At long last, I’m hanging my own shingle in 2021.
Tempting as it was to make this “Hello World” post a shiny open-for-business billboard promoting the new venture—and fast-forward past the soul-searching, fear, and self-doubt—let me back up a bit and share how I got here.
So, I wrote my first book in 2020. The Blue Flame: The Remarkably Simple Idea that Can Transform Your Leadership and Ignite Your Team.
Now, this post isn’t about the book… but the story of the book provides some important context. Plus, I couldn’t dare miss the opportunity for a thinly-veiled plug (“Now available at all major booksellers, and yours for the low low price of $8.95!” 🙂
See, the idea for this book had been in my head for a long time, and stayed stuck there for a while… for all of the usual reasons that keep would-be authors from going for it—“No one will like it!” “Who am I to write a book?”—blah blah blah.
But if you ask the people on my teams, they’d tell you that the concept that the book centers around was regularly emblazoned on the white-board in my office, and the subject of many a one-on-one meeting about how to bring our more of the best in ourselves and our teams.
The concept that I would come to call The Blue Flame had impact. Real impact.
And in the last 24 months in-the-trenches as a leader, a few specific & powerful moments of affirmation on-the-job convinced me that (a) this idea needs to spread its wings, and (b) I owe it to other leaders, teams, and companies to get past my own insecurities and bring this message to the world.
At the risk of talking you out of contributing $8.95 to my kids’ college fund by buying your copy, here’s the gist of the book in 86 words:
Amazing things happen on a team / in a business when its people play at the intersection point of three powerful forces:
🔥 Your Talents: what you can do best.
🔥 Your Passions: activities that invigorate you.
🔥 Your Purpose: what you care deeply about.
The call to action for leaders: help your people find the intersection point for themselves (something I call their “Blue Flame”), and help them discover how to apply their Blue Flame in a way that can have the greatest impact on their company—and the world.
Doing so will light up your people… and light up your company’s results. Oh, and greatly increase your success & career growth as a leader. Everybody wins.
This is not a totally revolutionary concept in itself (the Japanese have been living and proselytizing a similar idea for centuries). But the book takes leaders through the research, case studies, and brain-science that explain the power in these 3 forces… and importantly, helps them to apply this simple idea within their team to unlock greater performance, impact, engagement, and happiness. 📈
BUT here’s the interesting thing I was not expecting…
It turns out: I was writing this book at a time when I, myself, was yearning to rediscover my own Blue Flame.
Ironically, there I sat with pen in hand, evangelizing the amazing things that can happen when leaders take the time to set their teammates’ Blue Flames ablaze… while my own was barely flickering at the time.
I remember my lightbulb moment in my home office. It was early afternoon on hot June day here in Chicago. I was on a summer sabbatical after wrapping up my recent tour of duty leading within a PE-backed carve-out… and determined to get the book published by summer’s end.
I realized: the advice I was dispensing in the book—and the reflection that I guide leaders through—was exactly the advice I needed myself. At that exact moment in 2020.
It was time for me to eat my own dog food, I realized.
So I looked in the proverbial mirror and returned to the 4 simple questions that this book centers around:
🔥 What can I do best?
🔥 What most energizes me?
🔥 What do I care deeply about?
🔥 And where can the intersection of these 3 forces be applied to have the greatest impact?
In that moment, the fog lifted.
And consequently, I decided to make 4 shifts in my life and career, ones that could bring me better into alignment with my own Blue Flame:
#1 – Create more ⮕ The peak moments in my life and career—the ones when I’ve been most alive and on-fire—are ones where I’ve been building, creating, and growing things. From songs, to pitches, to homemade pizzas, to teams, to businesses.
And on the flip side, things that are de-energizing for me: making the trains run on time. Following a paint-by-numbers playbook. You know, things that are inherently less creative.
And as I learned while doing the research for the book… turns out, we’re not going to be as good at things that don’t energize us. (Who’da thunk?!)
#2 – Teach more ⮕ I decided to embrace off-hand comments that I had heard for a while from the people who knew me best… but often shrugged-off. Like “Have you ever thought about being a professor?!”
Now, I’ll never stop learning; I don’t have it in me. But I realized it is time to start paying-forward the amazing experience I’ve accumulated, and learnings I’ve gathered along the way.
#3 – People above all else ⮕ The common thread across the highest of high points in my career: in each case, I was doing something important & energizing with great people.
Sounds cliche, but I fashioned this realization into a simple guiding principle: work on things that matter with amazing, like-minded people… and the rest—happiness, money, impact—will take care of itself.
#4 – Look for ways to scale my impact ⮕ I began thinking about working on things whose impact could be limitless (vs. fixed and finite).
Eg. The impact of writing a book can be much farther-reaching than coaching leaders one-off.
Eg. Working with multiple companies on high-impact issues will leverage my time and expand my impact way better than working with one company.
I didn’t know where these 4 guiding ideas would take me—and heck… in a way, still don’t. But I knew they’d take me in a different direction from where I was in that moment, and bring me closer to my own Blue Flame.
So through these 4 lenses, I looked at the question:
How can I leverage my experience as an executive, investor, and coach to create something(s) that can have big impact… in a way that has me doing:
…what I can do best.
…what most energizes me.
…what I care deeply about.
* * * * * *
And around that same time, from the same home office in the still-balmy Chicago summer, I was chatting with some of my colleagues at Alpine Investors.
Let me back up a few steps…
Alpine has been somewhat of a trailblazer in the private equity world by putting people at the heart of it all. Its mantra—and core strategy— is People First… which is grounded in the idea that the key to success as investors and business-builders comes down to working with, learning from, and developing great people.
(Sidenote: I’m so grateful for the incredible experiences I’ve had working with Alpine over time… so a deep and hearty “thank you” to the crew at Alpine Investors for your belief and trust in me over the last 13 years.)
At Alpine, we’ve long recognized that fundamentally, people drive performance. So in the early 2010s, went all-in on creating a firm that puts people at the heart of it all. “Get the people part right, and the returns will take care of themselves,” we believed.
But this idea of putting “People First” wasn’t just lip-service to a well-worn business cliche. It became the fundamental strategy of the firm, one that we operationalized at every turn.
From creating a first-of-its-kind CEO-in-Training program (now the most sought-after role for MBA grads of the top business schools), to insourcing talent acquisition & development, to becoming black-belts at talent assessment, to building out an in-house executive coaching team. Alpine went all-in on putting people at the heart of its investing & value creation strategy.
And some of the most exhilarating, most impactful, and proudest experiences I had in working with Alpine tied back to helping our portfolio companies win through people. From starting and building our CEO-in-Training program (until we hired a far more capable team to scale the program :), to leading our CEO-in-Residence hiring, to coaching portfolio leaders, to building and leading teams as an operating exec myself.
THE A-HA MOMENT
I had my epiphany.
Helping leaders and companies win through people is my jam. My sweet spot. My Blue Flame.
And with this realization, I took a swig of my own medicine from the book: How could I apply my Blue Flame in a way that would have the greatest impact?
Impact sits at the intersection of what others need, and what you can uniquely contribute. And the more I kicked this around with Alpine and other friends in the PE space, the more clearly the dots connected.
If you believe that fundamentally, people drive performance, then value creation in private equity deals happens when:
✅ Companies have the right leaders in the critical roles;
✅ Those leaders are well-aligned, moving in the same direction, and playing as a team; and…
✅ Those leaders create an environment that brings out the best in people.
I saw this firsthand as an investor, board director, and PE-backed executive.
And research—and a bit of common sense—tell us that leadership & talent are the #1 predictor of a strong exit… and on the flipside, the #1 factor that most erodes investor IRR.
But the research—and direct conversations with friends in the PE space—also bear out that a lot of lower-mid-market PE firms haven’t nailed this yet.
❌ Over 50% of leadership hires fail in the first 12 months… which is, in part, a result of the fact that fewer than 20% of all leaders excel at getting the right people onto the team (Source: LeadershipIQ and Power Score)
❌ Aligned leadership teams are 2x more likely to achieve above-median financial performance… and yet, an alarming number of leadership teams aren’t on the same page.
❌ The average leader is tapping into just 65% of the capability of the people on their team… and yet, these people comprise the engine that power a PE-owned company’s success.
And I heard of struggles in this department consistently from friends in the PE space:
“The most costly mistakes we’ve made in new investments is assuming that we have the right leaders and capabilities in the business to make our investment thesis come true.”
“What’s top of mind for me post-closing: how do we get the right team onto the field and in the key positions faster? Time is money… and it often takes us too long to figure this out.”
“Honestly, after we close, I need to shift my focus to the next deal. So I want to know that we’ve clearly scoped what needs to happen to get on with growth, and that management is aligned on that.”
ENTER ACCELERA PARTNERS
Drawing on (1) the need and opportunity within the PE world, (2) the learning & bright spots from doing this work at Alpine Investors, and (3) my own Blue Flame, I’m launching Accelera Partners to help talent-focused investors to accelerate people-powered performance.
The mission is simple:
To help talent-focused investors to translate great talent & leadership into real results & returns.
We’ll do this by helping investors:
✔️ Get the right leaders into the critical roles; (Talent Assessment)
✔️ Ensure their leadership teams are onto the same page, and ready to win as one; (Talent Alignment) and
✔️ Create cultures and develop leaders that bring out the best in people. (Talent Acceleration)
More info at AcceleraPartners.co, and plenty more content rolling off the assembly line in the coming days.