Michael Piperno

kindness is a superpower written on brick wall

Don’t Confuse My Kindness with Weakness

We all have extreme power in our ability to choose how we listen, how we react, and how we treat others. Kindness, I believe, is one of our most powerful tools. It is free, and is an incredible investment in ourselves and in others.

A business associate of mine recently called me a “softie” when he perceived my approach to a challenge in a way that did not resonate with him. I corrected him. “No, I’m not a softie. I’m a kind person, and there is a big difference. Please don’t confuse my kindness with weakness.” 

Being kind does not mean you’re afraid to make hard choices or that you must avoid opposition or conflict. Rooting yourself in kindness simply means that you treat people with the respect that they deserve, and that helps ensure the outcome of even the most difficult situation is as good as it can be. 

No person has ever left this earth with a perfect score. We all make mistakes, mishandle situations, and let our emotions cloud our judgement from time to time. Let’s be more kind to each other when we stumble. 

One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou. She said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

You can never go wrong by being kind. Doing so diffuses tension and helps others avoid feeling defensive. Even in the most difficult conversations, when you show the other person that you care, you make your communications more tailored to their needs—and more effective.

When we remember to be kind we act in a way that invites others to do the same. And that’s infectious.

Photo by Andrew Thornebrooke on Unsplash
Turtle Hiding in Shell

Imposter Syndrome Visited Me Today

I’m a pretty confident guy. In fact, self-confidence is one of the top strengths in my toolbox, according to my favorite assessment, The Strength Deployment Inventory. That strength serves me well in some cases, and gets me in trouble in others. It can make me look arrogant at times (which is not a good look on me).

Self-confidence is not on the menu here today, though. Imposter syndrome has shown up as I get ready to launch registration for a new leadership communication workshop this spring.

I’m confident the program is good — maybe even great. I’ve thought about this workshop for over a year, and have planned it well. I’m also sure that it will be a terrific, two-day event. Actually, experience is a better word.

So why do I feel like a fraud today, and that nobody is going to register? What’s going on here? Is it a fear of success or failure? Is it the fact that I don’t like promoting myself that’s making me want to close my laptop and go back to bed?

According to Psychology Today, “People who struggle with imposter syndrome believe that they are undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them. Those with imposter syndrome are often well accomplished; they may hold high office or have numerous academic degrees.”

Okay, it’s pep talk time. I’ve got 3 degrees, a proven track record, people who believe in me and my work, and a roster of clients who all count on me to help them be better communicators and leaders. I’ve also founded 3 different companies, and have made several career transitions and reinventions that most people would think were impossible (and many did at the time). I’ve heard more people tell me, “you can’t” and then I’ve shown them that, in fact, I can. 

That feels better…. 

Don’t worry about me. This is temporary. I’ve dealt with it before. Today I’m sharing this feeling with you, because I want you to know that you can overcome imposter syndrome. I’m going to work on it right now.

  1. I’ll start by not comparing myself to others who I admire and who I think do what I do quite well. Nobody else delivers programs like my co-facilitators and I do — we’re one of a kind.
  2. Then I’ll remind myself that perfection doesn’t exist. My programs don’t have to be perfect. They just need to be expert level and make people get tons of value for their time spent (and feel inspired to tell others about the great experience they had).
  3. Finally, I’ll recall that while promoting myself and this new offering is uncomfortable for me, it’s necessary. If I constantly create and never promote, nobody will benefit.

Imposter syndrome be gone! For the rest of today, anyway….

Photo by Josh Eckstein on Unsplash
Office worker in conflict, frustrated

(Re)Defining Conflict

When it comes to relationships, conflict is inevitable. It’s going to happen from time to time, and how we handle ourselves when it happens greatly affects how fast we resolve it (or push ourselves further into the abyss of uncomfortableness).

Learning how you experience conflict — and understanding that most people you interact with experience it differently — is critical. I teach those tools in several of my workshops, and the self- and -situational awareness they bring to teams makes it easier for everyone to help each other recognize and resolve conflict quickly.

Now, you may think the key word there is resolve. Sure, we all want to resolve conflict — how many people do you know who like feeling conflicted?

I argue that recognizing it is even more important. Because we often get it wrong. 

When we mistake healthy debate, or what I’ll call healthy opposition, for conflict it causes us to avoid it. And avoiding healthy opposition is an innovation assassin. It kills creativity. It causes communication breakdowns. 

Bottom line — teams that can’t challenge each other without it getting personal are doomed to a future of mediocrity and apathy.

You may be saying, “But life is personal.” Or, “I take my work personally, and when it’s challenged I can’t help but feel attacked.” I’m not saying that work isn’t personal — it is. But I challenge you to redefine conflict for your team, and make sure everyone understands the difference between it, and healthy opposition.

  • Healthy opposition allows for debate, disagreement, and collaboration while maintaining positive regard. Leaders who create a culture of respectful and healthy opposition inspire teams to challenge each other to do better. Positive intent stays intact, and people respect each other’s contributions and opinions even if they don’t agree with them. Sure, sometimes it turns into conflict, but it doesn’t have to.
  • Conflict happens when healthy opposition turns personal. People may see their value system as challenged, or they may simply feel attacked. There’s usually a triggering moment and recognizing it in yourself and others is a great way to stop it in its tracks. You have a much better chance of helping each other get back to feeling good if you can notice when things are getting personal. The problem is that some people are easier to read than others, and you may not know someone is conflicted. Assessment tools can help there, but so can listening, and a good dose of self- and situational awareness.

Imagine an environment where healthy opposition thrives, and conflict gets stopped dead in its tracks. It takes work, but it’s possible. 

Start today by clearly defining the difference between conflict and healthy opposition at your organization. 

Then walk the walk.

Help your people engage in healthy dialogue that may challenge each other or the status quo. Make it safe to do so. At the same time, help them recognize when opposition has turned into conflict so they can name it, and keep it from spiraling.  

I’m here to help.

Clocks on a wall with different time zones

Time Zones

I talk a lot about making sure your communications are written for your audience, and not only for yourself. Of course, we have a goal or an agenda with every communication we send — and when we can communicate in a way that also considers the needs and goals of our audience as well, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

This post is inspired by a client of mine who recently said, “I love the way you communicate meetings in my time zone. It makes it so much easier for me. Thank you.” 

That made me feel great. I had spent only a few more seconds when writing an email to make sure I listed my proposed meeting times in her time zone first. For example, “How about next Thursday at 1 pm PT (4 pm my time) or Friday at 10 am PT (1 pm my time).

It’s a simple thing, but that extra moment crafting the message for her made a difference. And I’m so happy she told me.

If you’re like me and you have clients or coworkers all over the globe, consider making it easier for them to convert times to their local zone if you can. Oh, and put your time zone in your email signature — it helps avoid emails back and forth to ask, “what time zone are you in again?”

Photo by Luis Cortes on Unsplash

People, Planes, and Being In Person

Since March of 2022, I’ve met more new people than I likely have in the past 10 years. Remote work, virtual meetings, and online networking have expanded my network immensely. It’s one of the silver linings from living through a global pandemic.

As thankful as I am for this broadened network of friends and colleagues, I learned something about myself and my comfort zone when meeting new people. 

I’m better at it when I’m in person.

As a self-professed introvert (who’s comfortable being an extrovert when it’s going to help others), I’ll admit I enjoyed virtual networking at first. It’s easier to go to an event, you can hide if you’re feeling awkward, and you can duck out anytime with a simple chat note, “Sorry, have to run for another meeting….” 

But something was missing. After numerous group networking calls and countless one-on-ones, I was not really connecting with people like I do when I’m with them in person. Even after giving remote workshops, I was leaving the virtual room feeling like I might never see any of these great people again. That was odd. I almost always make a new friend or deepen a work colleague relationship during in-person workshops.

This post was inspired by several in-person interactions I had with strangers during some recent work-related travel. First, while waiting to see if my plane to the west coast would be delayed or cancelled, I started a conversation with a young professional on her way home. Actually, I can’t recall who started the conversation, but we talked about our jobs, where we lived, what we liked and disliked about both, and other little things. We connected. It was nice. No expectations, no sell, no obligations. Just connection.

On my flight, I sat next to someone who was traveling home after several weeks in the Philadelphia area. We said hello as we took our seats and started talking about where we were both from and where we live now. She confessed to me that she had packed a suitcase full of Italian sausage and kielbasa from her favorite Philly-area store to take home. (If you’re from this area and you move away, you get it. You can’t get sausage like this anywhere else, and you prepare to turn a suitcase into a cooler in a pinch.) We had such a fun conversation, and while we didn’t talk for the entire flight, we both enjoyed each other’s company for the short time we sat next to each other. Connection that we would have never had over Zoom.

While away, I was dying for coffee at 4:45 am Pacific Time (my body was still on Eastern Time) so I went down to the lobby of my hotel to find out when some coffee would be ready — or if a local coffee shop might open on the early side. The person at the front desk of the hotel and I had such a nice conversation about coffee, commuting, and other stuff that my coffee mission quickly took a back seat. Another connection with a super kind person (who did help me get my coffee fix).

Finally, on my next trip I sat next to an entrepreneur on the plane. We swapped a few success stories and sympathized together on a few challenges every entrepreneur experiences. Then we talked quickly about the work we both do. After that, he went to work on his laptop and I went on to playing games on my tablet. Next thing I know he’s introducing me by email to someone I might be able to help. Connection.

I didn’t expect any of these interactions to turn into business leads or deals. That was not the goal at all. They happened because two human beings decided to share things with each other in the moment with no expectation of a payoff. I believe these types of moments are less common when you’re on a screen as opposed to in another’s presence.

Now, I’m not saying that you can’t develop or deepen relationships remotely. You can. 

For me, it’s almost infinitely easier and more fulfilling in person.

Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

Microsoft Word as a Teleprompter?

I don’t typically read from a script when I present. Often I will have some bullets for reference in front of me to remind me of my key points, and I’m pretty comfortable speaking without a script as long as I’m comfortable with my material. Many of my clients do the same.

However, there are times when a script is critical. For example, when I coach life sciences leaders to present at high stakes meetings like FDA Advisory Committee meetings or EMA Oral Explanations, we prepare and rehearse a word for word script. The stakes are too high for ad-libbing (everyone must stay on message), the presentation must adhere to strict time constraints, and a script is critical to ensure a backup presenter can step in at the last minute. Life happens, and sometimes a speaker gets sick or can’t present for some other reason.

Even if a presentation isn’t mission critical, some people are more comfortable speaking from a script. That’s fine — but the trick is to be able to present it well when reading. You want to make sure your delivery is conversational and engaging. That requires a lot of rehearsal. 

Here’s a tip that I teach my clients for when you need to read from a script. Setup Word to act like a teleprompter!

Watch this video to learn how.

This tip is especially helpful when you’re presenting remotely. You can scroll through the script while maintaining eye contact with your audience. If you’ve rehearsed and refined the script enough, the audience won’t even know you are reading.

Enjoy.

Career Journeys, Changes and Transitions

Making a career transition, or any significant type of career change, is hard work. It’s also fraught with risk and uncertainty — yet the payoff can be literally life-changing. 

I know. I’ve done it 4 times. And that’s why I enjoy helping others along their career journeys. Whether it’s figuring out if it’s best to stay or go, plotting the plan to make a transition from a steady path with a large company to a more volatile (and more exciting) start-up or early-stage venture, or designing a complete change that means starting from scratch, I’ve helped people through it all.

Here are a few things I’ve learned that may help you if you’re feeling stuck, or if you’re thinking about what it would be like to make a big (or small) career transition.

Connect Your Purpose with Your Career Path

I know, a sense of purpose can be elusive. But I argue that it’s critically important. If you do the work to find and clarify it, you’ll be more confident heading down the right path. Purpose is often easier to see once you’ve looked at your passions and the value you bring to others. And remember, your purpose can evolve. Mine sure has, but the common thread for me has always been two things: teaching and communication.

Connecting your purpose to your work will help you discover what you really want, and then you can target the position or path that leverages your strengths and passions.

Think Transition, Not Change

Chances are you’re not throwing all your skills and experiences out the window and starting with absolutely nothing you can carry with you. That’s why I’ve never liked the term “career change.” In my experience, I’ve made several career “transitions” — each one building off my knowledge, skills, and experiences to date (but now more aligned with my purpose and current goals). Inventory your skills and experiences and consider how you’ll apply them to the future career you want.

Get Good at Networking

You can apply to positions all you want — but that means molding yourself to fit a position that’s been predefined. There’s nothing wrong with that if you’re simply looking for your next “job.” But most of the people I help are looking for more than that. They want a new chapter where they can feel more fulfilled — and feel like they’re making a difference. Those opportunities are often created through networking with people who need what you have to offer — even if no job description exists.

To get good at networking, you must define the right avenues for making the connections you need. This means leveraging people you know — and meeting new people — who can help you connect with the right humans who can get you there.

Get Outside Help to Keep You Accountable

Hoping that the next chapter of your career will magically reveal itself is a sure way to ensure it never comes. You have the power to make it happen if you really want it. However, it’s not easy to do and you need to create short- and long-term action plans to keep yourself accountable. 

Figuring out how to make real change happen, or even if making a transition is right for you at the current time, is rarely done well alone. Seek help from a coach, trusted advisors, and other people who have done the work and you’ll be much more likely to stay the course and make it happen.

I’m Here for You

I help leaders transition to more fulfilling next chapters in their careers

Want to learn more about how I can help? Let’s talk.

Check In On Your People

My heart breaks for the people of Ukraine who are living through the unnecessary and cruel effects of war. The invasion, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, political division in our country, and negativity and misinformation fueled by social media have got me feeling frazzled, frustrated, worried, and exhausted. And I know I’m not alone.

These are uncertain and uncomfortable times. As leaders, we must make sure our people know that we understand, and that we care. How do we do that? We must communicate.

  • Check in. Your people need more than check-ins on deadlines or metrics, especially during times of uncertainty. Ask them how they’re doing. Knowing you care about their well-being tells them that they matter. Here are some prompts you can use to start the conversation.

    Before we talk about [insert topic here], I want to ask how you’re doing personally. 
    There’s a lot going on in the world right now. How are you feeling?
    We don’t usually talk much about our personal lives, but I know that I’ve been feeling a bit stressed lately with everything going on at work, at home, and in the world. How about you?

  • Acknowledge, don’t ignore. When world events happen, they impact your people in different ways. It’s important to acknowledge what’s going on, listen, and provide support. Check out this article that shows how some leaders have let their people know they care, and are not alone.

  • Check in with yourself. Leaders are no good for their people if they’re exhausted, overstressed, or burned out. One of the best things you can do for your team is to make sure you’re taking care of you — your body and your mind. You can’t be effective if you’re always running on empty. 

In times of uncertainty, it’s important to take a little extra time to make sure we’re all okay.

Two people in a coaching session having coffee

Top Talent Needs Leadership, Too

Everyone deserves to feel that their work matters and to get feedback, both positive and constructive, so they can grow. But you know what? Some people don’t want to grow or are simply too checked out to care.

Therefore, leaders who are also good coaches can get caught in a trap. They can spend 80 to 90 percent of their available coaching time investing in people who don’t want to be coached. Now, I’m not saying you should give up on people too easily, but if you’re doing the hard work of coaching people who are not responsive to it or who are consistently not improving, I challenge you to flip the equation. 

Instead, dedicate the bulk of your coaching time to your top performers.

It’s easy to think they don’t need your feedback or coaching. That’s wrong. Just because your top performers are good at getting things done (and making you look good as a result) doesn’t mean they don’t need encouragement, praise, or constructive criticism. 

Remember, silence sends a very strong message. Don’t let it convey to your top talent that you don’t care about their achievements, growth, development, or well-being. 

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Woman composing emails or text messages on her phone.

Setting Each Other Up for Success

When you craft your next email or text message, ask yourself, “Am I writing this to be read by me, or by the person, the human being, who I am addressing it to?” 

Chances are you’re writing it in a style that works for you, and not necessarily them. 

If you’ve ever been to one of my workshops or training programs, you know that the first rule of any communication is to know your audience. This is true for every piece of communication you send throughout your work day — and your personal communications, too. When we are intentional about the way we communicate with each other and respectful of our differences, there is a much higher chance that the results will be more positive.

For example, if you know that Alex never responds to all your questions in your emails, then don’t send him emails with 15 questions embedded throughout several paragraphs of text. Send an email with a brief introduction, and 1 or 2 questions (bulleted out) that he can scan and reply to quickly. Voila, you’ve just set him up for success. He can move fast, like his job requires, and still give you what you needed because you considered his needs as well.

Here’s another example. Let’s say that your boss, Janelle, has been losing track of your emails and Teams chats because there is too much on her plate this week. Instead of firing off 8 different emails during the day on a variety of topics that don’t need immediate responses, collect your questions or issues and batch them into 1 email that she can respond to later. Or, if responses are not needed by the next day, scheduled time to sit down with her and talk through your items. You’ll likely get all the answers you need with no additional emails in her, or your, inbox.

These are just a few examples. You get the idea. 

Here’s my challenge to you. During your day today, pay special attention to 3 pieces of communication you send to someone else. With each, whether over text, email, Zoom, Teams, or in person, consider this question: 

How can I set this person up for success?

It will make your communications more productive, I promise. The bonus is that you’ll save time and reduce frustration on both sides. 

Photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash
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