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Regain control of your time & attention – make yourself indistractable

Imagine if everyone in the City of Hamilton was admitted to hospital and given the wrong medications.

That’s what happens to roughly the same number of patients in American hospitals every year.

Along with harming and killing patients, these preventable medical errors cost an estimated $3.5 billion in extra expenses.

A hospital in San Francisco found a solution. Studies showed that nurses were interrupted and distracted between five to 10 times while dispensing a patient’s meds. So nurses started wearing bright coloured vests to let colleagues know when to stay quiet and steer clear. Four months later, medical errors fell by nearly 50 per cent.

Other hospitals have since added specially marked distraction-free zones or rooms where nurses can stay focused on making sure their patients get the right meds.

Hacking back constant work interruptions is one of the ways to make yourself indistractable. Rediscovering the ability to give tasks and people our undivided attention will be an essential skill in the 21st century.

indistractable“In the future, there will be two kinds of people in the world,” predicts Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable: How To Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. “Those who let their attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others and those who proudly call themselves ‘indistractable’. In this day and age, if you are not equipped to manage distraction, your brain will be manipulated by time-wasting diversions.”

If you’re not keen on wearing a do-not-disturb day-glo vest around the office, Eyal suggests putting a sign on your door or desktop to notify colleagues when you need to work without interruption.

To have fewer emails flooding your inbox, send fewer yourself and be slower to respond. Not every email needs an immediate reply. Batch non-urgent emails in a folder that you can work through during a block of time at the end of your week.

“Meetings today are full of people barely paying attention as they send emails to each other about how bored they are,” says Eyal. So don’t hold a meeting if you don’t have an agenda. On your agenda, clearly define the problem you want the group to tackle and attach a one-page digest discussing the problem, your initial thoughts and a straw dog solution. You’ll get to an answer faster and eliminate the distraction of unnecessary meetings.

no phone 2Along with having an agenda, make meetings screen-free. Put away smartphones and give a sheet of paper and a pen to anyone who insists on using their laptop to take notes. Everyone must be present both in body and mind and free of screen distractions.

Use group chats sparingly in very specific situations with a limited number of colleagues. “We wouldn’t choose to participate in a conference call that lasts for a whole day, so the same goes for group chat,” says Eyal.

Turn notifications off on your smartphone and desktop. Eliminate apps you don’t use. Rearrange apps into three categories, with primary tools on your phone’s home screen followed by screens for aspirations (like podcasts and audiobooks) and then time-killing dopamine-hitting slot machines (like Facebook and Twitter).

To become indistractable, Eyal says we need to get a handle on both our internal and external triggers that distract us and learn how to better plan and manage our time with intention. “You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it’s distracting you from.”

Eyal’s four-part indistractable model will help you find your lost attention span and show how to regain and retrain your brain in a world of relentless distractions.

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.

How to better understand and get along with your coworkers (review of Surrounded by Idiots)

It’s actually easy being green.

What’s not so easy is having to work and live with us.

At our best, greens are a stabilizing influence on a team. We’re supportive, pleasant, relaxed, respectful and reliable. We’re good listeners, with a genuine ear for human problems. We won’t monopolize meetings for the sake of hearing ourselves talk. We don’t demand much, we’ll never kick up an unnecessary fuss and we’d prefer never to offend you or anyone else.

But we can also come across as stubborn, uncertain, complaint, dependent and awkward. We have a frustrating inability to change our ways and at times can seem indifferent, uninspired and unconcerned. You could look at us in a meeting and legitimately wonder if we still have a pulse. And don’t count on us to commit to, much less ever make, big plans outside of work. The bigger your plans, the more comfortable we’ll make ourselves on the couch.

The fun and fireworks begin when you mix us into a team with the other three behaviour types that make up the DISA (dominance, inducement, submission and analytic) system.

idiots“There are individuals around us who, under less favourable circumstances, we may find challenging to understand,” says Thomas Erikson, author of Surrounded by Idiots. “There are others we don’t understand at all, no matter what the situation is. And the most difficult to interact with are those who aren’t like us, because they obviously behave ‘incorrectly’. So much conflict could be avoided if we just understood why the people around us behave the way they do.”

Reds are bold and brash natural-born leaders. They’re quick to react and take direct action. They can also morph into impatient and unyielding control freaks who repeatedly and aggressively trample on everyone’s toes.

Yellows are creative and optimistic social butterflies with exceptional communication skills. They’ll also suck up all the oxygen in a room if given the chance and can come across as easily distracted, selfish, superficial and overly self-confident.

Rounding out the four personality types are blues who are analytical, serious, diligent and detail-oriented. They can also be slow to react, minimally interested in relationships, tedious, aloof and cold-hearted. A blue will not hesitate to remind you that being 95 per cent right still makes you 100 per cent wrong.

Blues and yellows in particular can quickly get on each other’s nerves while reds and greens are the other challenging and potentially combustible combination.

Yet we can all get along if we first recognize and understand each other’s behavior types and then adjust and adapt accordingly.  The majority of us are a blend of two or three colours while only a few us have just one behavior type.

“If you want to make headway with a large group of greens, you have to take command, get a firm hold on the steering wheel, and, in some cases, simply get into the driver’s seat yourself,” says Erikson. “Asking a group of greens to solve a task is as much use as trying to put a brake on a canoe. They won’t get started unless you put them on the track.”

And all of us should quit abiding by the golden rule. Treating others the way you want to be treated assumes everyone else is exactly like you. But the way a green wants to be treated is fundamentally different from a red, blue or yellow.

Erikson wrote his bestseller to help us better relate to and communicate with the people we work and live with. “Self-awareness, my friend, is the solution,” says Erikson.

His book will reassure you that you’re not actually surrounded by idiots and you’ll find practical solutions for better understanding and appreciating what makes each of us tick at work and home.

This review first ran in the Sept. 28 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.

3 transitions that dual-career couples must navigate to thrive at work & love

Can you really have it all when it comes to love and work?

Yes, but it’s a limited time offer available only to dual-career couples in their 20s.

So enjoy it while it lasts.

In your 20s, you can focus entirely on your career. You’re free to head into the office early, stay late, work through the weekend and hold down a side hustle. You’re what author and professor Jennifer Petriglieri calls an unbounded talent.

couples“They have few personal responsibilities or constraints like a mortgage, children or elderly relatives that compete for their time or bind them to a specific location,” says Petriglieri, author of Couples that Work – How Dual Career Couples Can Thrive in Love and Work.

Nothing changes right away when unbounded talents first become a couple. They still get to run their careers full out on parallel tracks with little friction. “Relative lack of constraints, abundance of tolerance and willingness to discount challenges, free couples up to do what they need and want, and they often do a lot.”

The world seems full of possibilities and young couples believe they can continue to have it all and burn the candle at both ends. “That is the powerful illusion that a promising career start and a blossoming love foster.”

The first of three transitions will bring that illusion to an end by your early 30s. The transition is triggered by a major life event like the birth of a child, a career that kicks into higher gear for you or your partner, an unexpected layoff or a serious illness.

Rather than have it all, couples start struggling to do it all. The solution is to replace independence with interdependence.

“When couples have interdependent careers and lives, they mutually rely on each other to be successful and fulfilled. The move to interdependence raises the defining question of the first transition: how can we make this work? How can we structure our lives to allow both of us to thrive in love and in work?”.

Petriglieri says couples that stumble through this first transition continue to treat their careers, commitments and lives as fundamentally independent. Instead of collaborating, they compromise. There’s a risk one or both partners will keep score of the trade-offs and feel increasingly resentful.

“True life partners are not independent, but rather interdependent. This mutual dependence requires couples to collaborate rather than barter. They need to dig below practical day-to-day issues that can be temporarily solved through trade-offs and address deeper questions of career prioritization and life structure.”

The second transition arrives in your middle years. One or both partners grow tired, bored, restless and get stuck in a rut at work. Having owned your choices during the first transition, you’re now questioning those choices. You may be looking at a new job or career.

“Fleeting doubts, troubling dreams and nagging questions are all hallmarks of the start of the second transition,” says Petriglieri.  “Rather than wrestling with the life events that trigger their first transition, couples must now contend with existential questions and doubts about the foundation and direction of their lives.”

The third and final transition arrives as the kids leave home, careers plateau and, in the lyrics of Leonard Cohen, we start aching in the places where we used to play. It’s a time of loss and limits, says Petriglieri.

“The final transition comes at a time of dramatic shifts in roles. As we enter this stage of our careers, spanning our fifties to retirement, the stability of the path we crafted at the end of our second transition is challenged by these role shifts, the identity voids they open up and the legacy questions they raise that go to the core of our being in the world.

“If our twenties and thirties are the ‘should’ decade where we feel compelled to establish our careers and families, and our forties are the ‘want’ decade where we craft our individual life path, then our fifties and beyond are the ‘must’ decades. The sense of urgency people feel is palpable.”

Petriglieri based her research on interviews with 113 dual-career couples.  Her findings and recommendations will help anyone struggling through the transitions or wanting a heads up on the challenges ahead.

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.

 

 

 

Bring out your best on camera (review of Vern Oakley’s Leadership in Focus)

video cameraYour leader is not a robot but he plays one on corporate videos.

On camera, your leader looks like he’s been held against his will and injected with a bucket of Botex.

And he either talks about maximizing bandwidth to leverage synergies that deliver actionable deliverables or he recites motivational posters. If you can dream it, you can achieve it. Problems become opportunities when the right people join together so be the bridge. Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Take the moment and make it perfect.

We don’t expect Oscar-worthy performances from our leaders. All we want is a little emotion, some authenticity and a glimmer of vulnerability.

leadership in focus“Give yourself a break,” Vern Oakley tells camera-shy executives. Oakley is a veteran filmmaker and author of Leadership in Focus who’s worked with thousands of senior leaders. Even executives who excel at town hall meetings and in media interviews can seize up and struggle when it comes to shooting videos.

“It’s OK to stumble and fall. Your audience doesn’t want perfect. They just want to know that you care enough about them to reach out and connect. Our flaws can motivate people to listen more closely to what we have to say.”

Video lets you connect directly with your employees. Yes, research shows that we prefer to get workplace news from our immediate supervisors. But this assumes managers are willing and able to communicate and will stick to the script. That can be a big, and sometimes very wrong, assumption. Like everyone else, your employees spend their days and nights looking at screens. So why not have them stare at you for a few minutes?

“A first step in earning influence is to let your people know who you are – that you’re trustworthy, that you care about them and your shared work, and that you have what it takes to lead them to success,” says Oakley. “The big goal is to reveal who you really are.

“Your people simply won’t follow you if they don’t believe in you. To bond with your audience you need to take off the mask that many of us in leadership positions tend to wear.”

Oakley says an effective video starts with choosing your best method for communicating in a video. You can speak directly into, or look slightly off, camera. You can do an interview with questions either edited out or left in. Or you can be recorded talking at a town hall or as part of a roundtable discussion.

Make nice. “Give a warm greeting. Stakeholders are used to hearing warm and sincere greetings from political leaders, talk show hosts and news anchors. They’ll expect some warmth from you as well.”

Show presence and utilize body language. “Your workforce will respect you as a leader if you show confidence on video. Lean in every so often.”

Be sure to listen if you’re being interviewed on camera. “Everyone, especially employees, needs to know that their leaders take their opinions and points of view seriously and are fully engaged listeners. Ramp up your mindfulness.”

Use humour and lighten up. “A little humour from the boss can take the edge off and go a long way to making work fun again. As a leader, remember, you set the tone.”

Show vulnerability. “It lets viewers see that they’re working for a warm-blooded human who is not afraid to show his or her faults.”

Address the elephant in the room. Know what’s on our minds and buzzing on the grapevine. “Ignoring issues of concern can be interpreted as arrogance or, worse still, a disinterest in the welfare of your people.”

Tell the truth. Be pragmatic and honest and never lie even if the truth hurts. “The more you acknowledge the hard truths, the more appreciative your audience will be.”

Dispel wonkiness and avoid playing inside baseball on camera. “Don’t mistake the use of convoluted operational terms and acronyms as a way to show people you ‘get it’.”

For leaders to be authentic on camera, they first need what Oakley calls a sacred space for the video shoot. “Deep, honest communication can only come through in an atmosphere of trust and respect.” Anyone on set who’s dishing backhanded compliments, outright criticisms or false reassurances to the leader needs to leave.

Bringing out your best on camera takes practice and patience.  The payoff from watching and listening to you is us deciding that you’re worth following.

“People won’t want to go to your school, work for you, invest in your company, or do anything else you might ask of them if they don’t see you as someone they can trust and want to follow. Open communication shows you care about your people, your work and your mission.”

This review ran in the Aug. 31 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.

Thinking about writing a business book? Six questions to get you started (review of Tanya Hall’s Ideas, Influence and Income)

Rejection can be good for you. It was for me.

In the fall of 1999, I pitched an idea for column about public relations to the business editor at the Hamilton Spectator.

The editor nixed the idea, predicting there wouldn’t be enough interested readers or interesting topics to sustain it.

And in hindsight, posing as an expert in PR after just six years on the job would’ve been pretentious and potentially career-limiting.

Instead of writing a column, the editor asked if I’d review business books. I left the newsroom with the first of many, many books.

Thanks to my side hustle, I haven’t had to come up with an original idea at work for the past 20 years. I’ve shamelessly borrowed big ideas from more than 500 business books.

I’ve also met some really smart and experienced people over the years who should definitely share their expertise by writing their own book.

book ideasTanya Hall can help. Hall is CEO of Greenleaf Book Group and author of Ideas, Influence and Income.

“Whether you’re an established thought leader or you’re just starting out, a published book is the cornerstone of establishing yourself as an expert,” says Hall.

“Striving to establish yourself as a thought leader shows that you are fully committed to your area of expertise – so much so that you are driven to share your enthusiasm with others.”

Writing and then promoting a book requires a commitment of months, if not years. So here are six questions that Hall asks aspiring authors before they start the journey.

What do you want to write about? “Most authors start with a vague idea, like ‘marketing tactics’ and build from there. Focus on your experience and your successes to get the ball rolling.”

What do you want your book to accomplish? Will it be your calling card for more sales or speaking engagements? Will it raise your profile, reputation and credibility? “Publishing a book is a big investment of your time and money, and clarifying your goals will help ensure that you don’t waste either one.”

Who’s your audience? Are you already talking with them? “Visualize and describe your target reader. Try to get in their minds before you begin writing. What are their pain points? What are they hoping to learn? Where do they get stuck? How can you help them?”.

Why you? Hall recommends doing an honest evaluation of why you’re the best person to write a book on the topic at hand. “Have you worked in the industry for years? Did you pioneer something new? What would be missing if someone else wrote a book on this subject?”

Why now? Is there a demand and need for your expertise and insights? Can you anticipate future pain points and help your readers avoid problems or capitalize on opportunities?

Is a book the best outlet for your idea? Could you sum it up in a guest column, blog post, video, white paper or series of posts to social media? Don’t give readers 30 pages of valuable content and 150 pages of filler. “If you don’t have enough to say to fill a book, think through your audience’s needs and draft some short-form material. Get your work out there in other formats and your voice and content will come together with time.”

Don’t bank on getting rich from book sales alone. Think beyond the book, says Hall.

“A professionally produced book gives you nearly instant credibility and opens doors to other streams of income. For nonfiction authors, the book is an extension of your business or expertise and another tool in your business-marketing tool belt.”

Hall shows how to build your book, build an audience and build a business strategy that ties together ideas, influence and income. If you’ve ever dreamed of being an author, start by reading Hall’s book. And once you’re published, send a copy of your business book my way and I’ll give it a read, a review and shamelessly borrow and share your big idea.

4 WAYS TO IMPROVE THE ODDS OF MY REVIEWING YOUR BUSINESS BOOK:

No alt text provided for this image
  1. Stick to non-fiction. Please don’t write a business fable starring talking animals or an eclectic mix of characters who meet at a breakfast diner every Friday to soak up words of wisdom from an unassuming old-timer who’s secretly a billionaire ex-CEO. Mashing up business concepts with bedtime stories just creates something painfully unreadable.
  2. Been there. Done that. Wrote a book about it. Stick to writing about what you’ve actually done and give us an honest, unvarnished first person account. I’m starting to take a pass on books written by consultants, professional speakers and full-time authors who cherry-pick and string together stories we’ve all heard many times before, with a side of counterintuitive “who would’ve thought that?” research.
  3. Get yourself an editor and publisher. “Most self-published authors work in a vacuum and handle all aspects of the publishing process, from writing to editing, design, marketing, branding and sales,” says Tanya Hall. “It’s a rare person who can handle all of these areas with the professional quality expected by booksellers and readers.” Tanya’s being kind. I’ve yet to read a self-published book that didn’t need serious editing. And yes, we all judge a book by its cover so get yourself a graphic designer and pay accordingly. Cheap is expensive.
  4. Have just one big idea anchoring your book. Can you sum up your book in a single sentence?And format your book so the intro is the executive summary. The meat of the book fleshes out your big idea. And the last chapter sums everything up.

This review ran in the Aug. 17 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. Revoiews are archived at jayrobb.me .

7 ways to be a more authentic leader (review of Executive Presence)

Looking for your organization’s next generation of great leaders?

They’re already working for you on the frontlines.

That homegrown talent has the potential to someday become your strongest leaders. That’s my hypothesis based on a quarter century of watching and working with senior executives at a hospital, steelmaker, college and university.

The best of the best – the ones who were the most connected, respected and effective – got their start delivering care at the bedside, working in the plant or teaching in classrooms.

They’d been with the same organization since day one or joined early in their careers. They didn’t have to convince anyone that they’d always harbored a passion for healthcare, manufacturing or education. And they didn’t have to fend off questions or suspicions about whether this was just a brief layover before their next move to a bigger paycheque at another organization.

These homegrown leaders stepped into senior positions with the advantage of already knowing the organization’s history, culture and values because they’d helped make it, define it and live it. They hadn’t just walked in the shoes of the people they were now leading; they’d worn out the heels of those same shoes.

They had built a loyal and large fan club while working their way up the leadership ranks. Promotions and appointments were met with more cheers than jeers because colleagues knew them to be genuine, decent and real people. After all, it’s all but impossible to be a jerk or sociopath for 20-plus years in the same organization without being called out and forced out.

exec presence (2)That authenticity is critical to your success as a leader, says Executive Presence author Harrison Monarth, who’s worked with more than 60 Fortune 500 CEOs and thousands of senior leaders over the past two decades. “For others to feel a connection and trust us, we must strive to be more authentic.”

You can’t fake it once you’ve made it. So if you’re looking to better connect with the people whose buy-in will ultimately decide whether you succeed or fail, Monarth has a seven-point authenticity checklist for aspiring and emerging leaders.

  1. “Have honest conversations with others about issues that matter to you deeply.” What keeps you awake at night? What gets you out of bed Monday morning?
  2. “Build real relationships and practice empathy by having honest and heartfelt conversations with others about issues that matter deeply to them.” We won’t care what you know until we know that you care about us.
  3. “Admit when you’re wrong and apologize when you should.” Passing the buck is not a good look for a leader nor is pretending everything’s coming up roses even while everything’s going off the rails.
  4. “Forgive others and move on for the sake of the relationship.” Be the grown-up in the room and stay on the high ground.
  5. “Ask for help and offer it to others who may be reluctant to ask.”
  6. “Take risks by showing your strengths – and weaknesses – in a public forum. Demonstrating vulnerability can prompt others to respect you.”
  7. “Show your unique sides to others and watch them become curious about you.”

Monarth has distilled his perspectives on executive presence into five categories with distinct and interdependent traits.

  1. Communication: mastering difficult conversations, engaging others, telling strategic stories, inspiring and persuading
  2. Competence: having intellect and expertise, delivering results, acting decisively
  3. Personal brand: having status and reputation, projecting calm under pressure, possessing a compelling physical appearance, projecting confidence, having interpersonal integrity
  4. Courage: holding people accountable, speaking truth to power
  5. Political savvy: networking and building alliances, managing up, generating buy-in and support

You can take Monarth’s free online Executive Presence Indicator self-assessment to identify how well you currently measure up on the five categories and where there’s room for improvement.

“Executive presence isn’t simply one characteristic that you’re either blessed with or lack in spades,” says Monarth. “It’s rather a mix of mindset, skills, and behaviors that you can learn, acquire and hone and then wield to boost your impact beyond any formal authority you may have.”

Monarth has revised and updated his book and added new chapters. He offers science-backed strategies and proven techniques to help you influence how you’re perceived by others. This is a book worth giving to anyone on the frontlines of your organization who’s showing early flashes of leadership potential.

Authentic product

This review first ran in the Aug. 3 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

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

 

Don’t follow your passion and know when to call it quits (book review)

The Algebra of Happiness: Notes on the Pursuit of Success, Love and Meaning

By Scott Galloway

Penguin Random House

$28

This review first ran in the July 20 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

algebraA special public service announcement for all freshly minted grads who were told during their convocation ceremonies to pursue their passion and never quit.

It’s lousy advice that may not lead you to a life well lived, warns Scott Galloway.

“People who speak at universities, especially at commencement, who tell you to follow your passion – or my favourite, to ‘never give up’ – are already rich,” says Galloway, a professor at New York University’s business school and author of The Algebra of Happiness.

“And most got there by starting waste treatment plants after failing at five other ventures – that is, they knew when to give up.”

Instead of pursuing your passion, figure out what you’re good at and then spend years getting better at it, whether that’s building treatment plants, practicing tax law or installing kitchen cabinets.

“The emotional and economic rewards that accompany being great at something will make you passionate about whatever that something is.”

Scott also has a reality check for 20-somethings who intend to maintain perfect work-life balance while stepping onto the bottom rung on the ladder of success.

That balance comes at a cost, says Galloway. “If balance is your priority in your youth, then you need to accept that, unless you are a genius, you may not reach the upper rungs of economic security.

“The slope of the trajectory of your career is (unfairly) set in the first five years post-graduation. If you want the trajectory to be steep, you’ll need to burn a lot of fuel. The world is not yours for the taking, but for the trying. Try hard, really hard.”

To maintain a steep trajectory, you need to get the easy stuff right. For Galloway, that means showing up early, having good manners and always following up.

Galloway also has advice for those of us in the back half of our careers. “The number one piece of advice seniors would give to their younger selves is that they wish they’d been less hard on themselves. Your limited time here mandates that you hold yourself accountable. But also be ready to forgive yourself so you can get on with the important business of life.”

And our most important decision is not what credential to earn, what career to pursue or what investments to make but deciding who to spend our life with. Choose wisely, says Galloway.

“Who you marry is meaningful; who you have kids with is profound. Raising kids with someone who is kind and competent and who you enjoy being with is a series of joyous moments smothered in comfort and reward.

“Raising kids with someone you don’t like, or who isn’t competent, is moments of joy smothered in anxiety and disappointment. Sharing your life with someone who’s unstable or has contempt for you is never being able to catch your breath long enough to relax and enjoy your blessings.”

Galloway’s book expands on the final and most popular lecture in his brand strategy course. So, if like Galloway’s students, you’re wrestling with life strategies around what career to choose and how to set yourself up for success, reconcile ambition with personal growth and live without regrets, you’ll find some proven formulas in the Algebra of Happiness.

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

 

Get on the bus when a mandate driven leader’s behind the wheel (review)

Who do you want driving your organization?

A leader who won’t start boarding the bus until everyone’s had their say on where to go and reached consensus on what route to take?

Or a leader who’s already behind the wheel, revving the engine, telling everyone to buckle up and vowing to toss anyone who tries to slow, stop or steer the bus in a different direction?

Hitch your career to the second leader. It won’t be an easy or smooth ride. But there’s no guarantee the first leader will ever pull the bus away from the curb or go take your organization anywhere other than mediocrity or into a ditch.

“While consensus-based decision making is very popular and does tend to make people feel good, it is not necessarily the best approach,” says Scott Stawski, a senior executive with DXC Technology and author of The Power of Mandate.

“Too many senior leaders practice consensus management in a business environment that demands a different approach. Companies using harmony of decision making can be on a fast track to failure for the simple reason that consensus is not necessarily about what is best for the company. Nor is it about establishing and moving toward a vision that lifts everyone’s performance. It is about finding the outcome that is least objectionable to everyone involved. Comfortable organizations rarely change the world.”

Scott Stawski's The Power of Mandate

Mandate driven leadership can be your organization’s best strategy for world-changing disruption and strongest defense against feel-good group think.

Mandate driven leaders do a masterful job of continually communicating a clear and compelling vision for a better future. You may not agree with that vision but at least you’ll know what it is so you can make an informed decision about whether to get on or off the bus.

Mandate driven leaders drive to the outcome instead of following established processes. “The outcome is survival and mandate driven leaders often break what many believe to be the established rules of business processes to get there. The ride may be bumpy but if you are on the bus the destination is phenomenal.”

Mandate driven leaders also possess an unrelenting focus and determination to reach their ultimate destination. They won’t take no for an answer. They don’t accept excuses and they hold everyone accountable and to a higher standard of performance. Under their watch, organizations stand a far better chance of not only surviving but thriving.

Mandate driven leaders don’t care if you agree with them or like them. They’re not out to win popularity contests. They also know that crowds aren’t always wise.

“We need leaders who can push organizations in directions they may not want to go, in part because they don’t realize they need to,” says Stawski.

“These leaders have a vision, and they command the organization to take a certain course of action to achieve that vision. These visionary leaders have a belief, idea, strategy or tactic that is so compelling that they do not accept no for an answer. Through mandate, they drive the vision from concept to implementation. Through this leadership willpower, organizations are propelled toward the vision.”

So how do you become a mandate driven leader? Take responsibility for your continual leadership development, says Stawski. Establish a network of formal and informal mentors and start reading everything you can find about leadership and what’s on the horizon for your organization and industry.

“I’ve known and studied quite a few leaders over the course of my career and the single most common denominator seems to be a voracious thirst for knowledge. Not just about leadership per say, but about any and every topic that they could apply to the teams they are trying to lead.”

Despite profiling only billionaire white guys from the world of tech, Stawski makes a strong case for why we should hand the keys over to mandate driven leaders and rethink the reflexive need for consensus management.

This review first ran in the July 6 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.

What’s the worst that can happen? Imagine it & have a Plan B, C, D & E (review)

frankWhat To Do When Things Go Wrong

By Frank Supovitz

McGraw Hill

$34.78

This review first ran in the June 22 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

There are 80,000 souls in the stands.

More than a billion people are watching worldwide.

You’re doing a media interview.

And suddenly the lights go out.

This was the crisis facing Frank Supovitz just over a minute into the second half of the 2013 Superbowl in New Orleans. Supovitz was the senior vice president of events for the National Football League and ringleader of the planet’s biggest sporting event.

“It was not a time for guesswork,” says Armen Keteyian who was interviewing Supovitz for 60 Minutes Sports when the partial power failure hit. “What our crew witnessed (and captured on video) was a cool, collected leader assessing information. As the delay stretched into what would become 34 of the most surreal minutes in NFL history, Frank made one clear-eyed decision after another.”

Supovitz, an award-winning event producer, applied five principles during the “Blackout Bowl” that he’s outlined in his book What To Do When Things Go Wrong.

“I guarantee that if nothing has gone seriously wrong for you at least once so far, something is going to go terribly, horribly and spectacularly wrong sometime, somewhere and somehow despite your very best intentions, your painstaking and expert planning, and your unfailingly optimistic worldview,” says Supovitz.

“And when you get past the first thing that goes terribly, horribly and spectacularly wrong, guess what? There’s another crisis coming, and when it arrives things will look dark all over again, and very possibly worse. And I’m an optimist.”

Here’s how Supovitz mitigated risk and expertly managed crises during his 30-plus years leading major sports and entertainment events.

blackout bowl1.     Imagine how your event or project will play out in a perfect world and then picture everything that can go wrong. “Apply a dark and fertile imagination to visualize as many potential threats to our success as possible. Then we can spend the time, money and energy to keep all those monsters securely under the bed.”

2.     Prepare by building solutions to potential crises into your work plan. Hope is not a strategy, says Supovitz. Instead, you need a plan b, c and d. “Effective project leaders invest time and talent developing contingency plans that they truly hope, like an insurance policy, will turn out to be a colossal waste of time. But, having these plans can prove invaluable if something goes wrong and you need to work quickly to activate one or more of the plans.”

3.     Execute your plan and stay vigilant for all contingencies.

4.     Respond effectively when things go off the rails. “Try to resist the temptation to act too quickly, without regard to how your response may affect the outcome in other areas. That doesn’t mean don’t act fact. Just act fast enough to keep things from getting worse, but not so fast you end up making things worse.”

5.     Evaluate what happened and how you responded. Postmortems are key, as Supovitz points out that we learn more from things that go wrong than from those that go right. Of course, it’s always preferable to learn from the mistakes of others.

So when things go terribly, horribly and spectacularly wrong with your next project or event, remember Frank Supovitz and the 2013 Superbowl. Together with a quick-thinking team of well-prepared professionals, Supovitz kept calm, carried on and saved the Superbowl from a premature end.

No one was injured when the Superdome went dark. Play resumed after a 34-minute delay. Oreo put out a dunk in the dark tweet that ranks among the all-time great real-time marketing moves and cost nowhere near a Superbowl ad. And the NFL set a Superbowl record for concession stand beer sales during the blackout.

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

How to speak with more confidence and less fear (review)

public speakingThis review first ran in the June 15th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Your Guide to Public Speaking: Build Your Confidence, Find Your Voice and Inspire Your Audience

By Amanda Hennessey

Adams Media

$21.99

You have five minutes to prepare an impromptu talk on a topic you’ve just been assigned.

You’ll then give your talk without notes, a script or PowerPoint slides.

Welcome to the Christopher Leadership Course in Effective Speaking.

I wandered way outside my comfort zone to wrestle with my fear of public speaking. If this been our first assignment, I would’ve bolted for the door or sweated it out and seized up when I took the floor.

But this was week six and we’d received great coaching and votes of confidence from our volunteer instructors. We had a fool-proof four-step formula to structure our talks*. And we’d put in our reps thanks to lots of solo and group warm-ups and practice presentations.

You won’t find my impromptu talk in the annals of the world’s greatest speeches. But I survived and inflicted minimal pain and suffering on my classmates.

And then I was blown away. I was voluntold to go first so I heard everyone’s impromptu talk. I’ve worked with many senior leaders over the years. I can count on one hand the number of executives who could speak with the same authenticity, confidence and enthusiasm as my classmates. Practice doesn’t make perfect but it goes a long way in making us much more effective speakers.

Not enough of us get that opportunity, says Amanda Hennessey, founder of Boston Public Speaking and author of Your Guide to Public Speaking.

“No matter what you are asked to present or who’s asking you to speak, you want to be able to engage the task with confidence and enthusiasm,” says Hennessey. “If you’ve never received any kind of training on how to approach public speaking or how to dynamically share your message with an audience, you’re not alone.”

Public speaking is about conveying your thoughts to a group. “If the phrase public speaking freaks you out, then substitute the phrases sharing ideas or having a conversation or think of it like talking with people – authentically, from the heart, soul and brain – for a specific purpose.”

While you’re the one at the front of the room, it’s not actually about you. You aren’t the star of the show. It’s all about your audience. What’s at stake for them? What do they have to gain or lose based on what you have to say? Serving your audience, rather than receiving their praise and admiration, should be your sole focus. It’s the best way to keep your fear and anxiety in check, says Hennessey.

“When you step back and think deeply about why you are speaking to a group about a particular topic, you will be less stressed if you do not make it all about you, your status, your image, and your reputation. If you get fired up about the impact you can make, your passion will be your fuel.

“Rather than trying to get something from your audience, be concerned with creating a compelling experience for them. After all, you are there to give a talk or presentation, not to get one. Be generous as you give.”

To give a great and generous talk, think about who it’s for and why you’re giving it. Define the problem and the solution for your audience and figure out how best to explain both using stories, examples, ideas, facts and figures. And then decide what you want your audience to do. What’s your call to action?

Hennessey offers confidence-building tools to make you a more effective speaker. You’ll learn what to do with your hands, how to stand, breath, strip out vocal tics, prepare and rehearse and a whole lot more.

If you’re like the majority of us who’d rather receive than give a eulogy, read Hennessey’s book and then face your fears by registering for the Christopher Leadership Course in Effective Speaking. You’ll be in good hands and practicing before the most supportive audience you’ll ever get to talk with.

Here’s a four-step fool-proof structure for your next presentation:

  1. Lead off with an attention-grabbing opening statement.
  2. State the point of your talk and deliver your main message.
  3. Provide 3-4 examples and proof points that reinforce your main message.
  4. Close by reiterating your main message and leaving the audience with a call to action.

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.