Monday, July 30, 2007

Is Sorry a Strategy

Robyn Greenspan is our Senior Editor who among the many things she does is the engine that drives our Executive Insider newsletter, a complimentary publication on senior executive career related issues which is published every two weeks via email.

In the edition that hit my desktop today, Robyn's Letter from the Editor immmediately caught my attention. First because I so much admire the way she writes, but also because of the subject matter which had to do with executive leadership or lack thereof, and readers of this blog will know that this is a subject on which I have focused a good deal such as:

The Qualities of a Successful Leader/Manager

Visting Day Leadership

Things to Think About on the Way Home

The Price of Leadership
I know there are lots of folks who, like myself, look forward to getting the Insider every two weeks. Indeed, the number is deep into six figures at this point, but there are also lots of folks who may not have seen it, and I could not help myself from sharing Robyn's letter in this issue.

Is Sorry a Strategy?

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, is the latest apologist for his role as an anonymous Internet user who posted negative messages about competitor Wild Oats on financial stock forums. It may seem like a MySpace prank at first — an impulsive action from a high schooler who didn't get a prom date — but Mackey routinely posted on these message boards for eight years.

Mackey's actions were certainly opaque, and his apology seems to represent transparency. But with a recent wave of public "sorries" from visible figures — Paris Hilton, David Neeleman, Don Imus, Mel Gibson and a growing list of politicians — these megawatt mea culpas may no longer suffice. In many cases, the apology seems less about reprehensible actions and more about "I'm sorry I got caught."

While the antics of drunken celebrities, corrupt politicians and greedy corporate executives (Enron, Tyco, etc.) may not surprise us — and may sometimes be expected — Mackey's actions are more disappointing. Whole Foods, like Neeleman's JetBlue, are supposed to be the good guys — socially conscious, friendly, customer-centric companies that care about their employees, the earth and doing what's right.

They both issued very public apologies, but Neeleman's and Mackey's downfalls are decidedly different. The former faced a customer service debacle while the latter deliberately deceived stakeholders; Neeleman absorbed the blame for issues where he may not have been directly responsible and Mackey's consistently poor judgment put his company and — especially its brand — in jeopardy. There are many lessons in Mackey's story: the myth of Internet anonymity, the economic influence of user-generated content, managing bad PR and repairing brand reputation, the psychology of forgiveness, etc. But the most important is about the interrelationship between leadership and trust.
The "learnings" she draws from the likes of Messrs. Mackey and Neeleman among others should serve as reminders to any businessperson large or small.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Lessons Last Night's Democratic Debate Taught Us

I don't know about you, but I subscribe to lots of electronic newsletters. Among other things, it's nice lunchtime reading. One of the ones I get comes from Leslie Unger, a communications consultant and calls her business Electric Impulse Communications. Leslie had been kind enough to do a FastTrack Webinar for us and once I had heard her I knew that this was someone whose thoughts were worth knowing.

I had only seen highlights from the YouTube/CNN Democratic candidate debate, but it was enough to suggest that it seemed to make for far more interesting watching than what we are used to seeing. Apparently Leslie thought so too as one of the articles in her most recent newsletter told her readers some of what she saw as "learnings" from the event.

I share it here since I am sure that in doing so there will be some others who will now get a chance to see what she had to say:

I. Lessons Last Night's Democratic Debate Taught Us

1. Technology Won. Pundits can argue over the validity of YouTube or the format of the taped questions, but the updated use of technology was the clear cut winner over one candidate or an agenda.

Lesson Learned: Technology will continue to revolutionize elections as TV did in the Kennedy - Nixon debates. If technology affects elections, are we naïve to think our updated use and inclusion of it does not affect our success?

2. Being defensive is always a choice. All candidates were asked if they sent their children to private school. Every candidate whose children attended private school allowed themselves to be on the defensive, defending their choice for private education. Once on the defensive, very difficult to be proactive or strong.

Lesson Learned: From a communication standpoint, the most effective technique in dealing with an objection is to embrace it: "Yes, this is a country of freedom and choices, and we made a choice". Why should a candidate defend their choice of education?

Do you allow yourself to be put on the defensive? Embrace, rather than defend.

3. The value of wit. Humor can ingratiate, create a bond, crash through the invisible fence between speaker and audience. A few candidates had witty moments that said, wow-I can think on my feet. The exchange between Kucinich and Anderson Cooper about no one being left of Dennis, Bill Richardson's comment about his peers all looking good in the White House . . .as his VP. Who knew Kucinich had a sense of humor?

Lesson Learned: There is value in being relaxed, confident, and prepared enough to allow your Inner Brilliance to come out and play.

Points of interest:

• Positioning behind the podium: death grip or comfortable stance?

• Was John Edwards remark about Hillary's jacket sexist?

• Target YouTube audience is young, male candidates in traditional suits- good match?
As I read Leslie's piece, it made me also think that the "learnings" she pointed out had obvious implications and applications outside the political arena. If you are an executive and wondering about how you are perceived by your team or those you are trying to influence as a leader there are lessons for us as well.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Blow the Sucker Up?

For those of us who follow the articles posted daily on ERE (Electronic Recruiting Exchange) the name Kevin Wheeler not only comes as no surprise, but when mentioned is often accompanied by the nodding of heads coupled with an assortment of facial expressions which convey the respect and acknowledgment that comes when people feel you really have earned a "thought leader" merit badge. Makes no difference if you agree or not, Mr. Wheeler is clearly a thinker who, and happily for the rest of us, is also a very effective communicator of ideas.

Kevin recently posted a piece entitled Blow the Sucker Up? in which he challenges a fair amount of the conventional wisdom on a number axioms surrounding the care and feeding of staffing strategies that have been around since the days of help wanted ads on sandwich boards. The article is much too long to reproduce here, but if you haven't read it, I would certainly recommend it.

Below, however, are five of what Kevin considered the most critical notions that people should consider "blowing up." It is an interesting list and if it stimulates your curiosity, as I would think it might, then you have some appreciation of the challenging perspectives he presents.
* Only passive candidates are the best.

* It's not possible to keep people as candidates for more than a short time.

* Most candidates want to apply with a resume and don't like online screening or profilers.

* Each candidate will have to be interviewed in person.

* There is no way to show a direct correlation between the sourcing and interview process, and the eventual performance of the candidate.
While I had read Kevin's piece a few days ago, I was reminded of it again today as I was being interviewed by HR Executive who had called ExecuNet regarding some of the data that had come from our Executive Job Market Intelligence Report part of which talked about the degree to which senior level executives were not happy campers in their current jobs and the implications of this in light of the current issues surrounding both recruiting and retention.

One of the things we talked about was the fact that organizations that were really serious about winning their battles in the "war for talent" had best come up with innovative solutions. I suggested to the reporter that one of those folks who has demonstrated that he really is thinking about this stuff is Wheeler and that I very much admire the way in which he gets people's attention by challenging the status quo without making the reader feel too much like a jerk for not thinking about some of this stuff themselves.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Balancing Success With Significance

At various junctures in our lives, we often kid each other about the "big 30,40,50,or 60" and once you get past the 60 maybe you start thinking that I hope I can be around to get kidded about the ones that come after that.

In terms of the world in which I work, the average age of an ExecuNet member is just a tad under fifty, so it is no surprise that many of the members we talk with on a daily basis express a fair amount of feelings on the topic of this post.

We all have often heard our friends (and ourselves?) talk about "giving back." Maybe this is driven by the realization that one has arrived at what is euphemistically called "mid life"? It is probably a combination of a lot of factors, who knows, but few who are in this age group can deny that they don't think about it.

Armed with the foregoing, it probably should not be a surprise that a recent survey by Money Magazine and found that the number one job for individuals over the age of 50 was nonprofit executive. Our own survey data which came from our 2007 Executive Job Market Intelligence Report also showed a substantial amount of interest in the NFP world as well with 47.4% of the members indicating that they were considering or might consider careers in Nonprofit/Govt./Education.

Just because I have had a "successful" career in or out of corporate America doesn't by any means suggest that at the end of that road that I feel totally comfortable about where I would rate myself on the scales of what I've been fortunate to get versus what I have given back.

There is certainly no shortage of problems to solve or people in need. While it certainly isn't too late for any of us to think about giving back, having reached that "mid-life" juncture, I have to say that I'm not feeling so great at not having started sooner thinking more about the difference between success and significance.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Don't Do As I Do, Do As I Say

One of the blogs I try to follow is Kent Blumberg's. I do so for a couple of reasons, first he has interesting things to say based on his own experience, and second, he follows ten times the number of blogs I do, so in reading his posts frequently he shares "learnings" and links from numerous sites many of which I also find of interest and would certainly have missed were it not for Kent's collecting them.

Such was the case today when Kent had a link to a blog site hosted by a fellow named Phil Gerbyshak called "Make It Great! with Phil Gerbyshak. I was not familiar with Phil's musings, but his post of July 2nd entitled 20 Quesitons:Monday Morning Greatness obviously made an impression on Kent and when I read it, I had to agree.

It isn't that the questions posed are life-altering or new, they aren't, but they are good reminders nonetheless, and it makes no difference whether you are an individual contributor, lead a cast of thousands or are entry level or board level.

Of course, the fact that most of the questions Phil suggests are intended to help keep one on the right track, like most things like them, it is much easier said than done which is why I have used the title on this post that I have.

If readers here choose to check it out as well, maybe you will agree too.