No. 44 – Why Jose Could Be Your Next Boss

This is a bright young man: Jose.

He emailed me to ask about coaching. He explained he’s not at a high enough level for the company to invest in him this way but he was willing to pay out of his own pocket. He said, “Since starting my career, I’ve learned how do good work, to shine, to look good, to have the answers, and to say all the buzzwords…but I need more to become all I can be.” He couldn’t put his finger on it exactly but he saw it in the people I write about in my books, so he decided to contact me.

What a treat to get to advise that attitude. Frankly, it’s refreshing. Old or young, male or female, black or white, too many times people mistakenly think, “If I just get smarter, that will get me ahead.” Once competence is there, the difference maker to move up is 80% leadership style and 20% more competence.

The effective leadership style that is the differentiator is not in how you shine, do good, look good, or even have the answers — it’s how you communicate, deal with, and influence others so that they shine, do good, look good and have the answers, too. That’s what this smart young man was looking for.

Leadership is quite simple: It’s not just the productivity you provide but the productivity you cause others to provide. That’s how you simultaneously get pushed up from below and pulled up from above in your career to leapfrog ahead of your competition.

– Debra

P.S. If you have comments or questions, please feel free to contact me.

No. 43 – How Successful Leaders Utilize Good-Natured Humor

Group of people clapping

You should have humor as part of your personal branding – but make sure your humor fits the situation:  Choose the right time and place to use suitable, relevant, and brief wittiness. Still, if in doubt, go for it. Good people will be grateful for your attempt to put them at ease.

To ratchet up your quick wit:  do or say something unexpected, present a paradox, give an anecdote, state an odd fact or outlandish detail, or simply cleverly arrange your words to offer a surprise. One business journal writer took the slogan “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” and cleverly titled his blog post, “What Happens in Vagueness Stays in Vagueness.” That’s good humor. And don’t use sarcastic, corny, or slapstick humor.

Light self-deprecating humor is good because it doesn’t offend anyone. It’s also an offensive move because it prevents someone else from throwing the first punch at you. Self-deprecating is okay, but never deprecate others. Also, don’t overdo your self-deprecating as this may signal a low self-esteem or other undesirable traits.

Yes, there is a risk in using humor as there is in everything else. Every once in a while your attempt at levity will fall flat. Sometimes you don’t express the funny side well, or whomever you’re speaking to may have his mind elsewhere and you caught him off guard—or you just weren’t that amusing. Your attempt might have been too esoteric, sardonic, sarcastic, mean, nasty, bizarre, or just not understood and people will not laugh out loud.

Do not let past misjudgments inhibit you from trying better the next time. Rethink your choice of levity, but do not stop the use of it. Your wit doesn’t have to make others chortle, or generate the kind of laugh that makes them have to cross their legs, but it’s good to at least cause a gentle smile. If you make your conversation or messages boring from a lack of good cheer you will not be first choice or taken as a serious and powerful contender.

A C-suite executive who lost favor with the CEO was described, “He talks too fast, doesn’t smile enough, and had no sense of humor.” Now there were other factors that led to his downfall, but that was the sentence said to the board. Sometimes having good-natured humor is more important than the right answer, decision, approach, look, or response.

– Debra

P.S. If you have comments or questions, please feel free to contact me.

Photo: Tec Estromberg

No. 42 – An Avatar You’ll Be Proud to Share

A photo is around a long time, especially when transmitted around the world via social media. Although it looks like they do, good “spontaneous” photos don’t just happen. You need to think it through in advance so you have the photo readiness – not the photophobia – that delivers the message you want.

Years ago I saw comedian George Carlin during a promotion tour of one of his books. When people asked to be photographed with him he agreed, and in every shot would hold his hand in a “thumbs up” gesture toward the other person. It instantly animated the photo plus maintained the self-esteem of the person by making it look as though Carlin was giving him or her thumbs up.

A friend of mine talked about her friend Carly Fiorina, “During Hewlett-Packard negotiations Carly didn’t want to be photographed, but she was aware that she was anyway. She held her head high and maintained a slight smile, so that when it happened it turned out favorably.” Later I read a quote from Fiorina: “I’m a very deliberate person. It doesn’t mean I’m infallible. But deliberate. Very little happens by accident.”

If you’re going to be photographed, you might as well take deliberate action to ensure the photo sends the message you want. Reality stars with their selfies admit to taking several hundred shots at various angles, with different lighting, changes of clothing, and numerous facial expression try-outs before the one they select gets posted.

So whenever you’re going to take a photo or selfie size up the area and move to where the photo has better background and lighting. Light facing you, not behind you, is better so that you don’t look “shady.”

At a business event men could button their coat jacket to appear neater and conceal excess stomach hanging out. Turn at a slight angle; it’s more flattering to the camera’s eye than straight on. Have an arm bent at the waist slightly away from your sides (like you were holding a drink but don’t be holding a drink!) to look relaxed, even though it doesn’t seem more relaxed.

Don’t hold a glass in your hand, even if it’s water. To the photo viewers you’re a “drinker,” a party person. It becomes your “history” because it’s in print, and it sticks in their heads. They wouldn’t say the cliche, “a photo is worth a thousand words” if it wasn’t true.

Reach out and touch another person in the photograph, if possible (appropriately, of course). But keep your posture erect, and don’t slump or lean on someone or something.

Widen your eyes, make your neck longer, but also lower your chin and put your head like sliding it on a shelf so the photo shot isn’t up your nose. Push your face forward slightly to jump into the picture. Keep your head level.

Look the photographer in the eye (even though you can’t really see the person’s eyes). The famous paparazzi, Ron Galella, said, “Eye contact makes for a good picture.”

Have a comfortable smile and engage your eyes.

If it’s a formal setting with a professional photographer think through what you want as a finished photo; don’t just rely on the photographer posing you. Prior to the session review business publications you read and pay attention to photographs of executives. Think how different poses, dress, backdrops, and so on affect you. Tear out and give samples of the ones you’re impressed with to the photographer. It’s more efficient for him or her to see what you have in mind.

– Debra

P.S. If you have comments or questions, please feel free to contact me.

No. 41 – How to To Make a Good First Impression with the Right Handshake

Confident handshake |

When Richard Maracinko, author of several books on the NAVY SEALs, shakes hands, he uses two. The left is to check your pulse to see if you’re nervous meeting him, and then he acts accordingly.

A famous restaurant owner in New York lets people know what their status is with her based on her choice of greeting: Newcomers get a nod of the head, semi-regulars get a handshake, regulars get a peck on the cheek, and a favored few get a stand-up kiss and hug.

Probably better than a TIME magazine article reported on a tribe in Papua, New Guinea, where men meet each other with a genial clasping of each others’ genitals instead of a handshake.

The Center for Nonverbal Studies reports on the “latest” touch to seal the deal: the bump. That’s what Carly Fiorina of Hewlett-Packard was fond of doing during her days at the helm. Haven’t seen her do it with Donald Trump, though!

Say you choose to stick with the traditional good mutual handshake:

Start with your good posture when approaching the person. Pause before you reach out so as not to get too close too soon. Plus, it makes the handshake gesture feel special and directed to the person.

Clasp palm to palm. Women should pay particular attention to not letting their fingers be what the person grasps. Palm to palm helps avoid squishy shakes or painful ones with your fingers squashed.

Hold on a split second longer than necessary. Three pumps versus one. Retrieve your hand.

Check your distance: eighteen inches in New York, twenty four inches in Cheyenne. You’ll be disliked instantly if your distance is wrong. Adjust if necessary.

You can put your left hand on the person’s wrist, elbow, shoulder, or even hug. Pelvises don’t touch. Clavicles can.

Bad technique is too sweaty, far away, close, late in release, early in the release, high, low, many pumps, or few pumps.

The two-handed shake, hug, backslaps, pats on the back, pat on one cheek while kissing the other, bumps, grasps can be done with anyone at anytime based on the effect you want.

If you want to avoid being the recipient of a hug or hand kiss, get your arm/hand out on your approach. The person may still try it, but you’ve set the stage for the stiffer arm shake, and you’ll more likely succeed in getting it. While you avoid the physical contact you don’t wish to engage in, you still have to maintain the person’s self-esteem and not leave the other person feeling rebuffed.

There are times you do not want to bond with the shaker. And you choose to do the opposite: Give a brief, brusque, flea-flicker shake, with no eye contact. Everything depends on the effect.

– Debra

P.S. If you have comments or questions, please feel free to contact me.

Photo: Flazingo

No. 40 – How to Dress for More Effective Leadership

Dress Like a Leader |

As they say, clothes don’t make the man but they do make a difference. Of course, there is the argument that clothes do make the man because naked people have little influence in our society. Quite frankly, clothes are the least important part of your physical presence, but they are part of it. Fortunately, they are the easiest to do something about.

A basic objective when you view clothes is to “wear your performance.” That’s why people dress extra spiffy for job interviews. If you do well, you should look like you do. Business, as all of life, is based on perception. If you look like a leader in your dress and demeanor even before you are, people will perceive you as such sooner.

The acceptance of business casual dress does not mean it’s acceptable to be casual in comportment.

“Leaders reflect a confidence and it shows in their faces, the way they walk and the way they dress,” says Ted Wright, CEO, The Aslan Group. “They usually understand the ‘costume thing.’ To say all leaders are great dressers would be incorrect, but they do look like they are naturally fitted into the gear they are wearing for whatever and wherever the event or forum. They can be tall or short, slim or round, yet they are 95 percent of the time in tune with the ‘what’ that they are communicating by what they wear and how they wear it. Leaders look like they are in charge, as a rule. If you care about the little things such as what you wear, you probably care about a lot of other little and big things as well. A leader usually looks imposing. Even Gandhi in his special way commanded the attention by the way he dressed.”

To make the clothes issue simpler:

Select a dominant color: black, navy, tan, gray, brown, and buy the best quality and style that you can in that color in every piece of clothing and accessory. You get your wardrobe pulled together quicker and can travel easier with one color. Consistency in dress implies consistency in behavior. You can keep one color from being boring with your selection of ties, shirts, jewelry, scarves, and so on.

Rotate the old out. Just as you adopt new business trends, adopt (within reason) fashion changes. For example, if ties/lapels are narrow, go with narrow; don’t stay with wide. You don’t have to be on the cutting edge, but you don’t want to look dated either. One CEO I know buys a new pair of shoes and immediately gives away an old pair. He does the same with shirts, jackets, slacks, and so on. Nothing new goes into his closet without something old coming out.

Unless everything fits perfectly, regularly have your clothes tailored to fit you. If you gain or lose weight, it’s cheaper than a new wardrobe – and it’s a necessity for your appearance.

You should dress the way you want those around you to dress, since subordinates will tend to emulate the leader’s attire. Then turn it up a notch, making your dress just a hair better to meet the image people have of a leader.

When attending a special event, research the expected dress in advance. Find out what’s typical, and choose your attire accordingly. Dressy clothes aren’t just for special occasions but to make an occasion special. Even if you are simply presenting a plaque at lunch with three colleagues, your attire should still befit the accomplishment.

If casual is the norm at your office, keep a “dress up” outfit stored there for emergency situations. Have a complete “might need” outfit set aside and marked for your administrative assistant or significant other to ship overnight to any location when needed.

A final word on clothes: It’s more important how you wear them than what you wear. Standing tall and straight makes any type of clothes look better because they hang better on your body.

Despite my emphasis on being aware of your own attire, don’t be judgmental toward others. Don’t give the suited person preference, respect, or attention over the casually dressed person. Both get the same treatment as in everything in this book. Besides, you never know who has the most influence in what you’re trying to do.


P.S. If you have comments or questions, please feel free to contact me.

Photo: Simon Fraser University

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