How To Be A Charismatic Leader

How To Be A Charismatic Leader -

We have such a laundry list of things we consider important to effective leadership that I often wonder if a leader could exist who met even half of the requirements. We want leaders who are brilliant, multi-talented, visionary, creative, insightful and the list goes on. The job gets harder still when we start to pull in abstract characteristics like charm or charisma. Imagine trying to practice your compelling. Perhaps they offer courses in being fascinating at Harvard. When we start to describe that quintessential something that great leaders possess I think our imaginations can contribute more than any one leader can produce.

Despite my misgivings about the importance of the charm factor, I can‘t escape the fact that there are a preponderance of leaders who also happen to be charismatic.  Those people who walk into a room and draw others to them. There are men and women who can motivate others to do as they say, even when what they are saying is nonsense. If great leaders are charming and leadership can be taught, it follows that charm and charisma can also be taught. So I went looking for my leadership charm school.

Cover of "Social Intelligence: The New Sc...

Cover via Amazon

As it happens, I didn’t have to look very hard. Almost immediately, I was overwhelmed with articles on emotional intelligence or social intelligence. There has been a lot of research done in this area over the past twenty years with perhaps the most notable work being done by psychologist and author, Daniel Goleman. His book, called simply, Emotional Intelligence, first published in 1995 marked the start of a proliferation of literature in this area.  His most popular work since that time is his 2006 book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, which really marks the expansion of his theories.

Whether you are looking at emotional or social intelligence, it really comes down to your ability to know and control yourself so that you respond to the people around you appropriately. What’s more, it’s reading them and then knowing how to use those cues to influence or motivate their behaviour. In effect, it comes down to your capacity to step outside yourself, and accurately assess your environment and the people in it.  Not surprisingly, the ability to deep listen was an essential component of emotional intelligence. If you can’t listen, you can’t lead or at least not well. Emotional intelligence is seen as a more predictive trait than IQ in determining effective leadership.

When you look at some of the more consistent measures of social intelligence, then you also see why the behaviours associated with descriptions of charm or charisma are also seen as factors in high emotional intelligence.  The best part is, emotional intelligence can be learned.  The most difficult part is determining that you actually want to learn because you will have to remove old habits and ingrain new ones.  Not an easy task as any one who has tried and failed to diet successfully knows.

At the heart of emotional intelligence is emotional control.  Control over yourself and in many respects, those around you. It is the ability to stay calm in an emergency or peaceful when things or people conspire to frustrate or make you angry. Emotional intelligence enables you to chose the feeling you’re going to feel best about when you reflect back on any given exchange.

Below are some tips for achieving emotional intelligence:

1)      Be self-aware: Being self-aware means that you are always present in the moment.  If you are talking to someone, they are your priority, the centre of your focus. Remember its not just what they are saying, but what their body is reporting to you.

2)      Know Your Options: Be aware of the choices you can make.  Sometimes that may mean choosing not to respond or engage in a behaviour.

3)      Know Your History: History has always been a terrific teacher and in our personal lives that remains the case. Be aware of which actions have worked for you in the past and which have failed. Learn from experience.

4)      Be at Peace: Regardless of the setting, stay calm. The calm gives you the space to make smart decisions.

5)      Win-Win:  One of the things you quickly discover in lobbying is that win-win outcomes will mean that results last longer. Conflict oriented approaches tend to result in more conflict.

6)      Respect and acceptance: If someone disagrees with you look at it as an opportunity to learn more.  This is not easy, nor is it about being Pollyanna.  This is tied to remaining calm and being aware of your options.

7)      Abundance. Benjamin Zander‘s and Rosamund Stone Zander’s book, The Art of Possibility includes this mindset as part of the critical path to achieving your objectives.  It opens you up to sharing and exchanging ideas. Knowledge shared is power squared.

8)      Patience: This is easily the one I have the hardest part with, but by embracing it my stress goes down and my productivity goes up.

9)      Delayed gratification.: This is very much like patience with the exception that you can have something, but choose not to because by waiting it will be better.

10)   Foresight. This is really about using your imagination and knowledge to think about what might happen next and then following a chain of consequences out as far as you can.

11)   Deep listening: This is back to body language, it’s about hearing more than words. Try to remember that 85% of what we understand comes from unspoken cues.

12)   No egos allowed: Although we like to think of ourselves as the centre of our personal universe, if you are the centre then you are not focused on the people around you or the options available to you.

Have you ever met a leader who had it all or came close? How easy do you think it would be to gain more emotional intelligence? What do you like in a leader?

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The beauty of plain

Embraced by WordsWhen I dream of writing, the words are chosen with care.  They are short and clear to all who read them and most of all, they are plain.

Plain language writing is not what you think. It is not for the slow. It is not for those who cannot read. It is not a tool for others. Well, it is all of those things and more. Plain language helps you to share the complex. It puts your audience first and makes sure you reach the busy. Think about that for a moment. Who has time to untangle complex language so that they can get to the meaning? How often do we simply skim ideas because they will take too much time to understand?

Plain language isn’t about how smart your reader is. It’s about how smart you are. It’s about how important your message is. If it matters, it should be plain.

Out of intense complexities intense simplicities emerge.

Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words when short are best of all.

Winston Churchill

 Did you know that the general public has low literacy levels? The exceptions are Japan and Finland. If most of your readers are in North America, this means you need to keep things plain. Plain does not mean creative stays home and boring takes flight. You’re probably using plain language techniques now. It’s about using words that are better known, more familiar and more clearly understood. Take a look below. To make language plain you would replace the words on the left with the words on the right.


  1. Accomplish                      Do
  2. Ascertain                          Find out
  3. Disseminate                    Distribute
  4. Endeavor                          Try
  5. Optimum                          Best
  6. Strategize                         Plan
  7. With regards to               About


Plain language is about being approachable. Using a conversational tone instead of formal language. It’s about using logic when you present. That can be a challenge for me at times, but with a little patience I generally get there. It’s really about using common sense and a little patience.

Plain language is also about the length of sentences and the space around them. White space is your friend. Do not bury words in complex patterns. Give words room to breath and be seen. Plain language is about the fonts you choose. Are they complex? Do you have to look twice to identify letters? It’s about the use of examples, charts and images to illustrate ideas. Images are popular on social media because people can understand them quickly. They make the text come alive. They go a long ways towards making ideas clearer. The same goes for bullets and bold type to make ideas pop.


“Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in a few words.”



When I work on an annual report, I work with the writer and designer to ensure that readers can easily see the most important ideas. Those ideas are repeated in the text. They become images, graphs, headlines and call-outs. We make sure that they have enough space around them to be seen. The objective is to make sure that if the reader just skims the report t still walk away with all of the right messages.


Here are some tips for planning your next document.

  • Use titles & subtitles that are informative and summarize text
  • Cut out non-essential information (cover only 3-5 points)
  • Prioritize information and put the most important at the beginning
  • Use a formal table of contents or introductory paragraph
  • Keep sentences under 35 words
  • Use the active voice where possible


It’s also useful to use verbs instead of nouns for your action. Sometimes this is as easy as removing “ion” from words. For example, which of the two sentences below sounds simpler?


Could you give an explanation for why you suggest I make a modification to the way I present information?

Could you explain why I should modify the way I present information?


In case you think that I believe using plain language is easy, I don’t. I started out by saying that when I dream of writing, the words are chosen with care. Plain language takes time. It takes commitment and perhaps more than anything, it takes practice. It is worth doing. It allows you to move from good to great and the best part is, you’re probably already doing a lot of it.


Do you use plain language principles in your work? What kinds of everyday items do you think use plain language? Can you think of things that could benefit from plain language?

Embraced by Words (Photo credit: Robbert van der Steeg)

Posted in Communications, Internal Communications, public relations | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Mean What You Say, Know The Meaning of Sayings

English: A bandwagon in the 2009 Great Circus ...

English: A bandwagon in the 2009 Great Circus Parade, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few years a ago a friend of mine who teaches and does research through various universities was trying to rally some of her colleagues around an initiative and used the phrase, “Jump on the band wagon.” Shortly afterwards she was reprimanded by the administration for using politically incorrect language. Apparently the interpretation of the phrase she used was that it was racist. Confused?  So was she.

To me the phrase means, go along with an idea or get on board with an idea, but apparently the interpretation was somehow associated with First Nations and Inuit bands and in a derogatory way. It was only recently that someone was explaining to me the origins of the expression. It started with PT Barnum and he was referencing the band’s wagon.  That is the wagon the band performed on…no connection to First Nations or Inuit people whatsoever. It would seem the reprimand said more about the prejudice of the university administration than it did about my friend.

The bow of the ship

The bow of the ship (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The experience made me think about the origins of phrases that we commonly use, or as the case may be, expressions that we assume are commonly known, but are really regional in origin or known by specific people. A friend of mine once received a document from a client that was so full of local phrases she couldn’t make sense of it. She called me to see if I could help.  The client who lived on Canada’s east coast had used such lively phrases as, “cut of his jib” and “shipshape and Bristol fashion” and my personal favorite, “A shot across the bow.”

My friend had no idea what her client was talking about but as it happens, I could explain it, not because I knew the east coast of Canada, but because my family comes from an island and there are more than a few fisherman in the family.  The phrases that were stumping her were all nautical in their origins.

Using expressions and old sayings can add colour and interest to language and can even be instrumental to the adoption of ideas by making things sound more familiar to the recipients. They can also be distracting and disturbing if they are misinterpreted. Consider the expression, “cotton picking”, depending on context it can have a wealth of meaning. Does “Wait a cotton- picking minute” mean the same things as, “Don’t touch me with those cotton picking hands.”?

So before using them, know your audience and more importantly, say what you mean and know the meaning of your sayings.

Have you ever come across a phrase that left you stumped?  Or used an expression that made your audience confused?

Some expressions and their origins from the “Phrasefinder

Expression Meaning Origin
A shot across the bow. A warning shot, either real or metaphorical. The action taken by an approaching ship to warn off another.
Cut of his jib. His general appearance and demeanor. Some ships had more than one jib sail. Each country had its own style of sail and so the nationality of a sailing ship, and a sailor’s consequent opinion of it, could be determined from the jib.
Jump on the bandwagon Join a growing movement in support of someone or something The wagon the band performed on which would pick up followers as it made it’s way across a town on the way to the circus/performance.
Done a runner Leaving in a hurry under questionable circumstances. From running out of a restaurant before paying for a meal.
Quid pro quo. Something given in return for an item of equivalent value – like tit for tat. From Latin meaning, something for something.
Cotton picking minute bothersome, difficult or challenging Earliest reference from the UK and associated with the hard work of picking cotton.
Cotton picking hands referring to someone n a derogatory way Largely associated with the American south (though there are early references from the UK) and with the hands of the cotton picker, generally black person.  Can be interpreted as racist.
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Wanted: Communications Goddess

Wanted - Communications Goddess

When job descriptions become a communications nightmare.

Chatting with old colleagues, fellow communicators and bloggers on LinkedIn is always good fun and every once in a while I come across something that makes me want to share more widely. In this instance, it started with a series of odd job descriptions that I came across a few months back. In one notable announcement the job description ran for more than three pages…that’s over three pages of required skills and responsibilities. One of my more discerning fellow communicators posted the ad to our LinkedIn group and posed the question, “Who could possibly qualify for this job?”


Wanted Communications Goddess

Many of us read the ad, there are about 163,212 in this particular group, and with some amazement we debated about who had written it. Who could be so clueless? Was there an internal candidate they were trying to protect or avoid? It couldn’t have been written by a human resources professional…we hoped. While we mused over who could have been so silly, more concerning was, who would apply for it? Surely anyone foolish enough, confident enough, delusional or desperate enough would quickly find herself overloaded and overwhelmed. No one thought the individual could exist who had all the skills. The responsibilities were simply too diverse, web master, product marketer, social media strategist and on and on it went. We decided that even if there was someone on the planet who could lay claim to most of the skills, when on earth were they ever going to find the time to put them into play? It made us all wonder about the firm who posted the ad. What on earth would their culture be like?


No Super Heroes Need Apply

The challenge with a bad job description is that it not only means you won’t find who you’re looking for but it also takes a toll on how your organization is perceived. Jobs with ridiculous descriptions or ones that have to be posted multiple times make people think twice about applying. They assume the role was filled and vacated and that begs the question, what happened? If you do manage to find some brave soul to apply then you have to manage their inevitable despondency and disengagement. To add insult to injury, it often takes a long time for the employer to know that it’s the description that has failed and not the employee. In worst-case scenarios employees are fired and replaced several times before someone figures out that they should rethink the job. Most of the time employees figure out pretty quickly that the job simply can’t be done, but coming to that realization and trying to explain it to a boss are two very different things. In some instances the employee throws themselves at the job with great abandon hoping that if they just apply a heroic effort they can make it happen. Burnout will eventually get them and then it’s back to the drawing board.

Noted human resources consultant, Lou Adler explores the job description challenge in various articles on LinkedIn and Inc., as well as, in his book, Hire With Your Head: Using Performance-Based Hiring to Build Great Teams. Adler suggests that instead of describing a job based on skills, hiring managers should consider what the right candidates would need to do in order to be successful in the job. He argues that when performance is the lens through which a job is viewed, flaws in the description become evident. He also suggests that managers interview departing employees to discover if the job has changed over time. Take a look at this short video.


What do you think? Would you would prefer, to be interviewed on performance or skills? Would you be more responsive to a job description based on skills or performance? Ever come across a job that would take a goddess to perform?

Image courtesy of Gameanna/



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Two Steps Forward…


With the American primaries heating up there has been a fair bit of coverage and discussion on women’s voting patterns and in particular, Hilary Clinton’s popularity with women voters. Initially I was surprised to learn that Bernie Sanders was gaining traction with young women.  Really, a seventy-four year old man could better represent women than a… wait a minute, sixty-eight year old woman.

The truth is, it’s a bit of a stretch that either of them really understand how young women think. It’s also a bit of a stretch to tell them how they should vote, period. If we older women really want to establish that women have the right to make their own choices, then we have to reconsider telling women, young or old how they should do anything, including vote. That we would tell them they should vote for someone based on nothing more than their gender is even more ridiculous.

I was a little embarrassed for feminists this week. When 78 year old Madeleine Albright and 81 year old Gloria Steinem weighed into the American political debate  they made me cringe.  They didn’t come across as particularly wise and they certainly didn’t seem to think that young women could think for themselves. I’ve always considered myself a feminists, but it seems my definition differs from these women in some significant ways.

For me, it meant that despite the fact that I was a young black woman, I could be a political assistant, not secretary, on Parliament Hill.  It was that same thinking that lead me to believe that I could be an equally effective lobbyist for national and international corporations a few years later. The fact that I was often the only woman in the room, not to mention the only black person, never phased me. I knew as much or more about how government worked and I could strategize with the best of them.  It never took long for them to stop wondering why I was in charge of their lobbying efforts. Amazing what happens when you are a strong, self-confident woman.

Being a feminists has always meant to me, that I had the right to pursue whatever dreams, positions or electoral preferences I had. It’s a pity if that that definition has changed and small wonder that young women today have a hard time associating themselves with the concept of feminism.

Soon enough the furor over the poorly stated comments of Albright and Steinem will die down and Americans will be back to considering their options based on the quality of the candidate rather than their sex. If nothing else, I and the rest of the world can only hope that when the time comes, whoever the democrats choose, they won’t be facing Donald Trump, because he is far more of a threat to women, minorities and religious freedom than either Bernie or Hilary.

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Leading from Behind, Shepherd or Sheep?


The concept of leading from behind used to frustrate me. It struck me as a cop out, as a way to avoid doing what was necessary. Generally, in my mind, it used to be about a would-be leader not performing and everyone else having to step up to fill the gap. It meant the commander lacked vision, so they simply hung back to see where others might take them. Or worst still, in their cowardice, they would just let their team go out ahead and if something bad happened, they could blame others and remain safe –effectively becoming the Pierson Puppeteer of the business world.

Of course my first introduction to the concept came after complaining to someone about a past boss’ inability to lead. They suggested that rather than focus on the boss’ weakness, I should look to how my own strengths could support organizational objectives – how I could fill in the gaps. Although I was somewhat dubious in obliging this request, the result, for a time anyway, was better morale and better productivity for my team and me.

Since then I have changed my perspective – from assuming it meant weak leadership – to recognizing that leading from behind can mean vastly different things, some of which are positive. Nelson Mandela is often quoted when speaking to this leadership style because he popularized the idea in his writings and through the following quote, “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

Its important to note that he mentions that the leader moves to the front in times of danger and that there is an intended direction.

In organizations focused on innovation and breakthrough technology, the idea of leading from behind is particularly effective. In this sense leading from behind means giving employees the space they need to think and act creatively about desired outcomes. Individuals are encouraged to engage, to argue, to express differences of opinion and to act collaboratively. Tightly regimented activities or overbearing processes will not stimulate the discovery of new and more efficient ways of doing things.  It’s hard to foster originality when autonomy is missing in action. Using a more traditional leadership style, creating a vision and then inspiring others to implement it, may simply bring the organization down to one person’s limited vision.

Implicit in a leading from behind approach to leadership is also that employees feel safe. Leading from behind means that when actions are taken they are treated as exploratory rather than a verification or test of being correct.  To paraphrase Harvard professor Linda Hill, “In environments where leading comes from behind, you have experiments, not pilots.”

Experiments allow you to learn and explore.  Even when they fail, you learn. From an employee engagement perspective, leading from behind means creating environments that employees want to be in. Spaces that are collegial and that support independent thought, creativity, and the exchange of ideas effectively become strong communities. These are always appealing to employees. We all like to be paid well, but we will stay in environments that are comfortable and inspire our creativity.  They are also essential to productivity.

In many respects leading from behind is really about tapping the strengths of the collective.

This takes me back to where I started; leading from behind should not be about supporting a weak boss. It can be about being open, inspiring, supportive and having a strong enough ego to allow employees to show their strength. It is about embracing an environment of innovation.

What’s your your preferred leadership style? Do you believe in leading from behind?  Have you ever worked in an environment where the leadership led from behind? Would you like to be in an environment where the leader works from behind?

Interesting Articles for Those Who Want to Know More:

Image by Anton Mauve [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Posted in Internal Communications, Management | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Handling Hecklers

Handling hecklers - communications

Whether you’re standing in front of an audience of thousands or your colleagues in a meeting, handling a heckler is no fun, but it can be done with aplomb.

In various studies conducted over the years public speaking has ranked number one as the most feared activity.  In some studies almost 30% of respondents have indicated that they feared public speaking more than death. Jerry Seinfeld may have put it best when he said, “Most people would rather be in the casket at a funeral, than giving the eulogy”.

Since public speaking can encompass delivering a lecture, standing up in class or a meeting to express an opinion, there are any number of communications opportunities that get missed due to fear. In fact, fear of public speaking can have a negative impact on your career and can undermine success in life if you do nothing about it. The good news is that you can do something about your fear.

There are tried and true methods explored in Trips, Sniffs and Nerves  and in Body Language that can help you to overcome everything from your hesitation to sweaty palms. However, there are other things that can go wrong that have little to do with your preparation or nerves, but can make you reluctant to speak. Although it doesn’t happen often, every once in a while you will come across someone who wants to challenge the authority of the speaker.  They may have an agenda of their own and are looking for a forum, they may be holding a grudge. They may simply be cranky. Whatever it is that motivates this verbal bully, you can manage them just as you do other aspects of your presentation.

The first thing that you need to remember is that you are in charge of you and your presentation. There are tips out there for taking on a heckler and perhaps having a battle of wits, but that doesn’t seem like much fun for you if you’re nervous about public speaking and certainly no fun for the audience unless you’re a professional comedian.

I enjoy public speaking. I happily abandon the stage and walk in and among the audience when presenting. Hecklers don’t phase me and I generally try to incorporate them into the presentation…to a point. If practice makes for a better presentation, then taking on an additional presenter in the middle of delivering is hardly going to improve your performance. Instead, avoid grandstanding and deal with a heckler by taking a deep breath and allowing the heckler to deliver their message. In most cases, the audience will be more annoyed than you are by the interruption and let the heckler know it, but that can only happen if you let them have their airtime and keep your cool.  Once they have said their bit and you have responded (to the group, not just the heckler), they are generally prepared to be quiet.

If that’s not the case and they persist in disrupting you or being rude, consider the following tips:

  • Acknowledge what they are doing, consider saying, “You’ve made many points or asked many questions.”
  • If that isn’t sufficient, then let them know how they are making you feel. This is not an opportunity to be rude, accusatory or judgmental. Try saying, “I’m having a hard time completing my presentation.” or “I’m having a hard time finishing.”
  • If the heckler just really wants to keep going no matter what you do, solicit the aid of your audience by asking them through a show of hands what they would prefer, the rest of your presentation or an impromptu presentation by the heckler.  If you have been patient and have allowed the heckler to say their piece and have responded, the audience will vote them off the island.
  • If you are in a meeting consider thanking them for their input and saying no more or ask them if they would like to continue the conversation privately later.

During the Question and Answer Period

  • Challenge a negative premise.  The world isn’t always doom and gloom. Worst-case scenarios are interesting, but not the only eventuality. Addressing worst case scenarios or “what if” questions will typically lead to you saying things better left unsaid.
  • Use reflective language to ensure you understand their point and to let them know you were listening, try saying,  “So you are saying…” This approach also works if you get a heckler on your blog.
  • When you do respond, don’t repeat baiting words – use your own words or risk being quoted later with words you never intended to utter.
  • Remember to remain calm yet assertive.
  • Don’t speak on behalf of others.
  • Keep your own opinion to yourself if you are representing an organization. Any comment you make will be recalled as being organizational. Even if you state it as a “personal opinion”
  • If you can’t answer a question, give a reason why you can’t answer and move on. Don’t guess or speculate. Consider saying, “I would rather not speculate and I can’t answer your question.”
  • Break up multi-part questions in your answer.
  • More than anything, remember that you’re in charge of your reactions.

Have you ever run across a heckler online or in person? How did you manage the situation? Have you ever seen anyone do a great job of dealing with a heckler?  What did they do?

Posted in Communications, Internal Communications, public relations | Tagged , , , , , | 28 Comments

What’s Better, Ideation Or Creativity?


My office went through the StrengthsFinder process earlier this year and “ideation” was one of my identified strengths. In the past when I’ve done similar things, in lieu of ideation I would draw the “creative” card. While my colleagues would nod in agreement, seeing it as a compliment, I’ve always been a bit suspicious of the description. What does creative mean and really, in practical terms, what is its value?

Before I go on I should point out that I love the idea of creativity in most aspects of my life. I like to paint, draw, write, garden, cook all things people generally think of as creative endeavours. Work in communications also requires creative components, and I believe in creativity’s role in enhancing everything from messages to services. My suspicion comes from the fact that I also know that if you are doing your job well, then it will be based in research and best practices. When those things are absent, the creative process can act as a blind or distraction rather than an enhancement. Making something that is poorly thought out or ill conceived look appealing or worst still, strategic, is a great way to build incompetency into your organization or project.

Doing a job well, any job, requires contemplation, research, planning and hard work. Talent can help, but without the other pieces it doesn’t go far. But when someone says, “your creative” I always get the impression that they think that is the whole process.

So is ideation any better as a descriptor? Perhaps. Without going into the full description, Gallop describes ideation this way, “People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.”

I have to admit, I love when small, seemingly inconsequential actions create big ripples. If you can figure out what small thing you need to do to make your big objectives line up, then you have a powerful tool. The Behavioural Insights Team from the UK, you may know them as the “Nudge Unit”, was created to explore just those things. Their research is focused on determining what little nudge is required to change behaviour. Some of their insights include.

  • Wrapping presents nicely increases the likelihood of the gift being well received.
  • A handwritten letter is more likely to get a response than a typed missive.
  • While people like choice, the more options you give them, the less likely they are to make a choice.

Facts like these intrigue me. They remind me that sometimes solving problems is not about coming up with the most original thought, the most elaborate plan, but better understanding how things work and what motivates people. Ideation doesn’t assume anything about the nature of ideas. It acknowledges that ideas can be creative, simplistic, time tested and any number of other things. That has real appeal to me.

Like creativity, ideation without due diligence in research and methodology will not produce good results. Consider that what we call brainstorming sessions are ideation sessions. Research shows that they produce poorer results than if people try to think of new ideas on their own. There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. We tend towards consensus in group sessions and this means that most sessions develop variations on existing ideas rather than exploring new ones.
  2. Introverted participants are generally less vocal in these sessions which means part of the group is never really heard and
  3. We often go into sessions without research. Essentially we start from scratch.

Not all brainstorming sessions are created equal, but the general rules of engagement most people employ do not produce stellar results. So what works best, ideation or creativity? Or are they really just variations on a theme? Whatever your preferences, they both perform best when they are coupled with work, knowledge and strategic thinking.

What about you? What do you consider the pros and cons of creativity and ideation?

Image Courtesy of Leigh Righton through Flickr

Posted in Communications, Management | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Does opportunity knock or slip in through the back door?

Taking advantage of opportunity is a lot harder than it sounds. Opportunities rarely come wrapped like beautiful presents. In fact, there are times when opportunity looks suspiciously like a setback or failure. I have confidently declared something to be a bad idea only to reflect on it later and realize it was actually closer to genius.

One thing I like to remember when an opportunity slips past me is that even the best opportunity seekers periodically get things wrong. Bessemer Venture Partners (BVP) is gracious enough to share their misses on their “anti-portfolio” web page. If you’re ever kicking yourself for missing out on a great thing, just wander over to that page. It’s not so much that misery loves company, as it is a good reminder that even the experts periodically get it wrong. To give you an example of one of their misses – they turned their nose up at Google.

So how do you know when opportunity is staring you in the face… or even quietly sitting next to you? Mark Rice and Gina Colarelli O’Connor describe opportunity recognition as, the match between an unfulfilled market need and a solution that satisfies that need. Seems straightforward enough right? The challenge is that unfulfilled needs are often no easier to identify than opportunity, especially if you don’t have a deep understanding of your market. So, starting with what you know, is the best way to hone your ability to spot an opportunity.

You have to have incredible knowledge of your market or area of interest. Imagine what your response would be if someone offered you shares in LinkedIn, Pinterest or even Facebook if you didn’t know anything about social media. How could you assess your options? How would you know what might happen? Even if you did know about social media – things change. BVP said no to Facebook because “MySpace” was already in existence.

The challenge of opportunity is that it can be shrouded in risk or the possibility of failure. Even if you get past the fear factor that risk imposes, you might still only partially recognize value. Something might seem like a good concept, but the application of the idea is limited. Only after new perspectives are discovered does the full potential for the original idea become fully realized. The story of the post it note illustrates that well.

Given all the variables at play, what kinds of questions can you ask yourself? For me it begins with the basics:

  • What are the advantages?
  • What are the disadvantages?
  • How long will it take to come to fruition?
  • Do I have the time it takes to make this work?
  • What variations on the idea can be considered?

The thing about asking questions about ideas when they are presented to you is that you are not only continuing to learn, but you are also assessing your environment. Opportunity sometimes knocks, but for those times when it slips in the back door, open-minded curiosity is your best ally against missing out on a good thing.

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Service At All Cost

Best Service ID-10095047

When I first worked for a member of parliament I was tasked with responding to all of the correspondence that came into the office. This was back in the day when correspondence involved the postal system and computers had two colour options for screen displays, orange or green.

Some of the messages we received would be from industry leaders expressing everything from concern to dismay about a recent government announcement. Some were outraged letters from constituents complaining about misguided government policy. Many of the letters were, well for lack of a better word, crazy.

They reminded me of nothing so much as, Letters From A Nut, these missives from Ted L. Nancy were rife with odd requests and strange preoccupations. The difference is, that while comedian Barry P. Marder wrote the Ted L. Nancy letters, the letters appearing on my desk were written in full earnest by constituents.

The woman who wanted the grass around the mailbox cut, not the lawn…that was cut, but the grass a few inches from the box, “it was a disgrace on federal property.”

Or the lady who felt she had a democratic right to a free air conditioner. Then there was the gentleman who wrote to his MP to explain how much he liked to eat road kill. He at least was pleased with government policy that made that possible. Of course he was not nearly as disturbing as the two brothers from a rural part of the country who wrote in demanding wives. I’ll admit an air conditioner seemed almost reasonable by comparison.

The thing is, no matter how odd or outrageous the letter, a polite and reasoned response had to follow. The issues could not be ignored, dismissed or blown off. Constituents who had taken the time to write in deserved an answer. Whether it was clarity on constitutional rights or a quick call to Canada Post requesting that someone with scissors head over to the post box in question, letters were not only answered, the issues in them were fully researched and addressed as far as possible.

What that experience in a political office did was give me an effective lesson in customer service. What it looks like, how it operates and the lengths you need to go to. You see it didn’t matter that we did not deliver the air conditioner, what mattered was that we took the request seriously and responded thoughtfully. People remembered that on Election Day. To be sure there were times when people wrote in or called the office with issues I found offensive, but my job was to listen first, see what if anything could be done to address the issue, explain why if it could not be addressed and offer up alternate solutions.

Since my time on the Hill I’ve had plenty of moments where I’ve thought back to those letters. Instants where I would have liked noting more than to kick the person in front of me, instead, I’ve smiled and thought of ways I could help. It isn’t always easy, it doesn’t always work, but the interesting thing about that is, in the end, whatever was making them/me/us crazy didn’t matter. We didn’t remember the issue, just how we felt at that moment. People don’t remember the specifics of the product they remember the service.

Image courtesy of Miles Stuart at

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