Take the Cellophane Standoff and other ways to root out gender biases at work (review of You Should Smile More)

Your partner takes a month of parental leave and gets a Husband of the Year trophy and induction into the Great Guy Hall of Fame.

You take the other 11 months of leave and get interrogated by family, friends and coworkers.

Why aren’t you taking the full 12 months? Did you force your partner to take a month off? Are you comfortable putting work ahead of family? Will you stay home once your leave is up? Or at least work part-time?

Do you even need to take 11 months off? Can’t your partner spare more than a month? Are you comfortable putting family ahead of work? Aren’t you worried about losing out on promotions and being seen as less than fully committed?

And by the way, are you sure you’re not having twins? You’re absolutely huge.

“While companies can’t legally have policies that discriminate against pregnant women, the practice still happens,” say the five senior executives who wrote You Should Smile More. Dawn Hudson, Angelique Bellmer Krembs, Katie Lacey, Lori Tauber Marcus, Cie Nicholson and Mitzi Short – who call themselves the Band of Sisters – first met while working at Pepsi.

“Most women in the workplace recognize that despite laws to the contrary, pregnancy is something that can derail them at work. It was as if by getting pregnant they had been moved back to square one in their jobs. Indeed, many women believe that getting pregnant will unravel all the hard work they have done to convince their bosses and coworkers that they are valuable and reliable.”

If you’re the boss, don’t shy away from this topic. “Creating a culture that is supportive of pregnant women is part of your job,” say the authors.

For everyone else, we can do our part by avoiding and dispelling assumptions. “If you hear chatter about a colleague who is pregnant that suggests she’s now unreliable or uncommitted, call it out. Be a voice for challenging bad assumptions.

“And no tummy touching. At all. As they say in preschool, keep your hands to your own body.”

The authors call out dozens of gender biases in the workplace that don’t get flagged as issues or even noticed by men. “They are not ‘#MeToo’ moments. But they are not ‘nothing’ either. They are the particles that collect around us and create barriers to our careers. They are the walls that go up, one grain of sand at a time. They are the moments that slow-build until the unwelcome environment takes hold and women disengage.”

The authors draw on their own experiences to offer bias-busting strategies for women, leaders who want inclusive workplaces and witnesses who are ready to become allies.

Here’s a good test for your workplace. The authors call it the Cellophane Standoff.

Before the start of a meeting, put a cellophane-wrapped tray of cookies on the table. Watch what happens when your male colleagues wander in.

Do they unwrap and pass around the platter? Or do they stare at it and then look to you? Do they tear a hole in the cellophane to pull out a cookie for themselves? Or do they do nothing?

“The Cellophane Standoff is the unwavering obliviousness of our male colleagues when it comes to anything related to food services,” say the authors.

“Why focus on this rather benign behavior? After all, it’s not as if the men stand there and loudly demand a woman serve them. It’s more a matter of neglect. They’ll just avoid the chore rather than talk about who should handle it.

“We raise it because it’s part of a larger office phenomenon. It’s an example of the ways in which women are nudged towards doing the office housework.”

So it’s time for men to end the Cellophane Standoff and do their share of office housework. Don’t just unwrap the tray – be the one who buys and brings cookies to the meeting. And then encourage everyone around the table to join you in reading this essential how-to guide for dismantling gender biases in the workplace.

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

Don’t bank on tech titans saving you and me (review of Douglas Rushkoff’s Survival of the Richest)

Douglas Rushkoff got an offer he couldn’t refuse.

He was invited to give a speech at an ultra-deluxe resort.

“It was by far the largest fee I had ever been offered for a talk – about a third of my annual salary as a professor at a public college – all to deliver some insight on the future of technology,” says the author of Survival of the Richest.

Rushkoff anticipated getting up infront of a big audience. Instead, he sat down behind closed doors with just “five super-wealthy guys from the upper echelon of the tech investing and hedge fund world. At least two of them were billionaires.”

They weren’t there to listen to a keynote. “They had come to ask questions,” says Rushkoff. And they weren’t looking for ideas on how to save the world. They wanted advice on how to save themselves when the world is falling apart. And they didn’t want anyone else in their lifeboat.

Should they move to Alaska or New Zealand? Build a bunker? Buy an island? Join a flotilla of super yachts? Book a ride to Mars? Or go full meta and upload their brains to a supercomputer? And how could they buy the continued loyalty of their security forces when crypto coins and cash were suddenly worthless?

“This was probably the wealthiest, most powerful group I had ever encountered,” says Rushkoff. “Yet here they were, asking a Marxist media theorist for advice on where and how to configure their doomsday bunkers. That’s when it hit me: at least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology.

“They were preparing for a digital future that had less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether. Their extreme wealth and privilege served only to make them obsessed with insulating themselves from the very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is about only one thing: escape from the rest of us.”

Yes, the meeting sounds ridiculous, sad and disturbing. But don’t be so quick to cast the first stone.  

Some of us were lucky enough to escape the pandemic by hunkering down at home thanks to a big assist from technology. We kept making good money while hanging out in Zoom rooms and staring at screens all day. We ordered everything online with free next day delivery. Smartphone notifications let us know when deliveries were at our door, left by unseen, underpaid and overworked gig workers who were putting their health on the line to keep us fully stocked with stuff.

The pandemic also fuelled a growing mistrust and dislike of billionaire saviors. “The much-feared angry mob is real,” says Rushkoff, and the mob’s tired of feeling like they’re trapped in an endless TED conference or investor pitch and continually reminded that they’re dumb and someone else knows best.

“Fanciful pronouncements for a civilization-wide transformation orchestrated by technocratic billionaires doesn’t play well in Peoria, and they undermine more legitimate efforts at addressing crises, which are never so seamlessly deployed. Even when they’re functioning as intended, the solution sets imposed by the technocratic elite refuse to acknowledge the human soul, irrational though it may be. People want their leadership to be more than utilitarian. What progressives’ painstakingly constructed plans for job training, climate remediation, taxation and economic equality often fail to address are the more essential needs of people to feel recognized and heard.”

So what’s the solution? “I’m not going to offer a plan for how to save the world here, but I can point to some of what we need to do to mitigate the effects of these guys’ machinations, and develop some alternate approaches,” says Rushkoff.

“Most simply, we can stop supporting their companies and the way of life that they’re pushing. We can actually do less, consume less and travel less – and make ourselves happier and less stressed in the process.”

So maybe hold off on ordering that new electric vehicle from the world’s richest man or from Apple once they figure out how to put four tires on a jumbo-sized self-driving iPhone. Stick with your old car and find ways to drive it less or not at all. That’s not the stuff of an inspirational TED Talk or investor pitch. But it’s one of many ways to save our world that’ll actually work.   

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.

First and lasting impressions matter (review of Cindy McGovern’s Sell Yourself: How to Create, Live and Sell a Powerful Personal Brand)

Yovana Mendoza Ayres is either a cautionary tale in personal branding or another sign of the apocalypse.

Ayres was a social media influencer and raw vegan evangelist who called herself Rawvana. More than 1.3 million people followed Ayres on YouTube as she made vegan breakfast drinks and meals while wearing short-shorts and midriff-baring tank tops and reminding the world how she was living her best life.

But then Ayres committed the cardinal sin of walking into a restaurant and going off-brand. Someone posted a video of Rawvana eating fish. It was an entrée too far for Ayres’ faithful, and deeply invested, followers. They called her Fishvana and much, much worse.

Ayres posted a 33-minute video in her defense that only ramped up the backlash. So she quit social media for four months. She returned as Yovana, continuing to promote healthy living minus the veganism. While she’s rebuilt an audience in the hundreds of thousands, there are former fans who refuse to forgive, forget and move on with their lives.

It’s not only fish-eating social media influencers who go off-brand. Many us didn’t show up as our best selves in Zoom rooms during the pandemic. Bedhead, sweatshirts, never quite giving our full and undivided attention and routinely muting our mics and turning off cameras for extended periods of time became our pandemic brand.

“Your personal brand is how you behave, what you say and how you treat others,” says Cindy McGovern, author of Sell Yourself: How to Create, Live and Sell a Powerful Personal Brand. “It’s not only what you say about yourself, it’s what others think and say about you, based on how you behave and what you do.”

According to McGovern, we need to do three things with our personal brands.

We first need to put in the time and effort to create thoughtful, deliberate brands that are true to who we are and want to become. “The first step seems easier than it is, but because you are a complex, multifaceted person, your brand must also be complex and multifaceted. Like all things in life, your personal brand will be more successful – and so will you – if you spend time planning it. You can’t wing it. You have to intentionally create your brand or it might not stick.”

We then need to live our brand every day, without exception. “It’s hard work to live up to your brand every time you interact with someone, post something on social media or shoot off a quick text after having a couple cocktails or getting some unfortunate news.” Pay particular attention to what you’re saying on social media, especially if you’re forever yelling at clouds, picking fights, virtue signalling and trying to score likes at someone else’s expense. Think carefully if snarky, sanctimonious and bullying is really how you want to brand yourself.

Finally, we need to sell our brand whenever we’re presented with opportunities in our professional and personal lives. “It’s short-sighted to create a brand – even a great one – if you’re not going to sell it. That would be like plunking down a year’s salary on your dream car, but never driving it. Everyone talks about how important it is to ‘sell yourself’ but too many overlook the truly important world in that cliché – sell.”

It’s never too late to build or revisit our personal brands. This is especially true if you joined the Great Resignation or the quiet quit movement. To land your dream job, you’ll need to know how to create, live and sell the best, and 100 per cent authentic, version of yourself. You’ll likely need a new brand for a new career.

Personal branding can also help those of us who’ve passed our career peaks and have an unobstructed view of retirement on the near horizon. This is where branding turns into legacy. “All of us have a personal brand that we live and sell every day by the way we behave and treat others. And that is what will become our legacy. You get to choose.”

McGovern shows us how to make good choices whether we’re starting out, starting over or winding down.

This review first ran in the Sept. 10th 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.

The one question you should (but probably won’t) ask a dream candidate (review of Talent by Tyler Cowen & Daniel Gross)

You just hit the jackpot and can’t believe your luck.

You’re interviewing a dream candidate who’s knocking it out of the park and checking every box when it comes to experience and education.

You’re ready to make an outsized job offer that’ll be impossible to refuse.

You may want to check in first with Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gross. They could save you from making an offer you’ll regret as your dream candidate turns into a nightmare.

Cowen is an economist and Gross is a venture capitalist. Together, they’ve studied the art and science of finding top talent.

They’d start by reminding you that if someone seems too good to be true, they probably are.

They’d also want to know why someone as educated, experienced and accomplished as your dream candidate wants to work for you and your organization.

If you’re the industry leader and the best at what you do, the answer’s obvious. 

“It is different if you are from the middle or bottom tiers of your sector,” say the authors of Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives and Winners Around the World.

“In that case, not everyone will want to work with you, and perhaps most people won’t want to work with you, as they will be hoping for something better, whether realistically or not.

“If you are in this position, as many of us are, you need to think especially carefully about what is wrong with the people you are trying to hire. Why aren’t they already working somewhere much better? Why are they talking to you at all?

“Maybe they are totally lacking in self-confidence, or their personalities will turn out to be poison, or they plan on leaving after a year and they are just using you in the meantime.”

Also beware of the highly credentialed and supremely talented who are forever moving from job to job in a restless, unhappy search. “They are good enough to keep on getting hired, but still, most of the time you should avoid them,” say Cowen and Gross.

And finally, Cowen and Gross would tell you that you’re looking for a good match and “not some supposed vision of candidate perfection.”

If you’re running a start-up, small business or non-profit, look for undervalued talent. You can’t afford to pay a premium for the candidates that everyone’s chasing.

“Large companies can afford to overbid for the ‘obvious’ talent, but if you are in a smaller institution you might not be in a comparable position. These days, the top talents are paid what they are worth, and so there is a much stronger incentive to find quality talent that has not yet been identified as such.”

Even though it’s 2022 and we shouldn’t need to be told, Cowen and Gross recommend hiring talented women, minorities and people with disabilities. “Disability is a complex concept, the label probably is a bad one, and apparent disabilities can be correlated with some really good hires. Keep an open mind.”

Your search for talent will run smoother if you flush out what Cowen and Gross call the kludge and sludge that build up in overly bureaucratic hiring processes. 

“Virtually all of you are familiar with the standard bureaucratic interview setup. A bunch of people show up in a room, armed with scripted questions (and answers), often bored by the process and hoping for the best; they are trying to find someone who seems ‘good enough’ and capable of commanding consensus by being decent but most of all sufficiently unobjectionable.”

That decent and unobjectionable candidate likely lacks the creative spark needed to take your organization to a better place.

By delving into the research, Cowen and Gross will get you thinking in new ways about intelligence and personality and what to look for in potential new hires.

There’s also lots of practical advice. What to ask better interview questions? Try these. What are the open tabs on your internet browser? And how do you spend your time away from work. Studies show that our true personality’s revealed by what we do and don’t do during weekends and downtime.

Before making a job offer you might regret, let Cowen and Gross help you do a better job of finding overlooked and undervalued talent.

Jay Robb is the communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and spends his weekends reviewing business books for the Hamilton Spectator.

Every business is in the entertainment business (review of Jesse Cole’s Fans First: Change the Game, Break the Rules & Create An Unforgettable Experience)

You can chase after customers, clients, patients or students like everyone else.

Or you can build fans. 

Jesse and Emily Cole spent months chasing customers after buying an independent-league ball club and the keys to a 1920s ballpark in Savannah, Georgia. It didn’t go well. 

“We worked tirelessly to connect with the community,” says Cole. “We marketed the team through newspaper and radio ads and posted on social media. No one was interested. The city’s message was unmistakable: no baseball team had ever made it in Savannah before. Why should we be any different?” 

Cole says it was a fair question and one they couldn’t answer. “Because we weren’t any different. We were acting like everyone else. We were advertising and marketing and selling by the normal rules.” 

They started doing the opposite of normal when the money ran out five months before opening day. Cole and his wife drained their savings, sold their home and slept on air mattresses in a rented duplex.  

This is when the team adopted the mission of Fans First, Entertain Always. They let a fan name the team the Savannah Bananas. They switched to general admission tickets that cost $15 and included all-you-can-eat-concessions. Advertising was pulled from the 1920s ballpark. The team went on social media to introduce the Banana Nanas, sports’ first senior citizen dance team and went into a local school to unveil their mascot Split, the Prince of Potassium.  

“Attention beats marketing,” says Cole. “We’d finally cracked the code on how to get the city’s attention. Savannah had dismissed all their previous teams for being just like most baseball teams – long, slow and boring. We couldn’t go after Savannah’s hearts until we had their eyes and ears. Eventually, that attention led to ticket sales, which led to our first sellout. And then our second. And then our third.” 

And the rest is history. The club now has 50,000 people on a wait list to buy tickets. More than 1,000 ball players reached out to join the team this year. And they’re selling millions of dollars worth of merchandise to fans around the world.

“Every innovation, every new idea, everything we do starts and ends with the fans. First, we ask is it fans first? Then, after we do it, we ask again, was that fans first?” 

What works for the Savannah Bananas can work for any business or organization, says Cole.

His tried and true Fans First Way has five Es: 

Eliminating friction is about putting yourself in your fans’ shoes and looking at every possible pain point, every possible frustration, every possible policy that slows things down, heats up tempers and punishes fans,” says Cole. Pay particular attention to microfrictions. Cole and the front office crew take turns being an undercover fan at every game and then report back on what could be improved from the moment fans arrive to when they head home (staff holding umbrellas and walking fans to their cars during downpours is a nice touch).

Entertain always. “Every business is in the entertainment business. If you are not entertaining your customers, you won’t have customers to entertain.”  Or heed this advice from Walt Disney. “I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.”

Experiment constantly. “Everything is about the experience. A lot of companies don’t try new things. They do the same thing over and over again. That creates boredom.” 

Engage deeply. “Human connection is everything. It’s not about the number of followers, ticket sales or customers through the doors. It’s about engaging deeply. If you want fans to be there for you when you need them, then your job is to be there for them always.” 

Empower action. “If you want to empower action in your team, start by changing the mindset of your organization. Instead of focusing on failure, focus on what you’re trying to do. 

The Fans First Way comes with one not-so-small cavaet. If you’re the boss of your business or the leader of your organization, you must be the first and biggest fanatical superfan of your employees and customers. There’s a reason why Cole’s at the ballpark for every game in a yellow tux and putting on a show.  

“When you care for your people, they’ll care for your fans, and your fans will take care of your bottom line,” says Cole. 

I’ve reviewed more than 600 business books over the past 23 years. Fans First is one of the best. So buy it, read it and then find ways to put fans first and entertain always. 

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

With friends like these…review of Happy at Any Cost: The Revolutionary Vision and Fatal Quest of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh

What happened to Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh was tragic.

What Hsieh’s entourage did was abhorrent. They chose to ignore Hsieh’s alcoholism, drug addiction and rapidly deteriorating mental health to keep the party going and the money flowing.

While his “friends and associates” were inside getting ready to fly on a private jet to Hawaii, Hsieh was holed up alone outside in a poolside shed with a propane space heater, candles, bottles of Fernet and canisters of nitrous oxide. A fire broke out and an unconscious Hsieh was taken to hospital where he died nine days later from a cerebral edema. He was 46 years old and had hundreds of millions of dollars still left to his name.

While his death was sudden, Hsieh’s true friends and family saw it coming and tried to get him help.

“He began heavily abusing drugs, exacerbating lifelong mental health issues that he had always hidden from others,” Wall Street Journal reporters Kirsten Grind and Katherine Sayre write about Hsieh in their book Happy at Any Cost.  “He spent tens of millions of dollars in just a few months, with people around him vying for pieces of his fortune. It all caught up with him one night in a riverside house in New London, Connecticut, when a shed he was in caught fire.”

Hsieh co-founded an internet advertising network that Microsoft bought for $265 million in 1998. Hsieh then served for 21 years as CEO of Zappos, the online shoe retailer known for outstanding customer service and a unique workplace culture. He moved Zappos to Las Vegas and dedicated $350 million of his own money to revitalize the city’s struggling downtown district. He wrote Delivering Happiness, which stayed on the New York Times best seller list for 27 consecutive weeks. Hsieh left Zappos and Las Vegas during the pandemic, relocating to Park City, Utah with plans to build a utopian community.

“By that point in his life, a new entourage surrounded him, including his brother,” say Grind and Sayre. “At their best, many of these people, paid handsomely from Tony’s fortune and beholden to a man they worshipped, simply stood by as he unraveled before them. At their worst, others enabled all his most terrible instincts and drug use.”

Grind and Sayre say there are two lessons to be learned from Hsieh’s devastating story.

We need to quit idolizing tech titans and dismissing self-destructive behavior. “Silicon Valley doesn’t just accept strangeness from its titans, it expects and celebrates it. But some of the same traits – mania, magnetism and almost singular focus – that can catapult leaders to stardom can ultimately spell their downfall.”

Hsieh wasn’t acting strangely when he boarded a bus for a weekend retreat wearing nothing but pajama bottoms and carrying a box of crayons or when he began writing all over himself with magic marker and giving away millions of dollars to half-baked business ideas scribbled on Post-it Notes left by his entourage. It was a sign that something was seriously wrong and Hsieh needed immediate help.

Grind and Sayre also say we need to finally break the silence and end the shame around mental health and addiction. “The gulf between how people viewed Tony and his private struggles exposes a much greater societal problem: the taboo surrounding mental health problems and addiction. Both issues are still discussed in whispers, willfully ignored, unacknowledged even when they are in plain view.

“Without a dialogue surrounding addiction and mental illness, those who are suffering must do so alone, hiding their problems and putting on happy faces. They use drugs and alcohol to mask their pain and anxiety. Tony embodied that lonely struggle.”

It’s also worth asking what we would’ve done. Would we have tried to get Hsieh help and risked being banished and cut off or would we have stayed silent with our hands out and bags packed for yet another all-expense paid adventure?

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.

Aim to deliver value rather than go viral (review of Becky Robinson’s Reach – Create the Biggest Possible Audience for Your Message, Book or Cause)

You can pay PR pros like me a boatload of cash to make you a thought leader and build an audience for your speaking gigs, books and consulting services.

Or you can get a head start and do most of the heavy lifting yourself, with some practical advice from Becky Robinson. Robinson’s the founder and CEO of a marketing agency and author of Reach: Create the Biggest Possible Audience for Your Message, Book or Cause.

While a leader needs followers, a thought leader needs an audience. To reach and grow the biggest possible audience, you need to be online and show up in the right way.

Worry less about going viral and focus instead on delivering value. No one wants or needs videos of you dancing to Jon Batiste’s Freedom or humblebragging about your wonderful life while you sit in your SUV on the way to the gym or a wellness retreat. Instead, keep putting out great content that makes life easier and better for the audience you’re hoping to grow.

“Going viral is not the goal,” says Robinson. “Viral does not equal value. Most viral content has a very short life. Even if you can create viral content, you will still face the challenge of creating impact over time if you want to make real difference through the content.

“Instead, start with focusing on creating value. When you do that, you may be able to achieve true reach that expands your audience and creates lasting impact.”

How do you deliver impactful content? Share your deep thoughts, big ideas and wealth of expertise. Be generous by giving audiences the best of what you know. Don’t hold back or tease us with promises of giving more once we’ve handed over our credit card or signed a contract.

“If you know something that can help your ideal audience, share it as often and as widely as you can,” says Robison. “Sometimes people worry that giving away their ideas for free will undermine their business success by preventing people from wanting to invest in their book, product or service. While it may seem counterintuitive, I’ve noticed that the more generous I am, the more successful my business becomes. The value you provide through generously sharing your expertise creates trust with your potential customers and draws them to you.”

Robinson does exactly that at the back of her book by mapping out her four-phase plan for launching campaigns. She also offers up her reach framework for growing an audience online.

To follow Robinson’s framework, you need to start with your own website, a permission-based email list, great audience-building content and a presence on social media so we can get to know, like and trust you and then head over to your home on the web.

“The most important investment you can make online is your own website,” says Robinson. “Your website is a place where you clearly share the value you offer to the world, where people can very quickly understand your message and where you can invite people to learn more from you.”

Most of us aren’t famous and never will be. But all of us can still make an outsized difference in the world. “Choose to show up in online spaces where you share valuable content and ideas,” says Robinson.

“As you do so, you will create the greatest possible impact for your work. Over time, if you invest patiently and consistently, you will create wider reach for your work and ideas. You’ll become more well known and you’ll experience the benefits of a growing online presence. Those you are serving will benefit also. The more you give, the more you’ll gain.”

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.

The six habits of resilient leaders to get us through these turbulent times (review of Rise Up by Ali Grovue and Mike Watson)

I’ve worked with some great leaders, lots of good ones and a few who left me wondering if the hiring committee had played a cruel joke.

Early in my career, I worked at a company that was loaded with great leaders. Almost all were homegrown. The executive team had brought the business back from the brink and turned it into an industry leader. The company was also a leader when it came to employee engagement. Employees, from new hires to the old guard, were proud to work for the company and confident in senior leadership.

I didn’t fully appreciate at the time what the executive team had pulled off. I assumed every organization was blessed with this caliber of leader. I’d learn over the years that resilient leadership is a rare and wonderful thing.

Ali Grovue and Mike Watson with Ignite Management Services are doing their part to close this leadership gap. Through coaching established and emerging leaders, the authors of “Rise Up: Leadership Habits for Turbulent Times” have identified six essential habits that separate the best from the rest.

Resilient leaders build relationships based on mutual trust. “If your team does not trust you, you cannot succeed,” say Grovue and Watson. Trust is built through care, communication, character, consistency and competence.

Great leaders are inquisitive. “Be present, ask questions and listen deliberately.” Make a habit out of asking open-ended questions. You don’t know all the answers or even all the questions you should be asking.

Humility is another hallmark habit of resilient leaders. Success is a team effort so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Resilient leaders are optimistic. They believe that hard work pays off and leads teams and organizations to a better place. “Leaders who fear the worst will be more prone to accepting mediocrity. Their mindset permeates their team, who invariably embrace negativity, which stifles creativity.”

Great leaders have the courage to push themselves, their teams and organizations out of their comfort zones. They also have the courage of their convictions, refusing to compromise on core values.

And above all, resilient leaders are disciplined. It’s the one habit to rule them all, says Grovue and Watson. “Self-discipline is the master habit that enables leaders to sustain behavior change across all six habits. The most resilient leaders are those who are unrelenting in their efforts to prioritize their health and use their time well.”

Grovue and Watson acknowledge that making these six habits a daily practice will be challenging. You can’t get away with mastering a few and ignoring or faking the others. You’ll also need outside help to break your bad habits and build up the right ones.

“If resilient leadership were easy, we would see much more evidence of it,” say Grovue and Watson. “Countless leaders have ambitiously set out to change the way they lead. Yet few make changes that are enduring. Building new habits is a difficult thing. It takes great tenacity to redefine, on a permanent basis, how we lead – and requires having the discipline to stick with it and the ability to reengage when we face setbacks.”

These are tough and turbulent times. Now more than ever, we need resilient leaders who share Grovue and Watson’s belief that “being a great leader is about enabling people, individually and collectively, to be the best versions of themselves in pursuit of noble goals.”

So if you’re a leader who’s only in it for the next promotion with a bigger title and more pay, perks and power, you have a choice. You can either change your mindset and adopt new habits or step aside and let a resilient leader rise up and take the helm.

Organizations would also be wise to require everyone heading off for leadership training and development to first read Grovue and Watson’s book and do some serious self-reflection. It’ll be time well spent.

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.

Punch up, never down (review of Cathy O’Neil’s The Shame Machine)

Did anyone else stress-eat their way through the pandemic?

After two long years of sitting around on Zoom, I signed up with Noom in a bid to get into shape before going back to the office.

Noom’s a subscription-based app that calls itself the most modern weight loss course known to man or woman. It claims that 78 per cent of customers lost weight over a six-month study.

I am not one of those customers. I bailed before my free trial expired.

Cathy O’Neil would tell me I dodged a silver bullet. “Noom provides a prime example of marketing with sketchy statistics,” says the mathematician and author of The Shame Machine: Who Profits in the New Age of Humiliation. “I’m glad I’m here to walk us through that research.”

According to O’Neil, Noom’s study only counted customers who’d recorded their data two or more times a month for six consecutive months. Customers, like me, who dropped out, weren’t included. “Noom’s decision to track only very active users is guaranteed to weed out people who have been overcome with shame. Selection bias, check.”

The study also didn’t go beyond a year, which O’Neil says is too short a time frame. Studies have shown that dieters who lose a lot of weight in the first year are likely to gain most or all of it back in years two through five.

“Noom makes money with bad science,” says O’Neil. “Let’s consider the human toll on the folks who ‘failed’ on the Noom diet. They are made to feel not only fat but condemned to remain so. And it’s their fault. Like other toxic forms of shame, this one hinges on a false choice. This failure, as defined by the shame machine, disheartens them every day. It’s a lifelong blight.”

The multi-billion dollar weight loss industry isn’t the only place we’ll find what O’Neil calls shame machines. We’re targeted daily by businesses and influencers who make us feel bad and then sell us pseudoscientific fixes that don’t work. They bank on us failing, feeling even worse and coming back for more. Shame sells and never runs out of easy marks. The rest of us turn a blind eye.

“These immense shame machines punch down on people to exploit their obesity, addiction, poverty or suboptimal health, gaining power and market share in the process,” says O’Neil.

“From addiction to poverty, a constant in these shame industries is the concept of choice. The guiding premise is that the victims screwed up: they could have chosen to be rich, shapely, smart and successful, and they didn’t. It’s their fault and yes, they should feel awful about it. But now they have the opportunity to right the wrong, to correct the problem and follow the prescribed route to redemption, which is almost always fruitless. The rest of us maintain this status quo by accepting as gospel its false premises: the losers deserve their fate because they’ve made bad choices; maybe if they feel bad enough, they’ll fit ix.”

The most powerful shame machines are the social media companies on our smartphones, says O’Neil. Enragement drives engagement and nothing works us into a frenzy quite like a digital shaming. But performative virtue-signaling solves little to nothing, and risks making things far worse. “The shame networks are busy engaging us to rip apart our social fabric, and in doing so, addict us to short-term highs, the feelings of petty power or outrage or vengeance.”

So what’s the solution? Don’t spend your time and money with businesses that profit off shame. Don’t vote for politicians that campaign on shaming others. Quit shaming strangers on social media. Extend dignity and forgiveness instead. Adopt a personal policy of due process. Treat others the way you’d want to be treated when you screw up.

And start punching up to shame the shamers. “We’ll fare far better as a society, in terms of both happiness and justice, if we succeed in redirecting shame from its current victims, who are disproportionately poor and powerless, to people who are taking advantage of the rest of us and poisoning our lives and culture,” says O’Neil.

This review was first published in the April 23rd 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.

What’s hate got to do with? Everything if you want to stay in business (review of Nicholas Webb’s What Customers Hate)

What’s not to love about your business?

If you don’t already know, you’re in for a shock. And you’re flirting with disaster.

 “Haters hold the secret to your success – or lack thereof,” says Nicholas Webb, a customer service expert and author of What Customers Hate. “Being loved by your customers should be your goal, and every business must be focused on providing value and a superior customer experience. But the recognition of the flip side of the coin—the fact that consumers hate many businesses—should alert you to the very important fact that reducing what your customers hate is just as important as increasing what they love.”

Here’s why you need to reduce the hate. Most of your customers stick with you not because they love you the most but because they hate you the least. Of the millions of people who shop at Amazon and Walmart, could you fill a minivan with all the customers who are truly, deeply and madly in love with either retailer?

For your customers, you’re currently their best possible option. You’re in serious trouble if a competitor shows up promising fewer headaches and hassles.

This is why you need to ask your customers straight up what they hate about you.

If you don’t ask, they’ll tell you indirectly through one-star reviews posted online for the whole world to see. It won’t matter if you have dozens of glowing reviews from happy and satisfied customers. Everyone reads one-star reviews to find out what’s the worst thing that could happen by doing business with you.

 “When compared to customers who love you, haters are far more likely to share with friends and social media the fact that they hate you,” says Webb. “A few bad reviews can knock you out of the competitive arena, costing your organization dearly.”

Think of the hater’s feedback as a gift, even if it hurts. Dissatisfied and disappointed customers will tell you exactly what you’re doing wrong and, as an added bonus, tell you how to make it right. “Haters are inventors who offer up specific suggestions regarding what companies can do to stop the hate.”

Best of all, you can win haters over by talking with them and taking action. “Haters who are converted to lovers are some of the best promoters for an organization or brand,” says Webb.

Webb’s created a Net Customer Experience tool along with a RealRating survey. It’s a way to track and tally what customers both love and hate from the start to finish of their customer journey with you.

That journey usually begins with a website that too often gives prospective customers a reason to hate you right from the start. “The overwhelming majority of organizations essentially suspend a brochure on the internet that they call a website,” says Webb. “Your website should be structured in such a way that it is delivering real and meaningful value to your site visitor. If you look at websites that deliver the best experiences for their customers, they are dispensing free e-books, white papers, value-based videos and free offers that are of conspicuous value.”

So don’t use your website to humble brag. Make it all about your customers. Show them some love. And make it quick and easy for them to get what they need.

Webb has practical advice for taking the hate out of the rest of your customers’ journey. He even identifies the first step every business or organization should take starting today.

“The most important action you can take right now is to repeat this mantra out loud,” says Webb. “Our customers judge our company, brand or service not only on what they love about it but what they hate about it. We pledge to recognize this reality, and henceforth strive to both increase what they love and identify and decrease what they hate. This is the future of our organization.”

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.