Thursday, April 23, 2015

Confronting Workplace Bullies

Bullying in professional settings is a problem most managers would rather not have to face. Sadly, however, it is quite prevalent. At some point in your career, you will almost certainly come across a workplace bully, a subordinate who claims to have been harried by an employer or supervisor, or a person who is either directly or indirectly affected by workplace bullying.

Tormentors of all ages tend to share some common characteristics. One is a propensity to target individuals whom the bully considers weaker or less fortunate than h/erself. Another is the compensatory impulse: compulsive browbeaters often suffer from insecurity and a lack of self-esteem, which they try to repress by taking out their frustrations on others—especially those not in a position to defend themselves.

Recently, a team manager told me that a worker at her institution had complained to her about bullying by a superior. While the manager said she believed the allegations were true, she also worried that the problem would be challenging to resolve. Confronting someone over the kind of misbehaviour that most people associate with grade school can be awkward, and requires considerable courage on the part of an organizational leader.

While there are no magic-bullet fixes, the following pointers may help:

Trust your intuition.

Adults who have been targeted by bullies are generally reluctant to admit to themselves that bullying has truly taken place. This is partly because the line between innocent teasing and bullying is ambiguous—and from an employee’s point of view, there are strong disincentives against reporting undesirable behaviour by superiors or co-workers. What if your boss sides with the bully? What if it’s your word against h/ers? In particular, young employees are usually loath to upset the apple cart, lest they risk compromising their budding careers.

The first prerequisite for solving any problem is to acknowledge that it exists. This holds true both for people subjected to bullying, and managers of business environments in which bullying happens. If you suspect that bullying is a problem in your probably is.

Leaders: stop malicious rumours.

Bullying among adults tends to be more subtle and insidious than bullying among children or teens, since many adult bullies aim to maintain plausible deniability. One of the common forms that adult bullying takes is the malicious rumour. As a leader, you have both a responsibility and a great deal of power when it comes to stopping mean-spirited gossip in your organization. Make it plain to everyone that there is no place for behind-the-back innuendo in the professional atmosphere you hope to foster.

Keep records.

If you are a target of bullying, take note of the micro-aggressions. These may include untoward e-mails, social media comments, memos, or text messages. Carry a notepad and pen at all times (discreetly), or record information on your smartphone. If you find yourself in a situation in which another individual or group tries to belittle you, take a moment to write down the name of the perpetrator(s), the nature of the maltreatment, and any witnesses. Written records and witness testimony will prove beneficial if the need to file an official complaint arises.

Establish an anti-bullying policy for your organization.

First, all members of your organization must have a basic understanding of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. This may require you to set some ground rules.

A well formulated anti-bullying policy should outline a coherent process for dealing with the issue. In particular, there must be a clear and consistent definition of bullying—including abusive language, shouting, unfair or unwarranted criticism, and deliberate ostracism of an individual. Further, employees and other potential targets of bullies must know how and where to submit complaints, and feel confident that they will face no recriminations for doing so in good faith. This may require anonymity.

Finally, there must be consequences for perpetrators, including disciplinary action and, in serious or repeat-offender cases, suspension or dismissal. If those who have been bullied believe their tormentor will face no real repercussions, or that their complaint won’t be taken seriously, they may abstain from the process, or even resign from their position.

Although it may be a challenge to confront workplace bullying, it is crucial to do so promptly, professionally, and effectively.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Agile Marketing

Traditional marketing is defined by carefully crafted and strategically planned marketing campaigns, generally developed months ahead using sales data and analysis, supported by media buys and other collateral. However, the growth in social media use has led marketing to become more time sensitive, forcing marketers to identify and adapt quickly to what is happening at the moment, and leading to the rise in what has been coined “agile marketing”.

Agile marketing breaks away from traditional marketing attempts to plan well in advance in more formal and structured processes. Agile marketing strategy is a quick response to real time developments in order for companies to stay relevant and compelling and, most importantly, get people talking. A great example of agile marketing that went viral is the Oreo cookie tweet from Superbowl XLVII. 

When an unexpected blackout occurred during the game, the Oreo marketing team was quick to tweet a picture of an Oreo in the shadows with the tweet reading: “Power out? No Problem. You can still dunk in the dark”. The tweet probably cost little time and effort to produce, but was more discussed afterwards than any of the much anticipated million-dollar commercials that are historically known to create a buzz during the event. The tweet is a great example of a change in direction for marketing practices.

While, “old school” marketing still has its place in overall marketing strategy, smart marketers know that, in order to stay relevant in the fast-paced digital world, you have to be quick on your feet to respond to changes in the marketplace.

Agile marketing requires you to pay attention to what’s going on around you, whether it be breaking news, celebrity drama, or just new developments in your company or market. While marketers generally pay close attention to trends and shifts in their own target market, looking beyond this scope to breaking news, tech innovation, or even celebrity drama can help influence agile marketing.

But don’t try to force an agile marketing campaign. The best agile marketing seems almost a natural response – funny, creative, and thoughtful.  Arby’s came through with a fantastic off-the-cuff response to the infamous Pharrell hat at the Grammys by tweeting, “Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs”, referencing the similarity between the style of the hat to Arby’s logo.

Quick reactions to an event can sometimes backfire, so it’s important to avoid controversy and stay positive. While thinking on your feet is an important part of agile marketing, you also need to consider the response you may receive in return, so don’t think too quickly! Agile marketing is definitely less successful if you have to backpedal or apologize.

Marketing has always been a very creative and forward thinking field. It is an industry that is constantly adapting to changes, and agile marketing is an important part of the development of marketing strategy. By keeping your ear to the ground and paying attention to what’s happening around you, agile marketing can be easily and effectively incorporated into your traditional marketing campaigns.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Shrinking Your Environmental Footprint

We’ve all heard or read about the serious threat to our way of life posed by environmental
degradation, including the acidification of the oceans, the warming of the global climate system, and the loss of biodiversity. In recent years, warnings issued by organizations like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have grown increasingly dire. The consensus among experts, and a growing number of world leaders, is that we need to get our collective act together if we intend to leave a decent, livable planet to our grandchildren.

There is no one, single “magic bullet” that can address all of those problems simultaneously. In order to answer the challenge, we will need to combine our skills of cooperation with our capacity for prudent, individual decision-making. And the workplace happens to be a venue where personal initiative and collaborative effort both come to the fore.

If you’re concerned about your business’s impact on the environment, but worry about the cost or difficulty of implementing more eco-friendly alternatives, fear not: there are some simple, inexpensive techniques you can try that can make a positive difference.

Invest in new lightbulbs and energy-efficient appliances.

Replace your old, incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs, and make sure the office refrigerator, microwave, and dishwasher are all certified energy-efficient and built to last. Another advantage of the pursuit of energy efficiency (besides the environmental dimension) is the money you stand to save on your electricity bill.

Conduct regular checks of your office’s heating system to ensure that air is able to flow freely through the vents.

Turn out those lights!

Instruct the last person to leave the office in the evening to turn out the lights, and make sure all of the office computers are switched off. The same advice applies to rooms not currently in use, and chargers for cell phones and other gadgets that continue to sip electricity even when the device is fully charged. Unplug these when they’re not needed.

If possible, try scheduling “work from home” days.

One of the primary sources of vehicular pollution in our society is the daily commute to-and-from work—cars, trucks, and buses idling at stoplights and sitting in traffic. Instead, encourage your team to work from home if they can. With the communications technology available today, there is often no need for professionals to congregate in a single location in order to keep in contact with each other and get work done.

Reuse, recycle, and compost.

Many municipalities have citywide recycling programs, and some (like Vancouver, B.C.) have municipal composting programs. By separating recyclable items and organic materials from garbage, you’ll save space in your waste receptacles, conserve energy and, ultimately, contribute to the diminution of landfills and refuse processed at incinerators.

If you have a lot of old documents with text on only one side, conserve paper by writing on the other side. Set aside a trove of defunct, one-sided documents for this purpose.

Order paper products made from recycled material.

A wide variety of paper products made from recycled materials—including plates, napkins, paper towels, toilet paper, tissues, and document sheets—are available for purchase in stationery stores and through wholesale distributors. Whenever possible, try to order such products, particularly if they are compostable.

If your work is finished early, go home.

Many businesses operate on the basis of set hours, like the stereotypical “9 to 5”. But unless there’s a good reason for you to remain at work throughout the allotted time period, you’re better off shutting down your computer, cutting the lights, and heading home. You may even profit from the opportunity to beat the evening rush, which will save you fuel (better for both the environment and your bank account), and spare you frustration.

Spend some of your free time enjoying the natural world you’ve helped to preserve!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Easy Options for E-commerce Websites

The great thing about the internet is that it levels the playing field for small businesses to compete with big companies in the same market. Now anyone can set up a professional looking website without a team of graphic designers and coding professionals. Online e-commerce platforms are abundant, so which platform suits your needs best? If you’re looking to make money selling products and services online, here’s an outline of some options that might work for you.

Shopify is one of the easiest and most popular online e-commerce builders. Incorporating over 100
professional and sleek design templates, both free and paid, the builder has many add-on apps that can separate your website from the thousands of others online. But, more importantly, these apps help automate the processes on your site so that order submission and payment handling are fluid. Finally, 24/7 support services mean that any questions you may have along the way will be answered quickly and efficiently.

SquareSpace is a drag and drop builder with impressive design templates that are responsive and very customizable. With SquareSpace you can build a regular website or integrate an e-commerce platform in the website with lots of options for customization, including order emails and coupons. However, in comparison to other e-commerce builders, the SquareSpace platform may not be for beginners and can take some time to understand how to properly use the tools provided. But once you get the hang of it, the outcome is certainly worth the effort. Another downside to SquareSpace is there is no option for a free builder. You can sign up for a free trial, but you will have to pay in order to continue using the service.

Etsy focuses on handmade, vintage and unique items, allowing the user to sell their original products straight to customers.  It is a huge and growing online marketplace, enabling individuals to grow their brand from scratch and integrating social media straight into the platform for networking. Etsy is different from other e-commerce builders as there are limited customizing options. As well, Etsy takes a percentage of the sale price for each listing, though creating an account and page itself is free. Etsy is great for those who are not interested in creating their own website, and who are looking to sell products that fit within Etsy’s target marget.

While Weebly is lesser known than the builders previously mentioned, the platform has gotten rave reviews from users for its ease-of-use. The site planner tool takes you through the basic steps needed to ensure that the goals for your e-commerce store are met depending on what focus your website will have. Weebly has also introduced an iPad app, allowing you to add products on the go, and even enables you to download your site as a zip file if you decide to move your site to a standard hosted domain outside of the platform. 

Each of these e-commerce website platforms have great aspects that make them attractive to first time sellers, looking to build a website without hiring professionals. Depending on what you’re looking for, one platform might be more suitable than the next, so take advantage of free trials to test out the each system to make sure you pick the one that works for you. Happy selling!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Keys to Effective Internal Communication

Take a moment to browse online job postings, and you will see the same item listed recurrently under “Qualifications”: namely, effective communication skills. As important as this capacity is for
prospective employees, it is even more vital for businesses of every size. This obtains both for interactions with external stakeholders, and within an organization. No team, regardless of the talent and expertise of its personnel, can expect to achieve its potential unless information transfers seamlessly and comprehensibly among its members.

Although many of the requirements of functional internal communication are common sense, you may find the following guidelines useful:

  Invoke the KISS principle.
When you initiate communication, take a moment to consider whether the information you intend to convey is presented in the simplest, most concise, most unambiguous form possible. Is there any room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation? “Keep it simple and specific” is a useful guideline here. Concision is also advantageous in most situations.

  Accuracy is indispensable.

Double-check e-mails and other documents before you distribute them. If you have doubts about any aspect of the material, seek confirmation either by doing research on your own, or by consulting a colleague. Accuracy is paramount for effectiveness in communication, for two reasons: first, because inaccuracy can compound into missteps and delays that cost time and money; and second, because repeated errors on your part may erode the trust that others place in you. It is generally worthwhile to take a bit of time to ensure accuracy now, rather than spend a lot of time trying to correct mistakes (and repair any damage to your reputation) later.

  Maintain records of important instructions and agreements. Communicate in both verbal and written form.

Even if you’re confident that you understand what you’ve been told, or believe you’ve made yourself perfectly clear, it is important to make use of documentation rather than simply rely on memory. If, as an employer, you have to convey complex instructions to an employee that involve multiple steps, write them down in clear, succinct language. (Recall the “KISS” principle.) The same advice applies to employees who need to communicate information up the chain of command.

  Keep communications relevant to the recipient.

The human brain has a remarkable capacity to “zone out”, discounting intelligence it deems irrelevant. This is an adaptive evolutionary trait; for our distant ancestors, the ability to identify crucial facts, and save mental energy by omitting unimportant or superfluous ones, was a prerequisite for survival. However, in our modern civilization, this immanent skill can occasionally backfire; by skimming a lengthy document in order to save time, for instance, we risk overlooking information that is relevant to us.

One of the ways for managers to avoid this pitfall is by tailoring communications to each recipient, with specific details or instructions. This practice also sends a tacit signal that employers acknowledge and appreciate the unique contribution of every individual.

  Who reports to whom?

All staff should know exactly to whom they are accountable, and for whom they are responsible. As the scale of a company or organization increases, this factor becomes all the more necessary. It is axiomatic that communication should occur through the proper channels, but what are the proper channels? Aim to ensure that everyone who works in your business can answer that question without a moment’s doubt or hesitation.

  Details matter. But never lose sight of the big picture.

Every business should have a mission statement, which is not only clear and accessible, but understood by all staff at the organization. Once every member of a team buys into a common goal, you will have laid the groundwork for collective success.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Simple Cyber-security Practices

Cyber-security has been a topical issue of late in the wake of headline-grabbing incidents, like the Sony hack, the theft of compromising photos of celebrities from an online cloud (“celebgate”), and the revelation of a security vulnerability dubbed “heartbleed”. Unfortunately, as technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, so do the techniques used by tech-savvy miscreants to infiltrate computer systems. Further, in this era of Big Data, the amount of sensitive information potentially vulnerable to criminal activity is vaster than ever before.

Few (if any) computer systems can claim to be the digital equivalent of Fort Knox. But there are some simple steps you can and should take to help improve the safety of your data.

  Keep software up to date, including anti-virus applications.

Out-of-date web browsers are susceptible to cyber-infiltration, malware, and viruses, as are machines that don’t have the latest anti-virus software installed. Do a bit of research, and invest in security software from a reputable company with a solid track record.

  Create backup copies of everything that’s important.

Even ostensibly reliable computers can sometimes crash or malfunction, causing you to lose access to information stored on the hard drive. Pay particular attention to financial and human resources documents (including credit card information and social security numbers), records of transactions and accounts receivable/payable, databases and spreadsheets, and any other files you feel might cause a major headache if it ever went missing. Store these essentials either in a secure cloud, or offsite.

  Set up an internet firewall.

Many computer operating systems have a firewall pre-installed, and you’ll simply need to enable it; alternatively, free firewall software can be downloaded from the internet. Again, make sure the software you use comes from a reputable source.

  Control physical access to computers.

 Set up passwords for each machine, and request that each employee create a unique user name and entry code. Aim to change passwords every few months and in the event of employee turnover. Safely stow and lock up laptops that aren’t being used.

  Secure your wi-fi network.

Your wireless network should have a unique password that’s at least 10 to 15 digits in length, containing upper-case and lower-case letters and numbers. Try to make it not only exceedingly difficult for a person to guess, but inordinately time-consuming for a password-cracking program to break.

  Use extra caution with payment-processing.

When setting up a payment-processing arrangement with a bank or financial institution, ask about the latest security and anti-fraud measures and best practices. Try to isolate your payment system, and avoid using the same computer to handle financial transactions and browse the internet.

  Leave software installation to people you trust, or do it yourself.

Many computer operating systems are outfitted to require password authorization  from a system administrator in order to install new software. Make sure this feature is enabled, so that employees (and unauthorized computer users!) cannot install software without your approval.

  Read up on cyber-security.

With the pace of technological advancement occurring in our world today, experts occasionally stumble upon previously undiscovered vulnerabilities, and new programs that can thwart even the most sophisticated network security systems. Although not everyone can or should aspire to become a cyber-security connoisseur, it is in your interest to keep reasonably abreast of the latest developments in that area.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has a page dedicated to cyber security for small businesses, including advice and resources. More useful information is available here, via a campaign called Stop.Think.Connect.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Virtue of Resiliency

There is a scene in the film Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005) in which the protagonist, Bruce Wayne, tumbles into a derelict well while attempting to hide from his best friend, Rachel. As he quickly discovers, the well connects to a vast network of caliginous caverns—and the subterranean realm happens to abound with the creatures Bruce fears most. Within seconds, a torrent of bats surrounds him, and the dread of the circumstances causes him to momentarily lose consciousness.

Fortunately, Bruce’s ordeal is short-lived; after Rachel alerts Bruce’s father to his son’s misadventure, Thomas Wayne descends into the well to rescue the youngster. Then, as he carries Bruce back to safety in the Wayne mansion, Thomas poses a rhetorical question:

“Why do we fall, Bruce? So that we can learn to pick ourselves back up again.”

The scene demonstrates two valuable principles: facing one’s fears, and recovering from adversity (i.e. resiliency). In fact, those challenges frequently go hand-in-hand—in order to depart from your comfort zone and take risks, you need to be confident in your ability to recuperate after setbacks. Part of that sense of self-assurance owes to preparedness (like ensuring you have adequate resources and alternatives in case of failure), and part of it is related to psychological and emotional strength.

Here is some advice to help you bounce back from mishaps, and overcome difficulties that may arise in the future:

  When something goes wrong, try to learn from it.

You have undoubtedly heard the aphorism “Every cloud has a silver lining.” Similarly, many misfortunes entail opportunities for self-improvement, personal growth, and learning. When a particular situation in your life doesn’t turn out the way you would have liked, ask yourself how you would handle things differently if a similar experience presented itself again.

  Acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses.

No one is perfect. By pretending to be an exception to that universal rule, you will only hinder your own personal growth. Instead, be honest with yourself and authentic with the people around you. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it and try to make up for it. When you succeed, don’t be afraid to take (a reasonable amount of) pride in your accomplishments.

  Keep your problems in perspective, and be grateful for the good stuff.

We’ve all had bad days and trying experiences. But unless the earth has just been pulverized by a storm of asteroids or consumed by the sun in its fiery death throes, things could surely be worse.

One useful way to think about hard times, is to ask yourself whether the mishap of the moment will still matter in a year, or five years. For the majority of problems we face in our daily lives, the answer is no. In fact, some of today’s debacles may become tomorrow’s humorous anecdotes.

Finally, by appreciating and seeking consolation in the positive aspects of your life—including loved ones, past triumphs, and passions unrelated to your professional career—you will improve your chances of both handling adversity and bouncing back.

  Practice generosity.

Generosity and involvement in charitable causes can increase self-esteem, and provide new and valuable perspective on life. Thus, although charity is often perceived as a sacrifice made by a giver on behalf of a recipient, in reality, the benefits of beneficence can be mutual.

More generally, by helping others in their time of need, we increase the likelihood that they will be willing to do the same for us.
  Failure is not necessarily a step back.

Sometimes it is better to have tried and failed, than never to have tried at all. If you’ve endured a mishap, it may mean you’ve taken a risk and departed from your comfort zone—a precondition for any significant achievement.

You needn’t view occasional disappointments as the culmination of your efforts; instead, try to think of them as unfortunate but necessary steps along the path to success. If nothing else, adversity offers the opportunity to prove that you can navigate through hard times and come back stronger than before.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

How to Become a Morning Person

We’ve all met people who seem consistently chipper early in the morning, and experience no observable loss of vigour or enthusiasm during the day.

For some, this comes quite naturally. Many habitual early-risers have the built-in ability to get up early and still maintain an adequate energy level without resorting to copious infusions of caffeine. If this description sounds like you, then you’re probably a morning person. Good for you!

Others are less fortunate. If you find you need to drag yourself out of bed in the morning, and feel an urge to whack away at the snooze-bar on your alarm clock (possibly dislodging a few items from your bedside table in the process), then you’re likely not a morning person. Maybe you’re a night owl. Or perhaps you just enjoy getting an ample nightly amount of shut-eye.

To be sure, old habits die hard. If you’re a non-morning person who has recently embarked upon a career path that will require you to get up much earlier than you’re used to, or if you’d just like to increase your productivity early in the day, then you’ll need to adjust your routine. Changes in sleep patterns are not always easy to stomach—but there are some practical steps you can follow to ease the transition.

In any case, the key is to ensure you go to bed early enough to still get a healthy amount of sleep; experts recommend about eight hours for most adults.

  Simplify your morning routine—before you retire for the night.

Lay out your clothes, organize your lunch and snacks for the following day, and pack anything else you need in your luggage/briefcase/backpack. The last thing you want in the morning is to squander precious minutes hunting around for important items, or (even worse) realizing you’ve forgotten something after you’ve left for work.

  To fall asleep sooner, power down and cut the lights.

Several years ago, I spent some time volunteering in a village in rural Costa Rica. In that community, as in many parts of Central America, locals both go to bed and rise quite a bit earlier than I was accustomed to in Canada. This is partly because farmers in pastoral areas are obliged to begin their work early in the day. But it’s also a function of the day-night cycle in regions near the equator, where the duration of daylight hours varies little over the course of a year.

One factor that I believe facilitated my quick transition to the Costa Rican sleep pattern, was that the community where I stayed had little noise at night (apart from a few animal sounds), and was relatively dark after the sun set—just after 8:00 PM. There were no streetlights, and few appliances or television sets.

There is a useful lesson here for those of us who live in cities and industrialized areas: if you’d like to go to sleep and wake up earlier more easily, try to isolate yourself from bright lights and noisy appliances at least half an hour before your intended bedtime. Reading with a nightlight or listening to some gentle music before bed is okay—but watching TV or checking e-mails immediately before you hit the hay might interfere with your ability to fall asleep.

  Find an alarm clock that works for you.

The archetypal alarm clock jars the sleeper into consciousness with a strident “beep, beep, beep”. But that high-pitched hectoring is not for everyone, and it doesn’t exactly launch the day on a pleasant note.

Fortunately, a wide range of alternatives are now available, including daylight simulators that gradually brighten, and high-tech alarms that slowly entice you into a state of wakefulness with gentle tones. There are also various apps available for your smartphone.

  Suppress the urge to hit the snooze bar.

Waking up once is hard enough. Trying to wake up twice in the space of ten minutes (or three times in the space of twenty minutes, as the case may be) can actually disrupt your circadian rhythms, and leave you feeling sluggish and discombobulated. Furthermore, if you stay in bed long enough to allow yourself to slip into a deeper sleep stage, you’ll likely find it even harder to get up on your next attempt.

  Leave yourself plenty of time for a wholesome breakfast—at least twenty minutes.

A balanced breakfast that includes fruits and vegetables, proteins, and complex carbohydrates will allow you to maintain peak performance throughout the day, and help you avoid some of the negative consequences associated with quick (but not necessarily healthy) breakfast options—including heartburn, an upset stomach, or an energy level that wanes by the mid-afternoon.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Perfecting Your Three-second Statement

In their 2009 book Brand You: Turn Your Unique Talents into a Winning Formula.*, social scientists John Purkiss and David Royston-Lee discuss the concept of the three-second statement: a brief (usually one- or two-sentence) response to the question “What do you do?”

Often, people who pose this query expect to hear about your career and professional aspirations. But a three-second statement can communicate more than just what you do for a living—including aspects of your personality, and passions of yours that are unrelated to your vocation.

Why is it important?

Like an elevator pitch, the three-second statement is designed to convey information in a clear, concise form. It permits you to instantly connect with individuals whose interests are similar to your own, and can elicit further conversation and idea-sharing.

Imagine yourself at a typical social gathering, like a reception or mixer. Introductions at suchlike events are typically brief—often less than ten seconds—before the conversation drifts on to another topic. The next person you meet could lead you to a great opportunity, and it never hurts to make an endearing, memorable first impression. A succinct but informative description of yourself will help you achieve exactly that.

Keep the following principles in mind when crafting your three-second statement:

1.    What is your unique combination of attributes?

In addition to your primary job, do you have another hobby or side gig that you think may be of interest to people? What else are you passionate about?

Aim to list two items—for example, “I’m a venture capitalist and hobby photographer.” Or, “I’m an ophthalmologist and blues guitar player.”

Many people have similar professional training, and most of us cannot realistically claim to be the best or most qualified professional in our field. However, by highlighting interests, passions, and personal attributes aside from our day job, we can still stand out from the crowd.

2.    Tell your story.

After your three-second statement, your conversation partner will likely follow up on the item that most interests her (either your career or your hobby/side gig). You can then elaborate on the topic in question. You may find that it’s helpful to think in advance about how you would answer common follow-up questions, like: How long have you been doing X? What do you most enjoy/find most rewarding about it? What are some of the challenges involved?

3.    Keep business cards handy, and your website up-to-date.

If you strike up a conversation with someone who is keen to learn more about you or your work, but pressed for time (as many professionals are), you will find it’s helpful to have business cards close at hand. A frequently-updated website with a memorable, easy-to-spell URL likewise comes in handy for situations like these.

4.    Test your three-second statement on a trusted friend or family member.
Before you put your three-second statement into practice, you may want to seek feedback about it from a person you trust to offer constructive criticism. Perhaps that individual will suggest that the items you’ve chosen are too commonplace, or not sufficiently interesting or memorable. Or she may offer fresh ideas that hadn’t occurred to you.

5.    Honesty is the best policy.

Don’t even think about exaggerating your credentials. Odds are you will eventually come across an expert interlocutor who can call you out on even minor misrepresentations. Instead, strive to offer a realistic appraisal of your skills, talents, areas of specialization, and past accomplishments. This is another area in which the advice of a person you trust (see item 4. above) may prove useful.

*London: Artesian Publishing LLP, 2009.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Vulnerability and Self-interest: Qualities of Great Leaders

What is more important in a leader: the ability to project authority, or a knack for earning the trust of one’s cohort?

Surely both qualities are indispensable. But the latter is a precondition for the former. Unless they trust you, your team will be unwilling or unable to recognize your authority as a competent decision-maker. In other words, their confidence in you is a sine qua non of your effective leadership.

What is the source of this confidence?

There are many possible answers to that question—depending in part on the individual and the circumstances. However, two important but somewhat counter-intuitive leadership traits often go overlooked: vulnerability and self-interest.

Before I elaborate, allow me to define both terms.

Vulnerability in this context refers not to weakness, but rather to the capacity for empathy, humility, and accountability. In order to relate to the personal challenges faced by your employees, accept constructive criticism, and admit your own shortcomings, for instance, you must first let down your guard and accept that you are merely human.

Self-interest means the intellectual and moral steadfastness to pursue your own best interests, and the best interests of your business and your team, even in the face of counter-pressures.

Vulnerability and accountability

Occasionally, you will encounter people who attempt to mask their own vulnerability, presumably because they worry that others will try to exploit chinks in their emotional armour. But this is a false choice. It takes courage to acknowledge one’s vulnerability; on the other hand, many people associate a refusal to acknowledge vulnerability with a lack of authenticity, or even a deficiency of courage. Have you ever known someone who consistently refused to admit her own defects and attempted to mask problems—either personal or professional? Are you left with a favourable impression of that person?

Vulnerability is a prerequisite for developing meaningful personal connections with other people, including co-workers and employees. One of the most important ways this manifests itself is in the form of accountability and forgiveness. We all make mistakes, and the way we respond to them (both our own and those of our peers and employees) is crucial.

 A rigid, institutional intolerance of error has the effect of deterring even mundane risk-taking. A manager who refuses to countenance the missteps of her employees is somewhat like a vehicle without brakes. If we were all obliged to drive brake-less automobiles, motorists would putter along very slowly, avoid hills, and approach stop-signs and intersections at a snail’s pace. In other words, no one would get anywhere very quickly, and our society and economy would suffer the consequences. In the case of a business enterprise, this is analogous to reduced productivity and diminished willingness of employees to venture outside their comfort zone.

Nonetheless, forgiveness is not exactly the same as tolerance of error. Instead, the goal of a leader should be to identify miscues and point them out to the responsible party, allowing reasonable leeway while discouraging repetition of previous mistakes. Naturally, in order to build credibility for this purpose, leaders must be prepared to take ownership of their own failings too.

Self-interest versus selfishness

Through his magnum opus, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Scottish Enlightenment philosopher and political economist Adam Smith popularized the idea that self-interest on the part of individuals would ultimately enhance the general welfare of society. One of the examples he cites is that of a baker, who produces bread for his customers not purely out of benevolence, but also in order that the baker himself may earn a living.

Centuries after the publication of that work, debate still rages as to exactly what Smith had in mind, and about the extent to which “greed is good.” But self-interest and greed are not necessarily synonyms. Another interpretation of “self-interest” is “taking care of oneself in order to better one’s chances of helping others.”

Leaders nearly always face extraordinary demands on their time. On a personal level, it is crucial to appreciate the role of time management and the effect of stress with regard to your own health and well-being. If you aspire to a long and successful professional career, you need to ensure that you lead a healthy lifestyle which includes adequate down-time. At times, this will require you to delegate duties to others. It may also require you to turn some invitations and opportunities down.

This concept of self-interest can also apply to your business and your professional team. In order for your enterprise to thrive, you will need to make choices, some of which may be difficult. But by putting the rational interests of your business ahead of competing priorities, you will increase your chances of success over the long term.