Category Archives: Leaders

Facebook helps you leave the world better than you found it

Organ donation helps so many people — the donor’s family, the recipient, the recipient’s family.

The donor’s family honors their loved one and realizes extra meaning from the lost life. The recipient receives a chance to sustain and continue and, in many cases, start over and see life in new ways. The recipient’s family takes a journey that begins with potential loss and continues through both gratitude and the realization that we must live every moment with gusto, humility and purpose.

My father received a liver transplant at Baylor in 1993. The team of specialists in Dallas, who had a level of professionalism one can only be grateful to witness — steely talent, focus and empathy, shared the gift offered by a young man’s family with ours.

While our particular family drama took many more twists and turns in the ensuing months and years, I remain convinced that the gift of this procedure is not just the saving of a physical life. Dad’s organ transplant gave him, my mother, their children, and our extended family and friends the opportunity to consider what we can do with our lives in each day and in every relationship. This is almost beyond description. All are empowered to experience a rejuvenation in perspective and outlook.

While it is up to every person in the circle to take the transplant as an enabling moment of change — the transplant does not always deliver a fairytale ending [something I learned from the friends I made as I did my transplant research] — the act of participating in organ donation is nonetheless an important gesture. In acknowledging that we must try to help each other, either by giving generously or accepting graciously, we are doing the kind of thinking we’re on this planet to do.

Facebook’s decision to illuminate the power of organ donation is a neat personal moment in this regard. The company and its tools play a daily role in my professional world, largely because I decided to take a new direction and come to Silicon Valley in 1997. There’s no doubt in my mind that my father’s health journey sharpened my own sense that destiny is largely within one’s own control. In tying my destiny to technology, I made a huge change. I moved myself to the headquarters of the new age, and the fact that one of the companies shaping the age, not just my work, has chosen to focus a philanthropic act on organ donation is a nice bit of serendipity.

Social networks like Facebook may play a smaller, supporting role in your journey. This is still an opportunity to consider what the people behind Facebook are suggesting we do with their technology. Most definitely become an organ donor, and most definitely consider, every day, what you, your companies and your circles are doing to leave the world better than you found it.

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A leadership secret: Communicating with finesse

This post is dedicated to Scott McNealy, with all due respect and great admiration for his accomplishments.  And his potential.

During a late lunch break on November 10, I turned on the television to watch CNBC.  They were running a clip of an interview with Scott McNealy, one of Silicon Valley's technology thinkers and CEOs, a real success story.  When asked what he thought of the Occupy movement, Mr McNealy said, "get a job."

While I happen to have even stronger feelings than McNealy about what we should do with the anarchists and arsonists who have hijacked the Occupy movement, I was flabbergasted that someone as smart and quick as McNealy couldn't think of a better way to answer the question — or to capitalize on it.  He could have said something equally arresting without appearing insensitive to how the problems afoot in the United States, culturally and commercially, are affecting the rest of us.  It was the perfect opportunity to explore what's back of Occupy, and in McNealy's case, maybe even demonstrate how his new startup can help connect people in an age of gated neighborhoods and the disintegration of the middle class.  Or maybe just to say something more inspired than, "get a job."

And that's when I realized that our leadership problem runs much deeper than I ever imagined.

http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=4525966&searchId=777a9b8fb43ab0af98ab97282b6093bb&npos=51The art of management finesse

Can it be that the astronomical financial and personal success of our business leaders has isolated them so much from the rest of their fellow citizens that they don't realize just how difficult it is to get a job or build business, get a living wage or project fee, or get paid at all?

Yes, it can be.  But I think it's more than that.  I think even the self-made guys are turning into elitists.  After all, their investment bankers parcel out IPO opportunities.  The elitist training begins early.  Many CEOs seem to be disconnecting from the rest of the populace to the degree that their positions are not about leading organizations and innovating but strictly about their own wealth. 

I hope this is not the case with McNealy.  I hope this is just one gaff.  But the gaff pulled me up short and made me acknowledge that the wealth gap is merely one aspect of a larger gulf:  the growing absence of management finesse.

Finesse is often a natural gift.  Whether instinctive or acquired, finesse is a need-to-have, not a nice-to-have.  It's the ingredient that gets messages heard and inspires action. 

Finesse is nurtured by study and a personal emphasis on empathy.  We all stumble.  CEOs, though, have access to a key tool for learning and practicing management finesse to the degree that it can mitigate the stumbles.  The corporate communications function.  A need-to-have, not a nice-to-have.  Like anything else, it's all in how you build it.

Get your finesse on

The very best of the traditional American business canon gives us example after example of leaders who had experienced, legitimate communications advisors and who listened to them.  It's difficult for any human being, much less one with corporate power, to remain human without at least some institutional emphasis on keeping things real.  Corporate Communications should be the one place the CEO can turn whose only ax to grind is seeing the CEO set a clear path for the organization.

Many of today's CEOs are surrounded by yes men and women who take orders instead of tell the emperor he's not wearing any clothes.  Instead of a Merlin, they have court jesters.  Or worse.  These leaders would rather get up and read something a remote underling or PR agent wrote for them than spend time thinking about what they believe and how they can use their positions to lead us out of this mess. [Which includes speaking up about how we got here in the first place — not just blaming Washington or Wall Street.]

If Jack Kennedy had developed his messages this way, we might never had heard his voice or known what he thought.  His process alone should be enough of a template for today's CEO to follow in crafting and articulating messages of insight and intellect.

CEOs:  Owning your message is the price of entry to leadership

You aren't interested in or comfortable with setting aside time to work on your messages and deliver them?  Not acceptable. 

CEOs, thinking about your messages gets you in the habit of exploring every option in front of you.  Of listening.  And of thinking before you open your mouth, helping you find the words to say something enlightening, enriching the conversation because you were in it. I refuse to accept any thinking that excuses you from participating relentlessly in the creation of your messages.  It is part of your job. Like riding herd on financials or helping to win a big account.

Most important:  every opportunity to communicate should serve the purpose of reminding you that being a leader is as much about service as it is about lordship.  Owning your messages can help bridge the gap between the solitary burdens of your office and all the stakeholders in the enterprise's success.  It can help you put your own problems in context.  It can remind you that you're part of something larger than yourself.

 

Nine ways you can help job hunters and boost your own marketing

This morning's news — that the recovery from the recession is weak and people still cannot find jobs — prompts this post. 

Here's how to help if you are in a position of financial and/or professional strength.  And how to consider your help an actual tactical step for positioning your company — and your own reputation — now and in the future.

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  1. Recognize that if you have a friend or former colleague who's looking for work, she is vulnerable.  Be positive yet candid.  Do not shine her on about opportunities that are not there or how quickly you're hiring, but do remind her that you will do whatever you can to help.  Then actually put some time to the task.
  2. Keep an eye out for what's available in your company.  If you're on LinkedIn, post it to your contacts there.  Spread the word.
  3. If someone approaches you to help him pursue an open job listing in your company, connect him and stay on top of your HR people.  Keep following up with HR and stay in close touch with the applicant.
  4. If you're in HR, for heaven's sake, reply to phone calls and emails.  Even if all you have is bad news.  Even if all you can manage is a robo-email.  There is nothing more disrespectful — and unkind/inhuman/rude — than ignoring people.  For HR, it is nothing short of unconscionable.  You are, after all, being paid to deal with a key corporate resource. And in this age of email, it is inexcusable to leave people hanging.
  5. If you're a marketing executive, make it company policy to be communicative, professional and kind to people who approach your company for a job.  Recognize that not returning calls or following up is bad marketing.  Encourage your HR people — indeed, all your people — to exhibit only the finest of manners to all who cross their paths.  Some day, someone your company has rejected or ignored may be in a position to buy your products and services or influence the decision to do so.  You must look at any sort of job negotiation or communication as another avenue of marketing your enterprise.  I predict that once this nasty era of business is over, people your company treated well will remember it and become at least an ambassador, if not a customer.
  6. If you're a CEO, start hiring now.  Follow the example of Howard Schultz of Starbucks.  Stop looking to Washington.  Make some sacrifices, because millions of your fellow citizens are living on sacrifice.  Oh.  And cut a few hundred thousand from your own paycheck and hire a couple of people.
  7. If you're a hiring executive and you know you're going to transfer someone internal into a new or open position, suspend the practice of posting the job outside the company unless you are seriously looking.  You are wasting everyone's time by making people think they have a chance of employment — the candidates', HR's, yours.  And tell external candidates that they have internal competition and where they rank in the queue.
  8. If you know someone needs cash and you have more than enough, give someone a gift.  At least pick up the lunch tab.  If no one in your circle is hurting, find someone who is.  Ask your coworkers, your religious leader, your friends.  Keep it private and put cash directly in the hands of someone who needs it. 
  9. Be kind.  It's easy, it's free, it's helpful.  My mother used to be the taskmaster in one area of our school report cards:  what was called "deportment," at least in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.  She used to tell us that the easiest thing to do was to behave.  Same principle here:  the easiest thing to get right is to remember that if someone is asking you for help, he deserves your respect and attention.

The economy is in recovery.  Innovation is happening, and this crash is going to help in the long run.  Position your company for that long run.  Even if you don't believe in karma, or you don't think it's your responsibility to help others, the very best kind of marketing for your enterprise is based in relationships.  Show the world that you know relationships are key to commerce.  And that you know the key to good, sustainable relationships is the personal touch.

Seven ways to turn customers into advocates

Let's assume the product or service you sell is of high quality and holds significant competitive value.  

You can add another important competitive barrier, and a differentiator, by turning your customers into advocates of your company.

Companies like Salesforce.com [my client] are supplying technology that enables companies to share information, solve problems and consult with customers in real-time.  By example, Salesforce is now showing us how the pursuit of advocacy brings you even closer to your customers — and augments traditional sales and marketing powerfully for this new age.

Essentially, when your customer is your advocate, he or she shares the good news with others.  Also important:  your customer advocate tells you first how well your product works and what will make it even better.  A customer advocate is as committed to your company as you are to the relationship — giving you, as Salesforce likes to say, a customer for life.

Rome-roma-italy-2624701-l Imbed these seven actions into your customer relations activities and you'll be on your way to recognizing your customers as advocates.

Show your customer you are listening.  When a customer contacts you, respond immediately.  Use the words your customer uses to describe a situation or to answer a question.  Talk about the business and customer challenges.  Ask about the team. 

Be useful to your customer in a variety of ways.  Read periodicals and blogs about his industry.  Send her articles and site links that will help her do her job.  Share stories about other customers that will spark ideas. 

Connect to your customer beyond the sale.  Send a one-line email or leave a short voicemail just to say hello.  Follow the customer's blog, Twitter feed or Facebook page.  Connect on LinkedIn.

Embrace your customer's culture.  Pay attention to the office environment when you visit.  Bring a small food gift that you know will be put to use in the kitchen.  Acknowledge a dress code not by matching it exactly but by a slight adjustment to your own style.  If the customer communicates only by email, use that; same if it's voicemail or text message.

Take up as little of your customer's time as possible.  When you have a meeting or conference call, stay on point and only address product features if they relate to a specific topic.  Stick to the agenda.  Keep meetings under 45 minutes.  Be on time.

Leave your customer wanting more of you and still blown away by your product or service.  Be available and free with information, but be careful about sharing too much extraneous detail about your process.  Share your successes and acknowledge that you couldn't have done it without him.  Connect your experience with her — and what you've learned from her — to the success of your company. 

Be where the customer is.  If your customer is holding an event, buy a ticket.  Buy his products, if appropriate, or share stories of people you know who use them.  Make a business connection for her.  Always demonstrate that the customer is front-and-center in your priorities — that you appreciate the relationship — and that the business you conduct is more than a transaction.

Beyond bookmarking: Sharing five articles I Stumbled, Google-read and stored

One of the best aspects of living life digitally is being able to share what I read in a millisecond.  I remember copying, faxing and mailing articles to clients.  Then I remember emailing them.  The tools we have now are an article clipper's dream.

Today, I use StumbleUpon and Google Reader both to catalog my favorites and to share them with followers on those sites.  I'm starting to do more on Facebook and LinkedIn as well, mainly through a standing link from my Twitter feed to those networks.  My goal is to wean myself off saving things to my computer.

As part of this process, I'm attempting to share five articles, saved and shared to my various networks, here on the blog every week, too.  So here they are.

  1. The obituary of Edward Stobart in The Economist.
  2. How to hold attention, by the brilliant John Hagel, with John Seely Brown, on Harvard Business Review.
  3. Figuring out where your buyers are, from the blog by Content Marketing Institute.
  4. The backlash against the academic Mafia [my phrase!], in The Atlantic.
  5. Mitch Wagner's take on Don Tapscott's view of capitalism, on The CMO Site.

Of King Coal and Cleopatra, and icons and leaders

Geraldine Ferraro.  Pinetop Perkins.  Lanford Wilson.  The gifts they, and many other Americans, have shared are almost too much to ponder.  Their presence and passing through this age?  A reminder to appreciate the many forms leaders take and the elements that turn them into icons.  

One look at Elizabeth Taylor and those elements were abundantly clear.  Or so one thought.  It turns out that things went a bit deeper than incandescent looks and a lust for life that shot through every performance.  There were loyalty and empathy, two traits that can, but should not, be hard to come by in a leader or an icon.  

As a young Virginian exposed to Miss Taylor's charisma during a whirlwind political campaign, on a night when it seemed every man left every woman's side just to catch a glimpse of her, I witnessed not just the power of glamour but the pull of celebrity.  Standing in front of her, though, I wondered what she was thinking about all of us.  Turns out that evening was probably one of many during which she sacrificed her own comfort to support her spouse.  Yet Miss Taylor not only made it look easy, she seems to have put this quality to use later in evangelizing the importance of compassion for others.

Sacrifice is not an element usually associated with stardom, God-given beauty, serial monogamy — or being a corporate CEO.  When it is, though, it's noteworthy.  

The March obituaries told us the story of another onetime Virginian who had as elite a pedigree as any of today's CEOs, if not moreso, but chose to hone his leadership style from the ground up.  Literally.  

Ted Leisenring was the easy heir to the mighty Westmoreland Coal Company throne, but he worked as if that throne were someone else's to steal.  Upon his graduation from Yale, he headed to Big Stone Gap, Virginia, to labor underneath the ground, side by side, with the people who would be his employees.  Years after that, Mr Leisenring represented the coal companies in a long labor negotiation with the miners.  

My guess is that, for someone who respected the union, Mr Leisenring's negotiating position was reached with clarity of conscience and purpose.  According to Dan Rottenburg, author of In the Kingdom of Coal, Mr Leisenring dedicated the company to opening the lines of communication inside it after the strike was over.  He didn't revel in the victory over wildcatters, he sought to anticipate the concerns that gave rise to action which hurt the miners as much it hurt the companies.  The miners were not remote entities or heads on a spreadsheet; they were people, like him, who had a job to do.  

Here's to the leaders who don't try to be icons.  And the icons who lead.

 

 

 

Linwood Holton: How to make politics personal

I grew up in a very small town in a remote corner of Virginia.  Big Stone Gap.

How we got there from an Italian-American enclave in northeast Pennsylvania is a long story.  When we got there, Virginia was dragging itself kicking and screaming into an age of enlightenment.  What I like to think of as an entire society understanding that being reasonable is a continuous learning process.

One of the lights of the age, and there were many, was a native of Big Stone Gap who became the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.  As this article tells us, he now has an autobiography.

Its timing is excellent, as the brief interview in the article demonstrates.  For example.  Governor Holton’s son-in-law, Tim Kaine, is Virginia’s current governor.  And he’s a Democrat.  Both former and current governor have come out for Barack Obama.

Linwood Holton flies out of the pigeonholes that our society so often wants to use for labeling and digestion purposes.  He did it in 1970, and he’s doing it now.  His story reminds us that the most important things are ideas and actions, and in American politics, that the focus should be keeping our nation’s founding principles not just alive but relevant to our daily lives.  Whatever your political philosophy.

In this article, the writer recounts the story of how Governor and Mrs Holton made the decision to send their children to Richmond’s public schools during the big integration ruckus in the state at that time.

Those who knew the Holtons understood this to be neither a political olive branch nor a grandstand.  Like many Virginians, some of whom had to learn it the hard way, the Holtons understood that fairness is the hallmark of a healthy society.

Thumb_holtonAnd something else you should know:  in this famous photograph, Tayloe Holton is wearing a dress made by the people of Miss Virginia, Inc, a garment manufacturer in Big Stone Gap.  Where I worked a couple of summers in the finishing department.  A business my dad started and lost, but one that still managed to produce some winning moments.

Including having the governor of Virginia remember the folks back home as he made a point to a larger world.