leadership dot #2947: getting to know you

When we’re face to face with colleagues, we act as if we’re building connections – a quick hello or “how are you?”/”fine” – but those interactions really aren’t creating the meaningful relationships that we desire. Such exchanges of niceties are merely rote actions without real engagement. The remote environment has highlighted that we don’t always have the connections that we thought we did – and now we’re on screen in full view of having to create them. It’s part of why video meetings are so exhausting.

While it may be tempting to jump right into tasks when starting a Zoom call, it is more important than ever to build connections first. Author and thought leader Shenandoah Chefalo recommends that you flip the usual ratio of meetings to make it 2/3 relationship building and 1/3 task functions. “Connection, connection, connection,” she says. “Build the relationship first, then task.”

It may seem strange to dedicate time toward getting to “know” someone with whom you have previously worked with in person, but chances are there is still much about them that is new to you. What are their current challenges working from home or in the midst of social change? What’s the best part of life today?  What have they learned lately?

Or you could reprise a highlight from grade school and take advantage of the opportunity to do “show and tell.” In my classes, I met my students’ children, guinea pig, cat, and dogs as well as saw bookshelves and new décor – none of which would have been possible in person.

Zoom is exhausting! But perhaps not for the reasons you initially thought. Take the time to build more meaningful connections that will last far beyond the virus and help you be more effective with your tasks now.

leadership dot #2946: gatekeeper

As part of the Aspen Ideas Festival, I heard journalist Maria Ressa reflect on how the information infrastructure has changed. She noted that journalists are no longer the gatekeepers rather, the technology (social media) companies are, but they are not moderating the posted content.

As a result, it has become a vicious circle on both sides of the aisle; lies are targeted to you, thereby people begin to doubt themselves and their own beliefs, and it creates a fake bandwagon approach so others believe it as well. “Exponential attacks on social media have to stop or we will lose democracy,” she warned.

Her talk was still resonating in my mind when I read the following statistic: “The average person will spend a total of approximately 6 years and 8 months on social media over their lifetime!*” If it’s anywhere close to true, it is an astonishing figure and accounts for why the country has become so polarized. If for literally years, you hear one point of view, targeted to you, you are likely to accept it as the only truth even if there is another perspective.

Now more than ever, you own the responsibility to analyze and curate the news that you absorb, and to be intentional about seeking out multiple points of view. Follow thought leaders on social media from different demographics than your own. Seek out reputable sources beyond the easy-access pervasive apps. Question what you hear and consider what is missing from the coverage. If journalists have been replaced by propaganda machines, it’s up to you to be the gatekeeper.

*Source: Snack Fact from Robinhood Snacks, July 6, 2020

leadership dot #2939: intentional

In my Managerial Communication class, we’ve had four guest speakers: the university president, a public relations professional, the police chief and a manager of internal communications. While they all had varied styles and nuanced messages, they shared these themes:

  • Connect your messaging to your mission. All of them talked about the importance of linking your communications (internal and external) to the purpose of your organization and the goals you are trying to achieve – meaning you have to know what they are and have them in mind before you start sharing.
  • Focus and repeat. Once is never enough. You need to share your message multiple times for it to be heard and understood.
  • Relationships are key. Organizations don’t succeed autonomously. Work to develop partnerships and individual connections with others.
  • It’s all What you say, what you wear, your remote meeting background, the medium you use, your word choice, how the office lobby looks – it all sends a message so be intentional about what you are trying to say.

The lessons above are all intertwined and can be applied to organizational messaging as well as personal branding. Think about how they apply in your situation and use them to be more intentional in communicating what is important to you.

leadership dot #2933: actually

Please indulge me in one more dot from Pelosi. In the book, Molly Ball writes: “Pelosi learned to listen to what people were actually saying, not what she wanted to hear – and to get it in writing if possible. ‘You’d be a great whip!’ was not a ‘yes.’ Only a commitment to vote was a yes…The ability to hear what people were actually saying would, in the years to come, be a crucial component of Pelosi’s vote-counting skills.”

 I think many managers could learn from her strategy. It is so easy to dismiss thoughts and opinions that run counter to our thinking or to hear only what we hope people are saying. We become focused on what we want to see – and therefore, see lots of examples to support our case – without having the broad perspective to notice what is truly happening in the landscape. We ask for feedback in settings that make it challenging for respondents to be truthful or vulnerable, and we interchange “being nice” with “agreement.”

One of the ways managers can cultivate a strong culture is to listen to not only what is actually being said, but to listen for what isn’t. The more you can accurately assess reality, the greater your ability to influence it.

Quote from: Pelosi by Molly Ball, 2020, p. 82


leadership dot #2930: rose

Organizations collect so much data about us but they too often fail to add a field that would make a difference: that of preferred name. I’m officially an “Elizabeth” – and no offense to others with that name who like it, but I most definitely do not.

So, when I receive mail or an email to “Elizabeth” I know that it’s someone who doesn’t know me and they lose points for pretending to do so. How hard would it be to ask “preferred name” as one of the zillion questions on forms you need to fill out and then to actually use it?

I received an email yesterday that not only used Elizabeth but wished me a Happy Birthday (on the wrong day!) What they meant as a nice public relations/customer service gesture backfired twice. They would have been ahead not to send it at all.

Marketers know that the sound of your own name is a key component of messaging. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but if you’re a Rose and someone refers to you by your official name of Rosa, it’s just not the same.

p.s. Trivia: my lower case “beth” came from crossing off the Eliza part of the name and little b beth is what remained. Elizabeth

leadership dot #2929: mental triangle

If you’re going to be a candidate or need to sell an idea, here’s a technique that I’ve found to be immensely helpful.

Have a mental triangle of three key points (with several examples) that you want the decision-maker to remember about you when you leave. What makes you different from the other candidates? Without using the specific words of your triangle, rotate between those three points as often as possible by telling a corresponding story/example to drive them home. Very often, you have latitude in answering a question. A wise communications leader once told me that in media interviews, you don’t have to answer the question that is asked; you can redirect with an answer to a different question. The same advice applies to interviews or sales pitches.

Using a mental triangle accomplishes three things:

  • It helps you clarify your strengths and prepares you to highlight them with the use of examples
  • It provides consistency in your messaging when you interview with multiple groups/people
  • It buys you that extra precious few seconds after you are asked a question because your mind has already narrowed down the information you’re going to use as your answer

As an example, if I was applying for a teaching job, my three points would be — I am:  Current, Engaging, Relevant. For my first answer, I could share how I modify my syllabus each term to take current events into account with my lessons and assignments (Current). For the second answer, I’d talk about the different ways I Incorporate group activities and exercises in each class (Engaging), and when I rotated my third answer,” I’d share how I utilize case format instead of a textbook to make the material more applicable to students’ work lives (Relevant).

And then I would keep rotating with each question, using different examples for Current, Engaging and Relevant — never really using those “triangle words” outright, but communicating them nonetheless through examples.

The same premise applies for weaknesses – EVERY strength has a downside if you use it too much. What’s the downside of your strengths? You can share that and still maintain the rotation between your three key points. Take your triangle and flip it with examples of where you’ve been challenged – but learned from it. If you share the downside of your strengths as weaknesses/where you need to grow/lessons learned, it still conveys your strength.

You can see an illustration here of how this would play out.

Interviews or sales pitches are stressful situations but if you do your homework and prepare your three key points with examples, you’ll have that mental edge that allows you to shine. What’s your unique combination of three?

leadership dot #2928: posting

If there is an industry that has benefitted from the pandemic, it is the one that makes signs. Have you noticed how much more signage is out there lately? From signs saying “we’re closed” to “we’re open,” to social distancing markers or new hours, everyone seemingly has added new information to their business. There is so much of it that instead of standing out, it has blended into the background and is either invisible or noise.

Attention is a precious commodity. If you’re going to expect some of it, be intentional about when you make that request. Post what is essential and take down the rest. We all know we’re in this together without another sign to share that sentiment.


leadership dot #2927: off kilter

The jewelry icon Tiffany & Co. hired Gene Moore as its Artistic Director and window designer, seeing the storefront as the first opportunity to “spread the Tiffany magic.” Moore became known for his use of incongruous objects to showcase the incredible jewels, juxtaposing diamonds and emeralds among keys, bricks, broken glass and metals.

Always in his displays, Moore would include some imperfection: a key placed upside down, a knife turned backward in the place setting or something else out of kilter. He would receive phone calls about the “mistake” which he used as an informal poll about the window’s effectiveness. “It was the only way I could check to see if people were watching,” he said in the documentary Crazy About Tiffany’s.

Moore was creative not only in his display work but in his measurements. It may not have been scientific but the intentional misplacement of items worked to provide him with some feedback to indicate the intensity by which his windows were being viewed. Take a lesson from Moore and think outside the (iconic blue!) box to gauge the response to your efforts.

Crazy About Tiffany’s, 2016, on Hulu

leadership dot #2925: contribute

In my class last night, we discussed a case entitled “Just Trying to Help.” A manager was assigned a new project, and another manager had previous experience with something similar. The core question was whether he should speak up and offer his input. Most agreed that he should. But at what point does it become “butting in” when he should back off and let the current manager take the project in the direction she prefers, even if it seems destined to fail?

I included the case in my syllabus because I think it’s a central question for many of the aspiring managers who are enrolled in my course. On one hand, it’s natural to want to help but if the culture isn’t receptive to cross-collaboration by speaking up you could be labeled as interfering or worse. I have been in too many situations where those who keep their mouths shut and continue to do just their own work – however mediocre it may be – are rewarded with longevity in the organization instead of being chastised.

A key element is to consider how the “advice” can be framed as a genuine offer of help. Instead of making the recipient defensive, positioning it as an optional gift – a way to make them look good instead of you – can go a long way in furthering the conversation. By imparting a legitimate “take it or leave it” mentality – meaning that you truly are accepting if the recipient totally ignores the feedback you are sharing – can also help lessen resistance and open the door for sharing.

It reminded me of a teaching trick: instead of asking “Who has any questions?” professors are encouraged to rephrase it to “Ask me two questions.” It sets the expectation for dialogue. Similarly, managers assigning a new task can encourage collaboration by asking the group “Name someone not on the task force who has experience or resources that could help this project.”

The bottom line is that there needs to be openness in multiple dimensions: employees willing to take a risk to speak up and offer assistance; project managers receptive to input from multiple sources; and managers who create cultures open to making the organization stronger, no matter whose idea it is.


leadership dot #2918: values

Many companies are suddenly crafting statements that denounce racism and affirm their commitment to equality and inclusion. Such proclamations are easy to do, but writing about your values or posting them on a wall is a far cry from actually living them.

Values need to become a foundation for other actions throughout the company and must be brought to life for all those who work there. Watch for signs of how the values are made real: with strategy alignment, hiring decisions, budget allocations, time spent, transparent information sharing, vulnerability, rewards, priorities, promotions and in the stories that are shared.

Even if you are not in management directly, everyone who works in an organization has the ability to make the values real – or to call out those who disregard them. The undersecretary of defense who publicly submitted his resignation or the employees at Facebook who are resigning have taken drastic steps to highlight the misalignment of values, but there are smaller steps everyone can take to challenge the gap between what is said and what is done.

You don’t always have to pick up a sign and protest in the street to make a difference. Sometimes, what is needed most is for you to speak up in your own organization first.