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COVID-19’s stripping workplace culture back to its essence: strong leadership

cultureI used to think it was about the Canada Day celebration, family Christmas party, team-building retreat in cottage country and the millions of dollars donated each year to local groups and causes

But I now believe the secret sauce for this company’s standout culture was the senior executive team. Over the course of my career with five organizations, I’ve yet to see a more cohesive senior team in action.

There were no cliques, secret alliances or team of rivals. There was no backstabbing, grandstanding or gamesmanship. Not once in any one-on-one conversation did a senior executive ever gripe to me about a colleague.

Cohesion inspired confidence. Employees were confident in where the company was headed because we knew there were adults in the boardroom who weren’t acting like frat house bros or middle school tweens. The executive team took the company’s core value of respect and turned it into a personal virtue. How they treated one another set the standard for all the rest of us.

What you do and value most as a leader drives your organization’s culture, says Ben Horowitz, cofounder of a venture capital firm and tech start-up and author of What You Do is Who You Are: How To Create Your Business Culture.

“Who you are is not the values you list on the wall. It’s not what you say at an all-hands. It’s not your marketing campaign. It’s not even what you believe. It’s what you do. What you do is who you are.”

Leaders doing stupid, selfish and short-sighted things will turn your culture toxic.  Horowitz says there are a few telltale signs that your culture’s broken. The wrong people are quitting too often. You’re consistently failing at your top priorities. And an employee does something that’s truly shocking. “If someone behaves in a way you can’t believe, remember that your culture somehow made that acceptable.”

Horowitz also warns against tolerating four culture breakers: fault-finding heretics who are forever building and making the case that your organization’s run by morons; totally unreliable flakes; self-righteous prophets of rage and smart-bad jerks. “Consistently asinine behavior from an executive can cripple a company,” says Horowitz. “If one of your big dogs destroys communication on your staff, you need to send him to the pound.”

It’s tempting to tolerate culture breakers for their moments of brilliance and outsized contributions.  But again, what you do is who you are as an organization. Ignore misbehaviour and disloyalty at the top and it’ll run through your organization like a virus.

A great culture won’t automatically make your organization great. Culture won’t save a lousy or unwanted product or service. Horowitz says culture is like nutrition and training that gives an edge to already talented athletes.

“In the end, people who work for you won’t remember the press releases or the awards. They’ll lose track of the quarterly ups and downs. They may even grow hazy about the products. But they will never forget how it felt to work there, or he kind of people they became as a result.

“The company’s character and ethos will be the one thing they carry with them. It will be the glue that holds them together when things go wrong. It will be their guide to the tiny, daily decisions they make that add up to a sense of genuine purpose.”

The pandemic’s stripping workplace culture down to its essence, especially for organizations with remote teams. We’re reminded that it was never actually about dress down days, ice cream socials, barbecue lunches, pancake breakfasts and branded swag. It’s all about what your leaders do in public and behind closed doors.

This review first ran in the May 30 edition of The Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager in McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

The secret to being a great leader? Start by being an ambassador of other people’s awesomeness (review of Unleashed)

awesome 2This isn’t my first time being considered a non-essential employee.

I’ve worked with some great leaders during my tours of duty at a provincial association, hospital, steelmaker, college and university.

These all-star leaders didn’t want or honestly need much public relations help. It was the less-than-stellar leaders who kept us PR pros busy as an essential service.

The best leaders had zero interest in being the star of the show. If somehow pushed and cajoled into the spotlight, they’d sing the praises of the people they served. It was never about them and always about the mission.

There was also little point in telling employees they had a mission-driven leader at the helm. They already knew this to be true. Many had been on the receiving end of the leader’s passion for unlocking potential and bringing out the best in people.

Unleashed“Leadership, at its core, isn’t about you,” say Harvard Business professor Frances Frei and Leadership Consortium executive founder Anne Morriss.  “It’s about how effective you are at unleashing other people. Full stop. That’s it. That’s the secret.”

So how can leaders know if the secret’s still a mystery and they’re still labouring on the false assumption that it’s all about them? Frei and Morriss list 10 warning signs in their book Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You:

  1. What other people experience rarely occurs to you. “If you find yourself focused primarily on your own experience, then you’re still a healthy distance from the emotional Launchpad of leadership.”
  2. You don’t ask very many questions.
  3. The most interesting thing about other people is what they think of you. “If you can’t sustain genuine interest in the ideas of other people, including those ideas that have nothing to do with you, then you haven’t yet earned the right to lead.”
  4. You’re constantly updating a catalogue of your own weaknesses, limitations and imperfections. “A loud inner critic can be a major distraction from the practice of leadership.”
  5. Other people’s abilities bum you out. “When you’re in an effective leadership state, the strengths and potential of the people around you become your greatest assets.”
  6. You’re constantly in crisis.
  7. You’re pessimistic about the future. “Leadership is built on the assumption that tomorrow can be better than today.”
  8. Reality has become tedious. “It’s a red flag if it’s been awhile since you’ve felt a sense of wonder at the unlimited possibilities around you.
  9. Apathy and powerlessness are dominant emotions.
  10. You’re the star of your own show. “Those of us hungry for leadership will eventually change the channel.”

Frie and Morriss showcase strategies for chipping away at this list and making the pivot to becoming a more empowering and effective leader. You can start by becoming an OPA, or ambassador of other people’s awesomeness.

“Choose someone in whom you see some kind of talent, however big or small, and find a genuine way to let them know that you’ve noticed,” say Frie and Morriss. “You see what they’re capable of today and – this is for leadership bonus points – you see where this gift might take them tomorrow if they decide to share it more often. Start with a person close to you and work outward from there.”

Serving as an ambassador of other people’s awesomeness accomplishes two things. You’ll start to adopt a much-needed external leadership orientation and you’ll spread some unexpected joy at a time when we could all use an extra-strength dose.

Adopt this daily habit during the pandemic and you’ll start making yourself essential as a leader.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

 

What are you doing for others? Answering life’s great question (review)

kid signKids in our neighbourhood know who’s answering life’s great question.

Grown-ups working in hospitals and grocery stores, delivering mail and driving garbage trucks are getting shout-outs on homemade signs that kids are taping in windows and staking on front lawns.

They’re giving thanks to all the essential workers who are putting their lives on the line to get us through the pandemic. As these workers make meaningful contributions, the rest of us may want to make time for some self-reflection while we self-isolate and ride out the storm.

We can start with what Martin Luther King Jr. called life’s most persistent and urgent question – what are we doing for others?

Tom Rath says our answer is how we’ll create a life of contribution and find a deeper purpose beyond earning a paycheque.

life's great question“Life is not what you get out of it,” says Rath, researcher and author of Life’s Great Question. “It’s what you put back in.  All the talent, motivation and hard work in the world will not be valued or remembered if it does not help another human being.”

Daily demands and constant distractions make it easy to avoid thinking about how we could do more to serve our teams, families and communities.

“This is a consequential mistake,” says Rath. “Tomorrow is gone in an instant, another month rolls by, and eventually you have missed years, and then decades, of opportunity to make meaningful and substantive contributions.”

There’s a growing body of research that shows how selflessly serving others is in our best self-interest. Knowing that we’re making meaningful contributions improves our performance at work and boosts our physical health and mental wellbeing.

“I believe we all inherently know this – which makes the gap between what we’re currently contributing and what we have the ability to contribute all the more frustrating.”

Rather than following our passions and pursuing our own joy, Rath says we should instead focus on putting our skills and strengths to work in making the greatest possible contribution to others.

To figure out how best to invest our strengths, he’s identified 12 contributions grouped under themes of creating, relating and operating. A free online assessment will identify the top three contributions that best fit your strengths and meet the needs of others (you get the access code when you buy the book).

“You create meaning when your motivators, abilities and purpose meet to serve the world,” says Rath. “Knowing the first two things about yourself is important yet that is only half of the essential supply-and-demand equation. And all the self-awareness in the world can quickly go to waste if you fail to keep learning what the world needs from you and how you can best serve others.”

If there’s any upside to the pandemic, it may come from the sign-making kids who’ve learned from essential workers that putting purpose ahead of paycheques and leading lives of contribution is how we find the answer to life’s great question.

This review first ran in the April 17 edition of The Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

 

Digital marketing survival guide for small businesses (review of See You on the Internet)

The internet is the only place we’ll be seeing your small business while we self-isolate and do our part to help flatten the COVID-19 curve.

Online is where we’ll get to know you, stay connected and decide whether to spend money with you during the weeks ahead.

Yet with every small business ramping up their online presence in a scramble to survive, how can you stand out and weather the storm?

Now more than ever, you need a digital marketing strategy. Just as you can’t afford not to market online, you can’t afford to get it wrong.

Avery Swartz, founder and CEO of Camp Tech, has a strategy-building framework that she uses with her small business and non-profit clients.

see you“Every small business owner I’ve ever worked with feels the pressure of limited time and resources,” says Swartz, author of See You on the Internet: Building Your Small Business with Digital Marketing.

“You’re constantly trying to weigh the effort of any marketing initiative in your business against the potential reward it will bring. And if you’re not sure it is going to bring you a reward, it can be so tempting to skip it. When the going gets tough, you have to be able to measure (and confidentially know) if the juice is worth the squeeze. And if it’s not, then it’s totally okay to move on to something else.”

Here’s Swartz’s six-step digital marketing framework:

  1. Set a specific, measurable and actionable business goal.
  2. Choose one key performance indicator (KPI) tied to your goal. “There are all kinds of metrics and values you can use to measure your success. It can be totally overwhelming and paralyzing. That’s why it’s essential to focus on just one metric – the one that tells you whether you’re getting any closer to your goal.”
  3. Measure where you currently stand, using your KPI as the measuring stick.
  4. Take a calculated leap into the unknown with digital marketing. Avoid a giant leap. “Don’t spend a lot of money or time at this stage; you’re trying something out to see if it works. Start small and get the results. If your measurement shows some success, great! Double down.” If you don’t hit it out of the park, adjust your strategy and take a different approach online.
  5. Measure what actually happened. “This is the step that requires the most discipline and honesty,” says Swartz. “The only purpose of looking at metrics is to learn, so you can improve. It’s not to make yourself feel good.”
  6. Learn from what you’ve done. What would you do again? Do more of or do it differently? “Look for the signal in the noise to determine what’s working and then double down on those efforts.”

Once you’ve worked through the framework’s six steps, you move into an iterative cycle of planning, executing, measuring and learning.

Along with her framework, Swartz gives a primer on domain names, websites, search engine optimization, social media, email marketing, online advertising and digital metrics. You’ll learn enough to have an intelligent conversation when negotiating with a consultant or marketing firm.

“Digital marketing is hard,” says Swartz. “At some point, I promise you, it will feel like a slog. If you start using a digital tool before you know what you want to achieve with it, and before you make a plan for getting you closer to that goal, you’ll waste your time,” says Swartz.

And in these unprecedented times, no small business owner has any time to waste and no room to wing it. Use Swartz’s digital marketing strategy to know exactly what’s working, what’s not and where to go next.

This review ran in the April 4 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

A better way to solve tough problems (review of What’s Your Problem?)

How would you solve the problem of too many dogs waiting to get adopted from your local animal shelter?

You could run pop-up adoption shops. Roll out a dog-of-the-week promo with your local newspaper and TV station. Revamp the shelter’s website, give the dogs their own Instagram account and launch a matchmaking mobile app that’s like Tinder for dogs.

problemOr you could reframe the problem from getting more dogs adopted to having fewer dogs put up for adoption. Downtown Dog Rescue did exactly that and gets a shout-out from innovation and problem-solving expert Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg in his new book What’s Your Problem? To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve.

The Los Angeles non-profit looked at the dogs in its shelter and realized it had a poverty problem.  Around a third of the dogs were being surrendered by owners. These owners weren’t irresponsible; they were caught in desperate financial straits and forced to make a hard decision. So the shelter created an intervention program that financially helps owners keep their dogs. The program saves owners from heartbreak and saves the shelter money, proving to be less costly than taking in dogs and putting them up for adoption.

“Sometimes, to solve a hard problem, you have to stop looking for solutions to it,” says Wedell-Wedellsborg. “The way you frame a problem determines which solutions you come up with. By shifting the way you see the problem, you can sometimes find radically better solutions.”

problem 5

To reframe a problem, test your initial understanding and underlying assumptions. What are you missing in looking at this problem? Is there a better goal or objective to pursue? What’s your role in creating the mess you’re in? How do other people perceive this problem? When and where is this not a problem and who’s already solved it? “Paying attention to positive exceptions can give you a new perspective on the problem and may even point you directly to a viable solution.”

Wedell-Wedellsborg calls reframing a fundamental skill we all need to learn. “Frankly, this is stuff that everyone should have been taught a long time ago. And it frightens me to consider how many mistakes are made every day because smart, talented people keep solving the wrong problems.”

So why aren’t we masters of reframing? We have a bias for action and an aversion to thinking before acting, even though reframing when done well is a quick detour that saves time, money and aggravation.

problem 4

We prefer to focus on problems that we’re already experts at solving. “Most people have a tendency to frame problems to match their own ‘hammer’, hewing to the tools or analytical perspectives they favour.”

We’re also guilty of falling in love with solutions that are in search of a problem.  “Sometimes, people have fallen in love with an idea – let’s do X! – with zero evidence that the solution they are dreaming of solves a real-world problem.”

PROBLEM 3

Reputations can be built and fortunes made off tackling wicked problems and seemingly intractable global challenges. Yet our best way forward may come from learning how to reframe hard problems into far easier challenges to solve.

“What difference might it make to your life – to the people and the causes you care about – if everyone got just a little bit better at barking up the right trees? People who master reframing make better decisions, get more original ideas and tend to lead more remarkable lives.”

This review first ran in the March 14 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

How to ask for help at work (review of All You Have to Do is Ask)

I still don’t have an answer to the one question my boss always asks at the end of our one-on-one meetings.

What can I do to help make it easier for you to do your job?

I keep drawing a blank because this has never been a frequently asked question throughout my career. And I’ve brought that on myself, having spent too many years being the go-it-alone, stubbornly self-reliant lone wolf.

Not asking for directions can make lone wolves lousy travelling companions. Not asking for direction, guidance or help at work can be a career-limiting, or even a job-ending, move.

AllYouHaveToDoIsAsk_ByWayneBaker_BookCoverImage“Not asking for help is one of the most self-limiting, self-constraining, even self-destructive decisions we can make,” says Wayne Baker, University of Michigan business professor and author of All You Have to Do is Ask. “Without the help and assistance of others, we don’t receive the resources that we need to get our work done, to solve problems, and to fulfill our missions in the world.”

We have our reasons for not asking for help. We underestimate just how ready, willing and able people are to lend a hand. We believe that asking for help makes us look weak, incapable, incompetent, lazy or dependent. We fool ourselves into thinking we can somehow do it all on our own. We feel we haven’t earned the privilege to ask for help, we don’t know how to make a request or we work for organizations where asking for help just isn’t done and getting help is near impossible.

While we tell ourselves it’s better to give than to receive, Baker believes it’s best if we regularly do both. “The two acts are two sides of the same coin. There is no giving without receiving and there is now receiving without giving. And it’s the request that starts the wheel turning.”

To ask for and then get what we need, Baker recommends making requests that are specific, personally meaningful, action-oriented, realistic and time-based. “When others know why you are making the request, they are more motivated to respond,” says Baker. “They empathize with you.”

Leaders need to lead by example, stringing together a psychological safety net and creating a “thanks for asking” culture that recognizes and rewards people who request a helping hand.

One way to achieve this is by setting up reciprocity rings. Up to 24 people get together and take turns making both a personal and work-related request. Asking for help is the price of admission to a reciprocity ring. People in the ring can ask for information, advice, recommendations, referrals and extra resources. Anyone who can help in any way steps forward.

You can also introduce five-minute favours. Commandeer a room and tape sheets of flip chart paper to the walls. Have employees write requests on the top half of the sheets and add their names to the bottom of sheets where they can offer assistance.

Yet another suggestion is to write one problem or question a week on a whiteboard and invite employees to weigh in with solutions and answers.  Review all the ideas on Friday afternoons.

And as a leader, you too can ask for help. Baker highlights a CEO and chairman of the board who, at an employee town hall, asked for everyone’s help in meeting his three personal goals – “stay happily married to my wife of some 30 years, don’t miss any important dates / events for my two daughters back home, lose 20 pounds and eat better.” One employee offered to be the CEO’s running partner while others made sure he skipped desserts and ate salads.

“Most people are in fact willing to help – if they are asked,” says Baker. “But most people don’t ask and as a result, all those answers, solutions and resources are being left untouched, unused and wasted – for no good reason.”

Lone wolves take note. It’s time we ditch the stubborn independence and start asking for help.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Wondering if there’s more than this? You’re ready to climb the second mountain (review)

mountain climbYou went to a good school, graduated into a great job and built yourself a rewarding career.

You’ve earned serious money, status and power.

You’re living the dream and life is good.

But what if it could be exponentially better?

“Most of the time we aim too low,” says David Brooks, New York Times columnist and author of The Second Mountain. “We walk in shoes too small for us. We spend our days shooting for a little burst of approval or some small career victory.

“But there’s a joyful way of being that’s not just a little bit better than the way we are currently living; it’s a quantum leap better. It’s as if we’re all competing to get a little closer to a sunlamp. If we get up and live a different way, we can bathe in real sunshine.”

second mountainBrooks says there are two metaphorical mountains for us to climb.

Most of us are in a mad scramble up the first mountain. We’re decked out in “I’m free to be me” athleisure as we pursue happiness and self-love, build our personal brands, manage our reputations, curate our best lives on social media, keep score and take stock of how we measure up.

“The goals on the first mountain are the normal goals that our culture endorses – to be a success, to be well thought of, to get invited to the right social circles, and to experience personal happiness,” says Brooks. “It’s all the normal stuff: nice home, nice family, nice vacations, good food, good friends, and so on.”

Maybe we’ll reach the peak and love the view. But we may suffer existential dread as we wonder if there’s more than this. Or we could get tossed off the mountain after losing our job, good health or reputation.

Fortunately, there’s a second mountain for us to climb. On this mountain, we trade independence for interdependence and swap happiness for joy. Instead of living our best life, we’re dedicated to making life better for others. Choosing one or more commitments to a vocation, spouse or family, a philosophy or faith, and a community is our price of admission to the second mountain.

“A commitment is making a promise to something without expecting a reward,” says Brooks. “Adult life is about making promises to others, being faithful to those promises. The beautiful life is found in the mutual giving of unconditional gifts. When I meet people leading lives of deep commitment, this fact hits me: joy is real.”

On the first mountain, we have careers. On the second mountain, we dedicate ourselves to vocations.

A career is based on what we’re good at while a vocation is built on what we’ve been obsessively interested in for many years.

“In choosing a vocation, it’s precisely wrong to say that talent should trump interest,” says Brooks. “Interest multiples talent and is in most cases more important than talent.  The crucial terrain to be explored in any vocation search is the terrain of your heart and soul, your long-term motivation. Knowledge is plentiful; motivation is scarce.”

Still searching for your vocation? Say yes to everything. “Say yes to every opportunity that comes along, because you never know what will lead to what,” says Brooks. “Have a bias toward action. Think of yourself as a fish that is hoping to get caught. Go out there among the fishhooks.”

If you’ve been blown off the first mountain or find yourself underwhelmed by the view, Brooks will help you find the fishhooks and the courage to climb your second mountain.

This review first ran in the Feb. 15 edition of The Hamilton Spectator. I serve as communications manager for McMaster’s Faculty of Science, live in Hamilton and have reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Turn your customers into loyal fans (review of Fanocracy)

free-images-for-copywritingIf it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

I ignored that adage while registering for a “free” webinar.

When the webinar ended, the spam emails and sales calls started and didn’t stop. I got emails and phone calls from multiple salespeople from the same company.

Irritation replaced my initial appreciation. I took a hard pass when the company invited me to join another webinar, even though the topic was relevant and line-up of speakers was impressive.

It’s too bad because I could’ve been a fan of the company and helped spread the word about their webinars. I may have even bought what they were selling. But now, I’m not a fan.

If you’re giving away content online, lift the gates. Make it truly and completely free. Let us watch your webinars and download your whitepapers, e-books and special reports without first having to turn ourselves into a sales lead.

Fanocracy-HC-3D“Free content with strings attached feels like coercion while great content given away freely attracts loyal fans,” say David Meerman Scott and Reiko Scott, the father-daughter authors of Fanocracy: Turning Fans Into Customers and Customers Into Fans.

“The problem with gating content is many people won’t bother to register for privacy reasons. They don’t want an email or phone call from a salesperson.  Another problem with gated content is there is very little sharing on social media because people don’t want to expose those in their social networks to possible spam.”

Companies that have axed email registrations report that 20 to 50 times more people now download their free content.

“If you want to spread your ideas, free content is the way to go,” say the authors. “We frequently hear from people who say that if you give away your ideas for free via web content, people won’t have a need to buy your products or services. However, many organizations have successfully used this approach.”

If you’re not ready to make this leap of faith, try a hybrid approach. Make a truly free initial offer that contains a secondary follow-up offer that requires registration. Your initial offer will reach more people and generate higher quality leads.

“The hybrid approach generates email addresses from people who have already consumed your initial free content and now want more information about your company and your products and services and are eager to learn more.”

Giving more than you have to is one way to convert customers into avid, loyal and loud fans.

Bringing customers together offline is another fan-building strategy that captures the zeitgeist of our times. The authors say we’re on the cusp of a major cultural shift away from an increasingly polarized, cold, unsocial and algorithm-driven digital world.

“The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of superficial online communications at a time when people are hungry for true human connection. Many people now feel that the promise of online social connection just isn’t for them anymore – the romance is over. We’ve gone too far into manufactured friendship through social media, and something different is coming next. The pendulum is swinging back to genuine, authentic human connection.”

What can your business or organization do to bring like-minded people together in unique places and spaces for special events and activities? If you love what your customers love, they’ll find room in the hearts and wallets to love you too. Book stores have book clubs. Libraries have speakers’ series. Shoe stores have running clubs. Garden centres have classes on how to mix cocktails using herbs. What’s your equivalent?

Hagerty Insurance is one of the company’s showcased in Fanocracy. “Insurance sucks,” admits the CEO. “Nobody wants to buy insurance. It’s not fun.” What is fun for Hagerty’s customers are classic cars. So the company created a free classic car auction tracker app and launched a Hagerty Drivers Club last year. Members get a subscription to the company’s magazine, exclusive discounts, road side service assistance and invites to members-only events.  Hagerty is now the largest classic car insurer, with double-digit compound growth.

“A fanocracy is a culture where fans rule, and that’s what we see emerging in today’s world,” say the authors. “We are moving into an era that prizes people over products. The relationships we build with our customers are more important than the products and services we sell to them.”

I serve as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, live in Hamilton and I’ve reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. I’m a fan of the Washington Capitals, the New England Patriots, Peter Gabriel and Phoebe Bridgers.

Tell an undeniable story to win support for your impossible idea (review of Story 10x).

I had no clue what the consultants were talking about.

Early in my career, I was on a team that was tasked with carrying out a re-engineering project.

Consultants were brought in to crunch numbers, run reports and help get employees onboard for big sweeping changes in who and how work got done.

The consultants were big believers in burning platforms.

Some employees will resist change and stick with the status quo until the bitter end, said the consultants. By burning down the platform, they’ll be forced to jump. The pain of staying in their comfort zone will be greater than the fear of making a change.

Even though the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster wouldn’t happen for another 15 years, this seemed like a horrible analogy and a lousy strategy to pull off a major change.

Burning the platform wound up stoking more anger than fear. Employees saw through the smoke and didn’t jump. In the end, the only ones tossed overboard were the consultants and our project team.

Michael Margolis is not a fan of burning platforms.

Story10x_hardcover-mock-angle3a“As an innovator and change agent, you’re programmed to confront and challenge the status quo,” says Margolis, the author of Story 10X and founder of a strategic messaging firm. “To show people how things are wrong, bad or broken. And what is required to fix it. While you have truth on your side, who likes to be told they are wrong, bad or stupid?

“In fairness, this is just conditioned behavior. We all want to be right, yet, when you learn to tell your story in a manner that goes beyond right / wrong, you can truly move the needle, bend the curve and transform the world.”

If you want us to embrace whatever change you’re selling, make us feel good about going along for the ride. “Feeling good is contagious. You’re more likely to pique curiosity, leaving them intrigued and hungry for more. Yes begets more yes. They’ll see you as an ally around shared interests or needs and they’ll be open to your message rather than closed to it.”

Instead of burning platforms, tell us an undeniable story that’ll inspire us to join you in turning the impossible into the inevitable. “An undeniable story is a strategic narrative that transports your audience into the future – leading them on a journey beyond the world they know to the promised land of possibility. It conveys a new vision, strategy and roadmap so convincingly and compellingly that your audience can’t help but see it, feel it and believe it. They want what you’re selling. Because your idea is a self-evident truth that people can relate to.”

motivation-4330453_1920Margolis says narrative intelligence is as important as cognitive and emotional intelligence. Great leaders are great storytellers. “Business is built on persuasion and persuasion is rooted in story. The very best leaders are well versed in the art and science of story. They make magical things happen with their words.”

The best leaders make their stories personal and show vulnerability. They put their heart at the heart their stories.“If your message is personal to you, you have a much better chance of making it personal to your audience. If you’re emotionally invested in your ideas, your audience will equate that to motivation, resilience and long-term achievement. Let your vulnerabilities be seen and you’re far more likely to engender trust and rapport.”

So if you’re looking to change the world in 2020, Margolis can show you how to share an undeniable story that’ll give us faith in disrupting and innovating our way to a better future.

By day, I’m the communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science. Hamilton is home and I’ve reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

The unsustainable costs of cheap & fast fashion (review of Fashionopolis)

sweatshirts-428607_1920Want to save the planet? Start with your closet and skip next week’s Boxing Day sales.

We’re making and buying more clothes than ever before. Between 2000 and 2014, worldwide production doubled to 100 billion items. Twenty per cent of those items go unsold and get buried, shredded or incinerated.

And we’re not holding on for long to the 80 billion clothes that we do buy. On average, we wear clothes just seven times before burying them in our closets, giving them away or tossing them in the trash. Each of us throws out around 36 kilograms worth of clothes annually.

We’re on an epic shopping spree thanks to fast fashion. Our malls and big box stores are continually restocked with trendy and inexpensive clothes made and shipped at lightning speeds from subcontracted sweatshops that run on the cheapest labour in the world’s poorest countries.

fashionopolisThe clothes may be cheap but they come at a steep and unsustainable cost, says Dana Thomas, journalist and author of Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes.

“Every day, billions of people buy clothes with nary a thought – nor even a twinge of remorse – about the consequences of those purchases.”

Fashion is big business. It’s a $2.4 trillion industry that employs one out of every six people around the world. Yet less than two per cent of those workers earn a living wage.

“Since the invention of the mechanical loom nearly two and a half centuries ago fashion has been a dirty, unscrupulous business that has exploited humans and Earth alike to harvest bountiful profits. Slavery, child labor and prison labor have all been integral parts of the supply chain at one time or another – including today.”

Along with exploiting the poorest of the poor, we’re wrecking the planet every time we buy yet another cheap t-shirt, hoodie, dress or pair of jeans.

The World Bank estimates that manufacturing clothes accounts for nearly 20 per cent of all industrial water pollution and 10 per cent of carbon emissions.

One-fifth of all insecticides are used to grow cotton. Manufacturing a single cotton t-shirt requires nearly half a kilogram of fertilizer, 25.3 kilowatts of electricity and 2,700 litres of water.

Synthetic fabrics are no better. Up to 40 per cent of microfibres from these fabrics wind up in rivers, lakes and oceans and worm their way up the food chain. Nearly 90 per cent of 2,000 fresh- and seawater samples tested by the Global Microplastics Initiative contain microfibres.

“We, as consumers, play a pivotal part,” says Thomas. “It’s time to quit the mindless shopping and consider what we are doing, culturally and spiritually. When we ask ourselves ‘what am I going to wear today?’, we should be able to answer knowledgeably and with a dash of pride. We have been casual about our clothes, but we can get dressed with intention. It is time to really care.”

We can show we care by joining the slow fashion revolution. Thomas showcases a growing movement of makers, designers, merchants and manufacturers who are championing localization and regionalism, honoring craftsmanship, respecting tradition, embracing modern technology to make production cleaner and greener and treating workers well.

Yes, we’ll pay more for slow fashion clothes. But it’ll be worth it if you care about the planet and the people who do the work. And really, how many t-shirts, hoodies, dresses and jeans does one person need?

This review ran in the Dec. 21 edition of The Hamilton Spectator. I’ve reviewed business books for the Spectator since 1999. By day, I’m communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science and call Hamilton, Ontario home.