Archive | June, 2009

Contest: Harvard Business Review Subscription for Winner

30 Jun


I am hosting a contest. Here’s how it works:

  1. Post a comment detailing your BEST leadership story. This can be a story about something you have done, or something that another leader taught you. Funny or serious stories are welcome. Keep it constructive and clean!
  2. On August 29, I will draw a random name from all comments.
  3. The winner will get a free year’s subscription to the Harvard Business Review.

Seriously, what could be better? You get business leader savvy, just for sharing your stories here at To Know Better.

This is being sponsored by MagsDirect,

Here’s more about Harvard Business Review, if you are not familiar (although I am guessing that most of you are!):

Harvard Business Review is a journal written by renowned business educators and practicing managers. Each issue provides readers with a focus on the issues confronting top managers in today’s complex national and international markets. Harvard Business Review offers subscribers original research and firsthand perspectives from leading business people around the globe. Invest in yourself and your company’s future with a subscription to Harvard Business Review.

Bring on the stories, people! I know you have some to tell….

Question for Readers: A Contest?

28 Jun

Dear readers (all 25 of you):

What would you think of a contest on the blog, for a free subscription to a leading business publication?

Would you play?

I’ll do it based upon your feedback, so speak up.



The Socially Intelligent Leader: Performance Reviews

26 Jun

It’s that time of year, when all good employees gird their loins for the opportunity to review themselves, their colleagues and their bosses. Some see this process as a chance to get something off their chests, to communicate a truth they’ve been unable to share during the regular course of doing business. Some approach it constructively, with the earnest intention of helping to make the collective business benefit from honest self-appraisal.

Every company has a different approach to the process. I’ve seen a few during my 20 years working in professional settings. In state government, the process is thorough but results are not connected to any incentives. In the private sector, insightful companies put in place programs that reflect the willingness of leadership to listen to employee input and incorporate it into building a better business.  Some companies follow a strictly democratic approach where 360-degree feedback drives the  review process, and others are based upon a hybrid approach where employee feedback is used but normalized by management.  In non-profits, evaluations are typically very thoughtfully conducted, and employee incentive is more linked to altruism than tangible incentives.

This is key: The review process itself must have integrity for employees to accept the feedback into their ways of doing business.

I have both delivered and received reviews this week. Upon some reflection, I do believe that this is an opportunity for all of us to embrace the leadership qualities that can improve our organizations. This includes:

  • Receiving flattering and not-so-flattering feedback with humility and honesty. Don’t get a big head, and don’t take things too personally—even though it feels personal. Some comments are to be absorbed because it’s not always easy to accept compliments. Others are to be viewed as outliers because they don’t make a difference in the long run anyway–and some people use the process as a way to communicate when instead they should have raised any issues in the moment rather than storing them up like squirrels bury nuts throughout the year. And still others are to be honestly examined for self-improvement, which is always possible.
  • Delivering reviews knowing that often you are the mouthpiece for others’ praise–which is gratifying to provide–AND others’ constructive criticism—not always so easy to share. Presenting the information in the context of your organizational reality is important positioning.
  • Finding ways to emphasize our strengths because—let’s face it—it’s hard to change habits that influence our “needs improvement” items. That being said…
  • Accepting weaknesses in ourselves and others with the wisdom of this adage: Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
  • Once it’s done, move forward!

I found this article and video from Harvard Business Review to be particularly thought-provoking on the topic of social intelligence, a quality of leadership defined by empathy, connectedness and genuine desire to create an environment in which people are happy, inspired and productive because of these things. It’s a good reminder for the leadership in all of us that steps up to the plate at performance review time. At its core, this is an uber form of internal customer service, an “I’m not happy if you’re not happy, and our work will not be stellar if all of us aren’t in this together” ethic. In the course of my wanderings, I have grown to be more and more fascinated by this approach to leadership. It’s the Herb Kelleher style as opposed to the Donald Trump way of doing things. If I were queen for a day, I would wish this approach on all organizations. Of course, a combination of styles adds up to a successful business, but this one’s becoming more worthwhile in a world of businesses seeking transparency and authenticity.

Just something to ponder, for those who like a little balanced self-awareness during performance review season.

Five Reasons I Like Public Speaking

18 Jun

Some people hate public speaking, some love it and some do it because they have to. I’ve just finished two public speaking events this week and am refueling to get ready for the next. In my process of some internal debriefing, I’ve been thinking about these questions:

What makes presenting an enjoyable experience for me? Why do I want to do more of it?

Here are my top five reasons:

  1. I enjoy the advance process of preparing content, going over every detail and rehearsing. This is what makes the controlling part of me happy. Being compulsive has its benefits. I would not be a very good speaker if I had to give the same speech over and over again. I am too curious for that. I want to always be serving up new content.
  2. I like practicing in front of people who tell me how to improve my delivery. It may sound crazy, but I prefer practicing in front of people who will be hard on me. I need good constructive criticism, not someone who just says, “Yeah, it’s good.”
  3. For me, public speaking is exhilarating in the same way that people like riding roller coasters or doing adventure sports. There’s an element of the unknown once you start presenting. What will people think? How will the information shared affect each audience member’s ongoing perspective?
  4. I feel like I have a connection with the audience when I am speaking. I am lucky enough to present to people who want to hear me, usually for professional growth reasons. In sharing something that I know with the audience, I feel like I am passing on something that will make their lives better. I feel like a better person when I am presenting, because I feel like I am sharing something of myself that will (however indirectly) make an improvement on someone else’ experience. Most presentations are actually fairly humble sorts of affairs, but even in these cases the presenter is shaping the audience’s future in some small way. This is inspiring to me. I am not talking entertainment value. I mean the value of the content for the audience, and how it will change their world. The delivery of the information is all a device to get people to pay attention to what is being shared.
  5. Part of successful presenting for me is ALWAYS making it better. I want feedback from people afterwards, including people I know and those I don’t know, to help me know what went well and what didn’t.

Different people would answer this question in any number of ways. What about you? Why do you love it, hate it or feel so-so about it?

Blogamucil (aka, I do not care about SEO)

3 Jun

Growing up, my favorite grandmother (Grandma Anna) taught me about regularity. My brother and I spent summers with her, and it was a blast. She had a daily routine that started off with Tang, a cigarette, Metamucil (orange-flavored) and her favorite coffee cake made by hand from a recipe from her father’s German family. My brother and I played hide-and-seek in the big cabinets in her kitchen, a renovated stable. We ran around the big grounds of the family for whom she did light chores (the Hafts, in Reynoldsburg), climbing pine trees as high up as we could go and getting sap all over our hands. There was a huge tree that had a hollowed out trunk we loved to climb into. You could hide there for hours (well, it seemed like hours).

When we returned to her house in the evening after a long day of play, she made us meatloaf and mashed potatoes. She watched us while we ate, and she drank half a beer (Blatz, the other half of which would be finished the next night), smoked a cigarette and had some more Metamucil. Sometimes she tried to cut our bangs, which always got her into trouble with my mother. She would let us watch T.V. shows about aliens (which scared me) but would not let us watch Gunsmoke or any other program with guns. I slept in the same bed with Grandma (who snored), and my brother slept beside us in a cot.

The next day: Wake up and repeat. That was a great summer.

Blogging is like this. Get up and do your routine. Hopefully making a meaningful contribution to the blog will be part of it.

The only problem is that for me routine is not always easy to latch onto. I operate best in spurts of activity. Sometimes I am in need of Blogamucil. Now is one of those times. I write so much for work that the act of not writing is cleansing and good for me. Other times writing for non-work purposes is cathartic.

Honestly, I think I’ve spent myself on Alsop’s The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation. It wasn’t you—it was me, Ron. You inspired me, but I ran out of steam. Rest assured, I am finishing the book but not writing more about it.

Next up: Some musings on Martin Lindstrom’s Buyology. And some info from my readings to prepare for my APR.