The art of being indispensable at work with a post-pandemic caution (review)

There’s a right way and wrong ways to build relationships at work.

Playing politics and making it personal would be the wrong ways. These are your colleagues who try to win you over by tearing others down or who are forever lobbying for bigger budgets and more people with promises of returning favours. And then there are the coworkers who either make the rounds each day to say a superficial hello and shoot the breeze or who really want to be your best friend and genuinely believe we should be one big happy family at work.

The problem with these relationships is that they don’t hold up when times get tough and hard decisions must be made.

“Workplace politicking and personal rapport are not good business reasons for making decisions or taking actions in the workplace,” says Bruce Tulgan, author of The Art of Being Indispensable at Work. “They are complications at best and, at worst, can lead you to make the wrong decisions or take the wrong actions. In the real world, the best politics in the workplace – and the best way to protect personal relationships with coworkers – is to stay focused on the work.”

To build strong relationships, make yourself indispensable. Build a reputation for making smart decisions, doing important work very well and very fast and finishing what you start.

Tulgan’s studied “go-to” people for decades and has cracked their code. So what’s their secret? Serve others.

“Stop focusing on what other people can do for you and focus instead on what you can do for other people. Make yourself super valuable to others. The more value you add, the more truly invested others will become in your success.”

Go-to people are also big on maintaining what Tulgan calls vertical alignment. Stay perfectly in step with the priorities, ground rules and marching orders set by your boss. Respect the chain of command. “How you align yourself in terms of decision making and support – and with whom – is the first core mechanism of becoming indispensable at work. Get in the habit of going over your own head at every step and align with your boss through regular structured dialogue.”

A word of caution as we dig ourselves out from the pandemic and make the long slog back to business as usual. Learn when to say no, not yet and yes to all the urgent requests that’ll come your way.

“In the postpandemic era, the would-be go-to person is at greater risk than ever before of succumbing to overcommitment syndrome,” says Tulgan. “Fight it. If you try to do everything for everybody, you’ll end up doing nothing for anybody. Now more than ever, it will take extra savvy and skill to manage yourself, your many work relationships and all the competing demands on your time and talent.”

While avoiding overcommitment will be a constant challenge, the alternative – being notably dispensable – will be a far bigger and career-limiting problem.

This review first ran in the June 5 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 case for building sparks & changing lives (review of Cumulative Impact by Mark Schaefer)

You’ve built a successful career, a thriving business and a good life for your family.

What’s left to build?

Sparks. Lots and lots of sparks for kids and grown-ups who are starting out, staring over and in need of a helping hand.

“A spark can be an open door, an open heart or guidance at the right moment in life,” says Mark Schaefer, social media marketing consultant and author of Cumulative Advantage.

Here’s what happened when kids at Banneker High School just south of Atlanta were showered with sparks.

It was a school where six out of 10 students didn’t graduate and 97 per cent lived in poverty. 

The school piloted a partnership with volunteers from Junior Achievement. Students tackled real-life business case challenges. Volunteers from the companies that sponsored the challenges mentored the kids. Teachers wove the challenges into their curriculum, linking what was taught at school with what was happening out in the world. Students then showed off their teamwork, leadership, creativity and problem-solving skills by pitching their solutions to their mentors.

By their senior year, students had completed 16 case challenges. They then took on capstone projects, including consulting assignments, field research and paid internships.

High school graduation and postsecondary participation rates soared. Absenteeism and disciplinary problems plummeted. And most important of all, 98 per cent of students said they were excited by their future prospects.

What caused the dramatic turnaround? “It wasn’t due to any windfall of money, buildings or new staff members,” says Schaefer. “This troubled school turned around because it had an enormous infusion of sparks created by everyday people that led to a redistribution of hope and esteem.” 

Building sparks ties into one of the five factors in Schaefer’s formula for setting success momentum in motion and gaining cumulative advantage. That advantage is how we improve our odds of getting heard, standing out and succeeding in a world where the big are getting bigger and the rich are getting richer at an accelerated clip. Just as there is cumulative advantage, there’s also cumulative disadvantage. Schaefer’s formula can close that gap.

His momentum-building formula starts with identifying an initial advantage, discovering a seam of timely opportunity, creating significant awareness through a “sonic boom” of promotion, reaching out and up and building sustained momentum through constancy of purpose and executing on a plan.

As others reach up and out, Schaefer says it’s important that we reach down and offer experiences, opportunities and connections as mentors. These are the sparks that can change lives.

Schaefer writes from personal experience. Years ago, he became a mentor to a seven-year-old boy. That child, one of seven siblings who was raised by a single grandmother, is now an elite athlete who’s off to university on a full scholarship.

“Don’t just lend a hand; be the hand and help those in this world who are being left behind,” say Schaefer. “Everything good and great starts with something small. What can you do to create sparks of momentum in your part of the world.

“We know that the momentum of cumulative advantage begins with a spark – that initial seed of potential. Maybe the world needs you and I to be in the business of providing sparks.”

This review first ran in the May 21st 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.

Rediscovering our sense of humour at work (review of Humor, Seriously)

I used to have a sense of humour.

In university, I drew a daily cartoon strip for the student paper about a sorority sister and fraternity brother. Profs taped the strip to their office doors. A candidate for student council president promised to ban the strip if elected. He lost.

Early in my career, I put out fake newsletters. These were the early days of PowerPoint presentations, the high water mark for management consultants and the peak of re-engineering the corporation. The zingers wrote themselves. The head of HR thought the union had put out the first newsletter. Lucky for me, he had a sense of humour.

But somewhere along the way, I lost mine and fell off the humour cliff. I can go days without cracking a smile. Weeks without a laugh. I’m not that much fun to be around.

“The collective loss of our sense of humor is a serious problem afflicting people and organizations globally,” say professor Jennifer Aaker and executive coach Naomi Bagdonas, authors of Humor, Seriously. “We’re all going over the humor cliff together, tumbling down into the abyss of solemnity below.”

Aaker and Bagdonas, who teach a humour course at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, know the way back up humour mountain. It’s a climb that’ll restore some much needed levity to balance out the gravity of our situations at work and home.  

“We don’t need more ‘professionalism’ in our workplaces,” say Aaker and Bagdonas. “Instead, we need more of ourselves, and more human connection – especially as in-person meetings are replaced by video chats and more relationships are sustained entirely by email. Often, all it takes is a hint of levity to shift a moment, or a relationship, from transactional and robotic to relational and authentic.”

Humour serves up a cocktail of hormones that can make us happier, more trusting and productive, less stressed and even euphoric.

Aaker and Bagdonas have identified four humor styles. While we all have a default mode, our humour styles vary based on our moods, situation and audience.

There are stand-ups who come alive in front of crowds, earnest and honest sweethearts who never tease, magnets with their unwavering good cheer and the edgy, sarcastic snipers with their dry sense of humour and deadpan delivery (take a free quiz to figure out your humour style).

As with everything else, leaders set the tone when it comes to humour at work. It’s less about being funny and more about letting your team know you actually have a sense of humour. Be quick to smile, laugh at other people’s jokes, lean into self-deprecating humour and continually look for ways to break the tension and lighten the mood.

Solemnity can seem like the safer bet. No one gets cancelled for being humourless. Yet you can be funny and stay employed by following two cardinal rules. Never punch down by making fun of someone who’s lower on the org chart. For example, a president who makes fun of an intern is a bully and a jerk.

And never make someone’s identity a prop, plot point or punchline.  “Derogatory humor doesn’t just push boundaries or highlight divisions. It can perpetuate prejudice and impact behavior by those with prejudiced views. It further divides.”

Aaker and Bagdonas close their book with a compelling argument for more levity and humor. No one on their death bed says “if only I had laughed less and taken myself more seriously.”

Sharing a laugh is a tiny expression of love, say Aaker and Bagdonas. “Where there is love, humor is not far behind.  A life of purpose and meaning is a life filled with laughter and levity.”

It’s time we get out of the abyss of solemnity and start scaling humour mountain with Aaker and Bagdonas as our sherpas.

This review first ran in the Feb. 26 edition of the Hamilton Spectator. 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.     

Millennials were burning out long before COVID hit (review of Anne Helen Petersen’s Can’t Even)

Good on bosses who end Zoom calls by reminding us not to sacrifice our health and wellbeing during the pandemic.

But our millennial colleagues could use more than reminders. They’ve been wrestling with burnout long before COVID-19 knocked the world off its axis.

And while our leaders’ intentions are good, what ails millennials can’t be fixed by shortening hour-long Zoom calls to 50 minutes, keeping Fridays free of meetings, going for midday walks and not hitting send on emails written in the dead of night after their kids have finally gone to bed.

“The fallout from the next few years won’t change millennials’ relationship to burnout or the precarity that fuels it,” says Anne Helen Petersen, former senior culture writer for Buzzfeed News and author of Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. “If anything, it will become even more ingrained in our generational identify.”

This is the generation that graduated in and around the Great Recession buried in record amounts of student debt. Good jobs disappeared as fast as housing costs soared. They took unpaid internships for the experience and strung together contract, temp and freelance gigs that paid barely living wages. If they landed full-time jobs with benefits and pensions, they were terrified of losing their golden ticket at any moment. To make themselves indispensable, they adopted an unsustainable ethic of overwork.

Yet no matter how many hours they logged and how little they slept, the traditional milestones of adulthood – marriage, home ownership and kids – were priced beyond their reach. These markers were delayed or dropped. And just as millennials reached their peak earning years, the pandemic hit.

Overwork plus chronic anxiety mixed with student debts, childcare bills and mortgages that no honest woman or man can pay add up to burnout.

Petersen calls burnout a contemporary condition and not a temporary affliction for millennials. She defines burnout as “the sensation of dull exhaustion that, even with sleep and vacation, never really leaves. It’s the knowledge that you’re just barely keeping your head above water, and even the slightest shift – a sickness, a busted car, a broker water heater – could sink you and your family. It’s the flattening of your life into one never-ending to-do list, and the feeling that you’ve optimized yourself into a work robot that happens to have bodily functions, which you do your very best to ignore. It’s the feeling that your mind has turned to ash.”

Burnout is a condition that can’t be cured with life hacks, side hustles, productivity apps, positive thoughts or gentle reminders.

“This isn’t a personal problem. It’s a societal one.  We gravitate toward those personal cures because they seem tenable, and promise that our lives can be recentered and regrounded, with just a bit more discipline, a new app, a better email organization strategy or a new approach to meal planning. But these are merely Band-Aids on an open wound. No amount of hustle or sleeplessness can permanently bend a broken system to your benefit.”

Petersen doesn’t offer quick fixes. She wrote her book to show what’s broken rather than to tell millennials how to save themselves from burning out. There’s value in letting millennials know burnout isn’t a personal moral failure and they’re not alone in their juggling and struggling with work and family commitments. It’s equally important to let us Gen Xers and Baby Boomers know just how close our 30-something colleagues are to collapse and how ready they are for sweeping, substantive changes.  The pandemic’s put the spotlight on a problem that we’ve ignored or downplayed for too long.

“Millennials have been denigrated and mischaracterized, blamed for struggling in situations that set us up to fail,” says Petersen.

“But if we have the endurance and aptitude and wherewithal to work ourselves this deeply into the ground, we also have the strength to fight. We have little savings and less stability. Our anger is barely contained. We’re a pile of ashes smoldering, a bad memory of our best selves. Underestimate us at your peril. We have so little left to lose.”

Jay Robb is a Gen Xer who 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.

27 years in public relations turned into a 30-minute early morning walk & talk

If you’ve reached the end of Netflix, you can watch me talk about public relations while wandering through the woods for 30 minutes.

Prof Wayne Aubert asked if I’d offer up some wisdom for Advertising students in an upcoming class. So I turned 27 years of working in PR into a half-hour stream of consciousness (with just 15 minutes worth of filler & origin story).

Rather than record a lecture from the basement bunker / home office / spare bedroom, I went for an early morning walk & talk.

I made the case for why introverts can excel at PR, what I enjoy most & least about PR, the core foundational skill for PR pros plus some thoughts on crisis comms, media relations, social media, how to land a job, a couple shout-outs for Professor Aubert but no war stories.

Racism reeducation book #1: Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility

racism

White Fragility is one of eight books I’ll be reading and reviewing as part of my overdue reeducation on racism. I’ve reviewed more than 500 business books for The Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and I’ve work in public relations for 27 years.

You would’ve been less than impressed.

Lucky for me, there’s no video clips or photos from the one and only time I took mandatory diversity and inclusion training at work.

I was not at my best. I sat at the back of the room with arms crossed, back up and mouth shut. I was suffering from an acute and pretty ridiculous case of white fragility.

I thought the training was insulting and a waste of time. I was one of the good guys. I’d always been nice to Black colleagues. I’d never said or done anything racist. I judged people by their character and not the colour of their skin.

But had I dropped the white fragility, I may have started to own up to my complicity and silence.  At university, I never asked why I didn’t have a single Black prof or TA for my entire undergrad degree in political science.

In my 27-year public relations career with five employers, I’ve never asked why just one of my PR colleagues was Black, why I’ve never reported to a Black supervisor or served a Black CEO.

During job interviews where I’ve sat on either side of the table, I’ve never asked why there wasn’t a single Black member on the hiring and selection committees. I’ve never suggested that maybe Black candidates weren’t applying for jobs because of a glaring lack of diversity.

During business and community events, I’ve never asked why there were so few, and sometimes no, Black people in the audience or on stage. And I’ve never once wondered how my schooling and career might’ve played out had I not been gifted with an unlimited lifetime supply of white male privilege.

white fragilityI’ll do better in my next anti-racism workshop having read Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Race. Robin’s had to deal with people like me for more than 20 years as a racial and social justice consultant and trainer.

She’s seen it all and calls it like it is. “White fragility functions as a form of bullying,” says Robin. “I am going to make it so miserable for you to confront me – no matter how diplomatically you try to do so – that you will simply back off, give up and never raise the issue again.”

Instead of having honest conversations about systemic and unintentional racism, workshops become support groups for comforting outraged, aggrieved and deeply hurt white people. There’s crying, denying and the seeking of absolution. People emotionally withdraw, physically leave and argue that they too have suffered from reverse racism.

“The moment I name some racially problematic dynamic or action happening in the room, white fragility erupts. The point of the feedback is now lost, and hours must be spent repairing this perceived breach.”

Robin’s tongue-in-cheek 11 cardinal rules for running anti-racism workshops include:

“Do not give me feedback on my racism under any circumstances.

Proper tone is critical – feedback must be given calmly. If any emotion is displayed, the feedback is invalid and can be dismissed.

You must be as indirect as possible. Directness is insensitive and will invalidate the feedback and require repair.

You must acknowledge my intentions (always good) and agree that my good intentions cancel out the impact of my behavior.

In her workshops, Robin asks people of colour if they give white people feedback on their unaware yet inevitable racism and, if so, how that feedback is received.

“Eye-rolling, head-shaking and outright laughter follow, along with the consensus of rarely, if ever,” says Robin. “I then ask ‘what would it be like if you could simply give us feedback, have us graciously receive it, reflect and work to change the behavior?’ Recently a man of colour sighed and said ‘it would be revolutionary’. I ask my fellow whites to consider the profundity of that response. It would be revolutionary if we could receive, reflect, and work to change the behavior.”

Robin encourages us to go into anti-racism workshops with feelings of gratitude, motivation, excitement, humility, discomfort, compassion, guilt and interest and to spend our time reflecting, grappling, engaging, listening, processing, believing and seeking more understanding.

“To break with the conditioning of whiteness – the conditioning that makes us apathetic about racism and prevents us from developing the skills we need to interrupt it – white people need to find out for themselves what they can do. There is so much excellent advice out there today – written by both people of colour and white people. Search it out. Break with the apathy of whiteness and demonstrate you care enough to put in the effort.”

So before holding your next, or first, diversity workshop, make Robin’s White Fragility required reading.  And have the courage to call out colleagues if they start crying, denying and checking out physically or emotionally.

For a critique of White Fragility, read John McWhorter’s The Dehumanizing Condescension of White Fragilityin The Atlantic.

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

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

You’ve earned serious money, status and power.

You’re living the dream and life is good.

But what if it could be exponentially better?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

 

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.