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Posts tagged ‘business book review’

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

frankWhat To Do When Things Go Wrong

By Frank Supovitz

McGraw Hill

$34.78

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

There are 80,000 souls in the stands.

More than a billion people are watching worldwide.

You’re doing a media interview.

And suddenly the lights go out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Amanda Hennessey

Adams Media

$21.99

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

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

Welcome to the Christopher Leadership Course in Effective Speaking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Dying – the business case for addressing climate change now (review of The Uninhabitable Earth)

uninhabitable earthThis review first ran in the June 1 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

By David Wallace-Wells

Tim Duggan Books

$36

If we’re slapping carbon tax stickers on gas pumps, let’s also put posters up in daycare centres and kindergarten classrooms.

We can use the posters to start apologizing in advance for saddling our kids and grandkids with the unholy mess of an increasingly uninhabitable home.

Sure, some of our kids may become the Henry Ford, John Rockefeller, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg of the green economy. They’ll make a fortune scrubbing carbon from the skies, geoengineering oceans and moving whole coastal cities to higher and drier ground.

But whatever money they make, it won’t be nearly enough.

It’s estimated that 3.7 degrees of global warming will trigger more than $550 trillion in environmental damages. To put that repair and relocation bill in perspective, we currently have $280 trillion in worldwide wealth.

During the Great Recession, global gross domestic product fell two per cent. During the Great Depression, GDP dropped 15 per cent. By the close of the 21st century, economists warn that climate change could cut GDP anywhere from 20 to 50 per cent.

“We have gotten used to setbacks on our erratic march along the arc of economic history but we know them as setbacks and expect elastic recoveries,” says David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth, national fellow at the New America foundation and columnist with New York magazine. “What climate change has in store is not that kind of thing – not a Great Recession or a Great Depression, but in economic terms, a Great Dying.

“The global halving of economic resources would be permanent. We would soon not even know it as deprivation, only as a brutally cruel normal against which we might measure tiny burps of decimal-point growth as the breath of a new prosperity.”

earth

Maybe you think we’ll ride out the storm because we’re far from a coast and nowhere near the equator. Our part of the world will be wetter but not underwater, scorching hot or uninhabitable. Yet the United Nations is conservatively projecting 200 million climate refugees by 2050. The actual number could be considerably higher, at over a billion vulnerable poor people with only two choices – fight or flee. Will we open our borders or build higher and thicker walls?

Future generations need today’s business leaders to lean hard on politicians and start doing it now. Wallace-Wells says we can stall disaster by introducing carbon and gas taxes, aggressively phasing out dirty energy and ending subsidies for fossil fuels, revolutionizing agricultural practices, shifting away from beef and dairy and making major public investments in green energy and carbon capture.

“Now we all share the responsibility to write the next act. We found a way to engineer devastation, and we can find a way to engineer our way out of it – or, rather, engineer our way toward a degraded muddle, but one that nevertheless extends forward the promise of new generations finding their own way forward, perhaps toward some brighter environmental future.”

Wallace-Wells opens his book by telling us “it is worse, much worse, than you think. The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says it isn’t happening at all.”

He makes a convincing argument that we’re grossly underestimating the cascade of compounding ecological catastrophes headed our way and wildly overestimating our capacity to come up with innovative solutions that’ll sustain business as usual in a hothouse Earth.

While we talk about saving the planet, Earth will continue spinning around the sun. Whether we’re along for the ride is an open question.

“If we allow global warming to proceed, and to punish us with all the ferocity we have fed it, it will because we have chosen that punishment – collectively walking down a path of suicide. If we avert it, it will be because we have chosen to walk a different path, and endure.”

And it’s worth remembering we’re choosing that path on behalf of our kids, their children and grandchildren.

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 questions that’ll make you a better coach & leader (review of The Coaching Habit)

This review first ran in the May 18th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

coaching haibtThe Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever

By Michael Bungay Stanier

Box of Crayons Press

$16.95

I’m a good advisor but a pretty lousy coach.

Confusing these roles is how I get myself into trouble and annoy the people I try to help.

It’s an occupational hazard. After working in public relations for 25 years, I’m very much in what author Michael Bungy Stainer calls the advice-giver / expert / answer-it / solve-it / fix-it mode.

This mode doesn’t translate well to coaching.

It’s why I give answers to questions you haven’t asked and have solutions to what you don’t see as a problem. I’ll preemptively offer to save the day even when you have the situation well in hand.

To become a better coach, I need to talk less and listen more. Instead of having answers and offering up unsolicited advice, I need to start asking smarter questions.

Bungay Stainer, the founder and CEO of a company known for teaching 10-minute coaching to leaders, knows what questions effective coaches should ask.

“The seemingly simple behavior change of giving a little less advice and asking a few more questions is surprisingly difficult,” says Bungay Stainer. “You’ve spent years delivering advice and getting promoted and praised for it. You’re seen to be ‘adding value’ and you’ve the added bonus of staying in control of the situation.

“On the other hand, when you’re asking questions, you might feel less certain about whether you’re being useful, the conversation can feel slower and you might feel like you’ve somewhat lost control of the conversation (and indeed you have. That’s called ‘empowering’).”

Bungay Stainer says the essence of coaching is helping others and unlocking their potential. It’s also the key to avoiding overdependence.  When you train people to become excessively reliant on you for answers, you disempower them and frustrate yourself. You become swamped with work, turning yourself into a bottleneck while everyone around you loses momentum and motivation.

“The more you help your people, the more they seem to need your help. The more they need your help, the more time you spend helping them.”

So instead of having all the answers, stick to asking one or more of the following seven questions:

What’s on your mind? Bungay Stainer calls this the kickstart question. It’s an almost fail-safe way to start any conversation with someone who’s asking for help. “It’s a question that says let’s talk about the thing that matters most.”

And what else? This is the AWE question and it’s the quickest and easiest way to uncover and create new possibilities. “With seemingly no effort, it creates more – more wisdom, more insights, more self-awareness, more possibilities – out of thin air.”

What’s the real challenge here for you? Asking the focus question will save you from wasting too much time and effort solving the wrong problem. “When people start talking to you about the challenge at hand, what’s essential to remember is that what they’re laying out for you is rarely the actual question.”

What do you want? This is foundation question. “Recognizing the need gives you a better understanding of how you might best address the want.”

How can I help? This is the lazy question which forces your colleague to make a direct and clear request and prevents you from immediately leaping into action.

If you say yes to this, what are you saying no to? This is the strategic question. It’s been said that the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. “A ‘yes’ is nothing without the ‘no’ that gives it boundaries and form.”

What was most useful for you? This learning question should close out your conversations. “Not only do you help people to see and then embed the learning from the conversation, but by your finishing on a ‘this was useful’ note, people are going to remember the experience more favourably than they otherwise might.”

With each of his seven questions, Bungay Stainer also offers a master class in how to make effective coaching a habit. His book is a great resource for those of us looking to switch off our advisor mode, quit playing the all-knowing sage and superhero and do a far better job of helping the people around us find the answers to their questions and realize their full potential.

adice

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 ignore your job’s expiration date (Review of Whitney Johnson’s Build an ‘A’ Team

a teamThis review first ran in the April 20th edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Build An “A” Team: Play to Their Strengths and Lead Them Up the Learning Curve

By Whitney JohnsonWhitney Johnson

Harvard Business Review Press

$36.50

Every job has an expiration date.

We ignore it at our peril. Yes, the living is easy once we’ve scaled our learning curves and we’ve settled into our comfort zone.

We’re fully competent but at risk of becoming bored out of our minds and completely disengaged.

We can convince ourselves that mailing it in and coasting to retirement is doable. But the people we work with and for aren’t so easily fooled.

So if you’re wondering whether a change would do you good, the answer is an empathetic yes (and I speak from experience).

We need to disrupt ourselves before the disruption is done to us.

According to Whitney Johnson, a CEO advisor and author of Build An ‘A’ Team, we should start looking for a new challenge around the four-year mark in our jobs.

For the first six months in a new role, we’re learning the ropes. It can be a steep, frustrating, exhausting and disorienting climb.

But then we hit a tipping point around the six-month mark. We reach peak productivity in what Johnson calls the sweet spot middle.

After four years in most jobs, we’ve reached the peak of our learning curves. We’ve mastered pretty much every task. We’re competent and confident. We can work on autopilot.

As a leader, it’s tempting to ignore expiration dates with highly skilled and experienced veterans who are well into their mastery phase. They require minimal adult supervision and there are few if any surprises.

You may also prefer to hire only new recruits who’ve already done whatever job you need doing and who’ll bring years or decades of experience to your team.

But your high performers will eventually turn into bored and restless low performers.  Some will be self-aware enough to pull themselves out of their comfort zones and look for new challenges.

“Nearly every human being is on the lookout for growth opportunities. If a person can’t grow with a company, they will grow away from it.”

Losing institutional memory when a veteran employee leaves an organization hurts. This is why it’s critical for managers to preemptively offer up new challenges or move high performers into new roles and onto new teams, where there’ll be new responsibilities and new learning curves.

Johnson says the most productive and innovative teams have an optimal mix of employees, with 15 per cent starting out on their learning curves, 70 per cent in the sweet spot middle and the remaining 15 per cent in the mastery phase and willing to take on a mentorship role.

“One of the most powerful ways that managers can foster innovation in their teams and engagement in their people is to keep them moving to new learning curves before they get bored,” says Johnson.

She recommends a three-step process for leaders who need a new game plan for anyone at the top of their learning curve. Applaud their achievements. Identify a new learning curve. And then deliver on helping them make a successful jump.

“Taking charge around the who, what, when, where and how of these leaps is critical. Should your people proactively lobby for a jump to a new curve when they reach the top? Yes. But remember, it’s a lot harder for them to come to you and say ‘I’m at the top of my curve, I need to try something new’ than you think it is. The boss holds most of the cards in this situation, and an employee may feel that asking to jump is tantamount to asking for a push into unemployment.”

As a leader, you hold the power and have a choice to make. “Is the top of the curve a place where people decide to leave because they know there’s nothing more? Is it a spot where they outlive their usefulness and become organizational deadweight? Or, is it the launching pad for even greater effectiveness?”

Don’t put off having conversations about what’s next for team members who’ve maxed out on their current learning curves. Pretending there isn’t an expiration date with their jobs is a failure of leadership. They’ll either start mailing it in or start sending out resumes.

“You can leave them in place and watch them suffer a gradual, even precipitous decline in productivity; you can watch them abruptly depart for a warmer professional climate. Or you can find a new learning curve for them to climb.”

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.

 

Your meeting needs a bouncer and an unchill host (review of Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering)

priya parkerThis review first ran in the March 23 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters

By Priya Parker

Riverhead Books

$37

We’re gathered here today for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.

We’re in the dark because our host organized the event on autopilot, leaning hard on convention.

So while it’s neither meaningful or memorable, at least the event’s a familiar routine. And if we’re lucky, it’ll start on time and end ahead of schedule so we can get an early jump on heading home or back to work.

We shouldn’t be settling for just an efficient and uneventful event. Priya Parker shows what we’re missing and what we should aspire to whenever we bring people together, whether it’s an all-staff retreat, town hall, workshop, conference, fundraising dinner or awards night.

“The way we gather matters,” says Parker, author of The Art of Gathering and founder of Thrive Lab with a background in organizational design. “Gathering – the conscious bringing together of people for a reason – shapes the way we think, feel, and make sense of our world.

“Gatherings consume our days and help determine the kind of world we live in, in both our intimate and public realms. And we spend much of that time in uninspiring, underwhelming moments that fail to capture us, change us in any way, or connect us to one another.”

The solution for fixing forgettable events starts by deciding why we want to bring people together, what we hope to achieve, who should be there, when it should happen and where. The bolder and sharper our purpose for an event, the better.

“When we don’t examine the deeper assumptions behind why we gather, we end up skipping too quickly to replicating old, staid formats of gathering. And we forgo the possibility of creating something memorable, even transformative.”

So aim for specificity and uniqueness. Disputable is the other hallmark of a great event. A disputable purpose is a filter that forces you to make hard choices and decisions rather than compromises.

Think of purpose as the bouncer who decides what’s in and what’s out with your event. If you can’t find a purpose, don’t bring people together. Give them the gift of time instead.

If your event’s a go with a clear purpose, don’t be a chill host. “Chill is selfishness disguised as kindness,” says Parker. “Chill is a miserable attitude when it comes to hosting gatherings.”

Resist the urge to be noninvasive, relaxed and low-key. When you leave your guests alone, you leave them alone to one another to recreate The Lord of the Flies in a conference room or banquet hall. They’ll be confused, anxious and at the mercy of someone who’ll fill the void in a way that could prove inconsistent with your event’s purpose or your values. What your guests wind up with may not be what they signed on for.

“If you are going to gather, gather. If you are going to host, host. If you are going to create a kingdom for an hour or day, rule it – and rule it with generosity.”

Generous authority means protecting, equalizing and connecting your guests. “One measure of a successful gathering is that it starts off with a higher number of host-guest connections than guest-guest connections and ends with those tallies reversed, far in the guest-guest favour.”

Parker also advocates creating a custom constitution and pop-up rules for your event. “Etiquette allows people to gather because they are the same. Pop-up rules allow people to gather because they are different – yet open to having the same experience.”

And work hard on having a stellar opening and close to your event. Avoid the mundane housekeeping chores and sponsor shout-outs that mark the start of far too many gatherings. We can figure out where the bathrooms are and we know to tell our server about any dietary restrictions. “However vital it may seem to start with this housekeeping, you are missing an opportunity to sear your gathering’s purpose into the minds of your guests.”

The same holds true for the end of your event. Remind your audience what they experienced together and what they can take with them back into their jobs, families and community.  “Too many of our gatherings don’t end. They simply stop.  A strong closing has two phases corresponding to two distinct needs among your guests: looking inward and turning outward.”

Everyone who plans, organizes and scripts events should read Parker’s guidebook. Along with practical advice are examples of meaningful and memorable events that foster a genuine sense of belonging.  Wow us at your next event and we’ll happily sign on for more.

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.

 

Raising leadership standards = more women leaders (and fewer incompetent men) – REVIEW

boss-454867_1920This review ran in the March 9 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?

By Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Harvard Business Review Press

$32.50

menYour leadership search is down to two candidates.

One candidate is fully competent, with 20-plus years of directly relevant experience.

The other candidate’s full of confidence and rocked the room during the two-hour meet-and-greet interview with your selection committee.

Of course you’d choose two decades of experience over two hours of showmanship.

So how to explain organizations that inexplicably choose a confident man over a competent woman?

How do these organizations not know how this story plays out? Mr. Confident will quickly reveal himself to be all hat and no cattle. Along with failing to live up to the hype, he’ll prove that nothing destroys workplace morale quite like incompetence in the corner office. Meanwhile, the competent woman will go on to do great things with a smart organization that knew what to look for in an effective leader.

“When men are considered for leadership positions, the same traits that predict their downfall are commonly mistaken – even celebrated – as a sign of leadership potential or talent,” says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief talent scientist at ManpowerGroup, psychologist, university professor and author of Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?

“They are overconfident, abrasive and very much in awe of themselves, particularly in light of their actual talents. They are their own biggest fans by some distance.”

We confuse these flaws in men with desirable leadership qualities, says Chamorro-Premuzic. “Traits like overconfidence and self-absorption should be seen as red flags. But instead, they prompt us to say ‘Ah, there’s a charismatic fellow! He’s probably leadership material.”

This confusion saddles us with a glut of incompetent men running the show, crowding out and leaving fewer opportunities for competent women and men.

“Women’s paths to leadership are undoubtedly dotted with many barriers, including a very thick glass ceiling. But the more I have studied leaders and leadership, the more I believe that the much bigger problem is the lack of career obstacles for incompetent men.”

A Northwestern University review of 45 leadership and gender research studies makes the case for why we’d all be better off with more women in charge. The research shows women are more capable of driving positive change, elicit more respect and pride from their followers, communicate their vision more effectively, better mentor subordinates, problem-solve in more creative ways and give more objective evaluations to direct reports.

‘Compelling evidence suggests that leadership is more likely to improve if we start drawing more heavily from the female talent pool, especially if we understand that the women most likely to drive positive change look quite different from the typical leaders we have today, irrespective of gender.”

Good leadership from both women and men requires intellectual, social and psychological capital. There’s also a host of bright side personality traits to look for in strong leaders, including curiosity, extroversion and emotional stability.

Chamorro-Premuzic says the evidence shows a good leader is someone who builds a winning team, helps that team outperform rivals, depends on the team’s performance and unites the team in pursuit of a shared goal.

Telling women to lean in, man up and fake it until they make it is not the answer. Why would we want competent women to adopt the leadership traits of incompetent men? Chamorro-Premuzic instead shows organizations how to redefine and elevate leadership and why they should start choosing competence and integrity over confidence and charisma.

“Since we all want better leaders, we should not lower our standards when we select women, but we should raise them when we select men.”

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.

Build your personal brand around 4 key elements that tell your story (review of Cynthia Johnson’s Platform)

platformThis review first ran in the Feb. 23 edition of The Hamilton Spectator

Platform: The Art and Science of Personal Branding

By Cynthia Johnson

Lorna Jones Books

$29.99

You have a solution to our problem and an answer to our prayers.

You’ve gone where we’re going and already done what we dream of doing.

We’re hungry to hear what you have to say and you’re willing to share your lessons learned.

Thanks to social media, it’s never been easier for you to  offer up your experience and expertise, insights and ideas. Yet finding you among the billions of users online is the challenge.

This is why you need to build and then manage your a personal brand.

“You can change the world with your voice if you have a platform to stand on and people who will listen,” says Cynthia Johnson, author of Platform and a branding agency co-founder with more than three million followers on social media channels.

“There is so much noise coming from so many people and places that we are exhausting the public attention span for experts and important causes. We need to hear from people who understand topics completely and thoroughly.”

A strong personal brand cuts through the noise and draws our attention.

Brand building is technical, creative, spiritual and scientific, says Johnson. “And it is much easier than you think.”

Our personal brands are built on four elements: personal proof, social proof, recognition and association. “Each piece is part of a puzzle, and they all work together to tell a story: your story.”

Personal proof includes your education, experience, credentials and achievements.

“Social proof is the proof that other people need in order to believe that we are qualified to do something,” says Johnson. Examples include our social media followers, referrals and references.

“Association is the part of the branding puzzle that determines nearly all of your successes,” says Johnson. “People decide whether you are credible based on your expertise and your network. You are whom you hang out with.”

And finally, you build your brand by being recognized as among the best at what you do. Awards and accolades elevate you in our hearts and minds.

Building your personal brand requires growing your networks on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Johnson has four suggestions.

Always include an email address on your social media profiles and tell us exactly what you’re interested in and looking for. “You can follow and connect with people all day long, but unless they know how and why to reach out to you, the ball will remain in your court.”

Aim for quality over quantity when posting content to social media. Post too much content that’s of low or no value cand we’ll legitimately wonder where you find the time to do the job and develop the experience that you’re attempting to build your personal brand around.

Avoid the rookie mistake of overusing or misusing hashtags. Don’t use hashtags to grow your followers by highlighting key words, says Johnson. “The main purpose of the hashtag on all social media channels is to create live public groups around topics or interests.”

And, just like in the real world, treat everyone on social media as if they matter because they genuinely do. “Don’t be the person who ignores the little guy, because in a connected digital world, you never know how people will grow from one day to the next. So go ahead and connect with people; it doesn’t hurt, and you never know how much it could eventually help.”

Personal branding is for everyone, says Johnson and it’s not an optional exercise if you want to be seen and heard. “You have it even when you don’t. Everyone in the digital age needs to be aware of their personal brand. It is no longer a choice whether to have one; the choice is whether you manage yours.”

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.

Pick one – a pay raise for you or a pink slip for your boss (review of The Mind of a Leader)

mindThis review first ran in the Feb. 9 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Mind of the Leader

By Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter

Harvard Business Review Press

$39

A pay raise for you or a pink slip for your boss.

Which one would you choose?

Apparently, a third of us would pass on the bigger paycheque to instead wish our leaders well on their future endeavors.

That’s one of the key findings from research done by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacequeline Carter with the Potential Project.

They also report that only 13 per cent of the global workforce is engaged while 24 per cent is actively disengaged.

Yet in a McKinsey and Co. study, 77 per cent of leaders say they do a good job of engaging their people. That same study found that their people just aren’t feeling it, with 82 per cent saying their leaders are lousy at engagement. Basic human needs of finding meaning, purpose, connection and genuine happiness appear to be going unmet in too many workplaces.

So maybe the $46 billion spent annually on building better leaders needs to come with a money back guarantee.

If you’re a leader who wants a more engaged and productive workforce, Hougaard and Carter say it’s all in your head.

They recommend you focus on the three foundational and mutually reinforcing mental qualities of mindfulness, selflessness and compassion.

“Mindfulness, selflessness and compassion are universal languages that are understood by everyone. They are innate human qualities in which status and authority do not get in the way of true human connectedness.”

Mindfulness is about turning off our autopilot and intentionally managing our attention and thoughts. “You learn to hold your focus on what you choose.” Through focus and awareness, we develop better emotional resilience and lose our fight-or-flight instincts and our tendency to default to knee-jerk reactions.

Selflessness is a winning combination of humility, service to others and self-confidence. “With selflessness, trust increases because we have no secret agendas and followership strengthens because our selflessness sets free our people to be their best selves.” By comparison, a raging, unhealthy ego leaves you vulnerable to criticism, susceptible to manipulation, corrupts your behavior and values.

Compassion helps your people feel safe and connected. “When we as leaders value the happiness of our people, they feel appreciated. They feel respected. And this makes them feel truly connected and engaged. It’s no accident that organizations with more compassionate leaders have stronger connections between people, better collaboration, more trust, stronger commitment to the organization and lower turnover.”

Leaders who are mindful, selfless and compassionate can then lead by example and instill these foundational qualities in their people and across their organizations.

“Leading with mindfulness, selflessness and compassion makes you more human and less leader. It makes you more you and less your title. It peels off the layers of status that separate you from the people you lead,” say Hougaard and Carter.

“Mindfulness, selflessness and compassion make you truly human and enable you to create a more people-centred culture where your people see themselves and one another as humans rather than headcounts.”

And instead of wanting you to get a pink slip, your employees will give you extra effort, respect and loyalty.

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

How to drive big changes with better stories (Review of Alex Evans’ The Myth Gap)

myth gapThis review first ran in the Jan. 26 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough?The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough?

By Alex Evans

Eden Project Books

$21.99

Who are we?

What do we believe in and stand for?

Where are we at?

How did we get here?

Where are we trying to go?

And how will we get there together?

These are the stories told during crises and transitions that galvanize movements and drive change, whether at work, in our community or across and beyond our country.

“Myths are the most fundamental narratives of all,” says Alex Evans, a Senior Fellow at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, political advisor and climate change expert to the United Nations. “Myths don’t just explain the world; they explain us too.”

Not telling these collective stories leaves us with a gap, warns Evans. That gap gets filled by prophets of doom who profit by stoking fear, anger and division with anti-myths. They tell us it’s us versus them zero-sum world of winners and losers.

This is how we end up with political and business leaders who tell us that climate change is fake news and a hoax. Fighting it will be a recession-triggering tax grab so let’s pay no mind to the estimated $54 trillion cost associated with a world that’s warmer by 1.5 degrees Celsius or the $551 trillion tab for a 3.7 degree increase.

Arid technocratic jargon, pie charts on PowerPoints and appeals to rational self-interest are not the stuff of compelling stories that counteract anti-myths.

The same goes for enemy narratives that stoke shock, outrage and polarization and shift blame and responsibility to anyone or everyone else but us.

And then there are the self-fulfilling stories that traffic in collapsitarianism and dystopian nightmares. It’s the end of the world as we know it, there’s nothing we can do, all hope is lost and we’re all doomed.

But in the face of existential threats to our lives and livelihoods, we’re hungry for stories that give us hope for the future and that unite, rather than divide, us around a common purpose.

“The stories and myths that we reach for in such moments are what determine whether we use those moments creatively or reactively, for a larger or smaller us, for a longer or shorter now, for a better or worse idea of what constitutes a good life.”

Evans makes the case for telling stories about restoration, regeneration, rebirth and repairing the breach. “I think that tales of restoration are just about the most powerful and resonant kind there are. They speak directly to a profound yearning in all of us, an instinct that while the world may be broken, it can also be made right again, and that this may at some level be what we are here to do.

“As we relearn how to tell myths about where we are, how we got here, where we might be trying to go, and who we really are, we will discover extraordinary new capacities for creating the kind of future that we yearn for.”

It’s time we start sharing and filling the gap with better stories at work, in our communities and on the world stage.

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