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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:

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  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.