focus on the exciting times ahead.”
—Richard A. Andrews, President and CEO of Thrasos Innovation, Inc.

“The unique perspective of this book is powerfully clear: leadership is about decision-making – in fact a journey of particular, connected decisions.  Pivot Points creatively blends stories and empirical study to offer compelling insights that are sure to inspire courage and personal responsibility.” 
—John L. Ward, PhD, Clinical Professor of Family Enterprise, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management

“I tend to avoid reading leadership books, but this one has given me a new perspective about where I am and where I still want to go.  I’ve had a good long run in my career and Pivot Points helped me recommit to designing the future.”
—Lucien LaGrange, Architect

"If you are only going to have time for one business read, make it Pivot Points.  Julia Tang Peter's book enables clear and rational decision making at key career milestones."
—Robert L. Crutchfield, Partner, Harbert Venture Partners

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Press Release

May 15, 2014
Great Leadership Equals Great Decision-Making

The question of how great leaders develop has long been the subject of debate.  The result, says Julia Tang Peters – who has coached dozens of Fortune 100 executives – has been an overdose of prescriptive advice and a hazardous “one-size-fits-all” approach.  In her research-based new book, PIVOT POINTS:  Five Decisions Every Successful Leader Must Make (Wiley/June 2014), Peters argues that leading requires charting your own path, not trying to step into another’s shoes.  The key to this lies in making pivotal decisions based on high accountability and strong ingenuity.

Peters’ research, encompassing in-depth interviews with five successful leaders as well as a large empirical study, reveals that nearly every career is marked by five critical decisions: 

• Launching Point - making a commitment to gain mastery of specialized skills,

• Turning Point - acting on a challenge or opportunity that creates a bold new direction,

• Tipping Point - breaking through a barrier involving significant risk,

• Recommitment Point - renewing one’s sense of purpose, and

• Letting Go - moving on. 

Through the leaders profiled in PIVOT POINTS, Peters demonstrates that how these pivotal decisions are handled is what characterizes great leadership.  The leaders include:

Bud Frankel, Founder and Former Chairman of Frankel & Company.  Frankel’s Launching Decision turned earning a living into doing his life’s work, building the largest marketing services agency and creating a new industry.

Glen Tullman, Managing Partner of 7Wire Ventures.  As CEO of Allscripts Healthcare Solutions, Tullman’s Turning Point Decision reinvented Allscripts as a pioneer in electronic health records and built it into the largest connected community in healthcare.

John W. Rogers, Founder and CEO of Ariel Investments.  Roger’s Tipping Point Decision built a diversity model unique in the mutual fund industry and grew Ariel’s assets under management to over $21 billion.

Al Golin, Founder and Chairman of GolinHarris.  Golin’s Recommitment Decision took a principled stand to save the firm’s culture from being de-humanized by the parent conglomerate and turned the agency into a global powerhouse.

Dale Dawson, Founder and CEO of Bridge2Rwanda.  To renew his passion, Dawson walked away from a successful financial career at age 51.  His Letting Go Decision brought purpose back into his life when he created Bridge2Rawanda.

To better understand the influence of decision-making in careers and business, Peters analyzed data from 500 professionals, ultimately uncovering four decision-making styles.  Characterized by the degree of accountability and ingenuity they demonstrate, the styles are:

Leader:  High Accountability/High Ingenuity.  Places high importance on gathering information on ideas and resources, as well as high accountability for building consensus and gaining support of other people who would be affected.

Wanderer:  Low Accountability/High Ingenuity.  Wanderers can look like leaders.  They offer imaginative ideas and speak with passion, but they forget that great thinkers also need to be great doers.  They like the excitement of thinking about creative possibilities, but ignore the practical needs and hard work of execution.

Manager:  High Accountability/Low Ingenuity.  This decision-making behavior demonstrates high accountability for the job at hand but makes little time for thinking about strategy, improvements and innovation, and vision. 

Clock Puncher:  Low Accountability/Low Ingenuity.  Clock punchers are driven by the need to remain within their comfort zones.  They can be very smart and high functioning, but they want the safe and easy path, actively resisting change.

Being human means using all of these different decision-making styles at different times, explains Peters.  The challenge is consistently using the Leader style.  "Great outcomes and great leaders arise from pivotal decisions made with high accountability and strong ingenuity,” Peters writes.  “Because it’s hard to know in advance that a decision can be pivotal, you must always approach decisions—big or small—with a high degree of accountability and ingenuity.”

In addition to analyzing the traps inherent in non-Leader decision-making styles, Peters reveals that as people age and have more at stake, they tend to make decisions to maintain the status quo instead of taking risks.  “The pattern of behavior moves progressively away from new ideas and toward the status quo, then to less accountability, and finally to having ideas but not holding oneself accountable to make them happen,” she writes.

Ultimately, Peters’ research shows that the person who makes all five pivotal decisions with high accountability and ingenuity is rare.  Such an individual stands out as a true leader with a career record of excellent quantitative and qualitative performance outcomes.

“The framework of five pivotal decisions helps us understand the strategies leaders use to keep moving forward,” writes Peters.  Concluding with a hands-on guide for assessing one’s own decision-making behavior, PIVOT POINTS makes clear that how people approach choices at work has a profound impact on their careers and development as leaders.  This new book will empower people to play to their strengths, find the challenges that excite them, and write their own leadership playbooks.

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