Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world’s leading executive coaches said: “I regard apologizing as the most magical, healing, restorative gesture human beings can make.” In his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall lists the refusal to express regret and to apologize as one of the top 20 transactional flaws performed by one person against another. These apply equally at work and at home.
More and more today, we are seeing the value of moving away from the Teflon type leader to a leader who can summon the courage to say “I am sorry.” Leadership is fundamentally a relationship, and an apology, when it is warranted, is an investment in the future of the relationship—whether it is with a co-worker or a customer, a superior or a subordinate.
If you view apologizing as the equivalent of swallowing a bitter pill, consider the benefits. Apart from it being the right thing to do, apologizing increases customer loyalty and retention. The Nottingham School of Economics studied the effect of an apology on disgruntled customers after they were let down. They found that more than twice the number of unhappy customers are willing to forgive a company that issues an apology over one who offers them a monetary compensation. Other studies show that malpractice suits, for example, drop when doctors apologize. Even in bankruptcy situations, those who apologize to the judge fare better financially. The benefits of apologizing are evident in all spheres of our professional and personal lives.
Most people don’t know how to apologize effectively. A sincere, but perfunctory statement such as “Sorry about that” just doesn’t do it. Here are some tips for doing it right:
Follow the five-step apology process.
1. Say you are sorry.
2. Clearly state what you did wrong.
3. Acknowledge how the receiving party must be feeling.
4. Express your sincere regret.
5. Promise not to repeat the behavior.
Here is an example of how this might sound: “Bob, I am so sorry I abruptly cut you off at the director’s meeting. This was very rude on my part and I know it angered you. You have every right to be angry with me. I regret this. I assure you that this will not happen again.” Spoken from the heart, this type of apology can go a long way towards repairing a relationship that might otherwise be irretrievably broken.
Eliminate the word “if.”
We have all heard, and made, these types of apologies: “If I have offended you, I am sorry.” We might as well say: “I don’t see how I could have offended you, but if you are so sensitive to have been offended, then let me be a big man (or woman) and issue an apology.” This is most likely to be received as a second insult even though this is not your intention.
Don’t give any excuses.
Much as it is tempting, refrain from giving an excuse for the offending action. Excuses dilute the strength of your genuine regret and shift the focus away from the needs of the aggrieved party to your own need to save face.
Make it brief.
Belaboring the apology is a natural effect that stems from our anxiety in having to confront an unpleasant issue. Be aware when this happens so that you can stop yourself. When you express genuine regret, you don’t have to use too many words. The longer you talk, the more you are likely to weaken the impact of your apology.
Don’t delay an apology.
Apologies have a “best-before” date: delaying an apology spoils its positive impact. Those who apologize even before a situation is discovered, boost their authenticity in the eyes of others. Transparency is a trustworthiness meter, especially in our low credibility zeitgeist.
Sometimes, our need to be right may cloud our decision-making process. Consider the price tag of being right in relation to its effect on the relationship. Is it worth it? In that regard, one of the best definitions of what an apology is comes from Kador. As he puts it: “I define an apology as a willingness to value the relationship more than the need to be right.”
Institute a policy for handling apologies to customers.
Train your employees to understand the value of effectively dealing with angry or disgruntled customers. Take an inspiration from Starbucks LATTE Method for dealing with complaints. As reported in Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, Starbucks baristas are trained to respond to complaints by listening (L), Acknowledging (A), T (Taking Action), Thanking (T), and Explaining (E). Note that the emphasis is first on listening and only lastly on explaining what happened. Can the LATTE method, or a variation of it, help you ensure that a disgruntled customer will want to continue to do business with you?
Apologizing is the simplest of skills to acquire and yet, the one that is rarely taught. It’s about learning and practicing emotional literacy. It should rank high up in importance with financial literacy as prime training for everyone.
Frank Barron, professor of psychology, said: “Never take a person’s dignity: it’s worth everything to them, and nothing to you.” Preserving one’s dignity is the implied meaning in the expression: “to save face.”
The phrase originated in China where it is referred to as “lose face.” Simply put, a person who loses face feels that his status is diminished and that he has lost the respect of others. In our harried schedules, it is easy to unwittingly cause someone to lose face in front of their peers. This can be caused by a dismissive gesture from a senior person, public criticism from a stressed boss , or derision from a colleague, even if meant in jest. These are dispiriting incidents to the person on the receiving end.
In A Leader’s Legacy, James Kouzes and Barry Posner state: “We will work harder and more effectively for people we like. And we will like them in direct proportion to how they make us feel.” Treating others with dignity and respect is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do. A lot of productivity is lost with employees being consumed for the rest of the day after they have received a condescending email, or have been treated offhandedly in a meeting.
Being respectful lies at the heart of collaboration. Here are a few tips to ensure that treating others with dignity and respect is more than lip service:
Don’t hijack a subordinate’s presentation.
When you attend a subordinate’s presentation, don’t butt in and take over the conversation. If you must provide your input, do so but be mindful of the person standing there. At some point, turn the focus back on her; at a minimum, allow her to provide the concluding remarks to her presentation. To you, these actions may seem insignificant, but they are not to the person who spent days preparing for the presentation. Many people feel vulnerable when making a presentation to peers or in front of their boss. In these anxiety-prone situations, the threat of losing face looms large.
Be mindful of the “Red Pen Syndrome.”
This is the irresistible urge to correct someone’s work, even in insignificant details. One of your team members submits a report that they spent the entire weekend working on and you return the draft with a bunch of red marks for commas, or a rewritten sentence that could have easily stayed as is. This is unnecessarily deflating to the individual.
Stop using sarcasm.
I once saw a bumper sticker that said: “I am not good at empathy. Will you settle for sarcasm?” There is a kernel of truth in this humorous sticker: It is impossible to be both empathetic and sarcastic at the same time. Empathy is valued currency in any relationship. When you set out to make a sarcastic remark, consider the effect it has on the person at the receiving end. A laugh at the expense of another is a cheap laugh.
Make “respect” a corporate value.
Whether you are managing a flower shop or a team of engineers, let everyone know that respecting others is a non-negotiable. Better still, add it to your performance review process—what gets measured, gets done. Above all, model the way yourself. As Michael Hyatt puts it in Leadership and the Law of Replication, “Like it or not, you will replicate yourself. Your followers will adopt your behaviors, habits, and—if you have a strong personality— even your mannerisms.” Bad behavior at the top has a contagious effect.
Know how to give feedback.
A good leader lets his people know what they did wrong without causing them to lose face. John W. Gardner gives us this insightful advice: “If you have some respect for people as they are, you can be more effective in helping them to become better than they are.” Provide corrective feedback that does not diminish the person and you will achieve greater results in changing someone’s behavior. (For tips on how to take the sting out of critical remarks, see my article: The Criticism Sandwich: A Stale Idea.)
Allow those who lost an argument to save face.
Neuroscientist David Rock states that “Many everyday conversation devolve into arguments driven by a status threat, a desire not to be perceived as less than another.” When you win an argument, let the other person exit with grace. Be inwardly content that you won the round and move on. Watch out for the irresistible “I told you so” when someone fails because they didn’t follow your counsel or adopt your proposal. In victory, especially, being magnanimous shows generosity of spirit.
Arrive to meetings on time.
If you habitually show up late for meetings, you are sending a not-so-subtle signal to the person running the meeting that you don’t respect them enough to be there on time.
Align your actions to your promises.
Research shows that over two thirds of customers leave a business, not because of price or quality, but because of service: How a customer is treated when things are not going well is remembered long after the issue itself is forgotten. For example, if you have a policy that you accept returns of merchandise, is this done gracefully or in a begrudging manner? Be vigilant, in particular, of the classic response to a customer complaint: “This has never happened before.” It’s the type of response that can result in the customer walking out the door for good.
Assess your employees’ behaviors towards all stakeholders.
Take some time during your day to quietly observe how your managers treat their direct reports. If what you see gives you cause for concern, consider having everyone take a 360-assessment that can raise awareness. An example is The Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) which assesses 30 behaviors, one of which is “Treats others with dignity and respect.” Research shows that employees of leaders who score high on the LPI are significantly more engaged in their work than employees of leaders who score low.
Research at the Department of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University discovered that social or emotional pain is as real and intense as physical pain. The same brain networks are activated when a person experiences a physical injury as when they go through a painful emotional experience, such as feeling humiliated, or losing face. While a physical wound can be stitched and repaired, a social wound can linger invisibly for a long time. It can have adverse effects on employee morale and motivation, without your even being aware of it.
Some employees rest before they get tired. Others perk up in the parking lot, at 5:00 o’clock. Some have quit long ago, but have forgotten to tell you. All of these employees show up to work every day and give you the minimum effort to stay afloat. Some eventually leave, taking with them their knowledge, experience, and on the job training. We call these employees “the disengaged.” A study shows that disengaged employees cost United States businesses $11 billion annually. The global situation is not much better: fewer than 1 in 3 employees worldwide are engaged.
Many business owners and enterprise leaders try to cope with the disengagement by sending employees to accountability training. Accountability training typically focuses on important topics such as creating SMART goals, clarifying expectations, empowering employees, establishing regular progress reviews, and giving appropriate feedback. But a year later, even though everyone is now well trained on the accountability cycle, the needle of engagement has not moved. Why is that?
That’s because leaders need to look behind the curtain at the more prevalent causes for disengagement which may have little to do with lack of accountability training. Gary Hamel, professor at London Business School, and one of the world’s top 50 Thinkers, puts it this way: “By far, the greatest untapped source of wealth and potential in any organization is all those people who have chosen on that particular day not to bring their imagination to work, not to bring their passion to work, not to bring their initiative to work. . .and the capabilities that we need most of our employees, their imagination, initiative. . .are exactly the capabilities that are most difficult to command. You cannot tell someone to show initiative or to be creative. . . those are literally gifts that people choose to bring into work every day or they don’t.”
As Hamel says, the question a manager needs to ask himself is not “How do I get people to serve my company?” but rather, “How do I create the work environment and a sense of purpose that literally merits the gifts of creativity and passion?” Hamel provides several tips, which include dramatically reducing the level of fear in organizations; depoliticizing decision making (so decisions are the result of good ideas and not political power); democratizing information (so information is not used as a political weapon), and reducing the power of traditional hierarchy.
If you struggle with disengagement and a lack of accountability, here are few other tips to help you:
Take a good look at all the leaders in your organization. Research shows that one of the most important factors that impacts employee engagement is the relationship with one’s immediate manager. Evaluate all of your leaders, from the back office supervisors to the Vice Presidents—everyone who is directly in charge of others. There is no doubt that people flee bad managers. So, what do good managers do? A worldwide study of engagement showed that the managers who fuel engagement exhibit these specific behaviors: they are personally involved, they delegate and utilize their employees’ talents, they don’t withhold recognition, they actively foster a sense of community and belonging, and they provide feedback and coaching. Does every manager in your company do this?
Institute a reverse accountability program. This idea comes from Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, a global provider of IT services. The company is recognized as the number one best employer in India. One of their core values is the belief that all managers are equally accountable to their employees. To put this into practice, all 5,000 leaders in the company undergo a reverse 360 assessment. This gives employees a chance to evaluate their managers, for development purposes. All 80,000 employees worldwide can access the results on the web. You can hear more about the success of this approach in Nayar’s video interview with Karl Moore, Associate Professor at the University of McGill.
Answer these 12 questions. The Gallup Organization developed a 12-point gauge of conditions that best predict employee engagement. These are 12 simple but powerful questions that every manager should consider. They include questions such as “At work, my opinions seem to count” and “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.” Would everyone in your shop be able to answer “yes” to these questions? The full 12-point list is available in Feedback For Real, a Gallup Business Journal article.
Understand what drives people. If you are an old school manager, you may be thinking that the carrot and stick approach is the best way to control people and push them to be more accountable. As Daniel H. Pink discovered in Drive: The Surprising Truth of What Motivates Us, once basic financial needs are met—that is, once people are paid adequately for what they do—what truly motivates people is Autonomy–the need to direct our own lives, Mastery—the urge to continue to get better at something that matters and Purpose—the desire to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. Get to know your people on a human level: focus not only on knowing their strengths, but also on what their unique drivers are so that you can tailor your approach for best results.
Offer a cafeteria of motivators. If tight budgets due to current economic constraints prevent you from offering the compensation that people require, consider offering other motivators. A recent survey of employees showed incentives that can work for some people. These include a flexible schedule, an opportunity to make a difference in their jobs, telecommuting, challenging work, academic reimbursement, and even having their own private office. All of these are low cost incentives to consider.
Eradicate unfairness. Fairness is treating people equitably without favoritism or bias. A sense of fairness is hard-wired in us—nothing de-motivates us faster than working in situations where getting ahead is not a function of what you know, but who you know. A recent study shows that the number one reason people get sick is perceived unfairness at work. The emotional hurt associated with unfairness triggers the same neurophysiologic pathways present in physical pain. My article Monkey Business: Fairness in the Workplace provides seven tips to help you promote fairness in your team.
Does all of this mean that accountability training doesn’t count? On the contrary, knowing what constitutes accountability in your workplace is important; however, accountability training on its own is not the panacea for what is wrong with the engagement scores in an organization. For that, leaders need to step back and build a great place to work. They need to pay attention to a fundamental, and often overlooked truth about people: How people feel, profoundly impacts whether or not they will go the extra mile for you.
How successful we are at selling ourselves, our products and our services depends on our ability to stand up and be heard. What often prevents us from telling our story successfully is not our inability to articulate what we do, or how strongly we believe in the value of what we offer. Instead, it is simply the fear of speaking in front of an audience. Being nervous while presenting can put a dint in your credibility and have an adverse effect on achieving your business goals.
To manage the fear of speaking in public, you need to first understand the root cause of the fear. One of the best explanations comes from Scott Berkun, in Confessions of a Public Speaker. Berkun says: “The design of the brain’s wiring—given its long operational history, hundreds of thousands years older than the history of public speaking . . . makes it impossible to stop fearing what it knows is the worst tactical position for a person to be in.” That worst tactical position is standing alone, in an open place, with no place to hide, without a weapon, and facing a large group of creatures staring at you. As Berkun puts it: Being in this situation, “meant the odds were high that you would soon be attacked and eaten alive. . . Our ancestors, the ones who survived, developed a fear response to these situations.”
Understanding that our brain can’t tell the difference between a real threat (a pack of wolves about to attack you) and an imagined threat (a group of your peers watching you present) is the first step to overcoming the fear. This awareness can help you manage the “false alarm” that happens in the absence of real danger. How so? As you feel your heart racing when you first start your presentation, you can consciously and deliberately interrupt the fear response with a quick deep breath and a rational thought: “This is just a false alarm.” The more you get into the habit of interrupting the fear response as soon as you feel it happening, the quicker you will prevent it from being your default response every time you present in front of a group. You must ingrain in your mind the thought that the fear of public speaking is simply a misfiring of the caveman “fight or flight” fear response and that you can overcome this.
Here are some practical tips to help you manage performance anxiety so that you can focus on your key messages:
Re-frame the questions you ask yourself. When you worry before a high stakes presentation, you may have a tendency to ask yourself negative questions, such as “What will happen if I forget my material?” or “What if I mess up?” This form of self-talk is like throwing gasoline in a room on fire. All it does is heighten your anxiety. Replace these negative questions with positive ones. Take an inspiration from Seymour Signet, a specialist in helping people overcome public speaking anxiety. He advises to ask yourself: “What will happen if I knock it out of the park?” You can view more of Seymour’s tips in his video “Ask Yourself Good Questions.” Give this a try; it will calm the noise in your head.
Practice as if you are the worst.When you know your material well, there is a tendency to get sloppy when practicing a speech: you might flip through the slides, mentally thinking about what you are going to say, without actually rehearsing out loud exactly what you plan to say. This results in a presentation that is not as sharp as it could be and might cause you to be nervous once you have 100 pairs of eyes staring at you. You can also forget some important sub-points and key sound bites. Avoid this by practicing out loud and verbalizing your complete presentation. For a high stakes presentation, do this at least five times, at spaced intervals, to encode your material in long-term memory.
Practice your transitions. It is also crucial that you practice your transitions—the words that link one idea in your presentation to the next. These are easy to forget if you don’t practice them and you end up with a staccato presentation. Transitions are the silken thread that guides your listeners through your story. Here are some examples of transitions: “Now that we have established. . .”; “This leads us to. . .”; “My next item is particularly crucial. . .”. If you don’t practice correctly, you will end up practicing your imperfections from one presentation to the next.
Memorize the sequence of your slides. Knowing the sequence of your slides so that you can anticipate and announce a slide makes you look in control. This will increase your composure as you know where you are going next. Nothing erodes your credibility faster than having to look at a slide to know what you have to say next. Being perceived as credible boosts your confidence and reduces your anxiety and the fear of failing.
Create a back up slide for some of your answers. One reason people often experience anxiety before a presentation is the fear that they will be asked questions that might be difficult to answer. Don’t get caught off guard. Think carefully of what potential questions might arise and rehearse your best answers. Go one step further by creating slides for some potential questions about complex issues. You can include in your slide important information, numbers, stats, or even a pertinent graph or pie chart that would be helpful to the audience. If such a question arises, it is quite okay to say: “I anticipated that you might be asking this question. Let me display a slide that will clearly show. . .” Rehearse some of your answers to questions with the same care as you rehearse the presentation.
Visualize Your Presentation. A study at Harvard University showed the value of visualization in developing a skill: Two groups of volunteers were presented with a piece of unfamiliar piano music. One group was given a keyboard and told to practice. The other group was instructed to just read the music and imagine playing it. When their brain activity was examined, both groups showed expansion in the motor cortex, even though the second group had never touched a keyboard. Visualization is a powerful mental rehearsal tool that peak sports performers use regularly. Einstein, who is credited with saying that “imagination is more important than knowledge,” used visualization throughout his entire life. Take advantage of this tool and visualize yourself successfully delivering your presentation. Concentrate on all the positives of your presentation, and visualize the entire talk, in detail, from your introduction to your conclusion.
Stop seeing your presentation as a performance. Instead, as Jerry Weissman puts it “. . . treat every presentation as a series of person-to-person conversations.” The more you remind yourself of this, the more you will be able to shift your focus away from the fear-inducing thought that you are required to perform.
Take some deep breaths. This simple advice cannot be emphasized enough. When you are nervous, you breathe rapidly and shallowly. This is telegraphing to the audience that you are not confident. Slow and measured breathing is a sign that you are in control. Before you go to the front of the room, concentrate on taking a few, slow breaths. Repeat this a few times. When you start to speak, remember to pause and breathe after you make a point. Psychiatrist, Fritz Perls, said it powerfully: “Fear is excitement without the breath.”
Try ‘power posing’ before the presentation. Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy discovered that simply holding our body in an expansive pose for as little as two minutes results in a higher level of testosterone in our body. Testosterone is the hormone linked to power in both animals and humans. At the same time, the expansive pose lowers our level of cortisol, the stress hormone. In her TED video presentation, Cuddy shows a number of expansive poses, such as spreading your legs, placing your hands on your hips, or striking the CEO pose: legs resting on desk, and arms behind your head. You can apply this advice before a presentation to lower your stress level and give yourself a boost. Instead of hunching over your notes or Blackberry, find a spot where you can have some privacy and adopt an expansive pose: make yourself as big as you can by stretching your arms out and spreading your legs, or stand on your tiptoes with your hands in the air. Give it a try.
Pause Frequently. In “The King’s Speech,” a movie about the true story of King George VI, one of the successful strategies the speech therapist uses to help the king overcome his stuttering is the use of pauses. Pausing helped the king regain his composure whenever he was gripped by anxiety. The same strategy can help you. When you feel anxious while presenting, consider pausing more frequently. A few strategic pauses between points have a calming effect.
Come to terms with audience expressions. Your anxiety level is increased when you misinterpret the audience’s facial expression. In normal conversation, we are accustomed to getting feedback from the listener: a nod or a smile, here and there, that signal approval. But when we present, audiences listen differently. They are more likely to give the speaker a blank stare which does not mean that they don’t like what they hear; more often than not, it simply means they are concentrating on the message. This is especially true of members of the audience who have a preference for introversion.
You can access further tips for managing presentation anxiety in my book, Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques For Effective Presentations. There is a Japanese proverb which says: “Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.” Put your mind on developing your key company messages and crafting your story. Replace time expended on worrying with time spent on preparing thoroughly for your presentation by knowing your material cold, and practicing it beyond the point of pain. Then go out there and win them over.
Someone once said: “The greatest wastes are unused talents and untried ideas.” If there is one kindness you can do for yourself, it is to take a good look at which of your talents have been dormant for too long. What ideas you have been putting off? What worthwhile projects are languishing in dark corners? The unattainable is often the untried.
Talents that are not cultivated become corroded. The longer our talents stay concealed, the greater the chances are that they will be irretrievably lost to us and society. You may be considering starting a new venture, or expanding a current one. You may have been dreaming of writing a book, developing an app for the iPhone, or creating a blog of the best biscotti recipes in the world. What are you waiting for?
If you need a kick in the pants to get started, follow Seth Godin, an iconic figure for all of us, and for small business, in particular. Watch the video of his latest book, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? In it, Seth encourages us to make art. He defines art as what we do when we’re doing our best work, work that touches others.
This applies equally if you are wearing a business suit or a smock: whether you are a manager in a large enterprise or the owner of the corner stationery store; whether you are a doctor who treats patients with empathy, or a barber who takes a snapshot of his clients’ haircuts so that he can remember what delights the client. Seth’s book exhorts us to stand out, not stand in; that is, not settling for the easy, the comfortable, the safe. It’s the only way to do our best work. Doing our best work, as the author puts it “is available to anyone who has a vision that others don’t and the guts to do something about it. Steve Jobs was an artist. So were Henry Ford and Martin Luther King Jr.”
If you lack the courage to take the leap and accomplish what has been on your mind for a long time, here are some tips:
Don’t doubt your talents.
Some talents may be hidden because of an innate humility. We compare ourselves to others in our domain and wonder: Who am I to be playing alongside the giants? Comparisons are mental shackles that keep us imprisoned in the safety of the average. Don’t hide your talents. You have a responsibility not to waste your gifts. As Benjamin Franklin said: “What’s a sundial in the shade?”
Get comfortable with being wrong.
Sir Ken Robinson said: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come with anything original.” How many times have people advised us not to fear failure. Do we take this advice? Or do we retreat in the cocoon of safety? The price we pay for playing it safe may be too high.
Stop trading on old knowledge.
If we want to accomplish anything, we need to continually update what we do. An advertisement from The Boston Consulting Group reads: “There are no old roads to new directions.” We become stale when we continue to do the same thing over and over. A professor who uses the same lecture material every year fails to give his students the best of his cognitive abilities. A manager or business owner who prides himself on being “old school,” may deprive himself of the opportunity to learn the art and science of engaging a modern workforce.
Don’t refuse a job that was never offered.
Years ago,I was debating whether or not to attend a job interview as I wasn’t sure that this was the right position for me. At that time, I learned a lesson from a CEO I used to report to who offered this advice: He said: “Never refuse a job that wasn’t offered to you.” I attended the interview, was not offered the job anyway, but I made a human connection with my interviewer that later resulted in a consulting assignment. Don’t prejudge a situation. Go and explore. You can always say no later.
Give people an opportunity to blossom in their talents.
Do you make an effort to see the hidden talents in those who do the work in your shop? Do you give them a place to stand and shine? Do you allow them to sign their work? One way to shine the light on people is to give them some autonomy in the way they do the work. Take full advantage of the talents everyone brings to the table and make an effort to give people projects that they can knock out of the park. See what happens.
Practice ‘intelligent disobedience.’
I have written previously about intelligent disobedience, a term that describes the opposite of blind conformity: it’s about using your judgment when an established rule or policy hinders rather than helps your organization. It’s about allowing front line staff—those closest to the customer—to make a decision, on the spot, in order to right a wrong with a customer, even if doing so, goes against an established rule. If you run your own small business or lead a team in an enterprise, consider adopting some of the tips listed in the article so that you can create a place where people have more autonomy. It will make you stand out as a courageous and remarkable leader.
Write a book.
There is a saying that goes: “Everyone has a book in them.” What expertise or ideas do you have that can be turned into a book to help others? Writing a book can help you sell yourself. In 5 Reasons You Should Seriously Consider Writing a Book, Michael Hyatt says: “A book is the best marketing tool you could ever have. It makes an introduction. It opens doors. It prepares the market for the other products and services you offer.” If you don’t know how to get started to write your book, a useful resource is Guy Kawasaki’s most recent book, APE – Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book. This book will provide you all you need to know about self-publishing and selling your book.
Go on an inspiration binge.
If you need an extra nudge, carve out a few minutes daily, when you have a break, to read articles, or watch videos of people who did not waste their talents, but instead, put those talents to use—sometimes against all odds. Here are a few to start you off: Have a look at this powerful photo of two brave men of the Single Leg Amputee Sports Club of Sierra Leone chasing for the ball in Freetown. Watch this video about a group in Paraguay who found a way to create music from what we discard as garbage. And don’t miss this video of the late philosopher and author, Alan Watts, asking: What If Money Was No Object?
This post first appeared in my business column at AMEX.
There are literally thousands of books and articles written on the most desirable qualities of a leader. They run the gamut from adaptable to zealous. But one quality, above all, is fundamental to anyone who aspires to be a good leader. And this is simply to be a mensch. Whether you are a corporate, entrepreneurial, or political leader, being a mensch is the most important yardstick of great leadership. It is the true measure of any man or woman.
Mensch is a German word meaning human being, or person. In Yiddish, the word mensch has deep connotations. It describes a man (or a woman) of integrity, a decent person—one who always chooses to do the right thing in all of his undertakings. The guiding compass of a leader who is a mensch is “do no harm.” We have an innate sense that tells us when we are dealing with a mensch: it’s a person who will not try to cheat us, deceive us, or undermine us in any way. A mensch is a person in whose presence we feel safe.
Two of the hallmark qualities of a mensch are a disposition to be kind to others, and a genuine caring for one’s fellow man. A mensch has deep compassion: he understands the suffering of others and seeks to alleviate it. If there is one description that sums up what a mensch is, it is, that a mensch doesn’t have a pocket sized heart. To be called a mensch is the greatest compliment one can give you.
In his blog, Guy Kawasaki provides 5 tips on how to be a mensch. Here are a few more:
1. When someone has wronged you, continue to treat them with civility.
It’s the ultimate mark of a mensch.
2. Give way more than you take.
Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” It is the mensch way.
3. Genuinely acknowledge others.
Taking the time to give sincere praise shows a generosity of heart. It is high octane fuel for the soul.
4. Default to kindness.
The biggest deficit is not monetary—it is the lack of kindness in our interactions with others.
5. Embrace diversity.
Every person is a world. The uniqueness of each human being makes our communities a more beautiful place. The legendary Louis Armstrong referred to this as “the colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky, are also on the faces of people going by.” See that rainbow.
The Roman philosopher, Seneca said: “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.” Every day of our lives, we have an opportunity to show up as a mensch. Perhaps this is the most important resolution for the New Year for all of us.
This post first appeared on my business column at AMEX.
George Herbert said: “Good words are worth much, and cost little.” One such word is grace. Grace is a sense of fitness and propriety. It is also a disposition to be generous and helpful. It is a word we don’t hear too often in business, except perhaps when someone has fallen out of grace, or behaved disgracefully. Grace is a golden link which binds us to others, and it applies to all of our relationships, whether it is dealing with our employees, colleagues, clients, family, and friends. It is also the link of civility that connects us to strangers. Grace costs nothing but it buys us a lot of goodwill.
In our harried and busy lives, it is easy to view grace as a quaint notion and brush it aside. As Seth Godin says in a video with Tom Peters, if you are a small business owner, you may need to cut corners in order to save money, so you take a shortcut, or you treat people in a way that you don’t want to be treated. This may seem like a shortcut but it doesn’t pay off in the long run.
How can we bring grace in all of our dealings with others, and make it one of our hallmark traits? Here are some helpful reminders:
1. Give without grudge, or don’t give at all.
Do you bend over backwards to please demanding clients by giving them discounts and special treatment, but then include veiled complaints in the bargain? Do you under price yourself and often remind the client of this? Do you help a colleague but find opportunities to let that person know of your reluctance to do so? All of these behaviors may be justified, if you feel that you are being taken advantage of. So, simply refuse to do it. But if you decide to do it, then do it gracefully, without displaying your grudge as a badge in all of your interactions with that person.
2. Know the difference between disagreeing and being disagreeable.
Debates and active disagreements are a healthy part of a well-functioning team. But some people get carried away in the heat of the moment, and, in throwing out someone’s argument, they also throw away any goodwill in the relationship. What you see as your passion, may come across to others as your anger.
3. Temper your sense of justice.
Our sense of justice is made up of thoughts and feelings about what is fair and unfair, what people owe us, and what we deserve. Sometimes, this makes us react with a lack of grace; we become incensed when our rights have been infringed upon. But, as author Judith Martin aptly put it: “You do not have to do everything disagreeable that you have a right to do.” We can decide to behave gracefully when someone rudely cuts us off in a line up, and quietly let them go ahead. We can give someone the right of way when it is clearly not their turn. We can give up arguing a point even when we know logic is on our side.
4. Develop your social skills.
While we don’t set out to intentionally offend or ignore someone, it is easy to slip in small things that matter to people. For example, don’t mention an invitation around those who have not been invited; always criticize in private; don’t forget to draw attention to those who have worked behind the scenes to make an event or project successful; go out of your way to welcome newcomers; help loners to feel a part of the group.
5. Don’t be angry with the front line staff.
Problems with cumbersome or absurd company rules, procedures, and policies are not the fault of the front line staff. The line up at the store is long because management has cut down on staff. The clerk is refusing to give you a refund because her manager has not authorized her to do so. Take your complaints to the right person.
6. Thank someone for a business referral.
It’s uncanny how many people land a business deal thanks to a referral but never get back to the person whose kindness helped them. Whether or not you closed the referred sale, send an email to thank the person and briefly update them on what happened. If you closed the sale, consider sending a small gift, or a hand-written note. Here is a company that provides creative, business referral thank-you cards.
7. Guard against using ungracious expressions.
“Hi there” is an ill-conceived email salutation of our times. How much more gracious it is to use the person’s name. Here are a few other expressions that lack grace: “Thank you, anyway”; “Whatever”; “And I should care because?”
8. Be graceful in every room in your life.
Do you show up differently in the boardroom, than in the staff lunch room? Do you treat the Chairman differently than you treat the charwoman? Everyone is entitled to be treated with courtesy. The mark of a gentleman (or gentlewoman) is how they treat someone who can be of absolutely no use to them.
9. Show grace under fire.
Being cool and calm under pressure is something that we admire, especially because it is so difficult to do. One way to do this is to raise your awareness of your patterns of frustration. What are some of the situations that regularly exasperate you? Who are the people who get under your skin? Develop strategies to cope with these life events. Self-awareness precedes self-management. Some jobs require people to work under tremendous pressure. Watch this video on how to stay calm on a trading floor, for example. The tips apply to all jobs.
10. Know what to do when you fall from grace.
We have all, at one time or another, lost our temper, or reacted ungraciously with someone. It takes a big man (or woman,) to pick up the phone and say: “I am sorry, I was rude with you at the meeting.” Often, it’s not what happens, but how we subsequently deal with what happens, that determines whether or not a relationship is permanently eroded. Most people are reasonable and willing to forgive when we show sincere regret. As Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” A quick and siincere show of contrition signals to the person that we respect them enough to make ourselves vulnerable.
Being graceful is one of the most human acts available to us. How easily we can make our workplaces and our world a better place simply by deciding to be more graceful in all of our interactions with others. Grace is a sacred word. Let’s aspire to grace and make it a household word in our lives.
The ability to speak in a way that creates an emotional bridge that connects us to others is one of the most admired qualities of leadership. A person who has mastered this is said to speak in “the leader’s voice.” The leader’s voice is captivating: it makes the audience want to lean in to listen to every word that person has to say. What does it take to be that voice in the room, to speak in a way that qualifies as authentic leadership communication?
This article will provide some of the core principles for elevating a speech from a mere recital of facts into a more powerful communication. Recently, we saw a good example of this in the brief, 5-minute speech that President Obama delivered to his campaign staff the day after the election. The purpose of the speech was to thank the campaign workers for their efforts in helping the President win the re-election. Rather than the perfunctory “I couldn’t have done it without you,” or “you were a great asset to winning the campaign,” Obama delivered a thank you speech that was evidently straight from the heart. What exactly did he do that makes this an exemplary piece of leadership communication?
Authenticity, Humility, and Optimism.
First, there were three enduring leadership qualities that came through loud and clear: authenticity, humility and optimism. All three are hallmarks of any effective leadership communication:
Obama’s authenticity shines as he talks about his early days as a community organizer and his desire to make a difference: “I didn’t really know how to do it. . . a group of churches were willing to hire me. . . and I didn’t know at all what I was doing.” Authentic, personal communication is vital for any leader who seeks to connect with his constituents.
Humility is a very attractive trait in a leader. It is the antithesis of hubris, the excessive, arrogant pride which often leads to the derailment of some corporate heroes. Mark W. Merril said: “Humility does not mean you think less of yourself. It just means you think more of others.” That’s precisely what Obama illustrates in his speech. He tells his audience: “You are so much better than I was. In so many ways, you’re smarter, and you’re better organized, and you’re more effective.” He goes further by stating that “the work that I did in those communities changed me much more than I changed the communities.”
Leaders are purveyors of hope. They can see around the corner and instill in people the hope and belief that tomorrow is better than today. That’s precisely what Obama does several times in his short speech. He says: “I’m just looking around the room and I’m thinking wherever you guys end up, you’re just gonna do great things.” He expresses an optimistic view of the future that awaits his staff long after their work as his campaign staff has ended: “And whatever good we do over the next four years will pale in comparison to what you guys end up accomplishing for years and years to come.”
Speak on Three Channels.
In Voice Lessons: Applying Science to the Art of Leadership Communication, Ron Crossland tells us that the most effective communicators use three channels to boost the impact of their communication: the factual, emotional and symbolic. Too often, leaders speak only on the factual channel, but facts alone rarely inspire. It is the emotional and symbolic channel that powers a leader’s communication and helps him or her convey important leadership messages. Obama’s speech is a particularly good example of a leader who is gifted in using the emotional channel, in an authentic manner.
Communicating on the emotional channel is a two-part process: first, a leader needs to speak about his emotions, about how he feels about his topic. We admire those who are cool under fire, but we don’t connect with a leader who is dead cold. A poker face is good for poker, not for inspiring others. People want to know what their leader feels; it creates transparency, it brings us closer to those we lead and engenders trust. The emotional channel dominates Obama’s speech to his staff. He expresses his own emotions which center around confidence and admiration for his staff, and genuine gratitude for their efforts and loyalty: “I am absolutely confident that you are going to do just amazing things in your lives;” “I am really proud of you;” “You guys won’t disappoint me.”
The second part of the emotional channel is your constituents’ emotions. It is having the empathy to understand and recognize the emotions of others in the room. On that score, Obama refers to their hard work and shows that he genuinely understands who they are, what they have done, (“you all are just remarkable people”) “and most important, what they will accomplish in the future: “Your journey is just beginning…You’re just starting.”
The symbolic channel taps into the power of symbols (or metaphors,) and storytelling. Here too, Obama’s speech fits Ron Crossland’s framework nicely. Obama uses several metaphors: He refers to the indomitable spirit of people as “the grit . . . of ordinary people.” He also borrows a metaphor from Robert Kennedy when he refers to the “ripples of hope that come out when you throw a stone in a lake.” This is a particularly apt metaphor that would resonate in a roomful of young people. He also honors his audience by making them the wellspring for his own hope and fortitude. He refers to them as “the source of my strength and my inspiration.” He tells them that they had an uplifting effect on him as he grappled with difficulties: “You’ve lifted me up, each and every step of the way.” Another powerful metaphor.
Storytelling, a major component of the symbolic channel, is a powerful leadership tool. This is echoed by Terry Pearce, in The Mastery of Speaking as a Leader. Pearce provides three rules for powerful leadership communication: speak on topics you really care about; incorporate personal experiences that have formed the basis for your beliefs, values and convictions, and structure your speech as a story. One could say that Obama’s entire short speech is a personal story about his dream to make a difference—starting from his efforts as a 25-year old community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, during the Ronald Reagan era, to where he is now: “I felt that the work that I had done, in running for office, had come full circle. . . , because what you guys have done . . . means that the work that I’m doing is important.”
Finally, throughout his speech there is a sense of history: “What you guys have accomplished will go on in the annals of history, and people will read about it, and they’ll marvel about it.” As Terry Pearce says in his book, Leading Out Loud: Inspiring Change Through Authentic Communication, “leadership communication is about growth and change, words that contain a past, a present and a future—a story line.” We can clearly follow the thread of this story line in Obama’s speech. He adds meaning to their work and this is another requisite for a successful leadership communication: leaders need to connect the dots for people and help them see the greater purpose for their work.
In today’s climate, especially, it is important for leaders to speak in a way that connects with people, a way that engenders loyalty and commitment. Authentic, personal experiences, empathy, a hopeful vision, stories and metaphors are powerful weapons in a leader’s arsenal. They are the megaphone for the leader’s voice.
As Hurricane Sandy made its way through several states, causing damage and devastation, one thing that stands out in the eye of the storm is the calmness with which most people are meeting this calamity. This is one of the enduring characteristics of the American people: an unrivaled strength and tenacity in the face of adversity. We have seen it many times before in tragedies of the past. It echoes Martin Luther King’s words of long ago: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” The ability to see around the corner—to know that tomorrow will be better than today— is an admirable quality, one that fortifies people to cope with whatever hand is dealt to them. This is called resilience.
Resilience is defined as the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity, threats, and significant sources of stress. Resilience is not something that is innate to some and not to others. Resilience is a trait that can be learned by everyone. It involves the ability to manage our thoughts, behaviors, and actions.
How can we all develop stronger resilience? Here are some pointers:
1. Place a high value on relationships.
Cultivating deep connections and forming positive relationships with others are the cornerstones of resilience. Whether it is family, friends, co-workers or neighbors, relationships are our emotional and spiritual shelter. They strengthen us. Consider in these last few days of havoc caused by Hurricane Sandy, how important it is to have the support of people who care for you. In our harried and busy lives, working to establish ourselves, to acquire goods and to reach for success, it is sometimes easy to unintentionally neglect our most precious bonds—those with our spouses, children, parents and friends.
2. Expect a positive future.
Even in the worst circumstances in history, people have rebounded. When the world was torn apart, Churchill reminded people to keep up their spirits and to never give up. One of his memorable speeches included this line from a poem by Arthur Hugh Clough “In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly! But westward, look! the land is bright!” The land is bright indeed.
3. See things with new eyes.
Avoid viewing difficult events as an unconquerable crises. Many things that happen are beyond anyone’s control but while we can’t control the events, everyone of us can control how we view and respond to the events. Those who make an effort to view events as temporary and not pervasive, that is, not affecting their entire life, are more optimistic and, consequently, better equipped spiritually to cope with adversity. Hurricane Sandy may have destroyed buildings, blown away cars, and crippled public transportation, but it has spared your loved ones, your health and strengthened your bond with your neighbors.
4. Increase your self-awareness.
Consider how you coped with adversity in the past. How were you able to surmount obstacles in your path? What inspiration can you derive from yesterday that can brighten today? What have been your sources of hope? Reflecting on the past is often a guiding light for the future. Perhaps this is what Eleanor Roosevelt meant when she said: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience by which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’”
5. Give of yourself.
In times of crises, there is a tremendous opportunity for everyone to help, in any way that they can, and most people rise to that occasion. Extend this to make it a part of who you are every day: be a person who has a generosity of heart, whether it is through a word of appreciation, a thoughtful gesture, or a sense of understanding the people you deal with on a regular basis. In Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life, George E. Valliant followed over 800 individuals, men and women, rich and poor, for more than 50 years, from adolescence to old age. He discovered that one of the most powerful predictors of successful aging is habitually using mature coping mechanisms or defenses. He calls them “making lemonade out of life’s lemons.” One of these coping mechanisms is sublimating, that is, diverting the energy behind feelings and thoughts of despair to more constructive pursuits. Another is altruism (doing for others what they need, not what we want to do for them.) In a subsequent interview, Valliant was asked what he had learned from his longitudinal study of men. Valliant’s response was: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.” These are some of the recipes for developing resilience at any age.
Resilience helps us to bend without breaking and once bent, to bounce back from adversity. Author Bern William said: “Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.” There is no fragility in the American spirit—American resilience is legendary and is an inspiration to other nations.
Meetings may be the number one complaint in today’s workplaces. More and more people view attendance at meetings as a form of time theft that they have to endure. This mind-set causes some to show up at meetings in person, but not in spirit. Woody Allen’s often quoted words that “eighty percent of success is showing up” works in reverse here—it is better not to attend a meeting at all, than to show up as a potted plant. Emotional disengagement in meetings leaks through and this is not in anyone’s best interest.
Meetings are a prime opportunity to show leadership in the room. Whether a meeting is well run or not, as a participant, you can stand out from the crowd by doing your share to contribute to the success of a meeting. Here are some pointers:
Be a front-seater.
Don’t sit in the back of the room, waiting to make a speedy exit. Get out of the shadows and choose a seat right opposite the leader, if you can. This will increase your visibility and opportunities for engagement.
Don’t be the first to leave.
Stay behind, speak with the meeting leader. Offer your feedback if the meeting was helpful to you. Make a genuinely appreciative or constructive remark. Thank someone for their contributions.
Build on the ideas of others.
Honor a colleague’s idea by referring to it and adding your perspective. Acknowledging someone else’s contribution is rarely done and is the mark of a leader.
Criticize ideas not people.
Arguing against an idea is fair game but attacking people in the process attracts negative attention. Personal attacks, especially in a meeting with others, are emotional violations. Replace statements such as “I don’t follow your logic at all” with “Jim, help me understand how you arrived at this conclusion.”
Make positivity your hallmark.
There are those who pride themselves for being “The Devil’s Advocate.” Research shows that these individuals snuff the life out of innovation. Be the voice in the room that infuses the meeting with positivity. Leaders value those who adopt a positive stance and help others see what’s right and what works, rather than focus on what’s wrong. A study showed that senior executives use positive words four times as often as negative words. That’s one way to genuinely boost your executive presence.
Be brief to be heard.
One of the most frustrating issues in meetings is individuals who ramble on and, often, take the meeting off track. State your issue succinctly and get to the point quickly; if this is a problem for you, think through the sequence of your ideas before the meeting, paring down unnecessary details. Master the 30 second answer—this is especially important if you are meeting with C-level executives. Meetings are expensive: don’t use the meeting for discussions that are best handled in a one-on-one meeting.
Above all, learn to notice the silent messages your peers are giving you when you stray from the topic and waste their time. You know the signs but you may have developed a habit of ignoring them: do they avert their eyes, drum their fingers, seem restless, speak with a neighbor, check the time or catch up on their Blackberry messages? Do too many people start to take bathroom breaks? Catch yourself: acknowledge that you digressed, go back to main topic and briefly reiterate your main point.
Learn to build rapport.
First meetings, especially, are crucial for developing rapport that can lead to a successful business relationship. Knowing as much as you can about the person you are meeting is now a lot easier and faster with Noteleaf; this is a novel Google application that creates a mobile profile of your meeting. It includes the photograph of the person you are meeting with, the LinkedIn profile, work history, mutual acquaintances, and tweets. This application will make your search for rapport building topics easier.
Nowhere is rapport building more important than in the first sales meeting with a prospective customer. In the video, Rapport Building, Ian Gilbert, president of Third Core, provides some useful advice on how to accomplish this successfully. It involves a sincere desire to understand what is important for the client as well as knowing what questions to ask. Start the discussion by asking them what they would like to get out of the meeting. Aim for the right tone: as Gilbert states, “too much reverence… or too much salesman like behavior… creates the wrong kind of bond.” You want to create as near a peer relationship as possible based on the value that you may be able to bring to the meeting. This enhances your meeting presence.
Tom Peters, business author and speaker, once said: “Meetings are the # 1 leadership opportunity. Like it or not, meetings are by definition the principal stage for exhibiting leadership.” While Peters’ statement is directed at leaders, it applies equally well to meeting participants. Choose every meeting opportunity to showcase your leadership abilities. It will set you apart from the crowd.