The Best Leaders Tip #6 – Get Smart: Effective listening is not passive

This is my 6th of 12 posts about how to be among the Best Leaders.  In these, I provide inspiration for everyone seeking professional and personal growth as a leader of people, projects, groups, teams and organizations. I welcome your comments and feedback.  Visit my website for more information.


Best Leader Tip #6          Listening isn’t passive.  Effective listening is active, in which the listener participates by asking questions, summarizing what they’ve heard, and clarifying.  At the same time, they refrain from assuming, interrupting, cutting the speaker off, arguing, and making it about them.  How do you know if you’re listening enough?  After your next meeting, ask yourself what specific points of information you gained. If it’s fewer than three items, chances are you’ve spent most of that meeting talking, not listening.  A bonus:  Listening shows you’re interested in people.  And the best leaders are all about their people.


Third Step to Networking: Behave!

Once you’re in your networking situation, here’s what to do:

  1. Read the room. Adapt your approach to casual, formal, friendly, somber, and other moods. Your tone of voice, the way you address people and introduce yourself, even the kind of words you choose – all need to match.
  2. Take a friend – or not. Sometimes it’s good to have a “wing” man or woman – someone who can introduce you around, or include you in conversations. If you do take someone, be sure you don’t only hang out with them, and that they don’t hold you back in some way (from meeting the people you want and from being yourself.)
  3. Don’t hang out only with people you know. You are there to form new relationships and expand your network.
  4. Take a pen and notepad, or some other way to capture names, notes and ideas that might be helpful to you later.
  5. Remember names. This can be a tough one. Write them down as you go, or engage in a memory technique or two. thORIUQ1UWMnemonics Five Tips . Especially remember the people high on your target list.
  6. Project enthusiasm and energy. Don’t act as if you’ve been dragged there as a punishment. What you project you will get back from others.
  7. Befriend the well connected. Know people who know a lot of people. They will introduce you to more people than you could dream of.
  8. Find someone standing alone, and start a conversation with them. This is a good way to enter an event.
  9. Food and bar lines are great places to strike up conversations, as well.
  10. If you are in a conference or a long event, take breaks to give yourself time to recharge. This will make your networking time more productive.
  11. Follow up with the people high on your priority list. Make sure your networking time leads to real relationships.


In honor of MLK, Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech…

Touched by An Angel
by Maya Angelou

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.


mlk jr

Summertime and the writing is easy…

Pebble Beach sunset

These days, we’re all tempted to put aside the business and self help books and pick up light, fluffy, delicious summer fiction. You know, the kind that transports us to different countries, eras, lifestyles… teaches as it transforms and leaves us fully satisfied emotionally and mentally. Also the kind that inspires us to write! Many of us in public relations and communication come from journalism backgrounds, and a lot of us love to write – some of us think of summer as a way to pursue our writing hobby, channeling our inner F Scott and creating great works of fiction. For all of us, I say go for it! This month’s O Magazine offers some writing tips (taken from Natalie Goldberg’s 1986 Writing Down the Bones) – I paraphrase them here:

1. Use pen and paper (in addition to the almighty electronic options).  Carry around a notebook and a nice pen always.  You never have to charge them, and you don’t have to back up:)

2. For purposeful writing time, leave the house or shut out the many household tasks always calling if you’re in the house. Find a nurturing spot, wherever you are.

3. Get a writing partner to keep you motivated and meet your daily and weekly goals.

4. Forget the many rules of writing and just start.  Let the thoughts and ideas flow out of you.  You can edit later.

5. Practice silence. Behind writing, behind words, is no words.  We need to know about that place.  It gives us a larger perspective from which to handle language.  Silence can be the door to listening, which is one of the great cornerstones to writing. (THIS IS MY FAVORITE!)

6. Read, read, read.  Especially authors you admire, styles you aspire to emulate.  Read.

Happy writing! I look forward to hearing about your summer creations.

Drama vs. headlines: how can we make science news accurate and readable?

Journalists are loath to dissect studies from prestigious medical journals.A Chicago Tribune article a few days ago asserted that news reporting of research findings and other science topics is usually condensed by reporters to the point of over-simplification that leads readers to misinterpret the actual research findings and what they mean. All of us in PR who have struggled to write the audience-friendly healthcare press release headline or Twitter post understand all too well. The general audience appetite for technical information – content with many figures and hard data – does not warrant in-depth analysis. However, Tribune reporter Cory Franklin gives some practical and effective guidelines for science reporting that can ease our dilemma when churning our content for our health, medical, biotech, science, and pharma clients. Check out the link here for the article. Look forward to your comments!

(Photo from Chicago Tribune, March 28, 2013)

Brand management gets personal

What do you bring to the table? Make sure everyone knows!


Careers are really made now online, and you’re going to see it more and more in the future,” said Dan Schawbel, a personal branding expert and author of the upcoming book “Promote Yourself: The New Art of Getting Ahead.” “Think of the online world as a global talent pool. That’s where you’re going to be finding people. If you don’t exist in that pool — having your own Web site, being on the top social networking sites — then you can’t compete in that pool. And once you’re in the pool, you have to constantly manage that presence. It should be part of your daily routine, part of your career.”What do you bring to the table? Make sure everyone knows.

To this (quoted in the January 21 Chicago Tribune article by Rex Huppke titled “I Just Work Here”), I say a hearty “AMEN!” As an independent consultant, job seeker, nonprofit Board member, and transitioner to a new market, I have seen over and over how LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms have brought opportunities to me, kept my colleagues up to date on my progress and movements, allowed me to share in discussions, informed me about events and people and in short, expanded my professional community in ways I never could have done on my own and/or in the “live” world.

For anyone changing careers or jobs, marketing or selling a product or service (including their own expertise), I highly recommend becoming better at branding.  You don’t have to be an expert right away – just start with one thing – update your LinkedIn profile or join a discussion group; make a commitment to send one tweet every week and start following experts in your field… start small and your life will take on a new dimension.  Why? As Heppke said, “That’s the world we live in, folks. We’re no longer just people — we’re warm-blooded versions of Nike or Budweiser or, in my case, Breyer’s or Dairy Queen.”

So what do you do to get started or maintain a social media brand presence? Here are a few tips for the simplest approach:

1. Find five key leaders in your field on Twitter, and follow them.  Read their posts every day.

2. Update your LinkedIn profile with your most recent accomplishments, no matter how mundane you think they might be.  Events you’ve attended, speakers you’ve heard, papers or articles you’ve written, research you’ve done, things that have inspired you… these (with url links if possible so people can find out more) are worth mentioning and could be helpful to others.

3. Join at least two LinkedIn professional discussion groups in your field. (If you are a student, join your school’s discussion group or start one and tell fellow classmates about it.)

4. If you have a blog, be sure to link it to your other social media platforms.

In all your communications and interactions, show people what you bring to the table, what you offer that is uniquely yours and of value to others.

This is your best chance to shine and stand out in 2013!

Rewarding and Motivating Your Brand Ambassadors

So now you have your brand ambassadors nicely organized and trained. Let’s remember that they have their “day jobs,”
 and might need a bit of encouragement to remain at your branding beck and call! Here are some ways you can keep their loyalty:
  • Send regular updates to all your brand ambassadors about the status and successes of your various organizational social media platforms. Include contest results, crises averted, issues managed, meaningful comments from audiences, examples of how your overall strategy is being met – whatever you think will resonate best, in short soundbites and interesting visuals.
  • Meet with your ambassadors regularly, as we discussed in a previous post. In between meetings, send small tips and techniques emails as you come across them.
  • Ask for ambassadors’ advice as you face new audience or messaging challenges.
  • Thank them often and publicly for their help and time in moving forward such an important organizational set of initiatives.
  • Call on a subset of your ambassadors (a group of 5-8 people) to be your go-to experts in specific subject areas that come up often, are particularly troublesome or strategic for your organization. Ask these to monitor the social media landscape to see who’s writing about the topic and who’s responding and in general, the tone and intensity around the topics. Also ask this group to respond to outside blogs and other social media platforms on behalf of the organization. This group should also expect to be alerted in case of an organizational crisis so they can help you and your team respond.
  • Consider a “Brand Ambassador of the Year” award and give it to an employee or group of employees who have engaged with you and your team with the highest level of commitment and perhaps have shared a lot of their time and expertise in helping the organization meet goals via social media. (Hint: the first year, you might want to give a collective award to all your Ambassadors and in subsequent years, to individuals.) Make it as big a deal as your company will support – maybe find a time to present it in conjunction with other human resources awards or at a meeting of company leaders. This will serve the dual purpose of elevating the importance of branding programs overall, to your company.
  • You also can consider smaller, tangible rewards for one-off special help any Ambassadors provide – such as gift cards, treating them to lunch, things like that.
  • Develop a comprehensive rewards system that awards points at different levels for contributing content for blog posts, Facebook posts, tweets and other items important to your program. Ambassadors can collect prizes once they gain enough points. This has to be managed so content is high quality and not just spewed out in order to gain the points, obviously – but this type of system has worked for many other employee programs!
  • Remember to copy Ambassadors’ supervisors on all thank you or recognition messages – this could serve their overall career goals well, and earn unending goodwill toward you!

I’m sure many of you have other ideas to add here – let’s hear them! Thanks and let me know how it goes!

All the best,


The Bold and the Beautiful – Helen Gurley Brown as communication pioneer

Helen Gurley Brown with Cosmopolitan magazine, from The Washington Post, August 14, 2012

She was one of “us,” as a journalist, advertising copywriter and executive, publisher, innovator, at a time when women’s voices in business were not encouraged (to say the least).  She made her unique mark on all these professions.  Last week, following news of her death at the age of 90, public comments vary as to whether her contributions as a woman were good or bad for women. No matter where you land on that regard, it’s clear to me that she was authentically herself and found powerful platforms for her voice.  Since these remain challenges for many, many women in leadership positions today, and for those trying to move up, I applaud Ms. HGB for being  unabashedly “cosmopolitan,” and for breaking through some layers of the glass ceiling.  We all benefit and like her, we can be bold as well as beautiful, and yes, we can have it all, however we define it.

Read more in The Washington Post –

Mike Wallace: the PR pro’s nemesis and teacher

[SB10001424052702303772904577331921838185312 ]Crisis communicators honed their skills and established their reputations by how well they could handle a Mike Wallace type of media ambush. The iconic newsman, who died on April 7 at the age of 93, helped to give his CBS show 60 Minutes leadership status among investigative news programming. He also gave public relations professionals a reason to create and practice crisis communication plans, media train executives, perfect the interview arts of deflection, not saying too much, staying calm and on message, and develop nerves of steel.

Journalism has changed in so many ways on so many levels during Mr. Wallace’s lifetime and career, and change is good. As long as news professionals (whether broadcast, print, bloggers or anything else) aspire to and maintain the stringent standards of great reporting, ethics and service demonstrated by Mr. Wallace and his peers.

The world keeps changing…

Read more about Mike Wallace, his life as a news person, and the PR profession.

Taking it personally

I kind of hate when I am told, in work situations, not to “take it personally.” I have, actually, never known what that means. If someone is rude to you or takes credit for your work, that’s personal, isn’t it? I am a person, they are a person… that would seem to add up to “personal” if anything would! Maybe my kindhearted advisors are urging me to let insults and other slights committed during the course of a workday just roll of my back, not let them bother me. Okay, I get that. But I also can’t help but take it personally.

In trying to figure out the definition of the word “personal” in the realm of work, it seems I’m in good company… or among good companies.

In the book The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us (Bloomsbury)  author James W Pennebaker  presented a legal case – FCC vs AT&T – where the Supreme Court found that the word personal is not just a derivative form of person but an independent term with its own meaning. So I could take something personally, whether or not I’m a person! Or whether or not I work in a company, I suppose.

Beyond “personal,” the book is a broad survey of the meanings associated with words like I, he, the, of, not, could… words that provide structure. Written by a psychologist, the book tells us what linguistics can do in the realm of emotion and relationships. Words like we and the can divulge our emotions and affect audience perceptions, for example. Higher use of I-words indicates a person who is lower in a hierarchy. Men and women use different types of words (men=words like the and a; women=words like I, understand, because). Fascinating reading for all of us who seek to catch and keep audience attention for specific purposes. If any of you have read the book, please let me know your thoughts!


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