Racism reeducation book #2 -Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy

racismMe and White Supremacy 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 worked in public relations for 27 years.

A colleague disparages a Black coworker behind closed doors. He accuses her of playing the race card and says she needs to tone down her anger, aggressiveness and negativity.

A long-time friend is a fan of racist memes on Twitter and believes there are some very fine people among tiki torch-wielding alt-right white nationalists.

Calling them out won’t be pleasant or easy. It won’t be comfortable.

And it’ll be tempting to fall back on the adage of “if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”

book white supremacyBut white silence is violence, says Layla Saad, author of Me and White Supremacy. Layla is a writer, speaker and podcast host on the topics of race, identity, leadership, personal transformation and social change.

“On the surface of it, white silence seems benign. But white silence is anything but neutral. It is a method of self-protection and therefore also the protection of the dynamics of white supremacy. It protects you, the person with white privilege, from having to deal with the hard of white supremacy. And it protects white supremacy from being challenged, thereby keeping it firmly in place.”

Layla says our voices are needed. “Not as a white savior, but as someone who recognizes that their privilege can be a weapon used against white supremacy. The Black and Indigenous people of colour around you need to know where you stand and whether they can be safe with you with their experiences.”

Based on her #MeAndWhiteSupremacy Instagram challenge, Layla calls her book a “one-of-a-kind personal antiracism tool”. Meant to be read over 28 days, each chapter ends with reflective journaling prompts that’ll help reveal how white supremacy shows up for us and works in our favour.

On the chapter about white silence, we’re asked to answer prompts such as provide examples of how we’ve stayed silent when it comes to race and racism, list the types of situations that elicit the most white silence from us and reflect on how we benefit from white silence?

Answering the prompts in all 28 chapters will be overwhelming, intimidating and unrewarding, warns Layla.

“But if you are a person who believes in love, justice, integrity, and equity for all people, then you know that this work is nonnegotiable.

“If you are willing to dare to look at white supremacy right in the eye and see yourself reflected back, you are going to become better equipped to dismantle it within yourself and within your communities.”

While we’re part of the problem, Layla says we’re also part of the solution. Everyone’s contribution will matter. If you’re wondering what you can do to help, calling out colleagues, friends and family for off-hand, intentional or unintended racist remarks is a good place to start.

“And as someone who holds white privilege, your contribution to this work is of the utmost importance. No matter who you are, you have the power to influence change in the world. The choice is yours. The moment is now. Help change the world. Become a good ancestor.”

My summary of Robin Diangelo‘s White Fragility is posted here.

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


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.

Losing your job in a global pandemic is a lifequake. Here’s how to recover (review of Life is in the Transitions)

transitionHere’s hoping you don’t personally know anyone who’s lost their life to COVID-19.

But you likely know more than a few people who’ve lost their livelihoods during the pandemic. Maybe you’re among the millions of Canadians who’ve been laid off, let go or had to shutter their business over the last five months.

“It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job,” President Harry Truman once said. “It’s a depression when you lose your own.”

It also qualifies as a life-disrupting, dream-shattering and confidence-puncturing lifequake. Bruce Feiler, author of Life is in the Transitions: Managing Change at Any Age,  coined the term after spending three years collecting 225 life stories from everyday people.

transitionFeiler sorted through life’s high, low and turning points to come up with a full deck of 52 disruptors. These breaches in our daily routine can be positive or negative, voluntary or dropped on us without warning.

The most disorienting and destabilizing disruptors are lifequakes. When a lifequake hits, our life story now comes with a turning point that leaves a clearly delineated before and after.  Our life was headed in one direction and is now going somewhere else entirely.

“The carnage they cause can be devastating, they’re higher on the Richter scale of consequence and their aftershocks can last for years,” says Feiler about lifequakes.

First, the bad news. On average, those aftershocks last five years.  We’ll work our way through a long goodbye, a messy middle and an eventual new beginning. We can expect three to five of these massive transitions during our lifetime.

But here’s the good news. While lifequakes last longer than we think, they don’t last any longer than we need. Also, reimagining and reconstructing our personal stories is vital to living a fulfilling life, says Feiler.

An existential crisis can deliver an existential solution.  If we’re ignoring the expiration date that’s long passed in a job, career or relationship, a lifequake can get us unstuck and help us rediscover the plot and point of our lives. It’s in the chaos of a head-spinning and heartrending transition that we can separate signal from noise.

Try hard not to resist, balk, deny, wallow and be resentful when hit with a lifequake. “The initial jolt can be voluntary or involuntary, but the transition must be voluntary. You have to make your own meaning. The key to benefiting from them is to not turn away. Don’t shield your eyes when the scary parts start; that’s when the heroes are made.”

Based on lessons learned from the people he interviewed, Feiler’s come up with a seven-step toolkit for navigating transitions. “I expected that how people handled crises in their personal lives or work lives or spiritual lives would be quite different from one another. What I found was far more similarities – and a far more unified toolkit – than I ever would have imagined.”

Here’s Feiler’s transition toolkit:

Accept what you’re going through.

Mark the transition by ritualizing the change.

Shed it by giving up old mindsets, routines, dreams and delusions.

Create a new life by trying new things.

Share it by seeking wisdom from others and getting the feedback you most need to hear at exactly the moment you need it most.

Launch it by unveiling your new self.

Tell it by composing a fresh story about your life.

Feiler warns that we’re all haunted by the ghost of linearity. We shouldn’t count on our careers moving seamlessly onwards and upwards. Instead, we should expect even more disruptions as our careers increasingly come to resemble portfolios rather than paths.

“Primed to expect that our lives will follow a predictable path, we’re thrown when they don’t. We have linear expectations but nonlinear realities. The linear life is dead. The nonlinear life involves more life transitions. Life transitions are a skill we can, and must, master.”

Feiler shows how to use planned and unexpected transitions to revisit, revise and restart our life stories.

This review first ran in the July 24th 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.

Master the mute button and other survival strategies for meeting virtually & working remotely (review)

scrabble-4958237_1920It took nearly 30 years but I finally got to work remotely from an island.

It wasn’t quite how I imagined it.

The island wasn’t Aruba or in the heart of cottage country.

Our kitchen island became my makeshift office when the pandemic hit and we were all sent home to work.

The novelty of making breakfast and lunch while watching dad zoom through meetings quickly wore thin with our kids.

So I ditched the island life after a few weeks for a slightly longer commute to the spare bedroom in our basement.

nonobvious guideHaving a dedicated workspace that you can close the door on at the end of the day is one of the survival strategies in Rohit Bhargava’s The Non-Obvious Guide to Virtual Meetings & Remote Work.

Bhargava says working remotely comes with a host of challenges, including constant distractions and temptations like the fridge, Netflix bingeing, bored and restless kids, family pets and Amazon deliveries. Remote work can also leave us feeling isolated and lonely, struggling with blurred work-life boundaries, dealing with technology breakdowns and wrestling with the fear of being out of sight and out of mind with the people who cut our paycheques “When you aren’t there in person, you’ll need to work doubly hard to make sure you aren’t neglected, dismissed or forgotten.”

If your days are spent zooming in and out of meetings, Bhargava recommends being on time, learning how to master the mute button and keeping windows and lights behind your camera rather than behind your back. Dressing appropriately is also a winning idea. “Working remotely is no excuse to look like you just rolled out of bed.”

If you’re making a virtual presentation, keep it short. No one has the attention span for a 45-minute PowerPoint. Share and repeat only your most powerful points.  Look into the camera rather than at the Brady Brunch squares of people on your screen. And double your energy. “When you feel like you’re overdoing it with your energy level, you probably have it just right.”

Know that no one likes a colleague who takes pride in staying technologically illiterate months into the pandemic. “If the rest of us can figure it out, you can too. Or at least you can try harder and stress about it like a normal human.”

Also drop the lame excuses for why you were running late or missed a meeting altogether. Life happens and we’re all muddling our way through the new normal. “Just be honest,” says Bhargava. “It humanizes you and may end up making you more likeable as a result.”

There’s added pressure on leaders to keep their remote teams engaged and productive.

It’s easier to build and sustain workplace culture when everyone’s under the same roof for eight or more hours a day.  Yet leaders can still build culture and foster trust with a team that’s working from home.

Start with empathy, says Bhargava. If a colleague’s running late, underperforming and blowing deadlines, ask if they’re okay. Know that employees with young kids at home and elderly at-risk parents have a lot on their plates. “Focus on people first.”

Stand up for each other.  “It’s too easy to assign blame or speak negatively about someone when you don’t have to do it face to face.”

And make time in your meetings for small talk, non-work conversations and celebrations. “Show interest in people first and then get down to business. Virtual meetings may be the only opportunities for engagement a remote team member has with colleagues.”

Bhargava’s free e-book is a field guide for working remotely in our disrupted world.  “The rapid changes in the world are dictating that we each become more adaptable and willing to reinvent how we work. It’s not an easy challenge to face.

“You can manage this disruption,” says Bhargava. “We all can. As long as we continue to be generous with each other.”

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.

Build your brand with a helping hand during the pandemic (review)

empathyThe COVID fog rolled in thick and fast at the grocery store and an act of kindness got me home.

I was at my car with a week’s worth of groceries but no keys. I rifled through every bag and made sure the keys weren’t locked in my car.

I went back inside the grocery store to the check-out line, swung by customer service and retraced my route up and down the aisles.

The store was closing in 40 minutes.

The manager took pity, stopped restocking shelves and joined the search. He offered to watch the cart and recheck the grocery bags while I scoured the store for a third time. The manager found the keys buried in a bunch of grapes. I couldn’t remember when or why I’d put the keys there.

Buyology-Coronavirus_3DI thanked the manager. No worries, he said. Lots of customers are distracted and losing things these days. He was possibly being more kind than truthful.

Either way, empathy is exactly what you should be showing your customers and employees, says Martin Lindstrom in Buyology for a Coronavirus World. We need kindness now more than ever and smart businesses are offering it.

“Right now there are a lot of people in need,” says Martin. “Old people struggle to shop without having to leave their home and expose themselves to the virus. Waiters, bartenders, and airline crews have lost their jobs, with no new jobs in sight. Kids’ schools have closed, though mom and dad are still expected at the office. Nurses are working day and night. The list goes on and on, adding up to hundreds of millions of people affected by the crisis. All are in need.”

While offering extra help to your existing customers will cost you money, it’ll be less than what you’ll spend trying to find new customers at a time when most of us are dialing back our overspending.

“In times of need, you can really make a difference — and your customers will notice. In difficult times, you can cement a lifelong relationship. You can build your brand.”

During the financial crisis of 2008, car buyers were offered the Hyundai Assurance. The company promised drivers they could return their new vehicles if they lost their jobs within a year. Sales went up by double digits while only five cars were returned.

Your acts of kindness don’t need to be budget-busting grand gestures. Hilton’s DoubleTree Hotels recently published the recipe for the cookies they give to guests as they check-in. The hotel chain gave out more than 30 million cookies each year at its 500-plus properties during our pre-pandemic days.

cookies“We know this is an anxious time for everyone,” said a DoubleTree senior executive. “A warm chocolate chip cookie can’t solve everything but it can bring a moment of comfort and happiness. We hope families enjoy the fun of baking together during their time at home and we look forward to welcoming our guests with a warm DoubleTree cookie when travel resumes.”

My kids were definitely comforted and happy and ate the entire batch of DoubleTree cookies in two days. 

Compare Hyundai and DoubleTree to companies that are ignoring or taking advantage of customers. Martin calls out an airline that hung up on him and another that’s charging $50 upfront for every call you make, regardless of why you’re calling.

“What strikes me is that most airlines, car rental companies, hotels, supermarkets, insurance companies – you name it – behave like they never plan to interact with customers again. It’s as if this is the end of the world. They may know something I don’t, but I hold another opinion.”

Martin also says now’s the time to rethink and reinvent your business.  The prospect of another shutdown, an economy that’s slow to restart and customers who’ve broken their addiction to overspending should give you the sense of added urgency required to bust out of your comfort zone.

“This crisis is written on every wall, door and panel. I don’t think a single soul will deny it so use it to your advantage. Give everyone in your organization, from the receptionist to top management, a simple but profound task: rethink your business model. Ask the profound questions. If we need to change everything from the ground up, what industry are we really in.”

Legacies will be defined during the pandemic. We’ll remember how you made us feel long after COVID-19’s defeated. So be kind, do good, rethink and reinvent.

“What’s happening right now is a lot more than a story for our grandchildren and the next generation to come. This is the moment when you define your legacy as a leader. You won’t be remembered for wins or losses, but for how you were there for your employees and customers.”

Martin is doing good by making his pocketbook available for free as a digital download.

This review ran in the June 27th edition of The Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

How to be an ally for your Black colleagues (review)

I used to think I was one of the good guys.

I’ve never said anything racist about a coworker. Never accused anyone of playing the race card or dismissed someone for being a token minority hire.

But I’ve stayed silent and never asked how or why.

How was it possible that I never had a Black professor or teaching assistant for any of the 32 courses that made up my undergraduate degree in political science? And why did our journalism school have just one part-time instructor who was Black?

And then looking back on my 27-year career in public relations with some of the region’s largest employers, how is it possible that:

  • I’ve yet to sit across from a hiring committee that’s had a Black member.
  • I’ve yet to report to a Black supervisor or serve under a Black CEO, president or executive director.
  • I’ve worked with only one Black PR colleague.
  • I’ve had less than a day’s worth of mandatory diversity and inclusion training and I once spent an entire workshop ridiculously stewing in White fragility.
  • I’ve yet to do a local media interview with a Black journalist.
  • I’ve been to events, summits, award galas, conferences and workshops where there have been no Black people in the audience, much less on the stage.
  • Of the 500 plus business books I’ve reviewed over the past 21 years, I could carry under one arm the books written by Black authors.

I believe diversity and inclusion make our workplaces better. I believe everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and has the right to belong. I believe in following the platinum rule. I believe bigots, racists and white supremacists are idiots. And I believe I’ve worked with, and for, good people who’ve shared all of these same beliefs.

But here’s the uncomfortable truth. I’ve cared but just not enough when the racism has been systemic. I’ve never asked why there were no Black profs or TAs or why no one on the hiring committees, in our PR teams and out in the audience was Black.

Is someone said “our organization’s colour blind, we don’t see race and we only hire the most qualified candidate”, I wouldn’t push back. I wouldn’t point out the less-than-stellar White colleagues who prove the best candidates aren’t filling every position. And I didn’t suggest that maybe the best people for the job weren’t stepping forward as candidates because they saw a glaring lack of diversity and a superficial commitment to inclusion.

And here’s one other hard truth. I’ve never wondered how I would’ve fared at school or in my career had I not been handed a whole lot of unearned white male privilege right from the start.

Silence is no longer an option. We’re all seeing what’s fundamentally wrong and it’s time each of us start doing what’s right.

We can get started at work by becoming allies for our colleagues from underrepresented groups.

Karen Catlin's Better Allies - Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces.

“There are many opportunities in every workplace to listen, learn and take action as allies,” says Karen Catlin, author of Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces.

“Your first tip for being an ally is to be open to learning, improving and changing your opinion.”

Catlin says there are seven kinds of allies.

  • Sponsors vocally support the work of coworkers and help boost their standing and reputations.
  • Champions defer to colleagues in meetings, events and conferences to send a public and meaningful message.
  • Amplifiers make sure marginalized voices are heard and respected.
  • Advocates use their power and influence to bring peers from underrepresented groups into exclusive circles.
  • Scholars listen and learn as much as possible about the issues facing their colleagues, do their own research and seek out relevant information. Don’t dump this work on your Black colleagues – they’re tired of educating.
  • Upstanders are the opposite of bystanders. When they see racism and injustice, they make it their mission to eradicate it.
  • Confidants create safe spaces where colleagues can talk about their fears, frustrations and needs.

Catlin draws a distinction between allies and knights. If you opt for a quick, easy and simple one-off fix for a colleague, you’re being the knight in shining armour. Your colleagues don’t need a virtue-signalling White savior.

What they need are allies who’ll do what’s right rather than what’s easy. Ending systemic racism and building an inclusive workplace is hard work and demands a long-term commitment.

“Being an ally is a journey,” says Catlin. “This may seem frustrating at first because it’s tempting to want to earn an ally badge and consider oneself to be a lifetime member of the Genuinely Good Human Beings Club.

“Instead of feeling frustrated that you’ll never reach some mythical, fully fledged ally status, remember that we’re learning together. The ally journey is an enlightening and worthwhile one, even though it’s a perpetually ongoing one.”

Racism – whether it’s overt, subtle or silent – needs to end. Our colleagues and communities deserve better. We need to listen, learn and then act and advocate as true and trusted allies. Catlin shows us how to start the journey.

This review first ran in the June 13 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 since 1999. Reviews are archived at jayrobb.me.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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