Random Thoughts

Investing In Others

I received a nice compliment yesterday. A client said, “You really invest yourself in other people. You’re always fully there; truly wanting to know about me and also hearing what I have to say. Thanks for that.”

What a kind thing to say. I’ll admit that I am a guy who really wants to help others unleash the power of their strengths. I see the good in people, almost to a fault. And I know the power of good communication — especially listening.

The truth is that the investment I make in my clients is done with the goal of helping them invest more in themselves. Often the work I do as a coach is about reflecting back what I see (and hear) in my clients. 

But his compliment got me thinking about how little we really invest in each other when it comes to doing the hard work of making others feel seen and heard in the workplace. Even at home, for that matter. My work is about giving people a safe space to express themselves and explore their strengths, blind spots, and challenges so they can improve their own performance as leaders and professionals, as well as their relationships both personally and professionally. Yet there are times that I fail to do so when I’m “off the clock” and spending time with my family. I’m going to change that.

I encourage you to invest in yourself. Always. Let’s also make sure to invest in those around us who matter most by giving them the attention and support they need to reach their potential. Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone wants to be heard. We simply need to take the time to make that happen.

Practice Makes Experts

Practice Makes Experts

“Nothing can help the person who does not practice.” I read that in a Forbes article about public speaking tips. It made me stop and think about how easy it is to look at someone you admire and think they are a natural at something. The truth is that they worked very hard to be so awe-inspiring.

While there is debate over how much our innate abilities play a role in our successes, it’s clear that training is necessary to become an expert. And with any kind of training, practice is key to honing one’s craft.

My first full-time job after college was as a high school teacher. I had some practice during my schooling, but not enough to make me a true expert on the subject matter, and not enough to confidently manage classrooms of 28 different personalities 5 times a day. And then, there I was on day one, alone, responsible for over 100 students a day, and running the show. 

I’ll never forget how quickly I noticed that my first period public speaking class really got the short end of the stick. Each day they were my test subjects for the day’s lesson, which always went better the other times I would perform it later that day. So, I started to rehearse my new lessons the night before. That practice helped. 

When I got my first graphic design job many years ago, I didn’t know the software like I really should have for the position I landed. I had to create my own projects and practice every night to quickly get myself up to the level the position required. 

I used to be a very good pianist. I could sight read almost any song, and enjoyed playing at parties where people wanted to sing. After two decades of little to no practice, I got frustrated every time I sat down at the piano. I couldn’t play anywhere near like I used to — and that fact was maddening. Last year, I vowed to change that. By practicing a little every week and learning new things about music that I never had discovered before, I am slowly becoming a musician again. All it’s taking is a little practice.  

And even though I’ve taught public speaking to high school and college students, coached executives through high stakes presentations, and presented more workshops and pitches than I can count, I still practice my presentations over and over — until I know that I’m ready. 

And knowing when I’m ready has taken practice, too.

This post was originally published on January 20, 2020 and updated on February 26, 2021.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Theatre Cast Rehearsing

Trust and the Theatre

I’ll always be grateful for my training in theatre arts

One of the things it taught me is trust. I could always count on my fellow cast and crew members to be there when they were supposed to be there — to speak their next line, move scenery in place, or make a catch. There was such a high level of trust that the cast and crew truly did start to feel like a family by opening night.

Is there enough trust among your team members? If not, do the work to help them gain it. When people feel like their colleagues have their backs, both work satisfaction and productivity increase. 

Here’s another post about a good lesson from the theatre that can help you in business.

Happy Holidays

Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season.

Here’s to a terrific 2021.

Michael

P.S. Thank you for following my blog — and for sharing it with others. Helping people be better communicators and leaders is my passion, and my life’s work.

Photo by Jamie Coupaud on Unsplash
Your Automations Are Feeling Impersonal

Personalized Communication Gone Astray

I recently bought an ebook from a well-known leadership expert. The same day I bought the book, I got 4 emails from him:

  • #1 was the delivery of the digital book along with a sales pitch for another book
  • #2 was a marketing email for another line of products he offers
  • #3 was another marketing email for the same line of products in email #2
  • #4 was a promotional email for something else his group of companies offered

4 emails in one day? As a former brand communications and marketing agency leader, I knew what was going on here. The purchase of the book enrolled me in an automated workflow that looks like this:

  1. When Michael buys book A, have the email software program send him the offer email for product B and add him to the email list for product A.
  2. When Michael is added to the email list for product A, also add him to the email list for product C and send product C’s first marketing email.
  3. You see where this is going?

I get it. Automation is a powerful tool when communicating with prospects or customers. Technology has made these highly personalized communications easier than ever. But the people who are setting up these automations are losing site of the human beings on the other end.

wrote a post a while back about being inundated by emails on a daily basis from companies I like, but don’t want to hear from daily. They give me no choice to reduce the frequency of the communications, so they lose me as a subscriber. This is happening with advertising, too. This week I shopped online for a new pair of comfortable lounge pants and now I’m inundated with loungewear ads on virtually every screen I have in the house. Looks like I accepted a cookie somewhere along the line that allowed the site I was on to sell or share my data.

More personalized results on Google, in digital advertisements, and through email were once welcome. I found them helpful. But today, the automated “personalized” communications and ads that I receive aren’t feeling helpful anymore. I can almost see the robot behind them. The human element has all but disappeared.

My challenge to all of the marketers and professional communicators out there is to rethink your automations to consider the human beings on the other side of them. Highly personalized touchpoints that are too frequent, out-of-touch, or awkwardly invasive actually feel incredibly impersonal.

Photo by Stephen Phillips – Hostreviews.co.uk on Unsplash
Being Authentically Charismatic

How to be Authentically Charismatic

When you think about charismatic people, who comes to mind? What qualities do you think of first? 

When I ask people these questions they usually bring up high profile executives and other public figures who are well known and people they view as comfortable in front of a crowd. Some qualities I often hear are outgoing, magnetic, influential, inspirational, fearless, and well liked.

The truth is that you don’t need to be fearless to be charismatic. And you don’t need to be an extrovert, or even outgoing, to have charisma. 

When you look up the definition of the word on Dictionary.com or Merriam-Webster.com, you’ll see words like, “…special personal quality…” or “…a personal magic of leadership…”. That personal quality is what you need to find and cultivate to be able to be authentically charismatic. 

What about you will make people want to follow you? How do you inspire and influence others in your own unique way? What gives you your own “special magnetic charm or appeal?” 

Find it, develop it, and then create your own, authentic way to show it to others. 

That’s when they’ll want to join your tribe. That’s when you’ll be authentically charismatic.

You can do it in a way that’s comfortable in the long run, even if looking at yourself in this way feels a bit uncomfortable at first. If you need help, let’s talk.

Looking in the Professional Mirror

Seeing You, More Clearly

One of the best parts of being a coach is that I get to help people see themselves — their talents, skills, accomplishments, and value — more clearly. It also means uncovering blind spots and seeing things that are holding them back. That’s equally as valuable, but usually harder for them to explore.

When you look at your professional self in the mirror, who do you see? How do you describe yourself? 

Are you the person you want to be?

There have been times during my career where I have answered that question with an emphathic, “Yes!” There have also been times where I have said, “No, definitely not.” Those times were pretty hard for me. 

Taking a look in that professional mirror on a regular basis is important. When the answer is no, you owe it to yourself to explore why so you can fix it. Sometimes the fix is a minor tweak. And other times, it requires a monumental shift. 

Either way, being honest with yourself is the only way to change that no to a yes.

Start today.

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels
Communication Tip: Yes, and…

Yes, and…

I wanted to be an actor when I grew up. While my adult life didn’t go according to that plan, I was fortunate to do a lot of acting when I was younger. I also have a degree in Speech and Theatre Arts and began my career teaching theatre classes to high school students. 

One of my favorite lessons from the theatre is in improvisation, which involves carrying out a scene spontaneously, with no script. My fellow actors and I would make it up as we went along, based only on a theme or topic. Practicing and preforming improv (which is what we called it for short) often led to funny scenes that got the audience laughing, but it wasn’t always comedic. In fact, it was often more difficult when the scenes were serious.

When you are performing without a script, each actor relies on the other to set them up for success. That’s where the phrase “Yes, and…” comes into play. When you use language like this, it confirms agreement with where the story is going, and allows you to build on it. When improvising a scene, you might not literally say “Yes, and…” but that’s the spirit. For example:

ROBERT: “There’s a purple giraffe coming down the street! It must have escaped from that new circus that’s in town!”

DENISE: “I see it, too. I feel like I’m hallucinating. Oh my, now I see a turquoise elephant about 20 feet behind the giraffe. What’s going on?”

By confirming that she sees it too, and then adding to the ridiculous story, Denise supports Robert’s direction for the scene and adds to it so it can move forward. Imagine if she had said, “What? A purple giraffe? I don’t see it.” What’s Robert supposed to do with that response? Momentum shattered. Boom, end of scene.

Try to use this improvisational technique in your business life. If you can confirm what someone else has said to give it validity, and then add to it or expand on it, I’ll bet you’ll have more effective collaborations with your colleagues. And remember, “Yes, and…” is very different from “Yes, but….” The latter conveys disagreement, while the former communicates acceptance.

Leading Through Failure

How to Excel at Failing

As a business leader, entrepreneur, and human being I’ve had my share of failures. When I think back on the massive pile of ideas that I’ve tried to turn into businesses over the years, I’m surprised I’ve only failed several times instead of hundreds. 

Let’s see, I started a computer training school that went nowhere. I also built a customized marketing collateral portal that I pumped hundreds of hours (and many dollars) into only to find out it was not a business I could sustain without investors. Oh, and it wasn’t good enough for investors to want to invest in anyway. I’ve got 4 books started and each one I’ve failed to finish. They’re all good (I think). What else? I could go on….

Each of my failures has shaped who I am today. They taught me something about myself, about the marketplace, about technology, about finance — and I’m grateful for each. The lessons I learned by failing, even though it may have stung pretty badly each time, are lessons I never would have learned if I had never tried.

I used to let the fear of failure stop me from moving forward. I don’t do that anymore. However, here is the one thing I’ve learned through my failures that I want to share with every entrepreneur and leader:

Learn to understand when it’s time to pivot, or even let go.

I get it, that’s not always easy. But it’s critical to learn, and to do. There’s a great quote by Eloise Ristad. She said, “When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.” 

Failure is part of the road to success: for you, for your team, and for your family. Be flexible when you need to find another path. Be open to a new perspective. And most importantly, be honest with yourself when something is simply not working.

Think about this when you lead or manage your team. How can you make a change that will increase the likelihood of success? What can you let go of that’s holding you back? What can you do to help yourself, and others, get off the path to a truly epic fail? 

And most importantly, make sure you help them learn from their failures. As Henry Ford once said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” 

Notifications Steal Attention and Impact Communications

Notification Overload

Text messages, emails, apps, social media, and Microsoft Teams … and don’t get me started on the Notification Center on my Mac. With all of the notifications that ping and ding us all day long, how do we ever get anything done?

Of course, I want to be available and responsive to my clients and colleagues — but then again, I do value my privacy and my personal space.  

I’ve found a sense of balance by wrangling my notifications and using certain settings to stop them from interrupting me when they don’t need to. This allows me to stay focused when I need to, and also spend down time with my friends and family without interruption. 

So, here is my methodology — in case it helps anyone else find the right balance. 

Separate Calendar and Mail Apps

I use Apple products for personal use, and Microsoft products for business use. This creates a natural separation between my work and personal notifications. It’s a bit cumbersome at times because my work and personal calendars are not commingled, but I’m working on a solution for that as we speak.

Since I use Microsoft Office for all of my business communications, I fire up Outlook, Teams, and a bunch of other apps that come with my Microsoft 365 subscription when I’m ready to work. On my computer, I’ve set these apps only to notify me when they are open, and not in the background. This way I only see notifications when I want to (including the ubiquitous red notification badge on the Outlook app). If I need to focus on a particular task without interruption, I simply quit the apps and I get uninterrupted time to concentrate. I also quit the apps when I’m engaged in a conversation on Zoom or on the phone. The only notifications that are allowed to come through when the Outlook app is closed are my calendar reminders.

During the day, I don’t open the Apple Mail program and Calendar apps (which are where my personal communications live) unless I’m taking a break from work. This way they are not intruding on my dedicated work time. And yes, you guessed it, I’ve turned off notifications on those apps as well, so I only see new messages or events when I fire up the specific apps. 

I also don’t use Messages on my Mac (which is an app that delivers text messages to the computer at the same time they land on your other devices). It’s enough that my phone and iPad get notified when I receive a text. I don’t need those on my computer too (even though it is convenient at times). The sacrifice of convenience for less distraction is worth it to me.

I’ve even gone as far as using two different task apps for personal and business reminders. Microsoft To Do for work, and Apple Reminders for home. Works great. 

Taming My Phone

On my phone, again an Apple device, I stick to similar rules. The Microsoft Outlook and Teams apps are where all of my business communications are housed. The personal stuff stays within the native Apple apps like Mail and Calendar. Outlook notifications for upcoming meetings are turned on since I rely on that feature to keep me on schedule, but incoming email notifications are off. I have to physically tap the Outlook icon to get new mail. The same is true for the Apple Mail app. I don’t need to know the precise moment that an email shows up.

This stops me from being tempted to check email constantly during the evening hours, and especially during dinner. I only check when, and if, I’ve decided it’s time to sit down and look.

Bottom Line

As much as I talk to people about being present during both professional and family moments, I’ll admit how hard it is to ignore your phone when it dings or buzzes. 

The name of the game for me has been to ensure that the apps I use for work and for personal communications are not notifying me when I’m spending time on one or the other. So far, it’s working great. 

If you’ve got other tips for preventing notifications from stealing your attention, I want to hear them. Please share in the comments. 

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