Branding Yourself – without the pain in the…

Okay, so I have to start by admitting that when I first heard the term ‘brand yourself’ I thought of baby cows. As in, baby cows receiving the very painful and permanent imprint of someone’s logo on their butts.

That image went away when I started hanging out with real branding experts. Corporate branding, I mean, where no animals are harmed in the making of the marks.

These people are really interesting, because you can dish about the stuff you buy, and they can tell you why you’re buying it. (Sometimes, of course, an incredibly soft pair of black leather riding boots are just for keeping your legs warm and your feet dry in winter…while looking sensational with the bag you scored in an online sale, and the fact that both are from Cole Haan is just a coincidence. But I digress.)

We live in a blizzard of branding, so it was a surprise to hear from my friends Dr. Natalie Petouhoff and Laura Walton that brands are having a hard time these days. Apparently it’s becoming increasingly difficult for them to deliver on their brand promises.

One thing I’ve known for a very long time is that delivering on promises is pretty important. I hadn’t given much thought to making promises via an abstract intermediary, but, as Dr. Natalie and Laura pointed out, brands are very much like people, in the way that companies are sort of like people…in the legal sense. So it follows: sometimes companies make promises, and if the promises aren’t kept, trouble ensues. Often, that kind of wrangling happens in a back room – or a courtroom. But when a brand makes (or carries with it) a promise, and doesn’t keep it, the whole mess can happen right out in front of everybody, via Twitter, on Facebook, in the blogosphere, and in the media.

Now, having been raised to a new level of branding-awareness, I asked the esteemed legal advisor and intellectual property expert, Fred Wilf about promises. (Fred, by the way, is the guy who put the ® in Teamability®, for which we love him forever. And although he’s an attorney, he speaks in a way that the rest of us who aren’t can readily understand.)

Sayeth Fred, “In the legal context, a promise is a statement or declaration of intent. It can be written or oral. A written promise can be signed or unsigned. It can be unilateral or bilateral/multilateral (mutual). It can be made in exchange for something of value or the promise of payment of something of value (‘consideration’). It can be made in exchange for another promise that does not include payment. Under the law, whether a promise becomes an enforceable contract depends on each of these facts, and a few more.”

And as it always happens, Fred got me thinking about things I hadn’t been thinking about, to wit, what if all brand promises had to meet the legal standard? What if what my brand – what I promise you – was an enforceable contract?

So, for any one of you who have taken the widely recommended advice to upgrade your image to a brand, I just want you to know one thing: Your brand promise may be the most important promise you ever make – and keep.

Keeping your brand promise isn’t just a directive, a script, or a process. It’s more like a world-view. You need some way of building and sustaining a living model of what you are and what you stand for. For organizations, that’s usually called culture, but for a brand – or a person with a brand – there just isn’t enough time to get something that big into a small package. Business or person, there’s only one of you – and nothing to hide behind.

Your brand – and your brand promise – will stand or fall based on credibility. And despite all those assurances of privacy and confidentiality made by top-level-friends-and-followers-only infochannels, this is a social media world. There are no secrets.

So whether you’re maintaining a company or a personal brand, you must maintain currency in keeping your promises, because people are watching and deciding all the time. Including me…and Fred.

Here’s some basic advice:

First, make sure you know what you’re promising.

I’m going to be blunt here. If you borrowed the concept for your brand promise from someone’s website whose product is ‘pretty similar’ to yours, you blew it before you even got out of the gate. Promises – at least the good ones – arise from the heart and survive through integrity. (Perhaps you are old enough to remember the inherently equivocating “Promise her anything, but give her Arpége” campaign. If so, you’ll understand why it drove me to use any perfume BUT that brand.)

Second, make sure you are promising the right promise: the one your potential customer really wants.

Begin by drafting your promise; then reflect on it, and then air it out through your preferred channels. Are you promising a starry night where the earth moves? Something that ends happily ever after? Or is it just your ‘thing’ that’s helpful and reliable? Before you set the promise in stone, you had better be sure of its connection – and its connotation. Remember the 5M rule: Mixed Messages Mostly Make Messes.

Finally, figure out how you’re going to convince your potential ‘consumer’ that you really will be keeping your promise.

These days, few people take time to read all the copy. It’s your brand that gets you up close and personal, and it’s in that very tight space that the truth comes out. Not just with your followers and not just with your Facebook friends, but with everyone.

Adopt a platform of respect, appreciation, and gratitude – and make sure that the people on your team treat each other that way. If your brand gets mixed up in any one or more of the fifty shades of miserable management, you’ll soon be sporting a danger sign that glows in the dark.

Brand credibility is something you have to earn on the shop floor, in the board room, in the middle of the late night scrum session, in every conversation, every text, and every face-to-face, every day.

No matter how hard we try to connect with our customer, if we can’t first connect with each other, no brand – personal or otherwise – will ever rise to the standard of being a promise.

Three Questions for Performance Management

Ask any manager about their least favorite tasks, and more than likely they’ll put performance evaluations at or near the top of the list.

Why? Lots of reasons, not the least of which is the ‘Gotcha!’: an assumption that you need to find something deficient in each staff member, and come up with a prescription for fixing it, thereby improving performance. All too often, you’re going to find something that the person thinks they are doing very well (and they may be right), or something they have no interest in doing better. At worst, you’re expected to assign tasks or reassign job responsibilities to develop one person’s undesired something, which may well be a task or a job that someone else on your team really enjoys (or would enjoy) doing!

Here’s an even better approach. Just ask these three questions:

  • Are you doing enough of what you like?
  • Are you doing too much of what you don’t like?
  • What can we do to change these things and make them better?

If someone isn’t doing enough of what they really like, they are probably:

(a) in the wrong job,

(b) looking for another job,

(c) not very productive, or

(d) all of the above!

If someone on your team is doing too much of what they don’t like, the problem may not reside in the individual, but rather, in the team. The causes: a team that is missing people with key needed Roles; the team’s vision, mission, or goals have not been communicated clearly enough; or, there is less-than-optimal coherence on the team.

The good news is that you can change these conditions and make the team work better for everyone.

Start with a little team analysis: Teamability® Self-coaching reports for the whole team, yourself included. Then compare who you have (the Roles) with what you need (the right Roles for the team’s mission). Finally, look at what needs to be done, figure which person is best prepared (by Role) to achieve each need, and confirm with people that they have the right tools – and teammates – to do their job better.

The whole point of performance evaluation is to improve performance. Try this approach and the improvement will be obvious to management, to your staff, and to you!

The Downside of Power

Ok I’ll admit it: I like power. I like to have it, I like to exercise it, I like it a whole lot. And I even like the responsibility that comes with it.

Sometimes it gets me places I didn’t think I’d ever be going.

Take powers of attorney, for instance. I’ve had a few in my life, especially from relatives who trusted my judgment in an emergency. That’s usually when good judgment is needed, so that the emergency can be addressed without a detailed think-through of potential consequences and if-thens and maybe-buts.

But now I have an emergency of my own, and it has a lot of moving parts. I need to construct a whole end-of-life scenario for someone dear who can’t.

As you get down into the details of something as delicate as this, there are tough decisions to be made. Sometimes basic values apply cleanly. Sometimes they don’t. My usual approach to this kind of ambiguity is to look for situations that are somewhat similar and use them to identify an answer.

That’s how I got to thinking about how end of life is very similar to end of job – also known as termination, downsizing, and outplacement. Having made this connection, three guiding principles came into view. They are:

  1. Maintain a ‘least restrictive’ environment.

In the healthcare world (particularly mental health) this means allowing the person the latitude to do what they need or want to do, as long as it doesn’t compromise their own, or other people’s, safety. For the end of lifer with a cognition-limiting diagnosis, it means no tying them down or stopping them from eating as much ice cream as they want.

Comparably, in the employment world, it means that when you’ve decided to fire someone, don’t pile on a terrible evaluation or otherwise spirit-damaging experience on the eve of their impending separation.

  1. Make the transition as painless as possible.

In the healthcare world, I am talking about paying attention and taking action to ease pain, boredom, or distress, in whatever manner that drugs, comfort accommodations, and/or companionship will be effective. Because anything that takes the mind off doom dwelling, at least for a little while, is a blessing.

In the employment world, I’m saying that when people are on the way out, even if no one really likes them, please provide the courtesy of a farewell lunch or cake and/or group card…whatever. It feels lousy enough to have been cut from the team, especially when you enjoyed and appreciated the job. Don’t compound the pain by omitting the niceties.

  1. Avoid false hope, but be sympathetic.

In the health world, this refers to the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order. Helpful staff people usually want those who have power of attorney over someone’s final days to sign the DNR yesterday. Any reluctance to do so is generally met with an air of suspicion. (Fear of liability is apparently as strong a motivator to action as, say, a tiger loose in the lobby.) Since this was the most difficult principle for me to define, I tried out a lot of scenarios from other fields. Again, comparison to the world of work was the most enlightening.

In employment world, termination is very much like a DNR. There’s an order stating that a person or persons have to go, and usually the person who carries out the order isn’t the one who made the decision in the first place. (Think about that for a moment. The power of attorney holder is not the one making the decision that the person will be let go. That decision takes place at a higher level, so to speak.) Primarily for this reason, it’s important for the bearer of bad news to depersonalize the whole process. Sad to say, many do a great job of the depersonalization part, but of the rest, not so much.

What if, instead, we made it clear that at least one person in the room really wanted the soon-to-be-departed to stay? In the health world, that would involve an effort to connect at the very end, as a sort of social resuscitation. In the employment world, it could be as simple as adding one small word of regret by the terminator.

Will you ‘love people out’ or will you just leave them behind?

You have the power to choose.

Five Leadership Lessons From My Kids

I went to college, and grad school. (More than once, each.) I’ve attended the training programs and read the books and listened to the podcasts. And despite all of that, when I think about it, I actually learned some of my most important leadership lessons from my kids. So thanks, Andrew and Marni. I’m going to share your primo contributions to my leadership education with the rest of the world.

1) If people don’t want to play with you, it might be more about them than you.

Really, I can’t count how many times we went through this. Someone chose not to invite my offspring to a play date or club or party, and the world would be coming to an end. But then they grew up. And last week one of them told me where some of those kids are now – more than twenty years later – and you wouldn’t want to be there for all the coffee at Starbucks.

Leadership Lesson: It’s more important to be true to yourself than it is to be popular.

2) Sometimes being silly is more effective than being serious.

Oh, how Andrew loved Dr. Seuss! I can still recite parts of Hop on Pop, which just shows you how effectively repetition reinforces retention. But buried within the silly was always something really important, meaning it was worth remembering and worth trying to apply in everyday life. As we learned from Horton, “A person’s a person no matter how small,” which was quite useful the day young Andrew met a very small man in a wheelchair. And, with a tip of my pen to the amazing Mr. GeiselA very important lesson, you see. And to that, I’m sure, we can all agree.

Leadership Lesson: Make your message into a mantra. Make it meaningful, and make it memorable. Then it will stick around long enough to make a difference.

3) It’s important to know the rules other people are trying to follow, even if no one follows them perfectly.

Life is a little like a square dance. Sometimes you don’t know which way to go till someone calls out directions. But, not so for Marni. She was more of a Time Warp girl. (For those unfamiliar with Rocky Horror, Time Warp is a dance…sort of… It has rules, but the excitement of a Rocky Horror gathering often causes members of the youthful crowd to lose track of the difference between ‘right’ and ‘stage right’.) Marni knew the steps so well that even in the midst of pandemonium, she could guide and redirect those who got lost.

Leadership Lesson: Leading is only occasionally about where the team is going. Usually it’s about where the team is, how it’s doing, and helping it to do better.

4) The best rewards are the ones that make people feel good.

As the parenting myth goes, treating your kids fairly means treating them equally. This leads to a lot of parenting strategies like what to do when there’s only one piece of cake left and the kids are fighting over it. (Neophytes and non-parents, it works like this: one kid divides the cake and the other chooses first.) The trouble with this strategy is that equal quantities may not be what either recipient is really hoping for. Imagine how blessed I felt when I realized that one of my kids preferred the whites of hard-boiled eggs and the other preferred the yolks.

Leadership Lesson: Forget about ‘fair’ and reward people with what they like best. This will require extra effort – but the results will be more than worth the trouble. Also, when the work has involved vast amounts of collaboration, make sure the rewards are likewise collaborative.

 5) You don’t need to fix everything. Sometimes it’s best just to tolerate and wait.

Inevitably, in parenting life, there are times when all the perfection you wish for dissolves into tears. Sometimes it’s the kids who have wet faces. Sometimes it’s you. It used to happen a lot on those enforced togetherness adventures called ‘family vacation.’ Two kids and a dog in the back of a station wagon, three days from New York to Florida. Are you getting the picture? When Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “Hell is other people,” you’d swear he was describing road-weary, hungry travelers cooped-up in a tiny motel room with a semi-functioning television set, fighting for the last scrap of the nutritionally questionable swag obtained by a late-night raid on a vending machine. In times like that, sunrise over the ocean and a sandy shore may be all that’s needed to restore balance.

Leadership Lesson: Remember that stress happens in times both good and bad. That way, you’ll be able to anticipate it, make others ready for it, and keep things under control when it hits.

Thanks, kids. You’re the best gifts I’ve ever received. And that goes for you, too, dear readers!

Leadership Presence is More Than Just Being There

Now I’m not knocking charisma. It’s useful and people tend to be attracted to it. And, from the leader’s perspective, it’s kind of easy. You just show up.

Problem is, that approach only works for the already-successful, guru-ninja-rockstar leader. The rest of us need to do our homework before that big day arrives.

So here’s your assignment. It’s in three parts because really, increasing your leadership presence is complex and the factors are interrelated.

  1. Identify and clarify your vision of the future, not only for yourself but for those you lead, or want to lead. Document your vision (in writing!) and then communicate it in a way that inspires people to follow it.
  2. Consider how you appear to others. Give at least a passing glance at body, mind, and soul (or however you think of that intangible part of you that projects your values.) Do something to improve at least one, today.
  3. Get some practice leaving decisions to other people, especially to those who really want to contribute in the way that decision requires. (This sounds easier than it is. People who want to lead generally like to be in control.)

Before you try to send in your homework (or send me a note saying your dog ate it), understand this: I am not going to grade you. You are going to do it, using your own standards. (This is an old professorial strategy to discourage cheating, even though I know you weren’t even thinking of doing that.)

Here’s how to score yourself:

Your score on the first part of your assignment is achieved by calculating the number of your followers. You can do a headcount of people who report to you or just use the number on your Twitter or LinkedIn. Then throw that number out and ask yourself the real question. If I stopped talking about this vision tomorrow, how many of my followers would still try to achieve it? (That’s the true measure of the enduring leader.)

Your score on the second part is a little trickier. The fact is, some people rise closer to the top purely because they focus on obscuring who they really are and spend all their time buffing their image. Only real change counts for this one. For one, it’s an important part of your leadership presence to be a role model for self-improvement. (And no, losing five pounds is not scored a five.)

Your score on the third part is calculated on an even more esoteric basis. You enumerate the other team members who you ceded decision-making to, and then ask them, one by one, if they feel you butted in on their decision in any way. (Look them in the eye when you ask this, and for leadership’s sake, please smile!)

You can add your scores together or put them on your office wall, if you like. Or you can just plan on doing better tomorrow.

Because, after all, leadership presence is a path, not a destination.

Why I’m Not Serving Turkey This Year

I love Thanksgiving.

It feels like one huge American party, beginning with pre-holiday crowds hefting fresh, frozen, or fresh-frozen (whatever that is) turkeys, on through the annual debate over what makes the best stuffing. You can be pretty well sure that the whole country is collaborating in this annual ritual, right down to the traditional pro football extravaganza.

But you know, much as I love good food, and as much as I love cooking for people I love, I really and truly love the feedback I get from those same people on what they’d really like to be eating. If you’ve ever had lunch with us at TGI, you know how true this is. And you probably also noticed that I value honesty.

So this year, just in case anyone happened to have a bright, shiny, innovative menu idea, but wasn’t talking, I decided to poll all of my Thanksgiving dinner guests separately. Much to my surprise, it turned out that everyone had an original idea. Sort of.

My daughter said, why don’t we just order in from our favorite Chinese restaurant. Her reason: she likes the leftovers better.

My son said, Mom, you don’t even like turkey that much. (This was his scientific assumption, based on the ratio of leftovers remaining in our refrigerator compared to the ten-course doggie bags that went home with everyone else.)

And my husband, of course, said, let’s just do what the kids like. (He knows I treasure his flexibility.)

So this year I’m going with the flow…almost. I know I won’t be able to completely forego tradition, so I’ll probably make something on the stove at the last minute, perhaps involving bok choy and broccoli, even though I may wind up being the only one who eats it. But at least I won’t be the lone Thanksgiving celebrant who is not cooking anything.

In the midst of all this, I hope I’ll remember to focus on what Thanksgiving is supposed to be about: being thankful. That’s because gratitude always involves other people more than anything else, and like food, it’s only good when it is shared.

So, before I start setting the table, may I take a moment to express my thanks to all of you who are users and fans of Teamability®, and friends of The Gabriel Institute. You are very special to all of us here. Whether you’re reading this because we’re innovative, or because teaming is the world’s oldest way of getting things done, or because of any of the many other reasons you may have, no matter where you are, we’re glad that you’ve got a seat at our table!

What If We Gave an Election and Nobody Came?

Election Day will be here soon. Wherever you live, you’ll probably be asked a few ballot questions along with your selection of candidates for whatever job openings there are. Yours might be about your willingness to fund some project or change some tradition or underwrite some new bureaucracy.

Did you ever notice that these Election Day quizzes are always made up of yes/no questions? I’ve taught college and grad courses where essay questions are the norm, but it’s taken me a while to understand what’s been bothering me. We’re cheating our electorate by only giving multiple-choice exams – with only two choices yet. We can write in candidates, but where we’d really like to give our opinions, only yes or no are acceptable. What’s wrong with this picture?

What if, instead, this year’s ballot had essay questions? Might that not produce a more solution-focused agenda? Perhaps it could look like this:

Public Question #1: What do you plan to do, personally, in the coming year to make your hometown a nice place to live?

Public Question #2: How can we fund government so that no one individual or group feels put upon?

Public Question #3: Is our society a just one? Answer by citing three examples, pro or con, and analyze each within the context of domestic and foreign policies.

Now I know you’re thinking:

  • I just don’t have time for this.
  • I barely made it to the poll before it closed last year.
  • I didn’t know we were having a test or I would have studied for it.
  • All of the above.

What if we gave an election and no one came?

Perhaps its time for us to take responsibility: for the future of our families, our businesses, and our world. Perhaps it’s time to make participatory democracy a reality. Perhaps we need to stop making it so easy to vote and then to forget what it was that we voted for. What better way to do that than to ask citizens to go beyond merely pulling levers? What better way to truly invite the entire spectrum of feeling, of belief, and of thought that our electorate is capable of than to ask them to share it with all of us?

The pedagogues among you may ask how I plan to grade these essays, to determine which ideas are worthy. The answer is simple. When you rise above the dichotomy of yes and no, you listen in a new way. You find solutions that incorporate the diversity. You give an election and everyone comes.

Giving and Taking…and More

We all like to think of ourselves as ‘givers’ but as Dr. Adam Grant, author of NY Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller, Give and Take points out in a recent blog, “generosity is earned, not claimed.”

For the most part – and to most people – giving is just giving. However, there is a big difference between giving to one other person and giving to your team.

Dr. Grant’s research has given us a broadly applicable understanding of what goes on in person-to-person giving. Having identified the key players as Givers, Takers, and Matchers, the effect (often surprising) that each type of participant has on the other two becomes clear. He has also described the impact that these three modes of interaction can have on organizational culture in general, and I for one am all-in!  Who wouldn’t prefer a culture of giving to one of taking?

Giving to (or taking from) another person has a concrete sensibility. It also calls for a human act of courtesy and/or closure, in the form of reciprocation. Givers give without any expectation of thanks or repayment, but culturally we have learned to give back, and few would fail to take note of an earnest ‘thank you.’ Matchers, being attuned to the balance between giving and taking, are very likely to notice whether or not reciprocation has occurred. And hard-core Takers, who may have no intention of giving anything meaningful in return, will take care to verbally reciprocate in order to maintain their guise as a Giver or Matcher.

But when it comes to ‘team giving,’ the plot thickens.

When people give-and-take with each other, the exchange is person-to-person. But in a very real and significant way, ‘the team’ is like a living entity with needs of its own, and can also give and take. The nature of this exchange is person-to-team, but the team (being a conceptual construct) cannot say ‘Thank you’. Instead, your ‘reward’ is the satisfaction of an inner need to make a team contribution.

Most people have a specific sense of what ‘making a meaningful contribution’ is. It varies from person to person, but generally aligns with a specific team need. We call this distinct sense of purpose a person’s ‘Role’ – with a capital R – and the greatest reward for ‘team giving’ comes when the nature of the giving is aligned with the giver’s Role. When other Roles are also giving to (serving) the team in this way, the communal sense of wellbeing becomes very strong. Why? Because giving one-to-one is a simple exchange. When you give to the team, you answer a higher calling. This is the essence of ‘team spirit.’

So, in comparing the dynamics of person-to-person giving to those of ‘team giving’, our attention shifts from ‘how much and how often’ to ‘where’, ‘why’, and ‘to what end’.

With that understanding, here are the ways the ten different Roles give to their team:

Founders give Inspiration. Inspiration is distinct from Positive Programming (see Vision Formers, below) in that Founders seek to attract a desired mode of behavior, not to directly access and shape it.

Vision Movers give Direction. While some people (Vision Movers, in particular) don’t like the idea of being directed, it is a welcome gift to people with other Roles, who can then contribute with the assurance that their group is on a proper course to the goal. Direction is ‘advice on steroids.’

Vision Formers give Positive Programming, defined as fostering desired attitudes about people and teams, and their future productive behaviors.

Action Movers give Service, which is why they make excellent soldiers and other kinds of ‘get it done’ people. Some people think of doing service as the equivalent of selflessness, but for an Action Mover, service and self are completely intertwined.

Action Formers give Discipline, which in the world of work, you can think of as organizing, structuring, and setting limits.

Explorers give Unexpected Treasures. These are things that you didn’t even know you needed – but which often turn out to be ‘just the thing.’  What an Explorer brings might be as simple as a hilarious new joke, as exciting as the first look at a tremendous business opportunity, or as vital as early warning of danger ahead.

Watchdogs give Nurturance, which consists of accepting, validating, and caretaking behaviors. They often give mentoring right along with anything else they’re doing for the team.

Conductors give Solutions. They focus on short-term problem solving and making things work better. The word ‘hack,’ – the application of ingenuity to a puzzle or problem – is a fit to what the Conductor likes to do. However, Conductors are wedded to expediency. If it works, it’s good. Longer-term consequences are of comparatively little concern to the Conductor.

Curators give Wisdom, which often serves as the link to deeper thinking, to more creative problem solving, to guidance from past experience, and to the avoidance of pitfalls.

Finally, Communicators give Information. Let’s be clear that in giving to a team, information is to the Communicator as wisdom is to the Curator. At times the information might sound like gossip, but that’s not what Communicators do. Their activity comes from the desire to connect (or reconnect) people with the vision and mission of the team, and also with each other to create a common bond. Quite literally, Communicators build communities.

These ideas on giving are offered freely as a creative spark for further inquiry into giving, taking, and teaming. A better understanding of collaborative team structures will make it possible to design teams and organizational cultures in which greater giving and meaningful work are available to all. That is the goal of The Gabriel Institute, and the life purpose of its founders.

Summer Memories, More than Sweet

It seems that Labor Day always comes too soon for the boys and girls of summer. I hope you got to do the things you love, whether pick-up games of volleyball on sand or smearing mustard on top of crisp, sizzling hot dogs at a family barbeque.

Coney Island ca 1949While the beach vacation I coveted didn’t materialize this year, I did get to exercise my memories. Some came from an article I read in the NY Times, and others from a box of old pictures that surfaced when my daughter moved to her new house. The article was about a young woman who makes cotton candy at the old sweet shop next door to Nathan’s in Coney Island. Just reading about her filled my mind with images and recollections of summers long past. Coney Island was more than just a beach. It was roller coaster rides with my father, tasting my mother’s iced coffee, sandcastles with my cousins, and jumping waves with the bigger kids.

The old photos were from the same era, and are so familiar. I was probably too young then to be remembering Coney Island, but I sat there with the article on my lap and the pictures in my hand and I swear I could smell the hot dogs and feel the grainy texture of pink spun sugar melting in my mouth.

I learned a lesson from that brief reverie.

It is oh-so-easy to get lost in your own thoughts and to assume that other people experience life in the same way you do. In fact, it can seem downright logical that most people would view a given situation in a similar way. After all, reality is reality, isn’t it? But of course, that’s not true at all. Our life experiences, our thoughts, our feelings, our values, our memories, all contribute to a unique perspective. They make us individuals.

Recognizing that other people might not know where you’re coming from is more than just a lesson in understanding them. It’s the necessary first step one must take in marketing a completely new product and concept. You want to craft a compelling story that meets them exactly where they are, even if that is not exactly where you are. And you want that story to resonate with as many other people as possible.

So I went back and reread the story of the woman who made cotton candy. I wanted to understand why it made the NY Times when the Times has its pick of thousands of stories, and the vast majority of its readers have never even seen Coney Island.

That’s when I realized why the story was so compelling. It had nothing to do with the location or the candy store. It was not about memories of Coney Island or the ephemeral quality of pink spun sugar. The story was so engrossing because it was about a woman who worked in a job that she never planned to do. It was her story. It was about her dreams, her wishes, and her realm of possibilities.

By taking myself out of the picture, I realized how profoundly the author’s message had affected me. In fact, it explained much of the confusion I feel when people do not immediately ‘get’ what I’m talking about. (Like so many Founders, I tend to live in the big-picture, far-off future, often losing in the process that precious connection to immediate need.)

It is a very simple distinction. We can tell our story. Or we can hear the other person’s. We can make it about us. Or we can make it about them. And the exciting thing is, you have a choice.

Think about this the next time you’re tempted to tell someone about the wonders of your product (mine is Teamability®) and how important it is to you. Stop and ask yourself, whose story is this? Then, create an opportunity for the other person to tell his or her own story of team relationships, and weave in the wonders of your Teamabilty as the conversation evolves.

In the end, sharing sweet, sticky cotton candy with your loving family is a wonderful thing, especially when you’re young enough that even an ordinary day is full of wonder. But connecting with someone else’s hopes and dreams, and helping them to flower, can open the door to a bright and beautiful future for all.

You’re Leaning In. Have You Tried a Push Up?

No I’m not shilling for Sheryl Sandberg or Victoria’s Secret here, although I’ve read one and worn the other. And I’m not talking about women vs. men, either.

What I’m talking about is your career, and I mean YOU, no matter what your DNA or externals say about your gender. Many of us are in the habit of playing down our assets, and while there are some good reasons for doing that, there also are some not-so-good reasons.

One, our assets – talents, skills, experience and other qualities – are so familiar to us. We use them every day, so it’s hard to think of them as special. We assume that what we bring to the table, anyone can. And we’re wrong.

Two, we rarely experience genuine appreciation for the ways in which we wholeheartedly contribute to the work of our teams. We may get donuts in the morning, pizza on Friday, or a pat on the back sometime in between, but research* has shown that different people experience respect and appreciation in very different ways. Unfortunately, most people express appreciation in a one-size-fits-all fashion. And they’re wrong.

Three, in many work environments, everyone’s expected to be tough and independent. Asking for, and even giving, too much help is thought to be weak. Sometimes, no matter how much we accomplish or what our colleagues or bosses may say about it, we don’t feel that we’ve made a meaningful contribution. This happens when we’re good at what we do, but our job responsibilities are out of whack with who we really are. And everyone’s wrong.

So let’s hear it for the push up.

A push up happens when the inner you – your Role in service to a team – is being satisfied by the things you do.

It could be that you inspire people. Or you drive progress. You enlighten others and help them become their best selves. You lead the action. You manage the follow through. You have a knack for bringing valuable things back to the team, or making the most out of the limited resources your team has available. You fix the stuff that needs fixing. You preserve and organize and share knowledge that otherwise would be lost. You generate good feelings and build community. Each of these different kinds of contributions is central to a different Role. So whatever it is that you do because you love to do it, and keep doing because your organization needs it – that’s your greatest asset.

Now take your greatest asset and make something more of it. It’s as simple as one, two, three.

One, at the start of each day remember that whatever you will be doing is more than a contribution to your colleagues or your customers. It’s also a contribution to the world at large. Call it a ripple in a pond, a drop of water in the river of life, a stabilizing vibration in a chaotic universe, or whatever makes sense to you, but never lose sight of the fact that positive teaming makes a difference. If you don’t make an effort each day to push up, then there’s a good chance that you will experience a push down. (Don’t confuse a push down with a put-down. Put-downs come from people who mistakenly assume that they will feel better if they make other people feel worse.)

Two, recognize and accept the fact that, for most people, showing appreciation is in the same category as politeness. Even when sincerely felt, it is usually expressed generically. It’s very possible that you are ‘secretly appreciated,’ and you can help that secret come out of hiding. Which of your assets would you wish most to be recognized, and how best might that happen? Here’s one approach: ask your manager for some feedback on the ways that your contributions add value to the team. You might say that you’re trying to figure out how to be more valuable so you’re trying to get a baseline. In an exchange like this, you’ll find opportunities to raise awareness of your own particular asset, even if your manager hasn’t noticed.

Three, please remember that interdependency is the spice of life. It’s common to say that ‘timing is everything’, but it’s truer to say that ‘teaming is everything’. None of us is perfect and no one should be expected to do everything well. Even though some people CAN do just about anything well, that doesn’t mean that they find the doing of it all to be meaningful or enjoyable. It’s better for them, and for every member of a team, to share responsibilities and for each to do what makes them happy. And that happens best when you have each other to lean on – and help each other push up!

* A key finding of the research that led to the development of Teamability® showed that a person’s mode of contributing to organizational need – their measurable ‘Role’ on a team – is closely aligned with the way in which they internalize expressions of respect that have been communicated by others. 

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