August 07, 2014

Great Leaders Can Change the Subject

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Your work culture is a conversation, led by leaders or troublemakers, about how things are done around here.  If the leader isn't driving the conversation forward, troublemakers can move it sideways or backwards.  Troublemakers include the naysayers, doomsdayers and taker-types.  

Much of our work life is spent in conversations with others. When these conversations move forward, we make progress. When they go sideways, confusion reigns. When they slide backward, conflict and negative emotions ensue.

“Conversation is a game of circles,” wrote Ralph  Waldo Emerson. In other words, a conversation is useful but often is complicated by each player’s agenda. And yet, through this highly interactive process, we shape our attitudes and beliefs.  That's why it's important for leaders to take charge of the conversation.  

Too many conversations at work are moving everyone in the wrong direction. They can be historical, bringing up old-and-outdated subjects.  This leads to a collective hangover, where we can't shake off the weight of our past failures or the phantom menace of a long faded competitor.  There are conversations which exchange gossip information, usually about people.  Gossip is the fast-food of workplace conversation and often reduces its participants to base level thinking.  

The most paralyzing conversations are led by the Chicken Littles, who drum up fear through declarations that "the sky is falling."  They have the blogosphere and big media as their stronghold, and often punch much bigger than their weight.  All of these conversations must be led by leaders to a better place. 

One way that leaders can change the conversation is to directly challenge the historian, gossip or Chicken Little.  One manager who attended one of my talks took this to heart.  "When I spot a Chicken Little spinning up his coworkers unnecessarily, I ask him where he's coming from: Fear or confidence.  I use the experience to coach him on the difference between constructive information and fear-mongering."  

A second approach is to divert the conversation forward.  One way to do that is to reframe the bad news as an instant brain-storm about what each conversational participant can do about it.  Focus on the solution, not the problem. You can introduce a connected issue that leads to a discussion about a current project that everyone can contribute to.  You could simply introduce a progressive subject and drive the conversation towards it and away from the previously bad one.  While this requires finesse, great leaders have the strength to drive the conversation forward.  Each. And. Every. Time. 

Ignoring a sideways conversation is not an option.  Like a sore, they fester without your attention and often bubble up as a collective malaise.  Your job is to find the balance between empathy at a personal level and leadership at a conversational level.  

This comes from Principle Two from Today We Are Rich: Move the Conversation Forward. 

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August 01, 2014

Why Today’s Leader Needs the Agility of a Downhill Skier

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Read any recent white paper on leadership, and you'll see numerous references to agility as a key area for development.  From learning agility to innovation agility, it's clear that leaders need to focus on how to go fast but stay graceful.  

Prior to my recent talk on this subject at a leadership conference, I conducted research to uncover why agility has become so critical to success.  The answer was quite simple: The time it takes for a new business concept or technological innovation to disrupt and industry is compressing ... fast.  What took a decade to wreck and industry in the 60's takes a little more than two years today.  

Think about how fast smart phone apps have disrupted various industries that manufactured one-off devices (guitar tuners, navigational devices, watches, video cameras, cameras, and so on).  Think about how fast Uber has disrupted transportation.  How fast has AirBnB disrupted hospitality?  This is why I call today's leadership a downhill ski-sprint where one must go fast, stay on their feet and not crash too many gates.  Even in non-tech industry like consumer packaged goods, we've seen concepts like GMO-free products take hold in a fraction of the time it took for organic-and-local to achieve traction.  This is what life for a leaders looks like today:  Slide1

To survive, the leader must be on the ready to move his or her enterprise in a novel direction to capture an opportunity or defend their customer base.  But the risks are high, when fast-to-market is the paradigm, so often times people talk about being nimble but still hold steady until it's too late.  I believe that agility is a capability we build up through practice, just like a champion skier perfects their ability to make it down the hill in record time in one piece.  Here are a few ways you can boost your agility: 

  1. Read Voraciously About the Future - Readers are more agile leaders, especially when they widely expand their knowledge base every year.  If you commit yourself to reading one book every month cover-to-cover that outlines the future of your industry or technology related to your industry, you'll find yourself more confident and inspired about change.  You'll also develop key insights, which can help you create solutions faster and implement them better. 
  2. Develop Habit of Brainstorming When Faced With a Challenge - To often, our first instinct is to look for safe/proven off-the-shelf solutions to business problems.  Agile leaders start with brainstorming to consider novel approaches.  Over time, the more you make that your first response, the easier it will be to let go of the status quo when the writing's on the wall. 
  3. Protect Your Psyche - Being a change agent is like playing Whack-A-Mole ... where you are the mole!  You'll receive criticism and ocasionaly crash in an attempt to take a corner quickly.  Don't be defensive as research indicates that will get you lower marks from your managers or board.  See every piece of criticism as a gift that gives you valuable information about the person delivering it to you or in some cases, about the quality of your ideas or execution.  
  4. Create A Sprint Culture - This starts with meetings.  Cut down 2 hour meetings to 40 minute sprints.  Replace long lunches with Ted-Talk length speed-round sessions (18 minutes).  Reduce the time you give your team to implement project deliverables from 90 days to 2 weeks.  Conduct hackathons (all nighters) to compress a few weeks work into a single day.  All of these actions will drive speed into your collective psyche and make it easier for you and your team to run faster over time without falling down too much. 
  5. Invest An Hour a Week Reflecting On How Your Ideas Play Out - Be an objective person when looking back at market or organization reactions to your new ideas.  Objectify failure, because it's not really a reflection of your nature or character.  The more you think this way about the agile you, the better you'll adjust your plans to develop more finesse.  That's the key to passing through and not over the gates of innovation.  

I'd love to come speak on Leadership and Agility at your event.  Contact me for more information or suggest me to your speaking bureau agent.  

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July 23, 2014

The Changing Face Of Leadership

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What it takes to succeed as a leader has been redefined by changes in the workforce and mega trends. Gen Y is more motivated by identity, mastery and purpose than they are by money, power and stability.  Tech-Globalism accelerates the rate of change, be it in consumer attitudes, retail habits and government regulatory actions.  As the world gets faster and deeper, leaders will face unique challenges, requiring a retooling of the traditional hierarchical models of yesteryear.   

Leadership development needs to change, adjusting to these trends.  According to a paper published by the Center for Creative Leadership, the required skills for leaders have changed – requiring more adaptive thinking abilities.  They summed up the challenge, “There is a transition occurring from the old paradigm in which leadership resided in a person or a role, to a new one in which leadership is a collective process that is spread throughout networks of people.”

Here are five areas of leadership development for the future: 

1. Influence – Leaders must move their charges to action by aligning them with the company’s values.  Influence is the key to building strong culture, which is quickly becoming as important as strategy to global organizations.  Command and control are outdated tools in this regard, and instead new skills must be attained such as empathy, story telling and system wide mentorship.  To be competitive, power and innovation must be dispersed throughout the organization.  Leaders today must ask the right questions, encourage the right people and move the conversation forward.  Resource – Influence: The Essence of Leadership  

2. Finesse – Napoleon Bonaparte often said that the leader’s role is to “define reality, then give hope.”  His point was that there is a precarious balance that must be struck between the challenges of the day, and the promise of tomorrow.  This requires a sense of emotional talent or finesse.  Leaders need to feed their mind the right stuff, so they can respond to adversity with innovative thinking.  They need to possess clear communications channels with managers, to understand assets that can quickly be brought to bear when adversity strikes.  When they implement them, they need to balance the emotional and financial impacts it will have on the enterprise.   Resource: Fall of the Alpha Leaders by Dana Ardi

3. Agility – Business cycles has compressed from decades into years. Technology driven industry changes require legacy companies to radically shift their strategies, adopt emerging technologies and kill off out-of-date models.  Consumers are empowered with information now, changing how they buy and influence others.  Not only does the leader need to be agile, she must effectively hire for it and make it the linchpin of employee development practices.   Sticking with your guns is a recipe for defeat.  Resource: Learning Agility by the Creative Center of Leadership 

4. Creativity – In an IBM study 1500 CEOs named the most important skill of the future leader as creativity.  It is one’s ability to produce original work that is appropriate to the situation.  Today’s leader must expand her level of curiosity to uncover patterns of behavior that reveal new routes to value or innovations.  She must develop a tolerance for ambiguity – the hallmark of the creative thinker.  Moreover, she must manage a culture that encourages innovation, along with candor.  She must neutralize the naysayers.  Resource: Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmul 

5. Higher Purpose – Nothing motivates tomorrow’s talent more than a sense of purpose and the belief that one’s work makes a difference to the world.  While a company needs to make a profit to keep the doors open, it’s not going to motivate the entire company to take chances, finish tasks in the face of adversity and serve as brand ambassadors on social media and in the real world.  Leaders must constantly look for a higher purpose that the business serves, and empower their entire company to participate to that end.  Resource – Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates People by Dan Pink

(From my upcoming keynote address at the Womens Foodservice Forum New Orleans.) 

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June 24, 2014

Your Schedule Is Killing Your Creativity

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Most people I know sabotage their career by being to efficient with their time.  They fill up their daily schedule with meetings and phone calls, thinking that they are being highly productive.  The result is a week of conversations, with little time left to "work on work."  

A recent IBM survey of over 1000 CEO's found that creativity was the top skill required for leadership success.  This makes sense, as innovation is the prescription for dealing with a highly disruptive business environment.  Technology, media, globalization all come together to put creative demands on leaders and manager everywhere. 

The problem is, creative thinking requires a lot of white space on your calendar.  It's not something you can schedule or squeeze in on a long flight or a Sunday afternoon.  Filmmaker David Lynch believes that "It takes four hours to get one hour of creative work done."  By that he means that we must enter into a problem consideration mode for extended periods of time to induce free association...which leads to innovative business solutions. 

But if your calendar is full of every call request and meeting invitation that comes your way, you won't have any time to think.  This is why I block out two hours of unscheduled time daily to work on my projects, research problems, white board solutions and passively think creatively while doing low mental-requirement tasks.  It's in these gaps where our breakthroughs occur.  

As a leader, you aren't paid to meet or talk to others.  You are paid to think.  Einstein, Edison and Jobs put their feet up on their desk or took long walks to actively consider solutions – and that's where their eureka moments happened.  

Make every meeting and calendar item fight for its life.  Pick the ones that are truly business drivers.  Limit your "getting to know you" lunches and out-of-office meetings to one a week and make them count!  If you find enough time during your most fruitful mental states (M-F days), you'll achieve the creative breakthroughs you need to make your mark. 

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June 02, 2014

Call For Interviews: Have You Bought From A Sales Genius?

I'm writing a new book on creativity in the sales process.  Its premise is that in today's business environment, it's getting complicated to get good deals done.  Standard approaches or tactics aren't working.  This is why creativity is needed in deal making and sales.  

While the book will share some of my personal experiences, it will mostly feature profiles of creative sales geniuses.  They have exhibited the tendency to employ creative thinking to move the deal forward.  

Right now, I'm looking for sales genius nominations from buyers.  You've purchased products and services for your company, and along the way, encountered a highly creative sales genius.  By creative, I mean that he or she has comes up with ideas/solutions that are unexpected, but appropriate to the situation.  

As a buyer, you encounter all types: Interrupters, Reminders, Power Pointers, Hasslers, Listeners, etc.  But the sales genius left an impression on you that still lingers (in a good way).  The genius took a novel path to get to you.  The way he presented his product/service was visual, impactful and armed you to sell it forward.  He inspired you to think creatively as well, especially when you encountered internal problems trying to get the deal finished.  

If you've bought from a sales genius, I'd love to interview you!  I'm happy to give you a gift certificate as a token of my appreciation.  Also, if I feature your nomination, it will likely be a big promotional boost for him or her as well.  

Send me an email if you have a story to share.  You'll be paying it forward. 

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May 29, 2014

The Three Flavors Of Mentorship

Value-Of-Mentorship
The concept of mentor first appeared in Homer's Odyssey, and since then has grown into a widely talked about concept.  Many of us seek mentors, especially during the beginning of our career. Many of us act as mentors, helping others on their journey to greatness. 

What I've learned through my mentorship practice is that not all engagements are the same.  There are three distinct flavors: 

  • Flash Mentor - You encounter someone that lacks a piece of information you possess.  You give it on the spot, without any requirements for follow up.  This is my favorite flavor, and I practice it often.  To many, this is called knowledge sharing.  It's fast, friendly and can lay the foundation for a working relationship. 
  • Program Mentor - You are either asked to be someone's mentor or you spot a hero that needs some wisdom for his or her journey.  This is a more formal situation, where the mentor clearly spells out the objectives and curriculum.  When Stanley Marcus Jr. mentored me, this was his style.  He made it clear that I was going to learn leadership in the context of fostering customer-relationships at Yahoo.  Our program would be delivered over ten lunches, and I would have homework.  This is a great way to go beyond sharing information and instead, sharing your perspectives.  
  • Life Long Mentor - In this case, the relationship never ends.  Usually, you have significantly more life experience than the mentee, and have developed a personal interest in his or her success.  You want to provide ongoing encouragement and if possible, be a part of his or her journey.  In my case, my grandmother Billye served that role.  One should be very careful about taking this on, though, as it's a big promise to make. 

Pick your mentees wisely.  Don't promise what you can't deliver.  The best time to deliver Flash Mentorship is when the opportunity presents itself.  Carpe Diem!  In many cases, you start out as a Flash Mentor and over time, you take on either Program or Life Long mentees.  

All of us should practice one flavor of mentorship every single week.  If you haven't found the opportunity, you either aren't looking hard enough OR you aren't feeding your mind enough to share.  

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April 02, 2014

If You Don't Expand This Annually, You Are Getting Lapped

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These days, it's believed that the youth have all the advantages when it comes to technology.  They start companies like facebook in their 20's, run television shows and represent true progress.  Companies I work with talk about "aging down" their workforce, so they can stay nimble.  

The reality is that youth is a state of mind, not a counting of years.  In my experience, the secret to eternal youth is lifelong learning...the constant expansion of one's resume of experiences and insights.  Henry Ford once quipped, "Anyone who stops learning becomes old, whether at twenty or at eighty. Anyone that keeps learning stays young." 

His point has to do with the constant stimulation of our brain, which in turn drives our creativity and agility.  And these days, to be successful in business, you must possess both of those qualities in spades. 

Here's the point: If you aren't expanding your resume every year, you are likely being getting lapped in the sport of business by those that do.  You can improve a resume without changing jobs.  You can add areas of expertise or new areas of project work.  You can add volunteer work, hobbies or interests. You can add professional associations you've joined and contributed to.  All of these additions give your career a sense of momentum, which gives you the confidence to embrace change. 

My point is more salient for those reading this post born in my generations (Boomer and Echo Boomer).  We become very comfortable with our titles, our financial stability and our status.  We study on a need-to-learn basis, gathering expertise just-in-time.  To take on electives at this stage in life seems a waste ... and could cut into our fun time watching sports, buying stuff or talking about people. 

That's why we are so threatened by the youth.  They come out of college or self-study, read voraciously and knowledge network with others that have the mutual thirst for knowledge.  They have better instincts. They pivot without fear until they get their experiments right.  They look at us with disdain, wondering why we don't 'get it'. 

Meanwhile, we browse trade journals and newspapers, the career development equivalent of doing crossword puzzles.  And we wait for retirement and beyond.  And we get lapped with every revolution of the business cycle.  

Here's my prescription: Read at least six books a year that bolster your domain expertise and add one new area of insight to your arsenal.  Join a relevant trade association and pursue certifications, especially those that require intense study and networking.  Raise your hand for a project at work that will stretch you out of your intellectual comfort zone. 

Because if your resume isn't getting richer each year, you mind is getting poorer.  The image below represents one of my favorite quotes on lifelong learning.  Take it to heart.  MarcusQuote copy

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March 18, 2014

How To Effectively Network People Via Email

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This note is for generous networkers that like to use email to glue together people that should meet.  In my first book, Love is the Killer App, I call this the 3-Way-Email technique.  It helps networkers make more connections than they can by arranging conference calls or meetings.  

Over the last decade I've been on both ends of this treatment.  Sometimes I'm the person emailing two or more people to connect them and more recently, I've been the beneficiary of someone helping me out over email.  It's given me a bird's eye view of what works and doesn't work with this technique. While email intros are fast, most of them end up treated like spam.

In most cases, unless the networker writes a very good email to introduce everyone...nothing happens. This is especially true when a PowerPerson is introduced via email to a ProspectivePartner.  Unless the networker originating this connection sells the PowerPerson on replying, the email is usually ignored or deleted.  The ProspectivePartner sometimes replies-to-all with a "thank you" and then suggests that a call be set up.  But again, if the sales job to the PowerPerson is weak, nothing happens.  That's even true when the networker and the PowerPerson are good friends or close business associates. 

Here's a better way to use email to connect two or more people, especially with one or more of them are very busy or in high demand: 

  • Send a pre-connection email to the PowerPerson, telling him or her that in the following email you are going to introduce him or her to someone you think they'll want to meet.  Ask the PowerPerson to seriously consider replying.
  • In your Networking email, be succinct, but persuasive.  Make sure your subject line is clear: Introducing X to Y to accomplish Z.  The first paragraph should introduce the ProspectivePartner with a single line bio (linking his/her name to a LinkedIn profile if possible).  Be very clear to the PowerPerson why you want this meeting to occur.  Do the same in the next paragraph, when you introduce the PowerPerson or if they are on similar ground, the second person.  Don't forget to link their name to a LinkedIn profile.  This improves response rate.  
  • If you can, include some points of interest.  Talk about how long you've known either one, or what you've done with them in business.  If they have a nickname or are known for something interesting, include that for color.  
  • Your third and final paragraph should outline what you think could come out of their connection.  Be aspirational here.  As the networker, you are selling both parties on connecting with each other, so don't skimp on any details in projecting the future if they connect.   
  • If you don't see any response for three or four days, resend the email introduction and say, "I really think the two of you should connect."  

Here's an example: 

Subject: Introducing Mark Carter to John Chen to create the ultimate ChiTown BizGame!

Body of email:

Mark, by way of email, meet John Chen AKA "Big Kid".  He's an expert in the area of team building through gamification and well connected in Seattle.  He's also fun, creative and gets things done.  I told him about you, and what you are accomplishing in Chicagoland, and he wants to meet you.  PS - both of you are heavily involved in your regional MPI chapters, so you have lots to talk about. 

John, by way of email, meet Mark Carter AKA CarterOfChicago.  He's one of the biggest people/opportunity connectors in the area and a true Lovecat as well.  He's well connected with several companies that might love your game tech as well as your personality.  Follow up with him and setup a call to get to know each other. 

I think the two of you might open up a new market for gamification of team-building.  I also think you'll likely spark a friendship.  You know I don't make these intros often, so consider it a call to action! 


March 03, 2014

Google & SEO | This dog finally has teeth

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(Guest post by Brandon Wentland.  Image courtesy of Prashant_sh)

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a complicated, technical, and sometimes shady practice of massaging Google’s search algorithm in your favor.  It is a big deal because top ranking for key terms can mean hundreds, thousands, or even millions of dollars of revenue gained.

SEO has evolved through the years, but the last two have been the most volatile.  Some are calling it it the SEO apocalypse.  It has been a rough ride, but it is all for the better.

Google’s algorithm changes are a good thing

Google’s goal is to serve the best, most relevant results to you (in .2 seconds or less!).  Spammy SEO hijacks this by oftentimes getting undeserving sites in top results.  Google has FINALLY cracked down on this in a couple key ways: links and anchor text.

How Google’s crackdown affects you

You might not even know Google thinks your website is spammy.  Some big brands have been badly hurt by Google: Expedia and Rap Genius, just to name just a few.  These penalties are a big deal because you can often disappear from search results.  This is bad for business.  Lost visibility directly affects ROI, brand recognition, and more.

Even if you just have a passing knowledge of SEO, you can protect your site.  Though Google has cracked down on links and anchor text, with the right tools you can find what Google calls, “unnatural link profiles.”  

Links, links, links

Google is a link-based search engine.  Links are at its core and in its DNA.  The amount and types of links you have make up your link profile.  Having a diverse, healthy, and natural link profile will help you rank well and protect you from penalties.

Anchor text

The word(s) or phrase linked to a site is called anchor text.  In the past, you could rank well for “cheap cars” if you had tons and tons of links with that wording.  Now this is seen as unnatural and spammy.  Nobody links to you like that!  Most of the time they will use “click here,” “learn more,” or your brand name.

Low Quality Links

A few years ago the more links you had, the better.  Their source didn’t matter.  I have seen links from Malaysian flower shops and deodorant websites linking to local companies.  You can be 99% sure that such links are irrelevant for most websites.

Tools of the trade

Your linking information is not publicly available, so you will need to use a tool to gather it.  Our personal favorite is Link Research Tools.  Using one of their quick audit tools, I can see a word cloud for python.org that shows distribution of anchor text:

Link_profile_anchor_text

(This is healthy anchor text. See how the biggest terms are all branded and not commercial in nature.)

I can also see the distribution of the links for any site.  The lower quality links are on the far left. If you see a spike, it’s a good indicator of suspicious link building.

  Link profile

Take action!

If your word cloud shows a lot of “money” terms (i.e. - your service or product) and not your brand, change the anchor text to a branded term or disavow them completely.  Do the same with your low quality links.  Remove them if you can.  If not, disavow them.  Doing so will help you prevent your site from a painful Google penalty.

If you have any questions feel free to contact me on Twitter or comment below, thanks!

Bio

Brandon Wentland is the President of Optimal Digital Marketing, a digital marketing and SEO agency based out of Appleton, WI.  You can follow him on Twitter or Google+.

 

Posted at 5:00 AM in Marketing , Tech Stuff  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)  |  TrackBack (0)

February 28, 2014

Leaders: It's Time To Shift Out Of Neutral and Hit the Gas!

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For many of you, the last recession put you into survival mode.  This is especially true if you are in banking, financial services, construction, retail or automotive.  Those industries were hit so hard, all growth plans had to take a back seat.

Shrinking expenses was the order of the day. 

As long as we continue to watch cable news (CNBC, etc.) or let the doomsdayers continue to beat the drums of double dip or next-bubble, we'll stay in neutral, letting our competitors pass us by.  

Here's my analogy: A downturn is like a car crash during a NASCAR race.  The yellow caution flag comes out, we all coast in the same position.  At some point the green flag is waved and everyone scrambles for the lead.  

Here's where business turns out differently: The "game on" flag is invisible, just like the hand of the market that Adam Smith wrote about.  Some leaders see it early and others see it too late.  In 2009, a New Yorker article (Hanging Tough) isolated some of the great leaps in history that were made by companies that got back to growth, innovation and employee development before their competitors. When they saw the green flag, just as the worst of the crash was over, they hit the gas.  Kraft, Kellogg's, Hyundai and Apple are all examples of this phenomenon. 

Here's a news flash for you: The recession is over.  The run up is on.  If you wait for any more of a clear sign, the next downturn may be upon you and there's nothing left in your tank.  It's time for you to think about growing your business, buying companies and investing heavily in your talent.  

As one leader recently told me, "By the time you realize you should have been focusing on growth, it's too late.  Your competitors have been doing it long enough to build up not only a lead, but barriers to you being able to draft on their success."  

Posted at 6:06 AM in Business Effectiveness , Leadership  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  TrackBack (0)

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