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Golden Oldies: Discriminating Leadership and Influence, Persuasion and Manipulation

Monday, May 8th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies is a collection of some of the best posts during that time.

This week is a two-fer, the first post was written in 2009, while the second is from 2015. Both contain links to other relevant posts. And both address a pet peeve of mine involving words — what else — their use, misuse and baggage.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Discriminating Leadership

The ability to influence is not the sign of a leader; nor are visions, forceful opinions, board seats, titles or popularity. After all, if a high media profile was a sign of leadership then Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are leaders.

Millions of people are influenced and even inspired by writers and actors, but does that make them leaders? Angelina Jolie is considered a leader for her tireless charitable efforts as opposed to her screen credits; Rush Limbaugh may influence thousands, but I’ve never heard him called a leader.

It is the singular accomplishments; the unique actions that deserve the term, not the position you hold or just doing your job.

I knew a manager who thought his major accomplishment was managing his 100 person organization, but that wasn’t an accomplishment—that was his job. The accomplishment, and what qualified him as a leader, was doing it for four years with 3% turnover and every project finished on time and in budget.

Jim Stroup over at Managing Leadership (no longer available) wrote, “There is a strong and general instinct to ascribe positive values to what we have determined to be examples of leadership. In a world that so often confuses forcefulness with leadership, this can be – and frequently is, in fact, revealed to be – an exceedingly dangerous habit… There is a particularly frustrating – and increasing – tendency to characterize any practice or trait deemed “good” as “leadership.” When an executive exhibits behavior that is highly valued – or even expresses a perfectly ordinary one especially well – he or she is declared to be a “leader,” or to have demonstrated “leadership.”

Dozens of corporate chieftains who were held up for years as exemplifying visionary leadership now stand in line for bailout money—or dinner in jail.

There is no way to stop the word being used and abused, but you have the option to hear it for what it really is—a word with no baggage, no assumed meaning.

A word on which you focus your critical thinking instead of accepting it blindly, assuming that all its traits are positive or rejecting it based on nothing more than ideology.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/aafromaa/4476152633Influence, Persuasion and Manipulation

Last week I had lunch with four managers, “Larry,” “Mandy,” “Paul” and “Ashish.” At one point the conversation turned to how the ability to influence people affected the ability to lead.

It was a lively conversation, but I stayed on the sidelines; noticing my silence, Ashish asked me what I thought.

Instead of responding I asked all of them what the difference was between influence, persuasion and manipulation.

This provoked another active discussion, with the upshot that while it was acceptable to influence people it was wrong to manipulate them. This time it was Mandy who asked what I thought.

I responded that I didn’t see a lot of difference between the three.

That shocked them all, but really upset Larry.

So I explained my thinking, which formed the basis of this post in 2011.

Influence = Manipulation

Every conversation about leadership talks about ‘influence’ and how to increase yours.

In a post at Forbes, Howard Scharlatt defines influence this way,

Influence is, simply put, the power and ability to personally affect others’ actions, decisions, opinions or thinking. At one level, it is about compliance, about getting someone to go along with what you want them to do.

He goes on to describe three kinds of influencing tactics: logical, emotional and cooperative, or influencing with head, heart and hands and talks about ‘personal influence’ and its importance in persuading people when authority is lacking.

A couple of years ago I wrote The Power of Words and said, “Personally, other than socially acceptable definitions, I don’t see a lot of difference between influence and manipulation,” and I still don’t.

I realize most people consider manipulation negative and influence positive, but they are just words.

I often hear that leaders are good people, while manipulators are bad people. But as I pointed out in another post,

leaders are not by definition “good;”

they aren’t always positive role models; and

one person’s “good” leader is another person’s demon.

Everyone believes they use their influence in a positive way, but when you persuade people to do [whatever] who are you to say that both the short and long-term outcome is positive for them?

Influence, persuasion, manipulation; call it what you will, just remember that it is power and be cautious when you wield it.

In spite of the heated disagreement I saw no reason to change my thinking.

I was surprised at the end of the discussion when even Larry commented that while it made sense that the words didn’t actually signal intent he still didn’t like it and wasn’t about to use them interchangeably, which made sense to me, because language carries the meaning (and the baggage) of the time and place in which it’s used.

Image credit: Anne Adrian

Story Power

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

Ask any 21st Century marketer about brand building and they will tell you ‘it’s all about the story’.

Every brand works to tell stories that draw people in; that they want to share.

The obvious social deafness of major brands is hard to fathom, with Nivea and Pepsi being two of the most recent.

Nivea’s “White is Purity” ad was pulled and the entire campaign canceled two days after its appearance on Facebook.

The company provided what has come to be a boilerplate apology.

“We are deeply sorry to anyone who may take offense to this specific post,” the company said in a statement. “Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values of Nivea.”

Within days it was Pepsi on the social media hot seat for an incredibly insensitive, incredibly white ad focusing on the Black Lives Matter protests.

The ad was pulled in hours, although, as you can see, nothing posted is ever truly deleted; here is Pepsi’s gussied up version of the boilerplate apology.

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday. “We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout.”

Nivea’s story was from an agency, while Pepsi’s was developed in-house.

While I’m no fan of social media in general and its penchant for spreading fake news, in this case the lightening reactions actually did some good.

Heineken is another story (pun intended) entirely and has the awards to prove it, so it isn’t surprising that it was Heineken that successfully created the story the others screwed up so badly.

The take-away is that stories are a two-edged sword, so be sure to do them outside the echo chamber or don’t do them.

Image credit: Heineken and Team cast

Golden Oldie: When Execution is an Anagram of the Act

Monday, May 1st, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies is a collection of some of the best posts during that time.

Often the most important stuff we need to learn doesn’t require multiple videos, books, and coaching. Sometimes a simple memory aid that’s easy to remember will do it, although execution still requires effort and self discipline, as in this case.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rebeccabarray/8985496669/An executive once asked me what the single most import thing he should do and how best to do it.
I told him the answer was simple and the key to execution was found in an anagram of the act.
Can you guess the action and anagram?
The action is to LISTEN.
The anagram is SILENT.
The first is impossible without doing the second.
Flickr image credit: RebeccaBarray

Ryan’s Journal: Musings on A Tough Week For PR

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/tofu_mugwump/25716292035/

This past week we had one bad press event after another and all from different sectors. Let’s review what has transpired so far: Pepsi decided to release an ad that equated the giving of a Pepsi to a police officer as the answer to the protests that have occurred.

It was looked, at the very least, tone deaf, but was also offensive to many who felt Pepsi was attempting to capitalize on societal events that have true impacts.

Our President’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, somehow thought it was a clever idea to bring up Hitler as an example of how he was better than the current Syrian regime. If you missed it he essentially said that Hitler never gassed his own people, unlike what Assad has done in Syria.

A basic history lesson will show that Hitler may not have used gas attacks in a combat role but he gassed millions of innocent Jews in death camps throughout Europe. Not exactly a bastion of humanity there.

The event, however, that caught many by surprise was the viral video of a passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight after it was determined that they needed his seat for an employee.

This man was already seated and refused to leave, since he was a doctor and had appointments he needed to make. When he refused to leave, the police were called and he was dragged off screaming. To make matters odder he somehow got back on the plane, bloodied and rambling.

That event was terrible, but then the CEO of United decided to double down and call the man belligerent. Since then the CEO has issued several apologies, but the damage has been done.

What do these three events have in common? I would argue that in each of these cases the leadership of the company, who typically maintains the cultural norms, has failed.

Let’s dive in and see how this could have been prevented to learn from them in the future.

Pepsi had grand ambitions to have a meaningful conversation around current events and sell their product. One critical flaw here, they utilized their in-house marketing team.

They were operating in an echo chamber with no one to tell them to stop and think for a moment. This is something I personally must do in my own life. I must seek out feedback on a continuous basis to determine if I am on the right path.

My goal for this post is not to get political, but we can look at the Sean Spicer event as a leadership problem. He was hired by Donald Trump, who already had an idea of what Sean was like. Since taking the role Sean Spicer has been in hot water several times, this being the latest in a string of gaffs.

This man is essentially the voice of our President, twitter aside. The culture of the White House has enabled him to act recklessly and uncouthly. Similar to the idea that brilliant jerks are ok, we have a similar issue at stake here.

My take-away from this is to put yourself in the shoes of your listeners. Would what you are saying be divisive to your listeners or just plain wrong?

Finally, we have the United Airlines debacle.

Now the event itself was a shock but we need to look at the response since it came to light.

The CEO started by stating the man was belligerent and the CEO supported his employee’s decisions.

I get it, you want to reassure your workforce that you have their back, but in this case the CEO was also viewing this from a legal standpoint.

There is a law that allows you to forcibly remove a passenger if he is belligerent. The CEO labeled that passenger in such a way to protect himself legally. But we all saw the video and beyond refusing to leave the man really wasn’t much of a threat.

To me, this response is indicative of both pride and attempting to cover up rather than solve. That CEO has surrounded himself with folks that are unwilling or unable to push back and offer insight.

I have done that in my own life as well and so must always reach out to those that share different opinions than I or different beliefs, so I can continue to learn.

Image credit: Topher McCulloch

Words Words Words

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

http://www.dailyexcelsior.com/yoloclicktivism-among-new-words-in-oxford-dictionary/

A newish reader called me, mainly, he said, to see if I really did answer my phone (the number and an invitation to call is prominently displayed in the right-hand column). He seemed even more surprised that I would take time to chat.

The conversation covered several topics, but the question I found most appropriate to mention here was, “Do you really think word choice and punctuation make all that much difference or is it just your own personal hang-up?”

Fair question and one I’ve heard before.

Regarding the importance of punctuation I referred him to the lost lawsuit in yesterday’s post, which he hadn’t read, yet.

As to the importance of word choice you need to look no further than the care taken by the shared economy giants, such as the UK’s Deliveroo when referring to their non-employees.

The critical importance of using the correct terms (click the link above for a sample) can be found in Deliveroo’s bend-over-backwards effort to avoid having the government class their non-employees as employees, with all the associated rights and costs.

The six pages of do’s and don’ts are meant to serve as a template for how staff should speak to and about its couriers (though it prefers to call them “independent suppliers”). For example, they want to avoid saying “We pay you every two weeks”, preferring the more obtuse passive phrase, “Rider invoices are processed fortnightly.”

Words are incredibly powerful, as I wrote way back in 2009; more than 50 years ago James Thurber concurred.

Precision of communication is important, more important than ever, in our era of hair trigger balances, when a false or misunderstood word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act.

Of course, precision is just as important, if not more so, when intentionally creating false views and misunderstandings as proven beyond doubt by recent elections here and around the globe.

Image credit: DailyExcelsior.com

Ducks in a Row: Cost Of A Comma

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/allenthepostman/2223927152/

Yesterday I promised to share how the lack of a common comma lost a lawsuit upon appeal.

A Maine court ruling in a case about overtime pay and dairy delivery didn’t come down to trucks, milk, or money. Instead, it hinged on one missing comma. (…) On March 13, a US court of appeals determined that certain clauses of Maine’s overtime laws are grammatically ambiguous. Because of that lack of clarity, the five drivers have won their lawsuit against Oakhurst, and are eligible for unpaid overtime.

And, as every company knows, overtime is costly.

The comma in question isn’t a true commoner, not with an Oxford University Press pedigree; it is a serial comma and one might even consider it a titled comma.

It was the relationship between the comma and lists that housed the seeds of lawsuit destruction. To clarify,

According to state law, the following types of activities are among those that don’t qualify for overtime pay:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

There, in the comma-less space between the words “shipment” and “or,” the fate of Kevin O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy was argued.

(…) all the other exempted activities were listed as gerunds, words ending with “-ing”: Canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing. The word “distribution,” they argued, was therefore not intended to be one of the items in the list.

Unlike me, my ESL clients often err on the side of overuse, whereas for years I deleted commas after ‘and’ and ‘or’, but no longer.

Now I consider the actual content and context and, like the court, determine the meaning before using the delete key.

Image credit: allen watkin

Golden Oldies: A Lesson in Capitals

Monday, April 10th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Have you noticed how boring/confusing/annoying/embarrassing/etc. so much content, emails and other written communications are these days?

Or are you happy communicating by text and feel everyone should just forget dumb, outmoded stuff like grammar, capitols, punctuation, and shoving it out the door fast?

If you’re in the latter category I feel sorry for you. I’ve written many times about the value of good writing along with the importance of reading as a basis for it.

I don’t mean polished and professional; I mean the ability to put words together in a way they won’t be misunderstood.

If you think that it really doesn’t matter read the following 2012 post and join me tomorrow to see how a lowly comma cost a company big time.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/scottiet812/3064819572/My client/friend, EMANIO [now Quarrio] CEO KG Charles-Harris, has been a guest poster here; he’s received several hat tips for sending links to information used in various posts and he just racked up another one.

I’ve written before about the importance of details when writing; details like commas, periods and capitals.

But the note KG forwarded drives home the importance of capitals—unforgettably.

Miki, I received this from a friend who is an English Professor and thought you would appreciate it; it’s short and to the point.

In the world of hi-tech gadgetry, I’ve noticed that more and more people who send text messages and emails have long forgotten the art of capital letters.

For those of you who fall into this category, please take note of the following statement: “Capitalization is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse.”

Thanks, KG; graphic word imagery does get the point across, even to teens.

Flickr image credit: ScottieT812

Ducks in a Row: How Good Is Your Face-To-Face?

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/44412176@N05/4197328040/

Why is it that the most difficult part of management, i.e., people management, constantly moves backwards?

Managers from the Greatest Generation tried to manage by memo.

That lasted until the 1970s when Boomer and Gen X managers took a giant step backwards and started trying to manage by email.

Millennials have taken an even larger step in that direction by trying to manage by text and have swept many of the previous contingents along with them.

Granted, people at all levels often look for and find ways, frequently turning to available technology, to avoid, or at least minimize, the most frustrating and difficult parts of their jobs.

However, that doesn’t work when the frustrating part is 90% of the job.

Every time this comes up I find myself quoting something Terry Dial said to me decades ago.

“People are 90% of our costs as well as the key to customer service and satisfaction. The only thing that should take priority over hiring a new employee is keeping a current one.”

Wally Bock puts it this way (and offers excellent advice on how to do it.)

In the Marines, I learned that when you’re responsible for a group, you have two jobs. One of them is to accomplish the mission. The other is to take care of the people.

I personally guarantee that you won’t accomplish the former if you ignore the latter.

You cannot “care for your people” by email or text — it requires face time.

It requires one-on-one conversations — wherever they take place — and not just about performance.

Conversations need to be human, that means family, hobbies, food, sports, etc.

Face-to-face humanizing contact is critical for teams, too, whether they are in a different office around the block or around the globe.

As Valerie Berset-Price, founder of Professional Passport says,

“Building trust is a multisensory experience,” she says. “Only when people are physically present together can they use all of their senses” to establish that needed trust. Without a bond, conflict or disengagement can more easily arise and is more difficult to resolve.

So whether you consider yourself a manager, a leader, a boss, or just a plain working stiff honing your in-person communication skills will not only improve your career opportunities, but also all parts of your life.

PS I just saw this article on IBM’s move to have teams in-person face-to-face.

Image credit: gorfor

Educationally Speaking

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/waldec/4507270630/

No matter your circumstances, married/involved/single, there are probably kids somewhere in your world.

I read a lot of articles about education, but three about kids really stood out for me and I believe will be of value to you.

The first looks at the unpleasant fact that our so-called modern education is producing workers more fit for 19th and early 20th Century jobs than those that will be available when they enter the workforce. In other words, acing standardized tests does not prepare you for anything more than functioning in rote.

In the future, if you want a job, you must be as unlike a machine as possible: creative, critical and socially skilled. So why are children being taught to behave like machines?

Speaking of behind-the-times teaching.

The only thing that can be said for the traditional approach to math, which, along with critical thinking, is one of the most critical skills needed in the future, is that it stinks.

Whether you look at the results by age (including adults), race or gender math skills are sadly lacking in the US and many other countries.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

John Mighton, a Canadian playwright, author, and math tutor who struggled with math himself, has designed a teaching program that has some of the worst-performing math students performing well and actually enjoying math. There’s mounting evidence that the method works for all kids of all abilities.

Finally, or maybe foremost, is culture.

Just as in companies, the culture in a school is the determining factor on whether kids learn — or not.

The prevailing culture of many schools, especially the vaunted charter schools, has been one “no excuses.” A culture focused on regimentation and inflicted mostly on poor children of color.

But as any idiot knows, regimentation is not going to produce the next Marc Benioff or Larry Elison, So what does?

Ascend Public Charter Schools network began to retrain teachers to focus on social and emotional development. This provided the framework for creative problem solving to help prevent conflicts between students, or between teachers and students, from escalating.

Does it work? Is it making a measurable difference? Short answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

Around the same time that Ascend was transforming its culture, it put in place a new curriculum, more closely aligned with progressive schools, that focuses on intellectual inquiry rather than received knowledge. At Ascend’s lower and middle schools in Brownsville, passing grades on the annual state English test increased to 39 percent in 2016, from 22 percent in 2014, while the rate on the math test increased to 37 percent, from 29 percent. It’s hard to isolate the cause for the improvement, but it is likely to be a combination of both the academic and cultural changes, which makes Ascend a bold testing ground for the theory that children from low-income homes can be educated the same way as children from affluent families.

Finally, what about adult education, specifically the much ballyhooed MBA? Does it provide the education that provides the skills to climb the corporate ladder?

Not really, according to Henry Mintzberg, Cleghorn Professorship of Management Studies at McGill University, who looked at CEOs from what is considered the most elite university on the planet: Harvard.

Joseph Lampel and I studied the post-1990 records of all 19. How did they do? In a word, badly. A majority, 10, seemed clearly to have failed, meaning that their company went bankrupt, they were forced out of the CEO chair, a major merger backfired, and so on. The performance of another 4 we found to be questionable.

I sent the article to another Harvard-educated CEO I know. His reaction?

Excellent  article. Very true. It took me years to unlearn what I’d been taught at business school…

The article is well worth your time, especially if you, or someone you know, are considering spending the money/going into debt for your MBA.

One more irreverent note, compliments of CB Insights, that is oh, so, true.

Hack: How to hire MBAs
My co-founder Jon stumbled upon this hack to get lots of MBA resumes which I’m going to let you in on.
Whatever the job title, throw the word “strategic” in front of it.

Image credit: .waldec

Golden Oldies: If the Shoe Fits: Finding the Cause of Turnover

Monday, March 13th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Bosses are usually unrelenting when something goes wrong with a product/service. They, the team and often the entire company work to not only find the cause, so it won’t happen again, but also to placate their customers.

However, when the problem is an internal human one, they are more hesitant to root it out, since that often means first looking in the mirror and then actually changing (not just paying lip-service until the turmoil dies down).

Read other Golden Oldies here.

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read allIf the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn the right frame of MAPping Company Success it says, “Have a quick question or just want to chat?” along with both email and phone number.

A few weeks ago a “John,” a founder, called me to see if I had any idea why his turnover was so high.  

In response to my questions he described his company’s culture, management style, product, etc.

I told him that assuming what he said was what was actually happening then something else was going on.

Since we are several thousand miles apart, we came up with the idea of using a stationary camcorder to tape the interactions; a “set it and forget it” approach to capture the norm and not performances.

A few days later he sent me a link to see the results.

I choked at the length, but it didn’t take that long to find what the likely problem was.

To see if my instinct was correct, I watched the entire nine hours on fast forward.

What I saw was that, almost without exception, during every interaction John had, whether with programmers or senior staff, he interrupted them to take calls or respond to texts.

We discussed the ramifications and effects of the constant interruptions and I asked him how he would feel if they had acted the same way.

He said it had happened to him and he usually felt annoyed, offended or both.

So I asked why they would feel any different.

John said that also explained why one senior developer said he preferred to work where he was shown some respect.

John had chalked it up to the developer’s age and that he couldn’t handle the casual atmosphere, but thinking back the guy had had a good relationship and no problems with the team.

I suggested that instead of saying anything he just change, i.e., pay attention and not interrupt, since actions speak louder than words.

I also sent him this image as a constant reminder.

respect

John went further than changing; he called the most recent three who had left, apologized and said he would like them to come back.

One had already accepted a job, but the other two decided to give it another shot.

They both said that his candidness, honesty in recognizing the problem and sincere apology made it likely he would follow through.

Image credits: HikingArtist and via Imgfave

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