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speaking, training, presenting, practice, practicingThere isn’t a prospect or client that tells us something close to “I really don’t have time to practice my [blank] like I should.” [Blank] is a presentation to the board, a story to inspire action, a sales presentation, an investor pitch, and so on.

Our response is something like, “There isn’t an Olympic athlete, celebrity actor, famous musician, and New York Times best-selling author that doesn’t practice his or her craft—and some practice daily. Not one.”

One of the more well respected researchers in expert performance, K. Anders Ericsson, PhD, has published numerous papers and articles. One paper is “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” (link here). According to Dr. Ericsson, at the intersection of expertise and habit is deliberate practice.

Whatever you do, make practice part of your planning. Practice at least a little. We suggest for really important events, three to five times.

Deliberate Practice helps you.....
- smooth out transitions from slide to slide and big concept to big concept
- identify "bumpy" areas--areas that sound awkward, cause you to hesitate and stumble, etc.
- feel (much) more confident, which then allows more authentic passion and the real you to shine

networking, eating, dining, relationship buildingEver been at a business meal and found yourself finished way before your dining partner? Or perhaps your dining partner was finished way before you?

Generally, this occurs for one of two reasons:  

1) Someone is talking much more than the other person

2) One person is a much faster eater

In either case, it is best to match your partner's eating speed when possible.

We have seen some people eat like vacuum cleaners and exclaim afterward, "Sorry, I know I am a fast eater." Please note, while men are the typical fast eaters, a conversation topic may skew the eating speed one way or the other.

Your goal...finish approximately at the same time.

speaking, whisper,vocal variety,presenting,presentation,motivational speakerPeople are naturally curious. Suspense heightens curiosity. One of the best ways to build suspense is by varying the volume and tone of your voice.

For this tip, lower your voice to a (near) whisper. In this way, you surprise your audience, as they are not expecting you to whisper. Once they hear your story sotto voce, they will automatically be intrigued by what comes next in your story.

Experiment, mix, and test to find the techniques that work best for you and your story.

speaking podiums presenting presentation motivational speakerHave you ever seen a stage without a podium? Likely not. And like all moths drawn to the light, most speakers are drawn to the podium. Instead, you should avoid them. Podiums:

- Create a physical and psychological barrier between you and your audience
- Force you to remain in one spot - behind the podium
- Block most of your body and therefore block your body language
- Are hand-arm magnets, with most speakers leaning and holding onto the sides of the podium
- Minimize your ability to move around, minimizing your ability to connect with your audience

In advance of your next presentation or training day, coordinate with the event planning team to a) remove/move the podium and b) have a lavaliere (preferred) or hand-held microphone available for you.

Everyone at The Chief Storyteller® wishes you a warm, safe, and relaxing holiday season. Here's a little storytelling humor.

secret-formula-for-great-storytelling

An organization's vision statement proclaims its desire to be the very best. Its top leaders are the personification of excellence in everything they do.

Yet, many of its employees are content with mediocrity and the lackluster performance that invariably follows. It can be a frustrating experience for the movers and the shakers in any organization – who must confront a wall of indifference, a lack of engagement and an omnipresent sense of laziness at the office on a daily basis.

Why is this?

It all starts with attitude. Some years back, I wrote a post on the importance of attitude. When my youngest son, who is now a first-year student at the University of Virginia (UVa), was playing basketball in junior high, I noticed a poster on the wall of the gym that read, "Attitudes Are Contagious. Are Yours Worth Catching?" He took that idea to heart that day and let it guide him as he pursued his dream of gaining admission to Virginia's flagship university over the high school years that followed.

Attitude cannot be taught. I suppose that's the reason the Walt Disney Company is known for its practice of hiring more for attitude and less for experience. So, yes, a culture of excellence begins with attitude...at hiring time.

Beyond the initial hire, however, attitude can be cultivated. It takes a commitment from management to set measurable performance objectives, to be engaged and to hold people accountable – "inspect what you expect," if you will. It takes a realization that there are consequences – both positive and negative – to how employees perform or fail to deliver. Even my college-aged son knew early on in his high school career that unless he built sufficient rigor into his schedule, worked hard to earn a competitive grade point average and achieved an SAT score in the top percentile, gaining admission to UVa wasn't going to happen.

If you're a senior manager, my challenge to you is this: take stock of your organization as you begin the new year. Are the attitudes of your employees contributing to the culture of excellence you aspire to? Or, are they holding your organization back?

Remember, a culture of excellence begins with attitude.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Master the Art of Active Listening

active listening

James Nathan Miller made an interesting observation some 50 years ago—“Conversation in the U.S. is a competitive exercise in which the first person to draw a breath is declared the listener” (The Art of Intelligent Listening, Readers Digest, September 1965).

Don’t let Miller’s observation describe your conversations. Master the art of active listening.

Whether you are a government agency, association, charity, education institution, or corporation, we all have stakeholders—both internal and external. And what each person or persons needs, changes. Depending upon due dates, unforeseen events, new priorities, and the like, the needs can change quickly or slowly.

Whatever your situation, you really have to listen to “them” to really know what is important to them.

Effective listening benefits you in many ways such as: 
- Improves bonding and rapport building
- Reduces communication misunderstandings
- Reduces interpersonal conflicts
- Increases quality of work-related activities

Here are some suggestions to master the art of active listening:
- Use Non-verbal Body Language: Nod your head, smile, and lean forward are good ways to demonstrate your attentiveness. On the telephone, say words like Right, Sure, Understand, and Yes to demonstrate your attentiveness.
- Paraphrase: Summarize and repeat back to the person initiating the conversation the key points. This ensures common understanding. Use this suggestion for the more important discussion points.
- Communicate: Based on your mutual goals with your stakeholders, communicate in person (e.g., coffee, lunch, drinks, dinner, and meetings). Communicate in other ways such as by telephone, email, text message, and postal mail. 
- Wait Your Turn: Resist the temptation to interrupt and interject. Let your communication partner finish sharing her/his thoughts.

Body Language Non Verbal Communications

Imagine you are delivering your standard 60-minute presentation. Your audience will understand most of what you say quickly, appreciate your humor (hopefully...), assume your body language is coordinated with your talking points, recognize the use of appropriate colors for the points (e.g., red is a problem area while green is a positive area), and more.

Not always true with international audiences.

When speaking internationally, successfully engaging your audiences becomes more complex. You have to account for differences in greetings, customs, traditions, hand gestures, colors, and more. One common custom is to thank a variety of people – the host, guests, dignitaries, etc.–before you begin your talk. This could be as long as five minutes…not a big deal in a 60-minute presentation…a huge deal if you are speaking for 15 minutes.

With you words, you are leaving nuances, metaphors, sayings, body language, interpretation, etc. in the hands of your translator. Additionally, English is a “shorter” language. Many other languages require more words to say the same thing.

Ira Koretsky, our CEO, ALWAYS spends a few minutes with the translator beforehand, reviewing the purpose of the presentation, high-level ideas, and words/concepts not likely common (e.g., elevator speech, executive story, business story, and networking). He also asks for the words/phrases in the native language so that he may use them in his presentation.

As a result, we suggest reducing your content at least 30% and perhaps as much as 50%.

Items to consider:

- Synchronization: With a simultaneous translator, your audience will be at least 15 seconds behind you in comprehension and timing in your program. If you have complex ideas, perhaps 30 seconds. It takes a little getting used to.
- Language: There are numerous examples of poorly translated words from one language to another that are embarrassing. Check before you go or change your words.
- Examples: Instead of giving one example, we suggest giving two or three examples to illustrate your point.

Body Language Non Verbal Communications

Do you think about what you say when talking? Of course you do. Do you think about your voice and your body language as well? Few people do. When you speak, you are using your words, voice, and body. For most people, the blending of these components comes natural.

What doesn’t come natural is how to purposefully use each of these three separately and together to heighten drama, improve rapport, emphasize points, and a lot more…

Going forward, I’d like to encourage you to think differently and think deliberately about how you use your words, voice, and body. For this tip, let’s focus on body language and how to build suspense.

Next time you are going to share a story or experience with a known moment of suspense, use your body deliberately rather than naturally. Complement your words and voice to heighten the dramatic moment.

At a high level, you are looking to add intensity to your words with your body. Adding intensity makes your story more interesting and memorable.

Experiment, mix, and test to find the ones that work best for you and your story.

1)  Posture:  Stand straight up and really stiffen your body like a wood board. Perhaps even clench your jaw

2)  Make a Fist:  Squeeze your hands and make them into fists

3)  Eyes:  Open them wide, really wide and at the same time, slightly move your head and
shoulders backward

4) Arms:  Make exaggerated arm motions while stopping “abruptly,” almost as if your arm was momentarily like a robot

5)  Watch other speakers and presenters. Watch how how the speaker uses his/her body. Would you do the same thing?  What would you do differently? Free resources include TED, TEDx, University Business Schools (e.g., Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford), Company Speaker Series (Google and LinkedIn),  Political Speeches, and more.

6)  Blend:  As you become comfortable using the above techniques, deliberately alternate and blend these suspense techniques together.

Body Language Non Verbal Communications

Cultural differences are sometimes easy to see, understand, and adopt. Others, not to easy.

If you are traveling to another country or interacting with an audience with different cultural backgrounds, be sensitive to language, humor, traditions, and taboos.

For this tip of the week, let’s focus on hand gestures. There are many nuanced and obvious hand gesture differences. Research the country thoroughly to avoid embarrassment as well as the potential for your audience to focus on the "wrong" things rather than your message and you.

Purchase books, ask your local embassy for advice, and use your network to meet/talk with people who grew up in the respective country.

Here are two illustrative examples with answers immediately below.

 

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If you've ever been to a live show at Radio City Music Hall, a performance on Broadway or an improv performance at a local comedy club, you've undoubtedly seen the different ways performers use their stage presence to connect with their audiences.

Great performers are masters at making each and every audience member feel special and appreciated. They do this by reading their audience – watching, listening and taking their cues from the feedback they receive. Some acknowledge the audience members for coming out to see them, interact with them by asking questions or simply thanking them for their applause. Others work the stage, using movement and gestures to engage their audience. All of this is possible because the performers are spending time on stage before live audiences.

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Like great performers, brands that offer extraordinary customer experiences are masters at making each and every customer feel special and appreciated. I recently attended a customer experience forum in New York City where one of the recurring themes was the importance of talking with customers.

Focus groups and surveys are two common market research tools that are used to understand customer needs, preferences and motivations. However, they often fall short as predictors of customer behavior since participants and respondents do not always follow through on their stated intentions. As one presenter explained, the only way to really know what your customers are thinking is to spend time talking with them.

In short, spending time with your customers and talking with them is like performing before a live audience – not watching a scripted performance from behind a two-way mirror. Executives from the best brands are not afraid to engage customers (and their employees, for that matter) in an interactive setting and, as a result, will often uncover innovative ways to differentiate their brands with a superior customer experience.

 

For more insights on customer experience, please see:
Customer Experience: This Is What It's All About
How One Brand Is Growing Sales In a Weak Economy
• Apple's Genius Bar: Where the Extraordinary Happens

I was on Twitter recently when I stumbled upon a tweet by the Mother Nature Network on laughter. It contained a link to an article on the results of a recent study by Sophie Scott, a neuroscientist at University College London and part-time stand-up comedian.

She concluded from her study that people don't just laugh at things they think are funny. They also laugh to show positive feelings of likability, agreement and commonality toward others. In her words, "laughter is an index of the strength of a relationship."

I once worked for a senior executive who almost never laughed. Within weeks of her hire, the culture of the entire office changed. It went from a collegial, "we're all in this together," results-oriented atmosphere to a self-centered, fear and intimidation, activity-focused environment. Morale took a nose-dive and sales and marketing results soon followed.

Without exception, every successful sales and marketing organization I've ever been a part of has been led by a "Chief Happiness Officer." These are people who, in spite of their formal titles or official roles, manage to keep the rest of us from taking ourselves too seriously. They know that employees who like each other will focus more on achieving quantifiable wins for the team than on useless activities designed to promote their own self-interests. They know strong personal relationships bring out the best in everyone and allow the team to achieve more.

Take a moment to look around your office. Does your organization have a Chief Happiness Officer?

 

For more on the impact leaders have on organizational culture, please see:
How Important Is Your Internal Customer Experience?
Wise and Selfless Leadership Is No Fairy Tale
How You Treat Your Employees Matters
Your Employees Play a Leading Role In Shaping Great Brands
What Story Is Your Organizational Culture Telling?

Soon to be a Veteran? Veteran? Spouse? Looking for hands-on career advice? Join me and a distinguished group of presenters providing free career workshops at the annual Association of the United States Army (AUSA) conference in Washington, DC.

I was part of the 2013 program and look forward to this year's event. While the event is Army-focused, any service member, veteran, and spouse is welcome.

The American Freedom Foundation workforce hiring event at AUSA is presented by Sourceamerica® and GES.  12 workshop sessions take place October 13 – 15 to provide resources and information for veterans and transitioning military.  I'll be giving my program, "“Your Upcoming Tour on Main Street:  How to Positively Engage and Influence Hiring Managers with Your Words and Stories" on Monday 10/13 10:30am to 12noon and Tuesday 10/14 1pm to 2:30pm (list of all programs)

AFF "mission is to honor the men and women of America’s armed forces, raise awareness for their service and sacrifice and raise money for organizations that serve and support our Veterans, active duty military and their families." 

If you need any more information please let me know (contact me here).
 

 American Freedom Foundation’s Warriors to the Workforce
Hiring Event at AUSA Announces Workshop Sessions  

12 Workshop sessions will take place October 13 – 15 to provide resources and information for veterans and transitioning military 

Attendance at Warriors to the Workforce Hiring Event is FREE and open to veterans, military service members and spouses.

Presentations will include topics such as mental readiness, confidence building, networking and presentation skills, resume writing, interviewing techniques, job searching, career planning through goal setting, translating military skills and training into civilian life and corporate experience, among others.

In addition to these transition workshops, veterans will have the opportunity to meet with some of the country’s largest and most veteran friendly employers including Aerotek, ASM Research, ATK, Inc., BAE Systems, Calibre Systems, CSC, Didlake, Inc., Easter Seals Veterans Staffing Network, esri, Elbit Systems of America, First Command Financial Services, General Dynamics Information T echnology, Goodwill Industries, Hendrickson International, Kaplan University, Linden Industries, Melwood, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pride Industries, RNDC-­?USA, SAIC, Still Serving Veterans, TFD Group, University of Phoenix, USACE, VETS Group, Working Warriors Nations–MVLE and Department of Veterans Affairs.

Attendance at Warriors to the Workforce Hiring Event is FREE and open to veterans, military service members and spouses.

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As an MBA graduate of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, I am excited about next week's presentation.  I'll be presenting "Executive Storytelling" with fellow part-time MBA students. 

It was a serendipitious meeting with Megan, the professional development program chair. We met at a Smith School Event for International Development. After chatting a bit, I learned Megan worked for the Department of the Army and I'm an Army veteran. Soon after, we talked about a variety of topics, which led to the "What do you do?" question.

A few months later, I'll be sharing some great video clips, thoughts, ideas, and exercises on business storytelling. I'm looking forward to a dynamic exchange of ideas.

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The summer of 2014 will be remembered for the #IceBucketChallenge phenomenon on social media.

Since first receiving mainstream media attention in mid-July, when attention became focused on raising awareness and funds for ALS research, the Ice Bucket Challenge has gone viral. Participants who receive the challenge have 24 hours to accept the challenge, make a donation to an ALS charity of their choice or both. Participants who accept the challenge must post a video of themselves on social media, showing a bucket of ice water being poured over their heads. Participants also have the option of nominating others for the challenge.

When I received my Ice Bucket Challenge on Facebook in mid-August, I thought, "Why not?" It seemed like a fun way to promote awareness and raise money for a cause I had previously supported through one of my employers.

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I promptly accepted and then nominated three of my friends to do the same. Within a short amount of time, my Facebook feed began to fill with Ice Bucket Challenges from family and friends.

I'm thrilled to have played a part in helping to promote the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and can now cross it off my summer bucket list. If the challenge is on your summer bucket list, there's still time.

End your summer by doing something fun and making a difference. Accept the challenge, send a donation to the ALS charity of your choice or both. You'll be glad you did and you'll have a great story to tell!

"The Washington Post" recently ran an article in its Health & Science section on healthy and unhealthy office relationships. In case you might be wondering, the article was not talking about romantic relationships at work. Rather, it spoke to the impact of the office environment on your health, mood and productivity.

Like many of you, I've spent the better part of my career working in an office. I've experienced many of the healthy conditions described in the article: a boss who regularly interacts with his or her people and allows them to make decisions, co-workers who share time together over lunch away from their desks, more open work spaces where people tend to be quieter because they know others can hear them and a décor of natural colors and designs for promoting a warm atmosphere. And, if I could add one of my own favorites to the list – an "open door" policy that promotes collaboration and transparency through a limited number of shared closed spaces for private phone calls and meeetings.

Contrast those experiences to the ones I've had in offices with some of the unhealthy conditions mentioned in the article: a brow-beating boss who micromanages his or her people, co-workers who regularly eat lunch at their desks, loud conversations and other annoying sounds from cubicles with high walls and a monotone décor in shades of gray. And, of course, the pervasive presence of "behind-closed doors" conversations and other activities in closed office spaces that promote a culture of secrecy.

In my experience, businesses whose employees have healthy relationships with their offices tend to perform better than those where the opposite is true. Offices with unhealthy conditions tend to breed a lack of trust, little respect for others and low morale while offices with healthy conditions are places where people trust and respect one another and generally feel good about coming to work.

Employees with healthy office relationships generally are healthier (i.e., fewer sick days), more enthusiastic about coming to work (which shows in their interactions with your customers) and more productive (i.e., efficient). They tend to stick around longer and have higher retention rates than those with unhealthy office relationships. At the end of the day, their higher retention rates can translate into lower costs, higher margins and improved earnings for your business.

For more insights on office relationships and culture, please see:
Your Employees Play a Leading Role In Shaping Great Brands
When Was the Last Time Your Employees Had Fun at Work?
What Story Is Your Organizational Culture Telling?
What Makes Your Company a Best Place to Work?
Employee Retention: People Leave Managers, Not Companies

My college-age son started his first full-time management job the other day. He'll be spending his summer as the Aquatic Facilities Manager at the local country club, where he'll oversee a staff of 12 lifeguards and the operations of the facility.

As he prepared to head off to work for his first day, I wanted to impart some sage advice. And I wanted to leave him with something I knew he would use.

Here is what I decided to share...

This is an exciting day for you, one you will remember for a long time. This is also an exciting day for the people you manage. They, too, will remember this day for a very long time. More than anyone they encounter or anything else that happens today, you will have a role in how they remember this day.

Because you're the boss.

They will be watching you to see how you react to the situations you encounter. They will be listening to what you say, even when you're talking with someone else. They will be looking at your facial expressions, to get a sense for how you think things are going. And they will care what you think.

Because you're the boss.

If you take nothing else away from this, remember to smile. Just smile. And smile often. Let them know you care about them and the people you are there to serve. No matter what happens. Show them you trust in their abilities and you value their contributions...however large or small they might be.

Because you're the boss.

When he came home from work, I asked him how his first day had gone. He just smiled.

For more leadership insights in the workplace, please see:
Your Employees Play a Leading Role in Shaping Great Brands
Why Family Relationships Make for a Great Place to Work
When Was the Last Time Your Employees Had Fun at Work?

Change. Transformation. Making a difference. These words evoke feelings of empowerment and optimism. The power to make a difference lies within each of us. And it happens one step at a time. It starts with one person and it spreads to many. I saw it happen one recent Saturday morning, while I was picking up trash along the banks of Four Mile Run River in Arlington, Virginia.

Like hundreds of others who had volunteered for the 26th annual Alice Ferguson Foundation Potomac River Watershed Cleanup across the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, I wondered how much of an impact I or my team could have on this massive effort to clean up the streams and rivers that feed into the Chesapeake Bay.

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As I walked along our designated cleanup site on the morning of the event, I saw an overwhelming amount of trash in the river and along the banks. At first glance, the challenge seemed insurmountable. As the morning wore on, however, a simple truth became obvious – when people come together in support of a cause they believe in, great things can happen. I learned later that 7,791 volunteers across 251 sites had collected 161 tons of trash that morning. Like the other volunteer teams, we had transformed our designated area from a litter-strewn debris field into a trash-free zone. And made a difference...one step at a time.

Think about your own business. What challenges are facing your business? Who is going to take the first step to bring people together in support of a common cause? What difference will you and your co-workers make in the lives of your employees, customers, investors and other stakeholders?

"The U.S. Military Academy Class of 2015 gathered inside Washington Hall [at West Point] January 18, 2014 with invited guests and academy leaders to celebrate 500th Night. The night recognizes the milestone for cadets as they count down the final 500 days until their graduation and commissioning into the U.S. Army. Admiral William H. McRaven, the ninth commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command addressed the class at the banquet." (from the West Point Public Affairs Office Press Release)

If you are looking to be inspired, spend about 20 minutes watching the video or reading the transcript below. If you are in the military or related fields, you will be inspired. The Admiral uses figures of speech, vocal variety, readily understood concepts, active voice/verbs, and relevant personal stories. As a U.S. Army veteran, my continued thanks go out to the active duty, reserve, guard, and veteran service members for their service.

 

A Sailor’s Perspective on the United States Army
Admiral William H. McRaven, Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command
Address to U.S. Miltary Academy West Point Class of 2015, 500th Night
18 January 2014

Good evening General and Mrs. Caslen, General and Mrs. Clarke, General Trainor, Col Brazil, Command Sergeants Major Duane and Byers, distinguished guests and most importantly Class of 2015. I am truly honored to be here tonight to address the future leaders of the United States Army.

But, as a graduate of a state school in Texas, who majored in journalism because I couldn’t do math, or science, or engineering or accounting, I am somewhat intimidated by the thought of giving any advice, to any cadet, on anything. Nevertheless, after almost 37 years in the service, much of that time with the Army, there may be something I can offer.

So tonight, as you begin the final 500 days of your time at the United States Military Academy, I would like to give you a Sailor’s Perspective on the Army; not the Army of the Hudson, not the Army of the history books, not the Army portrayed in the countless murals across campus, but the Army you will enter in 500 days—the Army upon which the future of the Nation rests; the Army that you will shape and the Army that you will lead. So, if you will humor this old sailor, I will tell you what I’ve learned in my time serving with the Army.

In the past twelve years I have worked for the great Generals of this generation; Dempsey, Petraeus, Odierno, McChrystal, Austin, Rodriguez and Dailey. All graduates of the Military Academy, each man, different in his own way.

Dempsey, a man of great humor and compassion, whose quick wit, and keen tactical sense allowed him to secure Baghdad as a Division Commander, lead the Central Command as a three star, and today, as the Chairman, he presides over the greatest change in our military since WWII and he does so with tremendous reason, intelligence and with a song in his heart.

Petraeus, whose understanding of the strategic nature of war was unparalleled.  Who saw opportunity in every challenge and who dared greatly in hopes of great victories.  His daily command decisions in Iraq and Afghanistan unquestionably saved the lives of thousands of young soldiers.

Odierno, a soldier’s soldier, who as a Division and Corps commander in Iraq, fought with a fierceness one would expect of a great warrior and then as the Commander of all forces in Iraq combined that fierceness with the diplomat’s subtle hand to lead and shape the future of a sovereign Iraq.  And today, he leads the greatest Army the world has ever known.

Austin, the quiet bear of a man, whose deep intellect and incomparable combat experience allowed him to think through every complex problem and to succeed where others might have failed.

McChrystal, whose creative mind and intense drive for perfection, changed forever how special operations would fight on the battlefield and changed how SOF would forever be perceived by the Nation—and in doing so, likely changed the course of the Armed Forces as well.

Rodriguez, the everyman’s general who proved time and again, that character matters--that hard work, perseverance, persistence, and toughness on the battlefield are always traits of success.

And Del Dailey, whose boldness and innovation, coupled with a Night Stalkers sense of teamwork and aggressiveness, began the revolution in special operations.

What did I learn about the Army in watching these men and other great leaders like Keith Alexander, Chuck Jacoby, Mike Scaparrotti, John Campbell, Bob Caslen and Rich Clarke?   Well, I learned first and foremost that your allegiance as an officer is always, always to the Nation and to those civilian leaders who were elected by the people, who represent the people.

The oath you took is clear; to support and defend the Constitution, not the institution-- not the Army, not the Corps, not the division, not the brigade, not the battalion, not the company, not the platoon, and not the squad—but the nation.

I learned that leadership is hard.  Karl von Clausewitz once said that “everything in war is easy, but the easy things are difficult.”  Leadership sounds easy in the books, but it is quite difficult in real life.  I learned that leadership is difficult because it is a human interaction and nothing, nothing is more daunting, more frustrating more complex than trying to lead men and women in tough times. Those officers that do it well earn your respect, because doing it poorly is common place.  You will be challenged to do it well.  

I learned that taking care of soldiers is not about coddling them.  It is about challenging them .  Establishing a standard of excellence and holding them accountable for reaching it.  I learned that good officers lead from the front.  I can’t count the times that I saw Petraeus, without body armor, walking the streets of Mosul, Baghdad or Ramadi, to share the dangers with his men and to show the enemy he wasn’t afraid.

Or McChrystal, jocking-up to go on a long patrol with his Rangers or SEALs in Afghanistan; Dempsey on a spur ride in Iraq; Austin at the head of his Division during the invasion of Iraq; Odierno, cigar in mouth, rumbling through the streets of Basrah; Rodriguez and Dailey always center stage during the tough fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I learned that if you are in combat, move to where the action is the hottest .  Spend time with the soldiers being miserable, exhausted and scared.  If you’re a Blackhawk pilot or a tank commander, spend some time on the flight line or in the motor pool with the maintainers and the wrench turners. Whatever position or branch you are in, find the toughest, most dangerous, job in your unit and go do it.

I learned that you won’t get a lot of thanks in return.  I learned that you shouldn’t expect it.  Your soldiers are doing the tough job every day, but I guarantee you, you will learn a lot about your troops and they will learn a lot about you.

I learned that the great leaders know how to fail.  In the course of your Army career you will likely fail and fail often.  Nothing so steels you for battle like failure. No officer I watched got it right, every time.  But the great ones know that when they fail, they must pick themselves up, learn from their mistakes and move on.  

Rudyard Kipling, the great British storyteller, poet and soldier once wrote, in part, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you. If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowances for their doubting too. If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same. Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it and which is more-- you’ll be a man my son.”

If you can’t stomach failure, then you will never be a great leader. I learned that great Army officers are risk takers, but the greatest risk is not on the battlefield, but in standing up for what’s right.  

I have seen a young lieutenant stand up to a colonel when that officer’s behavior was out of line.  I have seen a captain challenge a general about a flawed battle plan.  I have seen many a general privately confront their civilian leadership and question the merits of the national decisions. All Army officers are expected to take risks in battle.  The truly great officers know that real victory is achieved when men and women of character take professional risks and challenge the weak - kneed, the faint of heart, the indecisive or the bullies.

And finally, in watching Army officers, young and old, I learned that the great officers are equally good at following as they are at leading. Following is one of the most underrated aspects of leadership and each of you will be asked to follow someone else.  The strength of a good unit rests more on how well the officers follow the commander, than how well they lead their own soldiers. I have seen many a good Battalion and Company underachieve because someone in the officer ranks thought the Commander was incompetent and quietly worked to undermine his authority.

I guarantee you, that in the course of your career you will work for leaders whom you don’t like and don’t respect.  It will be easy to make fun of their idiosyncrasies, their receding hair line, their soft chin or their spouse.  Be very careful about getting too smug, too opinionated and too righteous.  As long as the actions of y our commander are moral, legal and ethical, then do everything you can to support the chain of command and avoid the rolling eyes, the whisper campaigns and junior officer dissension.

I learned that the great Army officers know how to follow. And what about the soldiers that you will lead? In my career I have been fortunate to have served beside soldiers from the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Division, the paratroopers of the All American Division, the 1st Armored Division, the 1st Cavalry Division, the10th Mountain Division, the 1st, 3rd and 4th Infantry Division, all Groups of the Special Forces Regiment and my beloved Army Rangers.

I learned that the greatest privilege the Army can bestow upon you is to give you the opportunity to lead such magnificent men and women. These soldiers are not without their challenges.  Your soldiers will, at times, question your authority.  They will undermine your actions.  They will mislead you, frustrate you, disappoint you, and occasionally fail you. But, when the chips are down, I mean really down, your soldiers will be there and they will inspire you with their courage, their sense of duty, their leadership, their love and their respect.

In difficult times, your soldiers will be everything you dreamed they would be—and more. All one has to do is look at the citations that accompany the actions of Sergeants Sal Giunta, Leroy Petry, Robbie Miller, Ty Carter, Jared Monti, Ross McGinnis, Paul Smith, and Clinton Romesha.  Men whose unparalleled heroism, above and beyond the call of duty, was only apparent moments before their brothers were threatened. I learned that your soldiers are at their best when their brothers and sisters in arms are threatened.  They are at their best when life deals them the hardest of blows and their indomitable spirit shines through.

In 2007, I visited the intensive care unit in Landstuhl, Germany, where the Army was sending all of its most critically injured soldiers from Iraq. As I walked into the sterile room, clad from head to toe in clean white garb, a man lay naked on the bed in front of me.  Missing one leg above the knee and part of the foot on the other leg, he was swollen beyond recognition from the blast of an IED.

The doctor in attendance didn’t know the man’s unit or service.  I asked the man in the bed if he was a Marine or a Soldier.  Unable to talk, he pointed to his thigh.  There on what was left of his thigh, was a tattoo; the 1st Infantry Division. “You’re a soldier,” I remarked.  He nodded.  “An infantryman.” I said. He smiled through what was left of his face and then he picked up a clipboard upon which he had been writing notes. He looked me in the eye and wrote on the paper.  “I –will—be— infantry—again!”  Exclamation point.  And somehow I knew that he would.

Just like the young Ranger in the combat hospital at Bagram who had both his legs amputated and was also unable to speak.  The nurse at his bedside said that he knew sign language.  His mother was deaf and the soldier had learned to sign at a young age.  He was so very young and a part of me must have shown a small sign of pity for this Ranger whose life had just been devastated.   With a picture of hand gestures in front of me, the Ranger, barely able to move and in excruciating pain, signed, “I will be okay.”

And a year later I saw him at the Ranger Regimental Change of Command. He was wearing his prosthetic shorties, smiling from ear to ear and challenging the Rangers around him to a pull up contest.  He was okay. Just like the young female sergeant who I just visited at Walter Reed this week.  She was seriously injured in a parachute accident.  With her father by her side, she laughed off the injury like it was a scratch.  She’s been in the hospital for two months and has years of rehabilitation ahead of her.  She has no self- pity, no remorse, no regrets, just determination to get back to her unit.

These soldiers and tens of thousands like them will be the warriors you lead in 500 days.  You had better be up to the task, because I have learned that they expect you to be good. And, most importantly, I also learned that y our soldiers expect you to hold them to high standards.  These soldiers joined the service to be part of something special and if they are not held to a high standard, if their individual efforts are no more important, no more appreciated than the efforts of a slacker then it will directly affect the morale of the unit.

And I learned that nothing is more important than the morale of a unit. MacArthur once said of morale, “…that it cannot be produced by pampering or coddling an Army, and it is not necessarily destroyed by hardship, danger, or even calamity…It will wither quickly, however, if soldiers come to believe themselves the victims of indifference or injustice on the part…of their leaders.”

The great leaders in the Army never accept indifference or injustice and they only judge their soldiers based on the merit of their work.  Nothing else is important.  Not the soldier’s size, not their color, not their gender, not their orientation, not their religion, not their ethnicity— nothing is important, but how well your soldiers do their job.

I am confident that history will reflect that the young American’s who enlisted in the Army after September 11th, were equal in greatness to their grandfathers and their great grandfathers who fought in the World Wars—and in 500 days you will inherit these incredible soldiers.  Be ready.

Finally, in watching the Army for most of my career, I learned that no institution in the world has the history, the legacy, the traditions, or the pride that comes from being a soldier.  I am envious beyond words. I learned that whether you serve 4 years or 40 years you will never, ever regret your decision to have joined the United States Army. You will serve beside the finest men and women in America.  You will be challenged every day.

You will fail.  You will succeed.  You will grow. You will have adventures to fill ten life times and stories that your friends from home will never be able to understand. Your children and their children and their children’s children, will be incredibly proud of your service and when you pass from this earth, the Nation that you served so very well will honor you for your duty.  And your only regret will be that you could not have served longer.  

And if for one moment you believe that because Iraq is over and Afghanistan is winding down that the future holds few challenges for you, then you are terribly, terribly mistaken.  Because as long as there are threats to this great Nation, the Army upon which this Nation was founded, will be the cornerstone of its security, it’s freedom and its future.  And you, as Army Officers, will shape that future, secure our freedoms and protect us from harm.     

So what has this sailor learned?   That there is no more noble calling in the world than to be a soldier in the United States Army. Good luck to you all as you complete your final 500 days.  May God bless America and may we always have the privilege to serve her.  Thank you very much.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year 2014

Everyone at The Chief Storyteller® wishes you a warm, safe, and relaxing holiday season. Here's a little humor we shared years ago with our first holiday greeting card.

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A good friend of mine recently told me about an executive in his company who would nary utter a holiday greeting before leaving the office for the holiday break.  She would simply slip out the door when the time came to leave. No good bye. No holiday greeting. Not one word. This went on for three consecutive years before he started to realize perhaps she knew not what to say.

After all, he thought, the holidays mean different things to different people. Surely, in this age of political correctness, she did not wish to offend anyone. Fortunately, there is a holiday greeting that is as timeless as the ages and as universal as the world in which we live. Like most holiday greetings, it consists of two simple words: 

So before you leave the office for the holidays this year, be sure to spread some holiday cheer. Take a moment to say “thank you” to each and every one of your employees, your business partners, your vendors and your customers. Let them know how much you appreciate them…for their hard work, for their role in your success and for their loyalty. Your holiday greeting could be the two most meaningful words they’ve heard from you all year long.

Thank you.

This morning I was driving my daughter to school. Out of nowhere she says, "Why is that man not smiling?" I look around car to car to car without seeing any man scowling. As such I said to my four year-old, "what man?" And she pointed right in front of my car and said, "the man on the car."

It then hit me. I am bombarded with images every day. The bad ones pass me by. This is a great example of a bad advertisement. I grabbed my handy smart phone and took the picture below.

Changing the name of the agent, website, and telephone number, can you see the man's face?  I wouldn't say he is grumpy or scowling. I also wouldn't say he is happy either. To me, in the world of customer service, a smile means everything, whether in person or on the phone.

Ensure you provide appropriate guidance, advice, and coaching to your sales/service/outreach teams to ensure your target audiences don't say the equivalent of "Daddy. Why is that man not smiling?"

 

In an instant, I can always tell what my experience is going to be with a brand, company or organization I am interacting with for the first time. In most cases, I can see it. Where I cannot see it, I can hear it. And regardless of whether I can see or hear it, I can almost always feel it. In a word, it’s a smile.

A smile is contagious. It starts with your employees and how they greet one another at the beginning of their work day. It extends to how they greet your customers at every touch point in their experience with your brand, company or organization. You don’t need a magnifying glass to observe it. And you won’t see it measured on any report. You will, however, know it when you see it.

So the next time someone asks you to look into improving your customer experience, start where it matters…at the beginning. How are your employees greeting one another? How often do they smile when they are at work? Can you see the smiles on their faces? Or hear them in their voices? Or feel them by their presence?

Remember, all great customer experiences begin with a smile.

The other day, Geetesh Baraj, PowerPoint MVP and Manager of the "PowerPoint and Presenting Stuff" LinkedIn Group posted the following question to the group.  My suggestions follow below...

Creating Slides for Multi-Lingual Audiences
I am researching a blog post topic -- since it is still being researched, anything mentioned below is not set in stone. I am open to all your thoughts and the scenario and the suggestions can be broadly changed as required.
Here is the scenario, and as I said, this is a broad definition that can be changed:
1. You need to create slides for a multi-lingual audience.
2. Everyone in the audience understands English to some extent, but they are not necessarily fluent in the language.
3. The presentation needs to distributed later to audience members -- and some others who were not present at the actual event.
4. Before distribution, the presentation may need to be translated to other languages -- this means that there needs to be some basic amount of text.

What are your thoughts about the use of:
1. Story / Outline: How deep should this be? Should the depth level be low -- will that compromise the content?
2. Text: What level of simplification?
3. Visuals: Should pictures replace text, or complement it?
4. Design and Color: What works best?

 

My response:

Geetesh,

Interesting...

I've pondered this several years ago before I started presenting internationally. I have had the honor of conducting programs in 8 countries with six trips involving simultaneous translation. Here are some questions and suggestions.

1. How knowledgeable is the audience? Without knowing your answer, in general, I suggest ~30 to 50% reduction in complexity and content
2) The broad brush suggestion is to translate the presentation and handouts in advance. Bring your own version matched page-for-page with the translated version
3) Find people through your network whom have done business, worked in, or lived in the country/region and solicit feedback
4) Localize--always. For color, fonts, pictures, graphs, words, humor, etc. Some seemingly small things could actually backfire and you may never even know it
5) Consider an appendix or handouts with tips, examples, and how-to's
6) Solicit feedback from the audience afterward. Be gentle as you probe, as some cultures are not forthcoming with what they deem criticism of the speaker

I remind people that networking is hard. It is like a big blind date for professionals. And you should expect lots of no's and few yes's. I always quote Richard Bolles in "What Color Is Your Parachute?"  "Think of every "no" as bringing you one step closer to a "yes."

During a recent "how to networking" program" I was asked one of the more frequent question, "How do I know if I should exit a conversation?"

Here are five sure-fire indicators that your conversation partner is ready to move on. He/she...

1. Stops asking questions. This is a direct way of letting you know. The awkwardness alone makes you cringe. Exit quickly.

2. Starts glancing around frequently. Many people do not realize they are doing this. This is not an absolute, more of an indicator as your conversation partner may be looking for a specific person.

3. Stops smiling. This is generally an unconscious way of displaying disinterest. It could also indicate the person is unsure of how to proceed or may need further explanation on something you just said.

4. Shifts weight from foot-to-foot or side-to-side. Another generally unconscious way of showing you disinterest. Most of the time this body language is clear, time to exit.

5. Introduces you to someone else. If you are introduced to someone else quickly, there are two reasons...a hand-off (read "get rid of you") or an in the moment referral. Based on the conversation thus far, it should be easy to know which reason.

For the past two years (2011 and 2012), I shared my top 50 business storytelling and communications mantras. As I plan for 2013, I always look to my list to light a small fire of inspiration.

As you look through this list, see what applies to your life or what you want to apply. Write your own list of mantras. Whatever you do, make a list (short or long) of your goals and aspirations. Every so often read, revise, and contemplate...

Here are the mantras at The Chief Storyteller. Think about this list and how it can help prompt new and fresh approaches to making your personal and organizational communications unforgettable. We would love to hear your mantras...please leave them in the comments.


Personal Storytelling & Communications
01.    People are at the heart of every great story.
02.    Stories are how people remember you.
03.    Use humor if you want to.
04.    Write in your authentic voice.
05.    Write and speak conversationally.
06.    Write emails as if they will be read on a smart phone.
07.    Tell more personal stories with relevant business messages

Brand/Organizational Storytelling
08.    Promise a better tomorrow.
09.    Know your elevator speech / elevator pitch / mission statement (core business story).
10.    Ensure your core business story is unified throughout all communication materials.
11.    Your brand story is everything.
12.    Success stories are key to differentiation.
13.    Social communities are built on personal and business stories.
14.    Deliver on the expected experience.

Relationships
15.    It’s all about them.
16.    Relationships matter.
17.    Business stories are the engine of relationships and relationships are the engine of continued success.
18.    Credibility is more important than expertise in the beginning of relationships.
19.    Send hand-written thank you notes, especially job hunters.
20.    Active listening is key to building great relationships.
21.    Treat everyone like a CEO.
22.    Stop listening to your Mother. Talk to strangers at networking events.
23.    It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.
24.    Treat every client like your best client.
25.    Be a deliberate networker.
26.    Be a people bridge and make referrals.
27.    Be a mentor.
28.    People crave connection.
29.    First Impressions Make Lasting Impressions:  offer a warm smile, firm handshake, and good eye contact.

Communications
30.    Write to the 10th grade level.
31    Content is king.
32.    (Good) blog and article content matters the most.
33.    Strive for “interest” questions. Avoid “understanding” questions.
34.    Content first. Design second.
35.    Always have a second person read your content before publishing.
36.    Design your website for your target audiences (not your staff).
37.    Inspire Action:  facts do not persuade and inspire, people do.
38.    Audiences are hungry for original thought-provoking content.
39.    Get yourself known (e.g., LinkedIn questions and answers, post to SlideShare, and Tweet good information).
40.    Speak in headlines.
41.    Maintain a detailed Ideal Target Profile for your key target audiences.

Personal Development
42.    But is the worst word in the English language (and many other languages).
43.    Words really, really matter.
44.    Have positive self-talk conversations.
45.    Change is a choice.
46.    Create your own success momentum.
47.    Be a student everyday.
48.    Be a whole body communicator.
49.    Avoid fillers (um, ah, like, you know)
50.   Be a deliberate communicator

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

‘Tis the Season for Giving Back

The holidays are upon us and this season of goodwill is a wonderful opportunity for organizations of all types to make a difference in the communities they serve.

One of the best ways we can make a difference in the lives of others is to volunteer.  Volunteering with others in community service is a great way to build relationships, help the less fortunate and improve your reputation. It's an opportunity for organizations who say they care about a cause or group of people to put their words into actions. Giving back is not only a way to make a difference, it's a way to differentiate your brand. 

In her poem, "Life’s Mirror," Madeline Bridges speaks eloquently of this relationship between giving back and receiving when she writes, “Then give to the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you.”

Make this the holiday season where you give your very best.

For more thoughts on how organizations can serve others, please see:
• Reputation Management: Six Things Brands Can Learn from George Bailey
• Your Brand and the Community It Serves
• What the Boy Scouts Can Teach Your Business About Serving Others

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Time to Give Thanks

This is the time of year when Americans typically gather with families and friends to give thanks – for each other, for successes achieved and for challenges overcome. More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is a time for reflecting on how the efforts of others have enriched our lives.

It’s a fitting time of year, then, to remind our employees just how much we appreciate and respect them – for making the commitment to be a part of our organization, the experience they bring to the table, the ideas they share and the efforts they make in support of our success.

When I was growing up, my dad would bring a turkey home from work every year. It was a simple and thoughtful gesture from his employer – a small factory in Connecticut – that acknowledged employees and their families for the sacrifices they had made in support of the company. And, yet, the impact of this gesture extended well beyond the dinner table on Thanksgiving day...to the factory floor on the following Monday and beyond, where it was rewarded with continuing company loyalty, higher productivity and an unwavering commitment to quality.

As your employees leave your workplace for the Thanksgiving holiday this week, remember to thank them. You don’t need a turkey to give thanks; all you need are two simple words spoken from the heart – “thank you.”   

There are a few spots left for Wednesday's workshop in the Baltimore, Maryland area. Here is the information. Email Bjorn (contact info below) with any questions (or me).

There will be a meeting of entrepreneurs who want to learn the art of making great presentations. Mr. Ira Koretsky will lead this event. He has travelled the world training people and consulting to organizations on the art and science of great communications. Join us for a fun, engaging and insightful event.  

Ira will introduce us to his five-step approach. He will ask you to draft your pitch (any type of pitch). And he will ask for volunteers to deliver what you have done during the workshop. Ira makes your communications unforgettable. He helps you develop compelling messages to your target audiences. With better spoken, written, and online communications, you will expand brand awareness, improve business outcomes, and strengthen financial results.

Presenting with Confidence: Develop and Deliver Engaging Presentations in 5 Steps
Great presenters transform ideas into action. They put their messages, supporting points, facts, and personal stories into a meaningful context for their audiences. Great presenters do not just tell us what we should know, they tell us what we should do, and why we should do it. Learn the techniques of great presenters. Learn to develop engaging presentations of any type for any audience (e.g., investor,prospecting, partner, executive team, and board updates). Join us as we share the five key steps to becoming a more confident and persuasive presenter. Learn more at www.TheChiefStoryteller.com  

About Our Speaker
Ira Koretsky founded The Chief Storyteller® in 2002. Based on more than 26 years of experience, research, and refinement, he has developed a process shared internationally to over 25,600 people. This flexible process helps you develop and deliver highly targeted messages to your audiences. Ira looks at the world of communications and messaging differently than most. He looks at the world through the lens of storytelling, with a twist (come see the “twist” at this event).  

Meeting objectives
- Identify the best messages and words interesting to your listeners.
- Focus your content on answering the questions of your audience.
- Learn a new way of communicating and building relationships.
- Harness the power of storytelling to meet your objectives more effectively and more quickly. Facts can only prove, stories build value!  

Participants
Everybody, including entrepreneurs, need to pitch their stories to customers, investors, partners, and employees. Usually different pitches to different people.

Time and place
November 14, 2012 from 12:30 to 3:30 pm, Large seminar room at UMBC’s energy incubator (CETI)

1450 South Rolling Road, Halethorpe, MD 21227

Agenda
12:30 pm Doors open & networking.
1:00 pm Workshop conducted by Ira Koretsky.
3:00 pm More networking (Ira will leave for another commitment).  

RSVP
Please RSVP to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

We will limit the number of RSVPs to 60. This is likely to become a sold-out event.  This meeting is free and open to all.

Hosts
- Maryland Clean Energy Technology Incubator (CETI) @ bwtech @ UMBC.
- Maryland Clean Energy Center (MCEC).

Sponsors
- Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development (DBED).
- Whiteford Taylor Preston (WTP).
- SB & Company.

Contact
Bjorn Frogner, PhD
Entrepreneur in Residence, Tel: 443-534-7671
Maryland Clean Energy Technology Incubator(CETI) at bwtech@UMBC

Yahoo recently published an article, "Body Language Signs to Watch During the Debates." 

This particular paragraph sums it all up nicely:

"The mistakes the presidential candidates have made over the years are numerous. Poor body language has been a common blunder. As much as candidates focus on perfecting the substance of what they say before the cameras, a large number of Americans are really most interested to see how they say it," CNN contributor and history professor Julian Zelizer wrote for CNN.

The article goes in depth on various body language tendencies of both candidates. And the article ends with a brief discussion of six non verbal cues:

1. An itchy nose

2. Hands in pockets

3. Crossed arms

4. Touching the neck

5. Finger pointing

6. Frequent eye blinking

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