Endings and Beginnings

nobody can go back and start a new beginning but anyone can start today and make a new endingAs 2013 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on newsworthy events of the year.

The media in 2013 frequently focused on endings and beginnings. Nelson Mandela’s passing this month inspired a large number of articles about the leadership and brand lessons Mandela can teach us. However, by Googling “Prince George” and “leadership lessons,” I came up with no relevant hits; so at least in this respect, the future monarch has had humble beginnings.

This time of year is one of endings and beginnings for me, too. I’m closing my communications consultancy and taking on a full-time professional role here in Switzerland. That means the next article posted here will be my last.

In the meantime, do you have any lessons as a thought leader that you’d like to share with readers? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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Church Leader Zone

pulpit at church in Horgen Switzerland

Horgen, Switzerland

As I looked through the hundred or so articles published on this website, I recognized that some of the blog posts applied to a specific type of thought leader – a church change  leader.

Click here for a document that includes many of those adapted articles that apply to the specific situation of running a church.

Would you like to be a church change leader? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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Prompting Participants’ Performance

large audience awaiting an apprehensive speakerSo how is a town hall meeting like a theater production or a church service? That’s not a clever riddle, but an actual comparison that came to mind during a sermon by a Zürich preacher who pointed out how a church service and a theater production were alike.

Similarly, in the business world, a town hall meeting or an all-hands meeting or some other staged event for employees is also like a theater production.

It’s easy to draw parallels with the two types of venues; there are stages with microphones, some kind of backdrop and perhaps some props.

Leaders can ask questions and facilitate a dialogue of sorts, with the role of the person on stage as a prompter for that discussion.
But another analogy is that in both cases the people on stage should be the prompters and the audience in employee meetings should be the performers. That role reversal may sound counterintuitive as usually the actors are active and the audience is passive.

Employee events, on the other hand, should engage the audience and encourage them to participate, prompted by the company’s leaders on stage. Instead of just presiding over the meeting and presenting to the audience, the leaders can ask questions and facilitate a dialogue of sorts, with the role of the person on stage as a prompter for that discussion.

Do you need guidance on how to orchestrate an employee event where the audience is less passive and more participatory? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

Illustration credit: Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig via Flickr

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Trains and Ladders

train passengers are you meeting your goal or reaching your destinationAs usual, the Zurich to Milan train was about a half hour late, which gave me precious few minutes to catch the next local train to Lecco, the university town on Lake Como. I ran through the crowded Milano Centrale station at top speed and dashed down the designated platform in time to pull on the handle of a locked carriage door and another and then another. Someone further down the long platform gestured wildly that I had to run around the train to get into it through doors on the other side. I did.

Jumping onto the first wagon, I asked a passenger inside the door if this train went to Lecco. It didn’t. My excitement and feeling of success for having reached my goal on time dissolved instantly. I managed to catch a train, but it was the wrong train.

The experience reminded me of the well-known business metaphor about the man who is climbing and climbing a ladder that unfortunately is leaning against the wrong wall.

As a thought leader, are you sure of your destination? Or are you running to catch the wrong train? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

Photo credit: sacks08 on Flickr

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Seeing Opaque Things More Clearly: Avoiding Business Blindspots

illustration chain of people with blindfoldsWith a husband who is legally blind, it’s perhaps not surprising that my attention is often drawn to metaphors that deal with vision.

For example, some say that hindsight is 20/20 vision; others say that there are none so blind as those who will not see. Seeing is believing, especially if that person comes from the ‘Show Me State’ of Missouri. You’ve probably heard about people who dwell in the past and drive looking in their rearview mirrors or those who hurry too fast and tend to outdrive their headlights. As I see it, all these sayings also apply to the business world and to thought leaders.

A good friend of mine, Ben Gilad, has a thriving strategic consultancy based on his book Business Blindspots, which outlines an effective strategic early-warning process model. Blindspots refer to those gaps in business knowledge that we just don’t see, that can blindside us as we adapt to a dynamic environment. Sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know … we’re unable or, even worse, we’re unwilling to see what is clear to others, particularly our competitors.

Blindspots refer to those gaps in business knowledge that we just don’t see, that can blindside us as we adapt to a dynamic environment.
That type of business blindness can have far-reaching negative consequences for a thought leader, a company or an industry. One simple solution is to keep your eyes wide open, constantly scanning the competitive horizon for signals that might easily be overlooked.

Are you wearing metaphorical business blinders that just keep you focused in one forward direction? Are you eyeing all of the competitive opportunities available to you as a thought leader and then taking full advantage of them or do you have business blindspots? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

Illustration credit: hikingartist.com via Flickr

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Pointers for Thought Leaders

Qin terracotta warrior

Qin terracotta warrior

This autumn the Historical Museum in Bern, Switzerland, is featuring a special exhibition of the Qin army of terracotta soldiers from 200 B.C. On loan from the site in Xi’an, China – where more than 7000 specimens of battle warriors, cavalry animals and even civic leaders – were many life-size figures that could not fail to impress museum goers.

Expectations were high for this museum goer as I’ve waited about three decades to view the archeological treasure. My hometown Kansas City, Missouri, became a sister city of Xi’an in the 1980s; and as a journalist at the time, I had the opportunity to meet Xi’an dignitaries and hear about the recent find by a farmer in his field.

Finally seeing the terracotta figures in real life did not disappoint at all. No two terracotta figures were alike, but one in particular captured my imagination and seemed to be appropriate to discuss on a thought leadership website.

The 1800-year-old figure of an army commander stood taller than several of the other soldiers and struck a pose that was timeless. His piercing eyes and set jaw showed steely determination to reach his goal. As a leader, he seemed calm and confident that his orders would be obeyed.

Those views were shared by several others standing in front of him and admiring his ageless power. Evidence for those assumptions came simply from the pose of his hands. With one hand supposedly gesturing ‘’settle down’’ and the other hand with one pointing finger, the commander was leading his army in a certain direction in a subtle but unmistakable way.

As a thought leader, are you known for your steely, stony determination to lead in a calm manner? Are even your subtlest gestures sufficient to signal a new direction for your troops – or your industry – to follow? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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Chief Truth Teller – The Risks and Rewards of Full Disclosure – Part 1

Pinnochio puppet

“Where are the gold pieces now?’ the Fairy asked.
‘I lost them,’ answered Pinocchio, but he told a lie, for he had them in his pocket. .” ― Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio

In a popular TED talk online, Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, asks whether we are living in a ”post-truth” society. She cites some surprising statistics about how often we lie and are lied to every day and then points out how early lying behavior begins. The trick, she said, is to recognize when we’re being lied to before we accept something as truth. If we don’t question the veracity of a statement, we’re enabling the liar and participating in the lie.

As a cultural anthropologist, she introduced several lesser-known ways of spotting the tell-tale non-verbal signs of lying, such as the liar’s feet often point toward the exit or the liar often places pens or other objects on the desk across from the interviewer like physical barriers. A video clip of a murderer illustrated what she called ”duping delight,” a proud, wicked grin that can’t be suppressed.

What liars say, not just how they say something, also can give clues to the fact that they’re hedging the truth. We need to listen for overly formal language, distancing language, qualifying language, fact recitation only in strict chronological order and an abundance of unnecessary, irrelevant information.

I’m no expert on lying, but I do know that white lies are a common convention in daily personal conversation. Similarly, in the business world, avoiding the truth — particularly when the truth hurts – can sometimes be seen as an art form.

In an age of open information, full disclosure now – to the extent possible – may prevent worse problems later. 
Communications professionals, in particular, have to be adept at making sure the messages they disseminate are as close to the truth as the situation (and the legal department) will allow. In an age of open information, full disclosure – to the extent possible – now may prevent worse problems later.

The Chief Truth Teller in a company, however, has to be the person at the top of a company, who sets the standard for honesty and integrity in business dealings and communication and then enforces the expectation of truth among the company’s employees.

Are you the type of thought leader who demands that your followers face even the toughest truths?

Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help (and that’s the truth)!

Photo credit: Favio Rava

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Leadership Lessons from the Frog Days of Summer

I decided it was time I wrote a frog blog. All the signs were there. Today I saw a lone frog float drifting around the deserted Bad Allenmoos pool, which was filled with water too cold for all but the hardiest Swiss (and expats).

Frog  shaped floater in poolIt reminded me of an article I read online this morning about the worst ways to leave a job, and they mentioned the embarrassment of being ”frog marched” out the door, perhaps splayed out like that frog float. Googling the term, I found its usage dated back to the late 1800’s, but it seemed to apply more to drunken sailors than senior executives.

chocolate frog coin supporting wildlife charity

Then on my way home, I was approached by two different sets of school children who were using their lunch break to peddle chocolate ”coins” to support a frog and wildlife charity.

So the signs were there. The end of the summer — the frog days of summer — called for a frog blog. The main question was how to relate frogs to thought leadership. Here’s my approach: offer a riddle and a widely recognized tale and a short poem for explanation.

First, the riddle, which I recently read online.

Question: If five frogs are sitting on a lily pad and four decided to jump off, how many frogs are left?
Answer: The answer to this old riddle is five—because deciding is different
from doing.

As a thought leader, you may find that your ”deciding team” is much more committed to making decisions than to implementing them. You must find ways to make your thoughts more actionable decisions. Be sure they know the difference between deciding and doing.

Now for the familiar frog tale. The urban myth persists that if you put a frog in a pot of water and heat it until boiling, the frog will stay in the water and die. But if you throw a frog into boiling water, he will jump out and save its own life.

I’m not sure whether that story is literally true, but I do know that thought leaders can become so acclimated to their comfortable situation that they don’t notice the heat is rising in the industry pot. They may be insulated (or isolated because of their ”exalted position”) from changes that are occurring around them. Becoming accustomed to the gradually changing environment, they slowly perish, or at least their reputations do.

That insulation may come from complacency or even from being surrounded by well-meaning yay-sayers. Perhaps Emily Dickinson said it best in her famous frog-related poem:

 I’m nobody! Who are you?

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish — you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one’s name the livelong day
To an admiring bog! 

As a thought leader, it’s easy to sit back on your lily pad and just talk to or at the admiring bogs during, for example, a town hall meeting internally or a trade conference or a media interview. Instead you should be engaging your audiences and stakeholders in challenging dialogue, not just making unchallenged proclamations. A thought leader certainly needs thought followers, but not only the admiring ones.

Are you as a thought leader confident enough to jump into the deep end and allow yourself to interact authentically and put your ideas forward for public scrutiny, like a frog being examined under a magnifying glass in biology class? Do you need help just wading in at first and positioning yourself as a thought leader very publicly, like a frog? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

What’s Happening? Creating your Company’s Future

view from the top illustration

To continue the theme over the last few blog entries (read related posts here and here), following are some additional thoughts about the field of competitive intelligence and thought leadership.

In business, thought leadership is about being ahead – well ahead – of your competitors. To be successful as a thought leader, you need to spot trends, pick up even weak signals in the marketplace and anticipate reactions to industry changes.

Thought leaders don’t just look at the past and present they shape the future. They don’t just react after something happens or act on something happening now – they create what’s happening.

Are you just reacting and acting or are you actually creating the future for your company and your industry? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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Does the ROI of Internal Communications in Business Differ from Academia?

statistic high cost of communication barriers in organizations

As a business leader, how do you measure the impact of your internal communications? Does it differ from the way an educational leader measures the impact of internal communications in schools? I was asked to address this question in a presentation to a progressive international school in Germany earlier this year, so I’d appreciate your insights on the comparisons.

On the business side, a group called People Driven Performance conducted research on the costs of poor internal communications in 2009 that still has applicability today. They report that good internal communications has a positive impact and poor internal communications has a negative impact on five elements of a company’s ROI:

  1. Engagement
    Every employee that crosses over from being disengaged to engaged adds an incremental $13,000 to the bottom line each year
  2. Direct Cost of Miscommunication
    $26,041 is the cumulative cost per worker per year due to productivity losses resulting from communications barriers
  3. Opportunity Cost
    A business with 100 employees spends an average downtime of 17 hours a week clarifying communication, which translates to an annual cost of $528,443
  4. Safety
    The average cost of a safety incident for an engaged employee is $63, compared with $392 average cost of a safety incident for an unengaged employee
  5. Turnover
    Employees with the highest level of commitment perform 20% better & are 87% less likely to leave the organization

If you’re in education or academia, what is your impression? Does poor internal communication in schools have a similarly negative impact?

Whether you’re an educator or business leader, contact us if you’re interested in improving your internal communications impact and your organization’s ROI along with it. Ask, assess then act. We’re here to help!

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