Keep Leading!® Podcast 078 | Navigating Critical Junctures as Leaders | Beth Polish

Keep Leading!® Podcast 078 | Navigating Critical Junctures as Leaders | Beth Polish

Beth Polish
President at The Critical Junctures Group
Navigating Critical Junctures as Leaders

Episode Summary
I enjoyed my interview with Beth Polish on Keep Leading LIVE™! She was a pioneer in the New York tech community, founded a business with Tony Robbins, is one of Marshall Goldsmiths 100 Coaches, and holds an MBA from Harvard. Lots to learn from Beth!

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Bio
Beth Polish was a pioneer in the New York tech community – founding COO/CFO of iVillage, president of Dreamlife (which she co-founded with Tony Robbins, backed by Allen & Co., and built to a publicly-traded company), managing director at KPMG and CFO of Goldman Sachs Ventures. She has significant deal experience as an investment banker and as a partner with a venture firm, and she has raised $300+MM from leading institutional and strategic investors.

At Hearst Corp., reporting to the CEO, Beth created and for five years led Hearst Corporate Innovation, fostering a company-wide culture of innovation and knowledge-sharing and establishing a pipeline of internally-generated ideas for new digital businesses.

As the founder of The Critical Junctures Group, Beth works closely with senior decision-makers to help them find the insights and strategies they need to navigate through critical junctures. Her goal is to consistently provide vision, create value, and produce results.

Beth is certified in Stakeholder Centered Coaching and was selected out of over 16,000 global applicants to participate in Dr. Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 Coaches Program (#MG100). She is on the board of UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication Beth has an AB in anthropology from Franklin and Marshall College and an MBA from Harvard.

Website
http://bethpolish.com/

LinkedIn
https://www.linkedin.com/in/bethpolish

Twitter
https://twitter.com/bethpolish

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Transcript

The key to sustainable leadership lies in the ability to thrive during uncertainty, ambiguity, and change. Grand Heron International brings you the Coaching Assistance Program, giving your employees on-demand coaching to manage through a challenging situation and arrive at a solution. Visit GrandHeronInternational.Ca/Podcast to learn more.

This podcast is part of the C Suite Radio Network, turning the volume up on business.

Welcome to the Keep Leading!® Podcast, the podcast dedicated to promoting leadership development and sharing leadership insights. Here’s your host, The Leadership Excelerator®, Eddie Turner.

Eddie Turner:
Welcome to Keep Leading LIVE™, the video version of the Keep Leading!® Podcast. Today we’re streaming live on YouTube, Facebook, and a new addition, LinkedIn. So, I am absolutely excited to have all of you joining me, tuning in from these locations across the internet and across the globe. Keep Leading LIVE™, like the Keep Leading!® Podcast, is dedicated to leadership development and insights. I’m your host Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator®. I work with leaders to accelerate performance and drive impact.

Today, I would like to talk about how we can navigate critical junctures in business as leaders. To do so, I have invited a very special guest, the amazing Beth Polish and you see her here.

Beth Polish:
I’m so happy to be here.
Eddie Turner:
Let me tell you a little bit about Beth. Beth was a pioneer in the New York tech community. she was the founding chief operating officer and chief financial officer of iVillage. She was the president of Dream Life which she co-founded with Tony Robbins and built into a publicly traded company. she was the managing director at KPMG and the CFO of Goldman Sachs Ventures. She has a tremendous amount of experience as an investment banker and as a partner of a venture capital firm. She has raised over 300 million dollars from leading institutional and strategic investors. So, I’m excited to have this amazing person.

Beth, welcome to Keep Leading LIVE™.

Beth Polish:
Thank you, Eddie. I am so delighted and excited to take our conversations on live and be live as we’re doing it. So, I’m delighted to be here.
Eddie Turner:
Well, welcome, welcome, welcome. And I want to also welcome back those who have joined us and let them know to tell us who you are. If you’re tuning in with Beth and I, go ahead and let us know in the comments section of the platform that you’re on, tell us that you’re here so we know you’re here, tell us where you’re from. And if you have questions about our topic and you want to learn from Beth, please put your questions in the box and we will come to you with your questions.

Also, if you find value, please go ahead and hit the Like button so we know you are finding value in our conversation and hit the Share button. Share this live broadcast with your friends, with your network so that they can join the conversation with us as well and they can not only join the conversation but they can have the recording in their feed after we are done.

So, Beth, I told a little bit about your background. What else did I miss?

Beth Polish:
Well, let’s see. I spent five years at Hearst Corporation where I was brought in to create an innovation group that would go across all seven business units for Hearst. And my mandate was to work with employees to both develop a culture around innovation and also for them to have the opportunity to come up with, create and hopefully build new businesses that could bridge across different Hearst groups. So, I’m very proud of my five years that I spent there and the amazing people that I have worked with as well as I am on the board of a top journalism school, Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communications that’s out of the University of Georgia. And especially in times like we live in today, I am particularly proud of my association with them because there’s never been a time where journalism wasn’t more important. So, I think that’s about it. Anything else will naturally come up.
Eddie Turner:
Well said, Beth. And I got to tell you when I read that about you as a part of my research for the show, I didn’t know that part of your background and I said “Wow, I feel a little extra pressure now because you are a journalism expert. I mean, the board you sit on, especially the one I read about, the Reynolds Institute, it’s the nation’s oldest school of journalism. I didn’t know that. The other one that you sit on, they issue the esteemed Peabody Awards. Is that correct.
Beth Polish:
It is. I wish I could say that I was on the Peabody committee but I am not. That takes people of international renown but I am very proud to be part of the school that the Peabody sit under. And with Reynolds, I got involved and it’s relevant to our topic at hand of critical junctures because what got involved with the Reynolds Journalism Institute because we put together through Hearst, we pioneered a program that brought journalism students, computer science students, and business students together to solve real world problems. And that was so important because these are groups that normally don’t talk to each other but in today’s world, you can’t be a journalist and not understand the business of journalism. You can’t be on the business side without an appreciation for what journalists do. And technology is infused in all of it. So, what’s so important is to have a common vocabulary. I mean, I’m honored that I have an association with both of these institutions.
Eddie Turner:
Indeed. And with Hearst I didn’t recognize the Hearst name immediately but I did recognize and perhaps our viewers will recognize these names – A&D, the History Channel, ESPN, Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health, and Car and Driver. If you’re in Houston, Texas, our local paper, the Chronicle. You ran all of that. So, over 300 different businesses around the world. So, fantastic experience that you have.

So, let’s talk about that if we could. Actually, before we jump into that, there’s one other thing I want to share. And I would love to get your perspective as we think about this. Tell us a little bit about this, if you would.

Beth Polish:
Yes. I can’t believe you’re pulling this up. Put it down.
Eddie Turner:
That’s the MG 100 event.
Beth Polish:
I know. That was really an extraordinary event, wasn’t it?
Eddie Turner:
It was.
Beth Polish:
And what I loved about the MG 100 was the pay it forward mentality, the perspective that that’s supposed to be what binds us. And then when we got out there, I realized that this was one of the first times where it felt like everybody walked their talk, that we talk about paying it forward but, in fact, this group does, not just externally with but with each other. So, that was a remarkable couple of days, I have to say. I can’t believe you pulled that picture up though.
Eddie Turner:
Yes. Great people there from Marshall Goldsmith and that photo was us with David Peterson, the head of coaching at Google. And that’s the other great thing for my folks to know about you that you are a member of the esteemed Marshall Goldsmith’s MG100 and you were there for that day that we knew was big and it was special when it occurred but now in hindsight, all the more so since we can’t get together.
Beth Polish:
I have to say that that was a critical juncture in my life, that joining the group. It’s been remarkable. All the people that I’ve met, I know that you’ve met and the amount of interaction we have that just enriches our lives and allows us to talk about important things, we’ve taken that experience and it’s lived on beyond a single weekend.
Eddie Turner:
It really has. Hence, you and I being together today.
Beth Polish:
That’s right.
Eddie Turner:
So, you call your company Critical Junctures. Tell us why.
Beth Polish:
What I love doing is seeing vision, taking a kernel of an idea and how do you make it into something bigger. That’s what I’ve done as an entrepreneur and it’s what I do when I work with people. And the truth is that critical junctures are really important for the growth of any business. And if I might just sort of amplify that in a way, the words we use to describe things are just really important. And people often use the word ‘crisis’ or the word ‘pivot’ and the word ‘critical juncture’ interchangeably. And the truth is that they’re all related but they’re not the same thing. So, I really like to help leaders identify and navigate through critical junctures and that inevitably brings in crisis and pivot as part of that conversation.
Eddie Turner:
Wonderful. Would you say that those words have almost become overused?
Beth Polish:
I think that they’ve not only become overused but they’ve been misused, I would say. And if you don’t mind, I would really like to share with our audience, our compatriots here how I see the difference among those three words because what you do with it really matters. So, the way I think about it is a crisis is something that happens because of an emergency. Simply put, it’s a crisis, it’s an emergency. The pandemic that we’ve all been living through right now, will continue to live through for a while is definitely considered a crisis. It’s something that happens to you and sometimes you cause your own crises but a crisis is an emergency.

A pivot on the other hand is a shift away from something and something has caused this shift to be required. So, it could be what happened to the newspaper and media in many ways where consumers started to really consume their media online and digitally away from print. And it has forced some companies to pivot their direction. So, pivot is something that is a shift that’s been forced on you by changes, let’s say, in your industry.

A critical juncture though is a path, it’s a choice, a path that you go down. You’re at this moment and you either go left or you go right. And once you’re on that path, there’s all kinds of things to think about. And the truth is that most companies face similar critical junctures. Pivots may in fact cause critical junctures as do crises or a crisis could force a pivot. So, they’re interrelated but they are definitely three distinct things. and understanding those differences is really important as a leader.

Eddie Turner:
That is really good clarification and I never thought about it like that, Beth. So, thank you for sharing that.

And when we look at our current situation in terms of dealing with the pandemic, the COVID crisis and what it has caused us to think about differently as leaders, how does this factor in?

Beth Polish:
I’ve been really thinking about that a lot and talking with clients about what that means. So, I thought I would just pull some things that we’ve read about in the news. So, we talk about restaurants or bakeries. Famous one is the bakery example that many of us have read about. And the bakery gets shut down and it’s got all of these dry goods in it, it’s got all their ingredients and they can’t sell, they can’t bake because they can’t bring people in to bake. And they don’t have a really great way of selling even if they were able to bake. And, quite frankly, just opening up for delivery and takeout isn’t really an interesting answer to the question. It’s just doing what they already were doing. So, a crisis requires on the one hand for you to make a quick decision on what to do. And so, a bakery will sell flour. There were bakeries around that sold flour. It was hard to get flour. Everybody who was sheltering in place, cooking became … I think you may recall talking to one of our colleagues who is in the chocolate business, the cocoa powder was off the shelves. It hadn’t been a top seller for years but suddenly it was for people baking. So, bakeries went out in order to stay alive and they sold their dry goods. So, this was something that they did as a decision to deal with the immediate situation. They didn’t pivot away from being a bakery and they didn’t decide to go down a critical juncture that says “We’re no longer going to be in the bakery business. We’re going to be in the dry goods business.” So, it’s really important that you think about, when you respond to a crisis like we’ve done in the pandemic, about are you just making a short-term decision or is this a longer-term decision.

Does that make sense, Eddie, in a crisis related to the pandemic, how you might define that as a crisis response?

Eddie Turner:
It makes a lot of sense. And thank you for delineating that but also sharing the illustrations about the baker. And I remember I was a part of that conversation. I can’t remember who we were talking about that with but, yes, that’s very apropos. Thank you for sharing that.
Beth Polish:
Could I just continue for a second because I think there’s some interesting ones? When you think of a pivot, did the baker decide to go into a different business versus let’s say a critical juncture to truly shift directions. And I think that you and I spent a lot of time thinking about a conference business. That’s a great example of a crisis that hit an industry that was used to doing it in person and are “pivoting” away from in person to trying to do virtual. And the critical juncture for them that they face is are they thinking that they’re going to go back to physical, the in-person conferences, the moment we’re allowed to get out and it’s safe or the other side of that critical juncture is are they going to figure out that virtual and in-person are going to coexist and the critical juncture there is to be thinking about and building towards making these two sides coexist with each other versus using virtual conferences as a stopgap until they can go and do in-person again.
Eddie Turner:
Yes. So, we truly have a case of yes-and versus no.
Beth Polish:
It’s really true because I’ve sat in enough conversations with people who are either speakers, as you and I both are, or who run conferences and we’ve both produced and have been part of the management of conferences that some people really are looking at that critical juncture. They’re not seeing it as a critical juncture. They’re thinking of it as a short-term pivot in a crisis but not as a critical juncture that it really is. And I think they’re going to be left out in the end if they don’t think about it that that’s a real choice of a path for them.
Eddie Turner:
It is. And you’re right, they will be left out. There is a need for all of us to literally hit the reset button and think about a new way of doing things.

We’ll have more right after this.

This is a challenging time for businesses. We’re all anxious to get back to work as quickly as we can but also as safely as we can. Business leaders must uphold a duty of care, a responsibility to make sure that they and others are safe in the workplace. C Suite Network created C-Suite Supplies, a trusted source of quality protective equipment. Whatever your reason is for wearing a mask, do your part and protect your most valuable assets, your employees and customers. Go to C-SuiteSupplies.com.

This podcast is sponsored by Eddie Turner LLC. Organizations who need to accelerate the development of their leaders call Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator®. Eddie works with leaders to accelerate performance and drive impact. Call Eddie Turner to help your leaders one on one as their coach or to inspire them as a group through the power of facilitation or a keynote address. Visit EddieTurnerLLC.com to learn more.

This is Chester Elton, the Apostle of Appreciation and you’re listening to the Keep Leading!® Podcast with the one, the only Eddie Turner.

Eddie Turner:
All right. So, amazing guest, Beth Polish. So appreciative of having Bethel Junctures Business as leaders.

So, Beth, before the break you were giving us some really good information about how we navigate and gave us great illustrations. Are there any setbacks or obstacles that you’ve had that you’ve been able to really apply that stand out in your mind that you can share with our listeners?

Beth Polish:
That’s a great question. I think I’ve had them personally as I’ve made certain career choices that I early on in my career turned down an opportunity and that happened because I hadn’t done my homework to understand the landscape of the industry that I was being offered a job in, that I saw only the short-term opportunity and not the medium and long-term opportunity. So, when people come to me for career advice, I always share with them that I don’t want them to make that same mistake, that you really have to do your homework to know what is a real opportunity and what isn’t. And I think the same thing applies to businesses. You might think that it’s not a good idea to do something when, in fact, if you see that it can lead you to the bigger opportunity, then it’s a good thing to do. So, really, looking at it holistically is very important.
Eddie Turner:
Looking at it holistically is important. Good. And what causes us not to really see it holistically? Is there something that causes us to only see a part of it that you see popping up more than others?
Beth Polish:
Yes, I think so. In many ways, we see and hear what we want to see and here. So, I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience where somebody says something to you about an industry or something like that and suddenly it’s interesting to you and suddenly you’re noticing it everywhere and it was always there but you just weren’t attuned to it. So, I think that one thing is that we oftentimes can’t see and hear what we’re not ready to see and hear. And if that’s the case, then we have to have some self-discipline that says “I know that. It’s not about me. I’m not terrible. It’s what we all do sometimes.” So, to force yourself to have some practices or methods to make sure that one doesn’t fall into that trap of not asking other sorts of questions. And this is where, and I think you may know, that I have a business degree but I was an Anthropology major in college. And as an anthropologist, you really work hard to see the world through somebody else’s eyes. And I feel like that has been so important to me in business because that’s what helps me check myself. I try really hard not to just to look at it through my eyes but imagine it through somebody else in the situation and that helps me see things better. I don’t always love what I see but it’s important that I see the things I don’t want to see.
Eddie Turner:
Now, I did not know that, Beth. In fact, I realized that there’s a line I omitted when I was reading your very impressive bio and that is that you have an MBA from Harvard Business School. I did not know that you had studied Anthropology.
Beth Polish:
Yes. I think it’s one of the most valuable educations the person can have and yet for earning, out-of-college Anthropology majors are always at the bottom. I just say it’s like the tortoise and the hare, that hare runs off and burns itself out and. So, I just think that the Anthropology majors just may start out of the gate a little slower but they get there in the end.
Eddie Turner:
They get there in the end.
Beth Polish:
That what I told my parents.
Eddie Turner:
That’s what you told your parents. And in the end, you did because you’ve got to do some incredible things. And so, that’s good to know because sometimes, and this is a whole another topic, a whole another show, but sometimes our Liberal Arts degrees or different degrees that aren’t necessarily Accounting, Engineering and probably Finances, there’s another one I’m thinking of, Medicine, if they’re not known areas, then people don’t necessarily always see the value in it. So, thank you for sharing that.
Beth Polish:
Yes.
Eddie Turner:
The other thing you said was interesting about sometimes you’re not ready to do something or hear something even. And as a coach, that really resonates with me because I see that a lot. Is there something that you have found that is helpful? And you kind of touched on it a little bit there but is there something that you have found that is your go-to when you see that that’s the case or do you just kind of have to sit back and wait for the person to catch up?
Beth Polish:
Wow! That’s a terrific question. I think it’s different for different people that I work with or who are friends who come for advice. I think the more you work with people, you get a sense of what’s the best way to let the person in on that it’d be great to look at things from a different perspective. No matter what, I think people don’t want to be told what to do. They need to feel like they have agency over what they’re doing and how they’re feeling. So, it might be articles I send, it may be starting a conversation in a different area that allows me to somehow make the link back to what it is. And also, fear drives a lot of these things. So, being a safe person for people to talk to and not judging, there’s no judgement. Didn’t you say coaches need coaches? We all need safe people that we can talk to. So, my guess is your coach provides you with a safe person, that she’s safe for you to talk to and work things through with without judgment. And so, I think that the best we can do as coaches is to provide that safe space for our clients to work through issues with, not as a psychiatrist because that’s not what we are, psychologists, but as a business person. A great one is role playing difficult conversations. What’s in your head, when you think it’s going to be terrible, it’s really hard. People can’t say most of those horrible things. They just don’t say it. So, sometimes you just have to be a person that can go back and forth with your client and realize that it’s maybe not as difficult as they might think it is.
Eddie Turner:
And in many cases it is not as difficult as we think it is and, in some cases, of course, we find out that it may be even harder than what we thought it was, we underestimate it but the power positive thinking. Good.
Beth Polish:
I try. And these days we have to feel like we can get through and it’s really hard day to day, moment to moment throughout the day to feel like we haven’t much control over anything right now.
Eddie Turner:
That is true today, probably now more than ever.
Beth Polish:
Yes.
Eddie Turner:
For our leaders our, entrepreneurs, our business folks who are here, is there any final advice you would like to share for those who are listening?
Beth Polish:
In thinking about that, I’m going to go back to something that I started with which is to understand the importance of words because they frame how you look at and respond to a critical juncture or knowing whether it’s a crisis or a pivot. So, it’s really important to know those words, think clearly about what it is that you’re dealing with because otherwise, it’s the only way to avoid unintended consequences. And the other factor that I think is very important for people to realize is not acting is actually a decision. And so, you have to treat it as a decision because sometimes, the best thing to do is to sit tight and the other times, it’s the worst thing that you can do. You just have to make it an active choice. And movement forward like even a decision not to act is movement forward. If you don’t stop moving forward, then you will have a real problem. So, that’s what I’d like to suggest to people that they do. And tied to that is, if I might add a second thing, if you don’t mind, is something which I call the “Look yourself in the mirror” test which is to really understand what makes you tick. Some people are really good at being entrepreneurs or consultants and or being employees. And if you try to force yourself into a role which is not something you’re either comfortable with or trained for and it may not be right for this moment in your life, there will be a mismatch. And so, there’s no wrong answer unless it is that you haven’t been honest with yourself about what really matters to you and your business.
Eddie Turner:
So, Beth, this is the Keep Leading!® Podcast and Keep Leading LIVE™ stream. We like to give leaders a quote or the best piece of leadership advice that you’ve ever received that you can share with us to help us all keep leading?
Beth Polish:
To keep moving forward and to make sure you have a thick skin. You’re going to have ups and downs but you keep moving forward.
Eddie Turner:
Keep moving forward and have a thick skin. Outstanding.

Where can my listeners learn more about you?

Beth Polish:
They can go to BethPolish.com and learn some more about me. They can come to my LinkedIn page which I think you’ve shared already with people. Those would be two easy places to go. And anybody who interacts with me, I’m pretty good at responding. So, please feel free. And I’d also like to say while I appreciate people telling me that they agree, I really do appreciate that because I need that and also, I am happy to hear that you disagree because it makes me think. And I have had that when I used to blog regularly, I wrote something and people just started writing about how they thought I had it all wrong and it forced me to think and I appreciate the honesty and the courage it takes to put forward opinions like that. So, please, if you think I’m wrong, just let me know.
Eddie Turner:
Well, I think you’re right and I think the audience will definitely take you up on the offer to let you know. Thank you for helping us to understand how we can navigate critical ventures as leaders. We’re going to put all your contact information in the show notes so people can reach out to you. And I want to encourage everyone, connect with Beth on social media when those links come out. Connect with her. I’ve already shared her LinkedIn. I think we’ve got your Twitter handle and all that and we’re going to be putting it in the show notes as well. So, connect with her, follow her, she’s amazing. And I’m so grateful to you for being my guest today on the Keep Leading LIVE™ stream.
Beth Polish:
Thank you. I’m grateful to have been here.
Eddie Turner:
And thank you all for tuning in and thank you all for listening. I’ve already announced our guest for next week. So, I just want to remind you all the Keep Leading!® Podcast and Keep Leading LIVE™ stream are all about reminding us that leadership is an activity. Leadership is all about action. It’s not the case of once a leader, always a leader. It’s not a garment that we put on and take off. We must be a leader at our core and allow it to emanate in all we do. So, whatever you’re doing, always keep leading.

Thank you for listening to your host Eddie Turner on the Keep Leading!® Podcast. Please remember to subscribe to the Keep Leading!® Podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen. For more information about Eddie Turner’s work, please visit EddieTurnerLLC.com.

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The Keep Leading!® podcast is for people passionate about leadership. It is dedicated to leadership development and insights. Join your host Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator® as he speaks with accomplished leaders and people of influence across the globe as they share their journey to leadership excellence. Listen as they share leadership strategies, techniques and insights. For more information visit eddieturnerllc.com or follow Eddie Turner on Twitter and Instagram at @eddieturnerjr. Like Eddie Turner LLC on Facebook. Connect with Eddie Turner on LinkedIn.