The Wisdom Of The Aged – Conveyed Clearly And Succinctly

DeWitt and Louise Calamari (and Dukie)

We all have someone whose words of wisdom stand out for us, and whose ideas we leverage at work and in our personal life. For me, it was my maternal grandfather, DeWitt Calamari, who passed away many years ago after 93 years of gathering life experiences. Grandpa was a man of very few words. He had a grumpy demeanor, and three dents in his bald skull from where he had endured brain surgery in the 1950’s. I was usually petrified when in his presence. It probably worked well for both of us that he only said three things to me my entire life. In retrospect, each provides a great life lesson conveyed in clear language.

  1. “Whiney, whiney, whiney! You’re such a whiney kid!”

He was right; I was a very whiney kid. I complained about everything. (I’m only a moderately whiney adult.) Grandpa was the youngest of eight children, and the only one of his siblings to live past the age of 12. He never met his father, who became ill before Grandpa was born and went back to Italy for treatment, but never returned. Grandpa’s mother became a dietitian at a New York City hospital to support the family. Once it was just her and Grandpa, she took a job as a housekeeper to a cruel and abusive farmer in upstate New York. In the early years of the 20th Century, life was tough for many people, and the typical approach was to deal with your problems quietly and privately. You didn’t whine, in part, because of a sense of self-reliance, and in part because no one wanted to hear it; they were dealing with their own problems.

Grandpa had no patience for whiners. You could ask him a thousand questions about his garden, his photography, and the various contraptions he built around his house in the Bronx. He was always eager to explain things to you if you showed interest. He was always open to suggestions. But he didn’t want to hear complaints. I’ve learned over the years that neither does anyone else.

  1. “What do you mean you won’t eat it? That’s the best part!

Whether it was the burnt part of the toast, the crusty part of the pasta, or, God forbid, the moldy part of the cheese, Grandpa elevated the dregs to the icing on the cake. A life of modest means had taught him how to be grateful. Gratitude isn’t about accepting less-than with reluctance or resignation. True gratitude is about finding joy in what’s in front of you. I’m not talking about injustice, against which we should all rebel at work and in life. I’m talking about the little disappointments that happen each day, the small inconveniences that occur and have the potential to mount as the day progresses and throw us off our game. If instead of allowing those moments to irritate us, we found a way to shrug them off or appreciate them for what they are, we’d make each day that much easier for ourselves and for those around us.

Grandpa had a tough and lonely start to life. But he and my grandmother managed through The Great Depression, putting food on the table and providing a healthy start to life for their growing family. When he was diagnosed with cancer in his early fifties, he underwent experimental surgery to remove a brain tumor. He had to quit his job with the City of New York, but managed to live another forty years, puttering around the house working on various projects. He treated every day as a gift. He reveled in the smallest signs of beauty, like new shoots on the dogwood tree in his yard, or the slightest of accomplishments, like teaching his Toy Fox Terrier, Dukie, a new trick. Simple gratitude for the small things in life, and turning the little disappointments into opportunities, might go a long way to take the edge off the day. I can’t advocate that you should eat the moldy part of the cheese, because I know I won’t. But, the next time your coffee order gets screwed up, instead of thinking of it as a failure, think of it as an adventure. I’ve never tried my Tall Flat White with caramel before. Let’s give it a whirl.

  1. Smile!

Grandpa had a gruff demeanor, but I have no doubt he genuinely wanted his six children and twenty-two grandchildren to be happy. He didn’t always know how to achieve that, so sometimes he just demanded it. From his early twenties he was an avid photographer. He took thousands of posed and spontaneous pictures of all of us. As I say, I was afraid of him, so when he said, “Smile,” I smiled. Smiling, like being grateful, can sometimes accomplish what complaining cannot. Smiling projects positivity into the world, and usually elicits a smile in return. It softens each interaction. When I coach professionals on their communication skills, I sometimes need to help them understand when and how to soften their tone. Part of that process often involves getting them to smile more. Who knew Grandpa was on to something?

I didn’t know it at the time, but the man who intimidated me the most as a child, taught me to avoid complaining, appreciate whatever good you can find in a moment, and present a positive face to the world. Who in your life gave you words of wisdom? 

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4 Things We Can Learn From Nikki Haley’s “With All Due Respect, I Don’t Get Confused”

Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

How To Go From Under The Bus To The Driver’s Seat

We’ve all had situations in which we feel we’ve been wronged and want to respond appropriately, but struggled to do so while maintaining the relationship. Just about every married man in history has apologized to his wife for something he didn’t do, just to avoid a showdown. Almost every woman at work has swallowed her pride in front of colleagues at some point in her career just to get through the day. What if there was a way to maintain that sense of self-respect and still keep the peace?

Earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley showed us how. Larry Kudlow, the Director of the National Economic Council, advised the press that Haley may have been “confused” and spoken out of turn about the President’s plan to impose additional sanctions on Russia. The Ambassador responded quickly and succinctly with, “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.” Haley, the smart and savvy former Governor of South Carolina, is a political veteran, and has surely had to deal with more than her share of public challenges to her positions. She’s also been in the public spotlight enough to know not to make rookie mistakes, like speaking before she knows her facts. So, compared to most of us, she’s had more practice at this type of response. Nevertheless, her response to Kudlow’s comment demonstrated resilience and grit, and was delivered so quickly and tersely that Kudlow then had to apologize to her.

There are four things we can learn from her simple response.

1. You can fight back with class. By starting with acknowledging respect – in a way, acknowledging perspective – Haley took the edge off what came next.

I once took a walking tour of Charleston, South Carolina led by a lovely, middle-aged, Southern belle, born and raised in the city. As we walked the cobblestone streets, she shared one gossipy, scandalous tidbit after another about this family and that, but somehow always seemed poised and respectable. After one slanderous-sounding story she said, “By the way, as a Southern woman, you can say the meanest thing you want about anyone as long as you start or end with, ‘Well bless their heart….’” “Well bless his heart, he drank like a fish.” Or, “She was like her own USO tour, she was so popular with the sailors, God bless her heart.”

I don’t advocate gossip. I’m suggesting if your comment is delivered with some etiquette, with a few words that take the edge off, it comes across as somehow balanced and nuanced, regardless of how direct it is.

At work or home, when you need to correct someone’s statement you can give your comment some needed depth by adding,

“With all due respect….”

“I understand your position….”

“For perspective, I suggest….”

“From my vantage point….”

“I appreciate your perspective. My point of view on that is different.”

The list is endless.

2. Don’t start with an apology. If you feel you were in the right, don’t undermine the validity of your perspective by setting up the discussion with an apology that isn’t sincere. You’ll feel undermined in terms of your own value, and the other person, if he or she threw you under the bus to begin with, will then take advantage of the apology to emphasize that you were in the wrong.

Of course, if you were in the wrong, you should apologize. A heartfelt, “I’m sorry about that.” Or even a quick, “My bad,” for a minor infraction goes a long way to maintain a relationship and allows you to move forward.

3. Know your own position. If you know you were right to begin with, you’re more likely to stay strong in your self-defense. Haley was able to respond with a terse, “I don’t get confused,” because she knew she had done her homework, knew she wasn’t speaking out of turn, and knew her intellect and clout were on par with those criticizing her.

In the new film Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman plays Winston Churchill during the few weeks after he is named Prime Minister. Churchill must decide whether to negotiate a humiliating peace with Hitler, or mobilize the British people to fight in spite of overwhelming odds. Throughout the movie you see his tremendous insecurity regarding his country’s ability to withstand a German invasion. But, you always feel his sense of self-confidence about his position that appeasement won’t work, and fighting is the only option. That sense of self-confidence in his opinion allowed him to rally the country to his position. Before you go into battle at work, you need to know what you stand for.

4. Comment on what you know, not what you assume. Haley’s response didn’t comment on Kudlow or the White House position. She commented on what she knows – herself, and she did so with diplomacy. She didn’t say, “With all due respect, you’re wrong.” She didn’t attack. In fact, she reiterated her earlier comments without using any of the same words. Instead of saying, “The White House position is…,” she said, “I don’t get confused,” which not only defended her integrity, but said, “I know what the President and I discussed.” In the case of operating on a very public stage, where tact is important, she knew she shouldn’t reconfirm, “The President said he was going to impose additional sanctions.” That would create a confrontation. Instead, she directed her comment to herself, which allowed the discussion to veer ever so slightly away from the sanctions, where there was a no-win situation.

In short, if you need to defend your position at work, you can stand your ground while still being diplomatic. You’ll be well served to stay polite, hold firm without apology, know your position, and stick to the facts you can confirm. Now you’re ready for your ambassadorship.

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6 Ways To Communicate Confidence As You Enter The Workforce

You’ve graduated and are about to become part of the working world. Congratulations, and welcome. As a parent of three college graduates and one college senior, I assure you, one of the most fulfilling questions a parent asks his or her newly sprung twenty-something is, “So, how was work today?” It makes us feel proud to have created a productive, tax-paying member of society. Obviously, you should be just as proud. You’ve earned your moment;

bask in it…


Basking time is over…

Let’s get to work.

Early on in your career, if you’re smart, you’re also insecure. You don’t quite know what you are doing just yet. That’s OK. No one wants you to walk in the door all full of yourself – not now, and not later either. But you can carry yourself with the air of someone who is confident about what they do know. You know you’re smart. You know how to work hard. You know what you don’t know and what you need to learn. That’s a great start. Below are some pointers that will help you carry yourself through the first year of work while you find your way.

For those of you who don’t have a job yet and are still getting bombarded with the question, “What are you going to do now?” I encourage you to hear that question differently, and respond to it differently. Hear that question as, “So, what are you going to do first?” That way, you can respond, “Well, first, I’m going to…. Then, I’ll see where that leads.” It takes all the pressure off, and it makes you seem strategic and wiser. You’re acknowledging that the first job we get out of college is rarely the last job we ever have. In fact, it’s unlikely you will have four jobs during your career. It’s more likely you’ll have four careers. And the path will meander, and that’s OK.

For those of you walking in the door at an employer soon, here are some ways to communicate your confidence. Effective communication requires both a particular mindset andspecific techniques. The mind-set is simple: You are more effective as a communicator if you are focused less on yourself, and more on other people. Below are six techniques to implement as you start out.

1. Follow The Golden Rule

Treat everyone with respect. I have always been surprised by people who spend a great deal of time trying to figure out who they have to be nice to and who “doesn’t matter.” It takes a lot less energy to be nice to everyone than to figure out who is worthy of basic courtesies. (Easy answer, everyone is worthy of basic courtesies.)

2. Frame Your “Problems”

Never approach a senior person with “a problem.” Your job isn’t to pass difficult problems off to someone else. Instead, present possible solutions and seek advice. Substitute “I don’t know what to do,” with, “I’ve thought through this matter. We could take position A or position B. I’m leaning toward A but thought I would get some guidance first.”

No one will fault you for not knowing an answer. But everyone will be annoyed if you do not put the effort in first to consider alternatives. In addition, people will be impressed that you have the confidence to offer your opinion.

3. Come In Prepared

Always carry a pad and pencil when you walk into a more senior person’s office. You will always look ready to work. If you are there to present info, don’t be afraid to use notes. People appreciate that you respect their time and want to stay on track. No one ever said, “Please, come into my office and ramble.”

4. Allow Yourself A Moment

When answering questions, give yourself some thinking time to articulate a better answer. We speak at about 135 words per minute. Our brains can provide information at 10 times that rate. Use your mind’s power to your advantage. By repeating or rephrasing the questions, or using a lead in such as “Good question,” or “Key point,” you can buy your brain a few precious moments to figure out not just what you want to say, but how you want to say it. You will give a better answer to the question, and the listener will leave with a better understanding of the issues. The alternative is greeting a question with that “deer in the headlights” look that not only says, “I’m not sure,” but “…and I just forgot my own name.”

When will you come up with the best answer to a question your manager asks? Right after you walk out of her office, or on the subway ride home, or in the shower the next morning. In all cases, that’s too late. At least by buying yourself a few seconds, you improve the chances of coming up with a better answer than if you just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind.

5. Listen, And Ask Questions

Listen. Listen carefully. Listen with everything you’ve got. You will do a much better job on an assignment if you understand the task correctly to begin with. Do not be afraid to ask for clarification of an assignment. It means you are conscientious about everyone’s time and about doing a good job for your organization. No one expects you to have all the answers, but if you ask the right questions you will demonstrate your competence. The people you work with will appreciate that.

6. Put Stock In How You Dress

Every company has its own culture and what is acceptable in one, may not work in another.

When I practiced law in the 90s, there was a clear dress code – a certain kind of suit and tie. For men, any color shirt was acceptable, as long as it was white or blue. Women had it tougher, trying to dress to code and look fashionable at the same time.

Now, dress codes are, at many companies, a thing of the past. Anything goes, right? Wrong. I was recently asked by one of my colleagues to accompany her to a client meeting at a tech startup. She wanted me to join her because I had the most experience teaching a certain type of course at our firm. But she informed me rather directly, “But don’t dress like you, OK?” She explained, “When I went the last time, I wore jeans and a blazer. They suggested I not wear the blazer the next time or I would look like I didn’t understand their culture.” In other words: Nothing has changed! People still form a first impression of you based on outward appearance. Their first impression can’t be based on substance; you haven’t said anything yet. It must be based on something, so it will be based on how you look. Because dress codes are more fluid now, here’s my advice: Whatever look you are going for, own it. If you want to present a more casual, laid-back demeanor and that works in your organization, go for it. If you like to get decked out and wear Prada ties and Hugo Boss cuff links, and that’s you, go for it. Here’s how to think about it: You should assume that everyone else will assume that whatever look you have is intentional. So make your look intentional.

These techniques will help you implement that mindset of focusing less on yourself and more on the other person. Congrats on your first career, now hit the ground running.

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Why Managers Matter

Managing Director, Chief Diversity Officer & Global Head of Talent at Goldman Sachs, Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri

One of the key questions successful professionals ask themselves is, “How can I grow my business?” Perhaps the more important question is, “What’s the best investment for growing my business?” The answer to growing your business lies in growing your people, and ROI is important not only in your financial investments, but in your people investments.

I had the privilege recently to meet with Ana Vazquez-Ubarri, the Chief Diversity Officer and Global Head of Talent for Goldman Sachs. For the past several years, “Anilu” has led the key people assessment and development initiatives that have helped Goldman achieve its status as the gold standard of Wall Street firms. She joined Goldman after a successful career as a corporate attorney. Anilu earned an AB from Princeton, and a JD from Fordham Law School. She shared the key insights she has gained in her varied roles helping Goldman’s 35,000 employees hone their skills and build successful teams.

Jay Sullivan: Where should business leaders focus their efforts for developing their people?

Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri: Focus on your managers. They are the key. Developing your managers gives you a “multiplier effect.” They are closest to the line professionals, so if you train them well, you reach the broadest possible audience. They become your ambassadors of new ideas, innovative approaches, appropriate practices and positive culture. Furthermore, managers play an integral role in creating a diverse and inclusive environment for those that they manage.

Sullivan: Where have you focused at Goldman in developing your managers?

Vazquez-Ubarri: We believe our managers need to do three things. They need to listen well, adopt a servant-leader approach (where a leader’s primary focus is to serve their people) and bind their people to the firm, not to themselves as managers.

Sullivan: Talk to me about each of those.

Vazquez-Ubarri: Sure. Let’s start with the listening aspect. Managers have to know their people. You don’t get to know people by talking at them. You get to know them by listening to them. We train our managers to ask questions about their employees’ professional and personal experiences as it is critical for our professionals of all backgrounds to feel included and have their unique experiences recognized. That’s become more complicated as people manage remote teams and dispersed teams. If you’re managing people around the country or around the globe, the burden is on you as the manager to put in the effort to spend time with those team members you don’t see every day or have the chance to bump into in the hallway.

Sullivan: How can managers achieve this?

Vazquez-Ubarri: Technology certainly makes this easier. You can now meet “face-to-face” regularly with people or teams around the world. The impact of actually seeing someone rather than just talking to them is dramatic; so much more happens in the conversation. But the technology is only the tool. The manager herself must develop strong time-management skills, and we give her the tools and training to do so. At Goldman, we’re not into excuses. “I can’t develop my team as well because they are all remote.” That doesn’t fly here. We hold managers accountable to how well, how consistently, how uniformly, they are managing their teams, regardless of whether they are all in the same physical space or scattered across regions.

Sullivan: So being a good listener is paramount. What comes next?

Vazquez-Ubarri: We encourage managers to focus on the feedback they will be getting, instead of the feedback they will be giving. Obviously, we train our managers on how to delegate and give feedback to people. But we also help them understand how they will be evaluated, to make sure that they receive meaningful feedback from those around them. Sometimes, people think “servant leadership” is about being a nicer manager. It’s not about nice; it’s about effective. As a manager, if you are effective at developing your people, you are serving them well. That’s what it means to be in service of others.

Sullivan: What does it mean to “bind people to the firm,” and why is that important?

Vazquez-Ubarri: Every organization has a culture. For any professional, his or her direct supervisor is the purveyor of that culture. The senior leaders in an organization may believe deeply in, espouse and actually live the values they talk about. But if I’m a line professional, and my immediate manager doesn’t live those values in the way he interacts with me, I don’t experience the organization as holding those values. At Goldman we work hard to help our managers become self-aware. If I am conscious of my behavior, and understand my behavior, I can adapt my behavior to help grow other people. If I’m more self-aware, I’ll be more likely to help people adopt the values of the organization, rather than my own narrowed self-interests.

There’s no upside to having managers tie their teams to themselves. If you follow the first two steps, you’ll naturally bind people to the values espoused by the firm, because those are the same values you will hold dear.

Sullivan: If I hear you correctly, if I truly, deeply listen to the people I manage, I will be acting as a servant leader, which will, in turn, encourage my team to dedicate themselves to the organization, rather than to me. So, this all works seamlessly together.

Vazquez-Ubarri: It’s what we have been doing at Goldman for more than a decade. I can’t claim we have perfected it, but we work at it every day and our employees have confirmed that a better manager makes for a better firm.

Sullivan: Great advice. Thanks for sharing it with the broader business community.

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The Irony Of Servant Leadership – A Position Of Strength Born From A Position Of Humility

Every day in the news we see and hear about leaders – leaders in politics, in business, in the arts, in education. We see young leaders advocating for changes in gun laws. We see women leading our nation toward an end to abusive, predatory behavior by men in power. We see people in power leading with a variety of styles and approaches. With so many examples of leadership, it’s important to analyze what seems to resonate best with those around us. Leadership isn’t about a title; it’s about the way we approach each other, treat each other, get people behind our ideas and move forward.

Ken Blanchard has been studying, reflecting on, writing about and sharing his wisdom about leadership for more than 50 years. He has very clear and concrete ideas about what makes a good leader. In his latest book, Servant Leadership in Action, he shares essays and reflections on leadership from more than 40 educators, activists, authors and practitioners. All roads on the path to leadership seem to lead back to one basic premise: Great leaders understand intuitively that leading requires great humility, great compassion, great selflessness and great love. I recently had a chance to speak with Ken about how servant leaders set the right tone and create successful environments.

Jay Sullivan: The essays you’ve collected in your book provide a wide spectrum of examples and stories about people who have led by serving others, led by sacrifice rather than self-aggrandizement. In the first section, you explain how someone can lead and serve at the same time.

Ken Blanchard: Exactly. There are two parts to servant leadership. Determining the vision and crafting the strategy are the leadership elements. Implementing that strategy is where the servant aspect comes into play. Our job as servant leaders is to direct and support those around us.

Sullivan: The first two sections of the book deal with the Fundamentals and the Elements of servant leadership, respectively. The word listen comes up frequently.

Blanchard: Listening is an essential element of servant leadership. You have to understand your people – their hopes, their dreams, their fears and aspirations. It’s why emotional intelligence, a combination of self-awareness and empathy, is essential for servant leaders. Without it, you can’t create the level of trust that’s necessary for leaders to be effective.

Sullivan: Your subtitle to the book is How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results. You list relationships first. Why? We’re all in business to achieve results, not to feel good about each other.

Blanchard: None of us achieves anything on our own. If we put the people we lead first on our list of priorities, they will take care of achieving the results we’re targeting. Profit is the applause you get for creating a motivating environment for your people.

Sullivan: Another word that frequently appears in the book is humility.

Blanchard: Humility is essential, and yet frequently misunderstood. The Exemplars of Servant Leadership section of the book includes an essay by Tony Baron profiling Dr. Dallas Willard, a theology professor who wrote extensively on philosophy and spirituality. Tony notes, “Arrogant teachers may provide knowledge to their students, but rarely wisdom.” It’s so true. When you come into a conversation or a relationship from the perspective of arrogance, you’re exerting power to push an agenda. Pushing, by definition, isn’t leading. Servant leaders earn the support of their followers.

Sullivan: Humility sometimes has a negative implication, as if someone doesn’t appreciate their own value.

Blanchard: Being humble doesn’t mean conveying insecurity. It means putting others first.

Sullivan: I have always thought that humility is just pride with perspective. You should appreciate that you have a lot to offer and that there are a lot of other people out there with just as much to bring to the table.

Blanchard: Exactly. Humble people don’t think less of themselves; they just think of themselves less.

Sullivan: One section of the book, Putting Servant Leadership to Work, profiles key business leaders who have brought servant leadership to life in their companies and who share the results they have accomplished. Colleen Barrett, the former president of Southwest Airlines, shares some interesting comments about where a company should focus.

Blanchard: Yes. Colleen, like many servant leaders, believes you have to focus on the people in your organization if you want to have a high performing team. She says the way to improve the financial bottom line is to be “the employer of choice, the provider of choice, the investment of choice, and the citizen of choice.” At Southwest, they’re concerned not only with their own people and customers, but also with giving back to the community. Colleen and the other people profiled in that section share some great examples. But the examples aren’t about what they themselves do, or how they act. They are about lessons learned from others and how they put those lessons into action at their companies.

Sullivan: All of those stories seemed to boil down to a sense of caring for others, of leading from a place of genuine concern. Is that the essence of servant leadership?

Blanchard: The essence of servant leadership is the power of love, over the love of power.

Sullivan: Well put. Thanks.

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Top Three Elements to Recruiting Rockstars


You’ve reviewed a hundred resumes. You’ve screened a dozen candidates. You’ve interviewed six solid contenders for the job. Now, how do you now make sure you hire the right person?

Whether you own a business or manage a department, you have to hire the right talent to get the job done. Jeff Hyman has spent his entire career finding the right candidates for the job. I had a chance to speak with him recently about the process that has made him so successful as a recruiter.

Jay Sullivan: What’s the number one mistake people make when they hire the wrong candidate?

Jeff Hyman: Most people and companies don’t appreciate where the starting line is in hiring. We tend to think the process starts with reviewing the resume. In fact, it starts way before that. It starts with understanding who you are as a company. If you don’t know yourself, with a depth of precision and understanding, you can’t possibly hire the right candidate. The process starts with a bit of naval-gazing.

Sullivan: At this point, every company has its mission statement and list of core values. I see them posted in the reception area of every company I visit. Don’t most companies already know who they are?

Hyman: Understanding the essence of your company or organization – what I call your company’s DNA – goes much deeper than what’s on the posters or company website. People don’t read your DNA or memorize it; they live it. It’s in the way they treat each other and their customers. It’s the code of conduct that everyone in the group knows – the elements of performance or behavior that are non-negotiable.

Sullivan: If there are elements that are non-negotiable – an unstated culture of behavior – then why don’t people hire against those standards?

Hyman: Because too often they are exactly that – unstated. It’s important to state them, for the group at large, and most importantly, for those managing your recruiting process. Anyone in a position to contribute to the hiring process has to know in very clear terms, and in consistent terms with the rest of the recruiters, how we define the company’s DNA.

Sullivan: In your new book, Recruit Rockstars, you talk about the essential elements of an effective hiring campaign. What are the top three considerations that help companies hire the top talent?

Hyman: First of all, if your organization isn’t a top-quality place to work, you’re not going to recruit top talent. At that point, recruiting isn’t your problem. Ask yourself, “Does my organization reward top talent appropriately, and is it an environment where “Rockstars” can flourish?

Sullivan: How can I determine that?

Hyman: Ask yourself two questions: First – “Does my company give talented people what they need to succeed?” Second – “How can I get out of the way so they can succeed?” Good leadership in this regard is about serving others, about meeting their needs.

Sullivan: Assuming I’ve created a great place for Rockstars to succeed, what’s next to make sure I hire the right talent?

Hyman: You have to take candidates on a “test drive.” Interviews are great indicators of how well someone interviews, but they tell you little or nothing about how a particular person will perform on the job. They are a necessary pre-cursor to the test drive, but they can’t supplant it.

Sullivan: It sounds complicated and time consuming.

Hyman: It’s definitely more complicated than a traditional interview. But it’s less time consuming than hiring the wrong candidate and then having to start your search over again.

Sullivan: Can you give me an example?

Hyman: I provide a number of them in Recruit Rockstars, but in short, it’s not the same as job shadowing; it’s getting the person to actually do the job. For instance, I once worked with a software company that created different test drives for the various roles they needed to fill. For their sales role, they created mock sales calls. They gave candidates plenty of information and time to prepare, and then had them call to another conference room at the company where employees played the role of customers. They created a number of scenarios. Between each call, they would coach the person on how to improve his or her performance. They then watched to see if the person could incorporate the feedback. When you’re interviewing for a sales role, you’re looking to see how the person reasons and interacts with others. If you’re interviewing for someone in finance, the test drive would look radically different.

Sullivan: If the candidate passes the DNA test, and they perform well in the test drive, what’s the third most important element in the interview process?

Hyman: Make sure your interview team is comparing candidates fairly and on the same criteria. Develop a “scorecard” for the job skills and aptitude needed. Measure all of the candidates against that scorecard. Doing so will help you avoid incorporating “unconscious bias” into the interview process. We all tend to hire people with whom we are comfortable, rather than the person best suited to do the job. Get everyone on the interview team to agree on and commit to using the scorecard.

Sullivan: In Recruit Rockstars, you include a “ten step playbook” for finding the winners. The three steps you’ve highlighted here are a great introduction to that process. In short, we need to 1) focus on who we are as a company (the DNA), 2) define what skills the job itself entails (the scorecard), and 3) incorporate into the interview process a component that will require the candidate to show she or he actually has the skills needed (the Test Drive). Very helpful advice.

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Deliver Killer Presentations. Don’t Look Like You Killed The Presenter.


I can’t put my finger on it, but there was just something very uncomfortable about watching the guy present. He was both too nervous and trying too hard at the same time. I got the creepy feeling he had just murdered the real presenter, and was now up in front of the group trying to hide that he had killed someone, and also deliver the dead guy’s material. 

Victoria G., Boston College grad student reacting to a guest lecturer.

(The lecturer in question was, in fact, the intended speaker. No crime had been committed, except perhaps, giving a very poor speech.)

When we are watching someone share information, we react to both what the person is saying and how he or she is saying it. I wasn’t at the speech Victoria attended, but I have coached enough people on their talks that I have an idea of what may have happened.

Keep in mind that, like Victoria, most people can’t identify clearly what they liked or didn’t like about a speaker’s delivery. They only know whether they reacted positively or negatively to the talk. That’s because a speaker’s overall presence in front of the room is the cumulative effect of dozens of small elements in the speaker’s delivery. It’s a combination of eye contact, hand gestures, facial expressions, vocal inflection, and word choice, among other smaller elements.

In the case of the alleged murderer, I would guess there were two things going on that impacted his delivery.

First, I would guess that he didn’t know his key message. Having a key message is crucial to having impact. If you’re not sure what you want your audience to know, you are far more likely to hem and haw, drift off on tangents, make vague statements, give far too much detail, or all of the above. Always ask yourself before you attend a meeting, jump on a conference call, or deliver a formal presentation, “If my audience only remembers one sentence from this talk, what do I want them to remember?” That one sentence is your key message. You need to say it at least three times during your presentation. The first time you say something, no one hears it. The second time you say the message, it sounds vaguely familiar to your audience, but they still don’t get it. The third time you say it, the audience says, “Oh, that’s what she wants me to know.”

The key message also gives structure to your talk and ties everything together. When you do find yourself mired in the weeds, the message is what brings you – and the audience – back to the essential. When you find yourself neck deep in detail, you remember your main point and say, “And that’s why it’s so important that you:

  • act fast on this opportunity
  • improve your internal controls in this area
  • don’t fire the special prosecutor
  • ignore the dead real-presenter at the back of the room,”

…whatever your key message is.

Your key message is what pulls you back from the abyss that swallows so many presentations.

Second, the nervous-looking but hopefully-completely-innocent presenter at Victoria’s class, probably didn’t use his notes very well. I know it’s a mundane thing to discuss, but it’s likely what happened. Most people prepare thoroughly for a talk, but don’t use notes that are a true delivery vehicle for their information. We’re afraid we’re going to forget what we want to say, so we write out our talk, and then deliver it by reading from the paper, glancing up every once in a while because we know eye contact is important. Eye contact isn’t important; it’s essential. Eye contact is how you show your audience you are comfortable with yourself and your content. If you read your talk while looking at the paper or the slides, you look unprepared and as if you don’t know your material. Everyone in the room can read. You’re the expert. You’re supposed to know your stuff.

Instead of writing out your talk, draft a quick summary of what you want to say – full sentences and paragraphs if you need to. That’s an important step. But then, reduce what you wrote to a simple column of bullet points. You should have just enough on the page to prompt your memory about your content. When delivering your talk, glance down in silence and grab one bullet at a time. Look up in silence and focus on a single pair of eyes. Say the bullet point in a sentence or a phrase, and then add your value, looking at one pair of eyes at a time per sentence. When you’re done, stop talking, look back at your notes and grab the next bullet point. No talking on the way down to the pad, no talking to the pad, no talking on the way up.

Every word gets delivered to a pair of eyes – one thought per person. At Exec|Comm, we call this the “Spot Word” technique.

The presenter in Victoria’s class was probably a very smart guy, who, unfortunately for him and the class, outsmarted himself by putting too much on the paper and tripped himself up by reading his material instead of delivering his material. It’s a common mistake I used to make often early in my legal career in front of high stakes audiences. I work hard to help other budding professionals avoid the same mistakes.

In January, I taught a course on communication skills and innovative thinking at Georgetown Law Center. Among other things, my students worked on this delivery skill. In early March, I received the following note from Asher, one of my students.

My class recently participated in mock court oral arguments and during practices I was having difficulty using my notes when fielding questions from the “bench.” After switching to [the Spot Word] method I was able to easily find the points I wanted to make and in the final presentation the most positive feedback I received was on my ability to respond to questions and simultaneously redirect back to the point I wanted to make, something I would not have been able to do without [the Spot Word] method. It really was a big help.

If this method works well in the high-pressure setting of a law school moot court argument, it will work at your next department meeting or sales presentation.

I can’t say with certainty why Victoria reacted to her presenter the way she did. But assuming he wasn’t wearing a hockey mask and carrying a chain saw, I’m guessing it was the lack of a clear message, and not using his notes well, two things that could have salvaged his talk. Keep both in mind for your next killer presentation.

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Leading with Executive Presence: What can we learn from the Soldier and the Saint?

When I think of Executive Presence, I think of two very different people I’ve had the privilege to meet. Both exemplify the ideals of what’s become known as “Servant Leadership,” that notion of leading from a place of humility with the emphasis on those being led. They came from very different backgrounds, and had their own unique roles in the world. Although they both had many attributes that gave them that gravitas we all seek as leaders, I thought it would be most helpful to you to focus on one aspect from each of them.

Simply Being There 

Years ago, I conducted numerous training programs for the law firm of Patton Boggs (now knows as “Squire Patton Boggs”). At the time, Mike Nardotti was the partner in charge of the Learning & Development Committee at the firm. Mike came to the firm after five years as the Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army, in charge of an enormous team of dedicated lawyers. He retired from the army with the rank of Major General. When Mike walked in the room, you knew you were in the presence of a leader.

For those of us who don’t have experience serving in the military, our impression of a general is formed by TV and the movies. Think of the difference between how a general is portrayed, compared to a drill sergeant. The drill sergeant is most often portrayed as the person shouting in the face of the new recruits, breaking people down so they could be rebuilt as soldiers. The general, by contrast, is portrayed as the calm, steely eyed, self-possessed leader, confident of his statements, while carrying the weight of the importance of his decisions.

Mike was present at the start of every program I taught for the firm. He greeted me, and every attendee, by name and with a smile and welcome. He said a few words about the program, telling everyone the importance of building their skills, of investing in themselves, and of the firm’s commitment to their growth. He spoke clearly and briefly. Mike was as busy a person as any partner at any law firm. But since he led the Learning & Development function, he took that administrative function seriously. He was physically present to those he served in that role. His presence at the start of every program told his associates, “I care about you.  I care about your development.  You are important.”  Simple physical presence is the first step in executive presence.

Staying on Message

Years earlier, before I attended law school, I spent two years in Kingston, Jamaica, helping a small group of nuns run an orphanage. There aren’t many advantages to being the only man living at the convent, but every once in a while, a nice opportunity would present itself. In 1985, completely unannounced, Mother Teresa (now Saint Teresa of Calcutta), came to Kingston to visit the small group of Missionaries of Charity, the order of Catholic nuns she had founded. The Sisters of Mercy I was living with at the time were invited to a reception to meet her at the Cardinal’s residence the evening she arrived. Since I was living at the convent at the time, the nuns allowed me to tag along.

About 150 people, mostly priests and sisters, filled the backyard at the Cardinal’s residence. Clearly, Mother Teresa had had a long and exhausting day, having flown halfway around the world, and then having spent the afternoon touring the facility where her sisters tended to the needs of Kingston’s poor. Yet she stood on the porch and spoke softly yet firmly, lovingly yet with great conviction, of the work that needs to be done to tend to God’s children. Clearly, she was preaching to the converted. Her words were of thanks, but also of the reminder of why everyone present was doing the work they were doing, whatever their particular mission. She knew that even the most stout-hearted needed reminding that their work mattered, needed reminding not only of the “what” but of the “why.” After brief, but poignant remarks, she stayed on the porch to greet each person, asking their name and about their role. I was last in line, so after we spoke briefly, she took my arm and I escorted her off the stage to her waiting van. She was 75 at the time, but walked quickly and with determination. Clearly, she wasn’t done for the evening.


What can we learn from the Major General and the Saint? First, physical presence matters. Get in front of your people. Make sure they hear your commitment to your ideas, to your ideals, and to them. Second, know what you stand for. Tie those convictions to the motivating forces for your audience. Leading isn’t about you as the leader; it’s about those you lead.

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Executive Presence Expands Opportunities

Jim Sterling, Exec-Comm Partner, answers the question “Who in your life embodies executive presence?” Hear his response.

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Three Steps To Developing An Innovative Instinct — And The Questions To Ask Yourself To Get There

Innovation requires an openness to trying something new. But what if you grow up in a world where you are educated to get the best exam score rather than to think broadly about a problem and debate possible solutions? And what if, in addition, your culture teaches you to learn by listening and accepting, rather than by asking questions? How do you learn to innovate if you are risk averse, and you can’t get the input you need to know how you are really doing?

Ami Dror faced that problem when he moved from Israel to Shanghai to launch an educational start-up, LeapLearner. I had a chance to meet with Dror on a recent trip to Asia. His experience has lessons for anyone who cares about developing the next generation of innovative thinkers.

“What if we could unleash the potential of everyone to innovate?” he asks. Rather than just dream that dream, he’s doing something about it.

LeapLearner, started in Shanghai in 2015 by Dror, Leo Zhao and Aaron Tian, challenges children to create a video game; at least, creating a game is the stated purpose. What Dror and the team really accomplish is to teach kids how to innovate by teaching them how to write computer code.

Says Dror, “When you write a string of code, you test it by hitting “execute.” If it works, you achieved the goal. If it doesn’t, which is more often the case, you must go back through your lines of code to figure out where the problem lies. That means every time you hit “execute,” you are asking for and receiving feedback on how well you have accomplished your task.”

According to Dror, the Chinese educational system follows a thousand-years-old tradition where the student’s main goal is to have the highest score on a test. The traditional learning process was not designed to encourage innovative thinking. This is clearly changing in the last few years as China becomes one of the most innovative cultures in the world.

“China historically mastered the ‘improvement innovation’ by taking what is already good, and making it fantastic,” Dror says. “The view of ‘Made in China’ implying substandard goods is very dated. Like anywhere, in China there are lots of second-rate products, but the ones that are good, are as good as it gets and we see more and more international companies following the Chinese lead on innovation.”

In some cultures, including Dror’s native Israel, “pride of authorship” encourages individuals to find their own paths to a solution, but not always in an organized fashion. “In Israel, kids don’t analyze. Instead, they usually follow the “trial and error” method, taking guesses and pursuing success diligently, but haphazardly.”

But in Israel, he says, “People are very comfortable taking ‘reputational risk,’ being willing to try something new.” The challenge in Israel is, he says, “They don’t have enough people to execute on innovative ideas.” That is definitely not the problem in China. “China has a huge advantage – lots of people who can execute.” But China’s population, by and large, is not taught to innovate. “In schools here, most kids do not ask questions. They do what they are told. They aren’t encouraged to be inquisitive, to ask, “Why?” Dror see a huge potential in China, assuming the innovative potential can be tapped. He thinks he’s found a fun and engaging way to help unleash the innovation in everyone.

The first step is to free people from the fear of failure. Coding is the perfect tool for doing that. “The feedback loop in coding is so fast that you get accustomed to asking for and receiving feedback very quickly. When your goal as a kid is to build your own computer video game, you’re fully engaged. You know you need the feedback and the guidance to fix your problems, so you’re not afraid to ask for direction.” Coding helps with critical thinking and problem-solving skills, all while teaching kids to innovate.

The second step is to make sure you’re creating a culture where innovation is rewarded.  In LeapLearner classes, the reward for the kids is intrinsic in the process, since the kids are creating videos games. But Dror encourages innovation as an employer as well. He rewards employees who take risks by promoting them to management roles, and he makes sure other employees are conscious of what led to someone else’s promotion. He defines “taking risks” as “doing something I didn’t tell you to do,” certainly a modest step, but you have to start somewhere.

The third step is to make that risk-taking a more consistent behavior. Dror feels there is still a lot of work to do in China to make that happen, but he sees hope. “The government knows it’s an issue and is starting to incorporate innovation skills into the school curriculum. They recently mandated that coding be taught in all schools. This is an amazing step toward getting people comfortable with feedback, and rewarding the behavior of being innovative.”

How does all of this apply to you?

If you manage others, you can create a culture of innovation by applying the steps achieved by LeapLearner.

  1. Speak openly about times you tried something new that didn’t work, and what you learned from the process. That will let others on your team know not to fear failure.
  2. Celebrate the small changes people make to the way they work that lead to better performance. The public “pat on the back” at a meeting or through email to acknowledge someone’s new idea or revised process helps everyone know that you value people thinking more broadly.
  3. Incorporate discussions of new ideas and approaches into meetings as often as possible. Your team needs to hear that encouragement more frequently than at an annual meeting. Frequent, and consistent communication is more likely to lead to a change in culture.

Regardless of whether you are in management, what can you do to develop your own innovative behaviors? Take a step back from what you do, and reflect on how you do it. Analyze the tasks and the roles you perform. Ask yourself a few questions.

  • Has the organization implemented any changes recently that I didn’t understand or that seemed arbitrary? If so, who can I ask about the “Why” for the change? There may be something I can learn from someone’s else’s innovative idea.
  • Which processes have never made sense to me, and I know could be done better? How cumbersome would it be to implement that change?
  • Is there a committee at work dedicated to improving the organization’s efficiency or effectiveness that I can join?

Once you have found a likely avenue for critical thinking, evaluate the level of risk you and your organization find comfortable for trying something new. Make that effort at change public to whose around you. People are more likely to notice the change if you make it evident. Then, seek feedback on how you are doing. Is the change – the innovation – working? If not, that’s not failure; that’s encouragement to innovate further until you find new and better ways.

“My core innovation principles are very simple no matter if I share it with my students, my employees, or my kids,” added Dror. “Have more dreams than achievements. Chase your dreams as fast as you can and fail fast if needed, but always, always ask ‘WHY?’.”

For Dror’s students at Leap Learner, that leads to a new computer game. For us in the workplace, it leads to broader thinking and greater business success. Not a bad payoff.

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