The Best Leaders Tip #7 – Be a good leader, not just good at your job

This is my 7th 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 #7          Be a good leader, not just good at your job.  People get promoted much of the time because they’re proficient at the core business of their organizations.  CPAs become CFOs, engineers become project managers, journalists become executive producers.  Organizations need to do a better job at making sure the core requirements of these promotions include expertise related not just to technique, but also to people.  This includes getting educated and experienced in areas like interpersonal communication, motivating teams, creating and communication an organizational vision, providing formal and informal feedback, holding effective meetings, predicting and managing change, and so much more.  conducting evaluations, giving and receiving feedback, and self-awareness, which is the foundation of all of this. (For one example, click here for a New York Times article about 360-degree evaluations.)


Designing Communication – Thought of the Week

Committed to designing effective organizations and courageous leaders, this Thought of the Week series provides tips for reflection and your use.

Communicate During Change

In all the stages of change, great leaders know what emotions to expect from their people, and how to manage those. The key: communicate from the time you introduce the change, to the next phase of planning how you will approach the change, to executing the change plans, and finally through the time change ends and becomes integrated into your organization as your new normal. Communicate often, honestly, with empathy, and be open to hearing what your people tell you they want.

To inspire employees during change, communicate on a human level

During times of change, leaders often feel compelled to get the word – any word – out to employees, sometimes before they know what to say. Although hearing from the top is important, employees will only be confused or tune you out if you rush to communicate. Setting the tone and expectations for content when you communicate about change is crucial, right from the start.

How to start? David Grossman, founder and CEO of The Grossman Group , has an approach that works.  It is based on the premise that all of us, on a human and a professional level, are concerned about a spectrum of things, especially during uncertain times, that mirror Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  Fundamentally, we are anxious about what’s happening to me in this situation; then we care about what’s happening in our immediate external environment.  Once we feel comfortable with those two levels, we can move on to care about what it all means for everyone else and the organization; and finally, all other needs satisfied, we can offer ourselves to the situation more altruistically.

So in every piece of communication related to a change situation, David offers these Eight Key Questions™ you can answer for employees, in order:
1. What’s my job?
2. How am I doing?
3. Does anyone care about me?
4. What’s going on?
5. What’s our business strategy?
6. How are we doing?
7. What’s our vision and values?
8. How can I help?

(You Can’t Not Communicate 2 by David Grossman, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, 2011)

Even the shortest speeches, memos or videos can answer all eight – that’s where being crystal clear about your message and great writing come into play.  The bottom line: employees do care what’s happening and they want to contribute – you just have to address them where they are, and you can inspire great things!

david book 2

Diversity in hiring – it’s more than you think

Hiring and engaging a diverse workforce is on everyone’s mind these days, including those of us in the communication profession.  Some might say our profession and its employers are arriving late to the diversity and inclusion party – to address that, the Council of PR Firms and PRWeek created the Diversity Distinction in PR Awards, for which I’ve gladly served as judge for its first two years.  It’s an eye-opener, for sure, and a launching pad for sharing of programs and practices among agencies and clients. (I will share my top ten observations and insights from this awards process in my next two blogs – watch for it!)For now, I want to share one key observation, that has to do with the definition of “diversity.”  On the surface, it has come to mean, for most of us in the professional setting, to proactively recruit and hire employees from racial, gender, and other populations who are traditionally underrepresented in the typical workplace. Toward that goal, we create our programs and practices.  Yet, to have a truly diverse workforce, we have to look beyond those physical and behavioral attributes, and go deeper.  In my view, we need employees who match our clients’ needs, who come from diverse professional and educational backgrounds that are different from their bosses and their peers.  I hear so many stories of senior level communication pros who aren’t being looked at for agency positions because they don’t have decades worth of agency experience… or stories of people who want to work in a CPG company and have solid skills and pedigreed education, but they’ve made the mistake of working in other industries rather than CPG.  We’re missing opportunities to put great people in leadership roles because too often, maybe most of the time, we hire people who are similar to us, rather than different. We want to be comfortable, rather than challenged.  Instead of looking for specific agency, corporate or industry experience, , I encourage you to look for candidates who, because of their difference from you and your clients, can bring fresh perspective, new thinking, best practices from outside your specific business environment, and potentially, a whole new network of business and communication/media contacts.  Look for leadership skills of teambuilding, inclusion, visionary thinking, a strategic mindset, polish and poise, excellent business and relationship building skills, flawless writing and speaking attributes, a real passion for the profession.  Trust me – senior level employees with these qualities, who have demonstrated success in a variety of business venues and industries, will learn the specifics of any new industry quickly.

For more on the Diversity Distinction in PR Awards, click here.

Workplace Engagement Requires Mutual Respect and Trust

With the premise that no worker-boss relationship can be truly equal, Forbes contributor Meghan M. Biro offers five behaviors leaders can display to inspire loyalty from their important deputies. Bottom line: loyalty and engagement in the workplace require a near-equal exchange of information about the business’s goals and challenges and a shared sense of the value of work, Biro says. 

1) Tell the truth. Not everyone is a star. Pick out those with leadership or other valued talent potential and nurture them. This will come back to the business as these individuals, in turn, nurture other workers.

2) Communicate roles and responsibilities. Provide a path to success not only for those with leadership promise but for all employees. Sometimes this will mean difficult changes, but remember the most important skill of a leader: never surprise an employee with bad news. Have a development plan for all, and a get-well plan for those whose performance lags. Make sure everyone knows the plan.

3) Create a workplace culture that values real people relationships. For many employees, workgroup relationships and relationships between managers and workers drive engagement and loyalty more effectively than foosball machines, logo T-shirts, and Thirsty Thursday gatherings.

4) Be fair and open. This does not mean treat everyone equally – it means have transparent processes for managing and leading. Employees are more likely to respond positively to change when the process used to manage change is fair.

5) Model the behaviors you seek. Just as the headmaster at the high school did, accept your responsibility as a leader and act with engagement, commitment and responsibility. Do this every day.

Causes and You

A few short weeks into this new year, and corporate crises already have started to make news. PR pundits are analyzing the Carnival Cruise crash in Italy, criticizing the CEO’s lack of presence in the situation among other areas deemed poorly handled. The Penn State scandal took on a sadder tone with the passing of Joe Paterno this past weekend – the university communication team nearly overwhelmed by the situation last fall and, many said, fell down on handling that crisis.

Chances are, this year as every other (and this an election year!) will see more scandals and crises. How are companies going to handle them? I believe you have to prepare, prepare, prepare. And… have a solid corporate social responsibility (CSR) program in place – BEFORE you need it.

By now, almost everyone realizes that customers, employees and other key stakeholders – internal and external-demand they treat people fairly, are transparent with their finances, help the earth, keep their products safe, buy locally, partner with other business responsibly and respond immediately to their concerns, needs and opinions. A survey conducted by Cone Communication in 2011 found that:

  • 81% of consumers say companies have a responsibility to address key social and environmental issues beyond their local communities;
  • 93% of consumers say companies must go beyond legal compliance to operate responsibly; and,
  • 94% of consumers say companies must analyze and evolve their business practices to make their impact as positive as possible

CSR has been linked to brand loyalty, increased consumer base and a wider recruitment pool. This is a crucial, reputation-building, positive foundation to have when a crisis hits. (Not “if”… “when” – none of us is immune to crisis.)

One key aspect of CSR is cause-related sponsorships and marketing partnerships with nonprofit organizations. Of all the many worthy organizations doing good things in this world, finding the rights ones for your alignment is crucial. The best CSR sponsorships and programs make sense for your business (like cosmetics and breast cancer or heart disease organizations; or sports apparel and game sponsorships… or even Paula Deen and diabetes! Whatever disconnect there seems to be between her sweet, fried recipes and diabetes, she now has an opportunity to inspire a different way of eating and cooking, if she chooses, among her fans.) 

Effective sponsor partners are:
  • Respected and established
  • Board of Directors and Executive teams are experts, have a track record in the cause and organization
  • Financials are stable
  • Have a donor and supporter base
  • Are able to attract funds and additional supporters
  • Share your corporate values
  • Provide access to desired markets and audiences
  • Are sponsor-savvy and friendly
  • Are desirably located (among your key audiences and business geographies)
If you choose wisely, your partner organization can offer you the following benefits:
  •  Credibility of the organization enhances your credibility
  • Provide opportunities to learn from the experts about your cause
  • Build a network within that cause area
  • Events create visibility opportunities
  • Increases your effectiveness on behalf of the cause – CSR impact is key
  • Offer CSR and cause-related executive visibility opportunities
  • Engage your employees around events and the cause, especially via social media
  • Enhance your company’s brand, overall, if managed well

Do you know any nonprofits that fit the bill? Any that you’ve worked with successfully? Tell us about it. And remember…

People know your CSR for its IMPACT, business ALIGNMENT, stakeholder ENGAGEMENT around it and your COMMUNICATION about it.

What do employees want this holiday season?

(from Best Holiday Gifts for Employees by , Guide   December 6, 2011)

What do employees want the most for a holiday gift this year? According to a new Glassdoor survey the best gift a company can give an employee is cash.

72% of employees said that a cash bonus would be among their top choices for employer-gifted holiday perks this year, followed by a raise and extra paid time off from work.

What Employees Would Like for a Holiday Gift

  • 72% cash bonus
  • 62% salary raise
  • 32% paid time off that doesn’t count against vacation
  • 23% grocery gift card
  • 14% work from home for a year
  • 11% company stock or shares
  • 10% health care subsidy
  • 8% gym membership
  • 4% holiday party with an open bar
  • 3% commuter subsidy
  • 2% gold watch or other accessory
  • 2% other



Employees more disengaged than ever! (Manager involvement needed.)

Around Labor Day, the New York Times (Do Happier People Work Harder? By TERESA AMABILE and STEVEN KRAMER*, Sept. 3, 2011) reported that  Americans now feel worse about their jobs — and work environments — than ever before!

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index ( shows that  people of all ages, and across income levels, are unhappy with their supervisors, apathetic about their organizations and detached from what they do. 

What a downer! And just when we thought we were getting the hang of employee engagement! Although there are companies doing a lot of effective things in this area, it seems most employees work for companies that still aren’t getting it right. Blame the economy and lack of budgets and more work spread among fewer employees.  But is it economical to cut back or back burner employees’ emotional life at work? Gallup estimates the cost of America’s disengagement crisis at a staggering $300 billion in lost productivity annually. If your company can’t afford to lose that much, it might be worth it to pay much more attention to the inner work lives of your team members… defined by the researchers as “the usually hidden perceptions, emotions and motivations that people experience as they react to and make sense of events in their workdays.”

The research shows that this inner work life has a profound impact on creativity, productivity, commitment and collegiality. And it doesn’t have to cost a lot or take a lot of time for managers to help their teams stay happily engaged at work.  The key for managers:  be able and willing to facilitate team members’ accomplishments — by removing obstacles, providing help and acknowledging strong effort. Simply making progress in meaningful work emerged as the core element in engagement. I thought that was so interesting! Ahead of traditional incentives like raises and bonuses is the simple human need to feel important and contribute meaningfully.

So, as a manager, where do you stand in terms of offering your team members autonomy, sufficient resources and learning from problems – in order to enable progress?  What guidance and tips can you offer the rest of us? What experiences have helped you learn about engagement?

* Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Steven Kramer, an independent researcher, are the authors of “The Progress Principle.”

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