Category Archives: Management

There was no simpler time. Never, ever.

David McCullough tells the best stories about American history through the lens of leadership.  Last year, he shared his encouraging, grounded perspective with Scott Berinato in this interview for HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW.  Here are my favorite observations.

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When the founders wrote about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, they didn’t mean longer vacations and more comfortable hammocks. They meant the pursuit of learning. The love of learning. The pursuit of improvement and excellence.

Are we in a special or particularly fraught moment in our history? A turning point?

I’m very annoyed when I hear people who ought to know better flannelling away about how it was a simpler time “back then.” There was no simpler time. Never, ever. Imagine being in our country in 1918, and 500,000 people have died of a disease. No one knows where it came from or how long it’s going to stay or how to get rid of it. Would that be called a simpler time? Would the Civil War, or the Great Depression?

What makes a president a great leader?

The capacity to lift our sights a little higher. Someone who can call on us to make sacrifices, not promise to give us more. One who can say I’m not going to make it easier for us. I’m going to make it harder, because we have hard things to do. And let’s be grown up about this.

At the end of John Adams’s life, Ralph Waldo Emerson went to talk with the old president. Adams said to him, “I would to God there were more ambition in the country.” And then he paused and said, “by that I mean ambition of the laudable kind, ambition to excel.” Not ambition to get rich or famous or powerful but to excel. That’s when human beings are at their best. I like people who work hard; the people who are best at what they do almost without exception are also the hardest workers.

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.

Marketplace differentiation starts with a story. Your story.

The advent of the social enterprise is upon us.  We are all about to embark upon corporate communication as we have never known it.  Communication across multiple media and multiple lines, with folks we know or want to know. Immediate communication.  Precisely targeted communication.  Democratically sourced communication. 

722673_waters_edgeFluid boundaries are the mark of the social enterprise — so enterprise messages must be ever more precise.  And they must be distinguishable from those of other enterprises, especially from your competitors.

One thing has not changed.  Differentiation begins with your story. 

So before you even begin to embrace the potent advantages of the social enterprise experience, know the story you want to tell.  Don't even think about technology or new marketing initiatives without pondering your story.

 

 

 

The leading corporate advisor Nancy Duarte has a terrific approach to the personal story, and it applies perfectly to the enterprise.  

   Duarte focuses on what she calls the transformative idea.  What is the idea that led to your enterprise?  What are the ideas that gave it shape?  What are the ideas that keep it relevant and of use to your customers and stakeholders?  Who are the characters that enrich your story?  Where are the new chapters of your story being written?

Your story drives your messages, your brand, your presence.  Or it should.  Think Zappos, Starbucks, Trader Joe's, Apple, Dyson.  Your story will fortify your organization as it transforms into a social enterprise.  Your story will help your stakeholders understand who you are and give them reasons to build relationships with your enterprise, person to person.

 

Five posts on the essentials of corporate communications

However much you're using social media to talk with your customers — what I call the muscle of engagement — you still need the skeleton.  These writers do a great job of showing what that is.

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  • Writing:  Pay attention to how you write and it will help you organize your entire communications effort.  This approach is from Journalistics.
  • Culture:  Look for these qualities in your agency of record — and promote them inside your marketing and communications teams.  From BrandingStrategy Insider.
  • Crises:  Have this in place for those issues that catch you by surprise.  From MyVenturePad.  
  • Questions:  Always answer a question from the media, even if you don't have one.  From Journalistics.
  • Speaking:  Focus on the needs of your listeners and stakeholders and let that inspire you to speak from the heart.  From the Bishop of London.