Parents are a Model of Leadership

Parents and Leaders

I was recently asked a simple question by a colleague: “Who do you admire?”

Wow, what a loaded question. I admire many, many people—they are mentors, good friends, and talented colleagues. I also admire several artists, musicians, writers, athletes, and educators. The people I admire most are those I find talented, honest, kind, and giving. I also admire people who have the courage to lead, whether they are the type that does it quietly or the kind that enjoys the spotlight.

But when I think about who I admire most, it’s probably parents. I don’t have children myself, but when I look at parents today and consider the magnitude of the task of raising children in a world that seems to be moving faster than they can possibly keep up with, I have to give them kudos for being the leaders that they are.

Parents love through the times when those they lead are the most unlovable, guide their children to do what’s right even when it’s not easy, and sacrifice their needs for the health and success of the family. They show up every day, teach and train, troubleshoot, motivate, and lead by example. 

A good business leader shares a lot of traits with a good parent, don’t you think?

And while there are some essential things that make a good parent, everyone finds their own unique way to perform the role. Just like the best leaders.

Photo by Kelli McClintock on Unsplash
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Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication

I love shopping with Zappos. They make it easy and fun to shop with them, and very easy to return things (which is important when I buy shoes because I have oddball-sized feet).

And their packaging sends me messages that make me want to give them more business.

“Build open and honest relationships with communication.”

Agreed.

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Listening to Nonverbal Communication

Listening With Your Eyes

What’s not said is sometimes more powerful than what is said. Some experts even suggest that nonverbal communication represents nearly two thirds of all communications. That’s a lot of messages that are largely available to your eyes (not to mention your other 4 senses).

That’s why I prefer to meet with people in person or through videoconference whenever possible. I am more effective at listening when I can see the people I’m speaking with. Their nonverbal communications give me much more insight into what I’m hearing and I can read more deeply into what is being said — which often gives me a better sense of where it’s coming from. And when I can see how they are reacting to what I’m saying, I can tailor my communications in real time to connect with them on a deeper level.

Speaking of being face to face with other people in real time, studies show that during social interactions people’s movements tend to become coordinated, which enhances rapport and fosters cooperation. Research also suggests that this “nonverbal synchrony” makes people more likely to successfully pursue joint goals. Interesting, right?

Think about a recent conversation you’ve had with someone through emails or text messages where the outcome wasn’t what you wanted or expected. Then think about how that conversation would have been different if you could have heard the other person’s voice or seen his or her facial expressions and body language.

Considering the value of nonverbal communication going forward will help you determine when a face-to-face meeting is in your favor.

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Face to Face Lunch Meeting

When You Need Clarity, Have Lunch

A few weeks ago I had lunch with a colleague, who is also a friend. It happened to be on a day when I was feeling a bit frustrated over a few things, but I was trying to stay positive so our lunch would be fun (like it usually is when we get together).

She could tell something wasn’t right with me, and she opened the door to let me air my frustrations. I did (but reluctantly because I didn’t want to be a downer)—and then she felt comfortable doing the same. 

The result was that we had a brutally honest conversation with each other, which helped us be brutally honest with ourselves. In less than an hour, we both walked away with more clarity on the issues we both faced, ideas for finding potential solutions, and a positive outlook that was energizing. 

If you haven’t done it in a while, get away from your desk and have lunch with a trusted friend, colleague, or mentor. I highly recommend it.

Photo by Sander Dalhuisen on Unsplash
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Phones and Business Meetings

Why I Don’t Bring My Phone to Meetings

“I wish this conversation was as important as your phone.” That’s what I said to myself recently when a colleague kept looking at his phone with each buzz that came through during our 15-minute conversation. I was giving him what I thought was pretty valuable free advice, but I had to repeat myself so many times that I simply stopped being giving with my time and defaulted to meaningless chit-chat. I was annoyed, but then this experience did make me think about my own behavior.

My mobile phone usually sits face down beside me at home at the dinner table and lives in my pocket during meetings at work. Like almost everyone else, it’s nearly impossible not to look at it when it does that glorious ding or buzz that lets me know someone on the other end has something to say to me. At work, my excuse for having the phone with me at all times is to ensure I don’t miss a meeting (I live by my work calendar and its notifications).

I love my phone. I was one of those people you saw on TV back in 2007 waiting outside an Apple Store to ensure I got mine on launch day. However, I don’t like what all of these mobile screens have done to face-to-face communications. Last weekend, I observed a family of four at a restaurant (two parents, one late teen, and one early teen). They were all texting with others on their phones instead of talking with each other. (Maybe they were texting each other!) In business, I’ve had to pause meetings and sit and wait for clients to answer emails, calls, or texts on their phones before continuing our conversation. Are all of these interruptions really worthy of harpooning the momentum of a conversation with another human being who is in your presence?

Of course they aren’t. The rare emergency is understandable; the constant interruption is disrespectful. We can do better.

So, two months ago, I stopped bringing my phone to meetings and it’s been wonderful. I also leave it in another room when I have dinner at home. I was never the type who would take a call or respond to a message during a meeting or during dinner, but my phone would still buzz in my pocket taking my mind off of the conversation for a brief moment. That brief moment was enough to throw me off the path of what I was saying or what someone else was sharing. Without the phone there, I’m fully present and not distracted.

Try it.

Leave your phone behind during work meetings unless you’re expecting that rare, critical call. And when that’s the case, tell the people you’re with why your phone may need to trump your time with them. It’s a simple thing, but it will make people feel like you care about them more than the other person vying for your attention through your mobile device—one that likely doesn’t truly need an immediate response.

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Social Media and Real Life

Social Media Sparkle

Life is amazing. It’s also messy.

Social media connects us in wonderful ways that make keeping up, touching base, sharing, and meeting new people fast and convenient. It also often portrays the lives of others with a glistening cleanliness that isn’t reality. 

Don’t try to compete. Just be you, and work on being the best you that you can be. And be proud of that whether someone “likes” it or not.

Photo by Sandrachile. on Unsplash
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Branding From The Inside Out

Branding from the Inside Out

All brands start with an idea. When that idea is something that can help or inspire others, it has the potential to be a brand. At Imbue, we spend a lot of time working to understand the true essence of a brand so we can help tell its story in a way that connects with the right people. In some cases, brands that are growing fast begin to fragment because they try to broaden their reach rather than focus on the one thing they really do best. 

In other words, we see a lot of organizations try to help everyone, rather than focusing on the ones they set out to help from the start. That’s noble. You’ve got a great product or service that can help almost everyone, why not tell everyone about it?

Here’s why:

  1. You’re more likely to see how your product or service can help the masses because you see the potential, but the general public doesn’t (yet).
  2. You likely can’t afford to tell everyone.
  3. You’ll waste a lot of time and money talking to people who really aren’t the right fit or aren’t ready for a conversation with your brand.
  4. When you try to talk to too many audiences, you risk confusing the one you really should be speaking to with great clarity.

Whether we’re talking about a personal brand, or a company or organization, focus on what’s inside first. Why was the brand established? Who was it created to help? What does the brand stand for in the hearts and minds of the people who created it (and work for it)? 

With those questions answered and with everyone aligned internally, you’ll be better positioned to tell a clear and powerful story to the people you want to serve. 

And remember, focusing on what your brand means to you right now doesn’t mean it can’t change later. Brands evolve as audiences change, competition grows, and new products or services are launched. However, focusing on what the brand means internally, and precisely who it helps right now, is the first step in engaging with a real person who will feel it matters to them today.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash
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Listening is a Powerful Tool

You, Me, and No-one Else

I’ve got some terrific mentors. I’m lucky. I think of two of them often, especially when I’m trying to be sure I listen well and avoid rushing others. And, as a creative person, it’s sometimes hard to stay in the moment and listen when the thing that someone else is saying is sparking a great idea in my head.

But, there’s a place for brainstorming and collaborating, and there’s a place for listening quietly — and absorbing.

Try it.

Focus on your coworker, client, partner, child, or parent today. Listen to what is said, and zoom in on the feelings behind the words. Make him or her feel like in that very moment and for as long as is needed to finish your conversation, there’s nothing else in the world that matters. Your full attention is a wonderful gift, and a powerful communications tool.

Photo by Luke Ellis-Craven on Unsplash
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Airlines and Ease in Communications

Airline Miles and a Good Lesson About Ease

The hardest and most important aspect of good communication is making sure the human on the other side can understand it. Actually, not only understand, but relate to it. At Imbue, one of the most satisfying times we experience is when we see the faces of our clients light up after we nail the words and visuals that tell their brand’s story with extreme clarity. Clarity that is often so simple, it seems like it should have been obvious to everyone all along. When that happens, we know we’ve made it easier for them to tell their story, and we’ve made it even easier for their best audiences to want to join them on their journey.

I think about the subject of ease all the time when it comes to communication. Our audiences won’t spend time trying to decipher messages. We can’t make it hard — whether we’re communicating with colleagues, clients, or customers. We must be direct, honest, clear, empathetic, and often creative when we are trying to be heard as individuals and brands. Furthermore, we need to be sure that we don’t mislead anyone along the way.

This topic came to mind because last night I tried to book airline award travel with one of the largest airlines in the United States. The airline always touts that with just 25,000 miles you can get a free flight within the continental United States. Great! I’ve got over 100,000 points to use. Surely my partner and I can fly to California with coach class seats for less than 100,000 miles. Right?

Well, sort of. In order to travel at a reasonable hour and only connect once each way, we actually needed 120,000 miles (60,000 each). However, if we were willing to leave on a different day of the week, fly overnight, and connect through 2 different airports each way, I could have covered the trip with miles.

I was frustrated. Not only with the empty promise of being able to use miles on flights I would actually want to take, but also with a clunky user experience on the airline’s website that made trying to figure out how to calculate and book award travel a chore.

So, here’s an important reminder about ease for everyone in business. If you make it hard, your prospects will move on. If you make things difficult, your colleagues will either get frustrated with you, or simply tune you out. If you mislead people, your credibility will suffer. Make it easy on yourself and others by taking the time to make things as easy and clear as possible. And remember, sometimes you need an outsider’s perspective to ensure what you think seems easy actually is.

Try it.

Re-read a few emails or texts today and think about how you could have made your communications more tailored to the needs of the recipient so he or she could have processed and responded to you with greater ease. Could they have been shorter? Maybe they needed more context? Perhaps some of your messages were just too rushed or you made too many assumptions based on your state of mind (as opposed to the potential state of mind of whomever was getting the message).

If you’re in the design or development world, try to take yourself out of the role of creator and look at your work as someone inexperienced with your brand or product. Have you made the path to completion or comprehension as easy and frictionless as possible?

Photo by Anthony Melone on Unsplash
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Am I Screaming?

Am I screaming? Or does all caps work here?

So here we are, my first post on a blog that I’ve been thinking about starting for two years. This blog is going to be about effective communication—at least that’s the idea. The plan is to share short thoughts and tips about how we can all be better in our professional and personal lives by taking the time to communicate clearly and kindly. And, I want to hear from you along the way. What tips and advice or experiences can you share? Be sure to let me know.

Honestly, I’m fine with whatever this blog morphs into, as long as it continues to mean something to me while connecting with others who I can help. You see, I’m an educator at heart. There is nothing I enjoy more than helping people be the best selves they can be. I plan to post thoughts about my experiences and observations on this blog in the hopes that the things I share will help you, and those you communicate with, be more clear, more efficient, and more effective.

I do believe that there is a fundamental problem in today’s business world—we’re all moving too fast and the lines of communication are becoming more and more fragmented. We have so many tools at our disposal to make communication more efficient yet we seem to be less efficient and less human. Let’s change that together. I don’t think it’s impossible, but I do think we need to be better at being more patient and considerate of our wonderful and necessary differences. Differences that include how we listen, how we empathize, how we use words, how we see the future, and how we react to each other.

Something as simple as how we type an email or a quick text message can make a difference. Much of our communication is done through a keyboard; and while I do love words (they are so very, very powerful), words can be construed in so many different ways. Without face-to-face interaction, there is so much potential for misunderstanding in every piece of communication.

Lesson number one in my training as a communications professional was all about the receiver. What are you trying to say, and how do you make sure those who are meant to receive your message understand it? A short, four-word email can come off as curt or angry to some and as remarkably efficient to others. The wrong emoji can seriously confuse someone on the other end of your text message. Considering the nature of your message, the person receiving it, and the different ways the message can be construed is step one. Often, it only takes a few more seconds of thought and consideration to make a message clearer, and more tailored to the receiver to ensure what you mean to say comes through.

Try it.

Take just one moment more with each text or email you send today. One quick moment each time. Reread your words and think about the human on the other side of each communication. I’ll bet you will find that it makes a difference.


Mini Focus Group: This site is new. I really like (visually) the blog headlines in all capital letters, mainly because that matches my logo nicely. However, all caps online has long conveyed yelling. Are my headlines screaming at you? Let me know by taking this one-question survey.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash.
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