Inequality In The Workplace: 3 Approaches To Create A Culture Of Allies

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With all the negativity, nastiness and name-calling in public discourse these days, it’s refreshing to see so many people focusing on how we can truly understand one another better and come closer to appreciating each other’s experiences. Companies are working hard to help their people relate, and where they can’t truly identify with someone else’s experience, at least acknowledge those differences with respect.

In 1993, Yale professor Stephen Carter, in his book, The Culture of Disbelief, wrote, “I want to live in a country that doesn’t just tolerate my faith, but respects it.” Twenty-six years later, that theme is being applied not just to faith, but to all aspects of our humanity. Most of our institutions, particularly in the corporate world, seek not just for diversity, but for inclusion. Diversity is about numbers; inclusion is about understanding.

Madhumita “Mita” Mallick and Glenn Racioppi are a “gender partnership” at Unilever. A “gender partnership” isn’t a new form of marriage. It’s simply a pairing of people of different genders who can talk to each other openly about issues of gender inequality at work. Their respective paths and collective efforts provide lessons for all of us.

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Mallick has been leading Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) efforts at Unilever North America for more than three years. Her goal is to make sure all voices are heard or represented – no small task in a company with 155,000 employees across the globe.

For seven years, Racioppi has been a brand manager for the company. He crossed paths with Mallick a few years ago when he started Unilever’s “Men as Allies” (UMAA) group. After participating in a D&I training, he and other men at Unilever were intrigued by the increased awareness it created for them and wanted to extend the learning and the dialogue. They wanted a training event that would promote an on-going pattern of growth. He found senior leadership welcoming of the idea and had no shortage of senior executives willing to sponsor UMAA events and discussions.

“Our UMAA meetings give men a safe place to discuss gender issues, ask questions, admit blind spots, learn how to identify inequality in the workplace and be more supportive of the women we work with,” Racioppi says. In conversations with Mallick, he quickly determined that UMAA should be a sub-group within her Women’s Business Resource Group, which goes by the name “Galvanize.” Since then, Mallick and Racioppi have worked together to help Unilever foster understanding, openness and, ultimately, responsibility.

Mallick focuses on getting Unilever employees to stand up for each other when they see issues of inequality. Although the focus is borne from a discussion of gender inequality, the heightened awareness helps people recognize many types of inequality.

“Let’s say you’re in a meeting and you hear someone make a comment that you think puts someone else at a disadvantage because of their race, gender or any attribute unrelated to their ability or experience,” Mallick says. “You should feel comfortable speaking out in the moment or pulling the offending person aside afterward and addressing the issue.” She added, “Most of the time, people don’t intend to offend or discriminate. Helping others see the difference between their intent and their impact broadens the learning for the entire organization.”

Here’s a simple example. You’re in a meeting discussing candidates for a new role that will require travel or, possibly, relocating. Someone mentions “Jesse” as an option. “Dana” says, “Jesse just had another kid. I don’t think they’d be interested.” And the conversation moves on. Jesse is no longer considered for the opportunity based on Dana’s assumption of Jesse’s position. Not giving Jesse the option to weigh the pros and cons of the new role is simply bad management. The inequality arises when Dana’s reaction would differ based on whether Jesse is a man or a woman. Unilever wants others at the table to feel comfortable asking Dana, in the moment, “What’s that assessment based on?” or “Why don’t we ask Jesse before making that assumption?” Asking questions that challenge assumptions in the moment can help us all acknowledge and start to minimize our blind spots.

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“You can’t effectively address inequality in the workplace just through your Human Resources department,” Mallick says. “HR can’t always be the cops. By the time an incident is reported to HR, it might be too late.” Unilever wants each employee to feel responsible for standing up for others when they see a lack of fairness.

“I experienced this first-hand early in my career, long before I got to Unilever,” Mallick said. “I was very junior in my role, and one of few people of color working in my group. My manager couldn’t pronounce ‘Madhumita.’ Even when I offered that he could just call me ‘Mita’ he deferred. He thought it would be cute to just call me ‘Mohammed,’ which he did consistently throughout my time at that company, both when we spoke one-on-one and in group settings. Starting as early as grade school, I had asked people to just call me ‘Mita’ instead of my full name. I felt that was enough of a sacrifice. Being called by a wholly different name was demeaning, whether he had chosen ‘Mohammed,’ ‘Mahatma’ or ‘Murphy.’ I wanted to respond, ‘Not my name!’ every time, but didn’t because of my youth and position in the company. But more striking to me was that no one else in the company stepped up and highlighted for the manager that his decision to call me by a nickname of his own choosing was inappropriate.”

Mallick hopes to use Galvanized to promote a culture where that doesn’t happen. In a strong statement of support for the work of Galvanized and UMAA, this fall, Unilever is sponsoring the Better Man Conference (BMC). Started a few years ago by Ray Arata, a noted author and speaker on gender inequality issues, the BMC brings together speakers and leaders for day-long events that are part workshop, part discussion forum, part community building. Although the focus is for white men to understand the paths and perspectives of women and of men of color, everyone is welcome to the conversation.

“By sponsoring this event in our offices, we’ll make it easy for our team and professionals at nearby companies to participate,” Mallick said. “It’s a great opportunity to engage in a discussion, and they take care to foster openness. The BMC team does an excellent job making sure the tone isn’t preachy or scolding. It’s all about understanding.”

Which gets us back to gender partnerships. Mallick and Racioppi are working to create 50 pairings of Unilever professionals of different genders who can talk openly about their work experience. The relationships need to be organic, meaning participants will have a say regarding their partner. The conversations will be guided and structured. Mallick and her team will provide guidelines for how the conversations can happen safely and productively. The goal is understanding and respect.

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Here are three ways you can use what Unilever has done to promote openness and understanding in your work environment.

  1. Leverage training events to facilitate on-going conversations.
  2. Encourage everyone to stand up for each other – politely, appropriately and proactively.
  3. Leverage broader initiatives like the Better Man Conference to bring the outside voice in.

All in all, use your company’s voice to add balance to the current public debate.

Originally published on

Posted in Innovation, Leadership Skills, Uncategorized, Women in Business

How Do You Command A Room?

3 Tips To Boost Your Executive Presence

Growing up in the Philippines, I was taught to be humble and accommodating, rather than outspoken or bold. We were encouraged to get along, rather than rock the boat.

My first jobs were with two of the world’s top companies, Procter & Gamble and Hewlett-Packard. My global colleagues were extroverted and confident – they always knew the right thing to say. I found myself too intimidated to speak up in meetings. Not a quality that was going to fast-track me for a leadership position.

I’m petite – 5’ flat. On top of that, I’m an Asian woman, so I look much younger than I am. As a director of strategy and planning at a Fortune 50, I had to learn how to boost my presence, command the room, and engage executive audiences effectively.

So what changed that allowed me to confidently lead global teams and work with senior executives? I took control of my presence. Coming from a technical background, I had to learn that it’s not just about the facts – how I say something is just as important as what I say.

Here’s how you can strengthen your presence and instantly own the room.

1. Connect With Your Listeners

  • Eye contact helps you connect with your audience and show confidence. It’s a powerful connection tool, and it’s all about balance. Too little and you seem detached. Stare them down and you seem creepy. The most effortless way to relate to your audience without detracting from what you’re saying is to follow “one person, one thought.” That is, each thought gets delivered to one set of eyes.

Tip: When seated, look for ‘power positions.’ Position yourself somewhere in the room where you can see the group and make eye contact with key stakeholders.

2. Own Your Space

  • Gestures reinforce your message, and help you own your space. When standing, open your gestures and demonstrate a strong stance. Don’t be afraid to visually express what you’re saying, but keep it in the “gesture zone” – from about your chin to your waist, and just over shoulder width.

Tip: When seated, keep your hands on or above the table and remember to gesture naturally.

3. Take Your Time

  • Pace and pauses tell your audience that what you’re saying matters. Power is never rushed. When you sound confident, it’s easier for your audience to have confidence in you. If you speak too fast, you risk sounding nervous or uncomfortable, and you send one of two wrong messages:
    • “What I’m saying isn’t important enough to take up your time,” or,
    • “I don’t care if you understand, I just want to dump my info on you.”

Tip: Slow down and use pauses to command attention and emphasize key points. There’s power in the pause.

Follow these three quick suggestions and you’ll come across as confident and credible.

Hear Ching tell her story and see her put these executive presence tips into action in this 3-minute video.

Posted in Coaching, Communication Skills, Leadership Skills, Presentation Skills, Women in Business

Change: Do You Cope With It, Deal With It Or Use It As A Growth Opportunity?

How do you see change?

Some people cope with change, like it’s a disease. Some deal with change as if it’s a necessary evil. Some embrace change, seeing it for the possibilities it brings. And some of us, by virtue of our circumstances, actually develop a talent for ensuring that change results in evolution, taking an organization to the next step. Scott Halliday is wrapping up an almost four-year stint as the Chairman & Area Managing Partner for Japan for EY, the global audit, tax, transaction and consulting firm. A Californian by birth, Halliday’s 38-year career with the firm has landed him in leadership roles in two regions in the U.S., in the U.K., and most recently in Tokyo. In each area, his mandate wasn’t to be ready for change, but to propel it, and to do so mindful of cultural differences, the EY brand and his own personal ethos of leadership. He shared his top three strategies for leading a successful team through major changes. Each piece of advice resonates in the unique setting of a global organization, and in the broader context of our lives.

1. Surround yourself with good people you can trust.

According to Halliday, leadership is a team activity. You’re only as good as the people around you. Your job is to help them be the best they can be. He has two strategic questions for those who work under him.

First, he asks, “What are the three skills you are working on for self-improvement?” Halliday said,

“This question helps me understand how self-aware the person is. We all have skills, approaches and attitudes we can work on. I want to be working with people who are constantly trying to improve their performance.”

Second, he asks, “What challenges have you had to overcome?” Sometimes this means more broadly in life, and sometimes it means in the last week or so.

“Life is short and we all have a lot to get done. I find it most helpful to work with people who have energy and enthusiasm. People who can identify challenges they have faced and how they have overcome those headwinds are the ones most likely to show up at work with a can-do spirit. When setbacks occur, which they frequently do in business and life, I want team members who can wake up in the morning with a renewed sense of energy to carry on.”

He added,

“It’s not just about getting tasks done. It’s about building relationships. If they can come at a conversation from a personal perspective, being genuine, you can build trust, which is so important no matter how large your organization. If people know you care about them, they will follow you. And you have to really care, not just go through the motions. If you’re genuine in your caring, your people will make the extra effort for you.”

2. Don’t let yourself get down, particularly if you have a major setback.

I must admit, to me this sounds challenging. Halliday’s advice, “Take the approach, ‘This too shall pass.’” He suggests,

“It takes humility to admit that this challenge that you’re facing isn’t a life-or-death matter; it’s just today’s business decision. Of course, your actions have real-life impact on individuals, and therefore demand your thoughtful reflection and full engagement. But the issues you’re addressing are unlikely to be new or earth changing. If we trust our judgement and treat each other with respect, we’ll make decisions that will help us ride out any storm.”

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He doesn’t suggest that you come across joyous about all of the decisions you need to make. Rather, he suggests you tackle the tough issues head-on, and sleep well knowing you made your decisions with a moral compass as a guide and the values of your organization in mind.

I asked him for an example of when this was difficult for him. He shared that when he was running the Gulf Coast area, from Texas to Mississippi, for EY, the region was to be merged with their Southwest region.

“I had to stand up in front of my partners and say I supported the decision even though it meant I was losing my leadership role. And I did support the decision; it was the right thing for the firm. But I was 44 at the time and thought this position might have been my path to larger leadership roles. I felt torn by the situation but handled it the best I could. Sure enough, six months later I was asked to lead the U.K. operations and help the U.K. merge with Ireland, then have that joint practice join in the formation of the Europe, Middle East, India, and Africa (EMEIA) Area, a historic alignment for the profession. Completely by happenstance, I had developed an expertise in merging operations.”

A few years later, now back stateside, Halliday was tapped by the firm to merge two Northeast coast markets to create one unified Northeast region, combining the firm’s capabilities from Boston to Washington DC. That merger went so well, he was again asked to tackle an intricate situation that required diplomacy as much as leadership skills. When EY decided to merge their Japan practice with the rest of their Asia-PAC teams, they turned to Halliday. There, his background managing offices with different cultures and experience allowed him to align the practice with an important market for the firm’s Japanese clients.

Through all these challenges, he’s seen part of his job as being the person who always stays positive. His advice,

“You can’t lose sight of the fact that your work is only one part of who you are. I exercise regularly and have hobbies outside of work. Exercise provides the right energy and endorphins. I also love saltwater fly fishing, photography and cooking. My wife, Jenny, is my muse. She keeps me grounded and gives me perspective.”

His advice, “If you let your career become all-encompassing, you lose out on the other aspects of life, and those aspects actually help you bring more energy and enthusiasm to your work. It’s a win-win.”

3. Never speak or act in anger.

Halliday said that, over the years, he has found himself biting his tongue rather than speaking out.

“When I’m faced with an emotional issue at work, I back up and ask myself why someone else might have approached an issue from an angle of frustration or anger. I try to see the topic from their point of view. Even if I can’t get there, the buffer of time between the topic being raised and my needed response helps me share a perspective in a calm, professional, and dignified manner.”

He said he responds to voicemails or emails only after calming down. Noting, if you manage the emotion in your own voice, regardless of what you’re receiving from the other person, you’ll change the dynamic in the conversation.

Whether you’re managing a team around a table, or around the globe, your own leadership instincts will be well served by these ideas. Surround yourself with good people. Stay positive in your outlook. Resist speaking in anger. Great advice all around.

Originally published on

Posted in Executive Presence, Innovation, Leadership Skills

Craft Your Elevator Pitch

What do you say when you have just 30 seconds to make a lasting impression? Don’t get caught tongue-tied. Be brief, specific, and memorable. Craft an elevator pitch with these tips from Ching Valdezco:

Posted in Communication Skills, Executive Presence, Leadership Skills, Life Skills, Networking, Tips Videos, Women in Business

3 Ways The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Uses Mindfulness To Be At The Top Of Their Game

Addressing Mental Well-Being “Head First”

MLS partners with Headspace
MLS partners with Headspace, a leading meditation,
concentration and stress-management app.

Most of us feel that competition in our industry is fierce. We’re always on. If we blink, we risk losing territory or a chance to score a big win for our team. That’s the feeling every day in the corporate world. It’s also the feeling on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team as they prepare for this summer’s FIFA World Cup competition in France. How they are preparing holds a lesson for all of us as we develop our teams at work.

First, we need to figure out what makes us successful, the varied components of our being that allow us to contribute meaningfully at work.

Oddly enough, true talent in soccer starts at the head not the feet, according to James Bunce, the Director of High Performance for U.S. Soccer.

“Our mantra is ‘head first.’ For a long time, athletic talent was all about focusing on the neck down. We believe we need to concentrate on what’s going on from the neck up to really develop great talent. For years we’ve been working on mental conditioning, helping people with mindfulness and meditation. Both attributes help the players make the right decisions on the field and off.”

But at U.S. Soccer, they apply that approach not just to the players, but to the coaches and the administrative staff. It’s a business approach, not just a sports training technique.

“It’s time to change the mindset about sports training. We need to start at the head, where all of the decisions we make on the court or the field begin,” says Lindsay Shaffer, the Head of Sports & Fitness for Headspace, the app that provides access to more than 1,000 hours of content focused on improving mental well-being. “Meditation and mindfulness are scientifically proven to support key aspects of preparation, performance and recovery,” say Shaffer.

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Los Angeles, CA – Sunday April 07, 2019: The
women’s national teams of the United States (USA)
and Belgium during an international friendly
match at Banc of California Stadium.

Those elements are as important for the average business professional as they are for the sport professional. Our need to grow at work isn’t limited to our technical skills, and our success on the job doesn’t depend solely on executing on tasks. It requires a more holistic approach to training and development. Shaffer notes,

“We all face stress at home and at work. Starting your day with a brief lesson and exercise in meditation helps you get to work with perspective, intention and presence. Those same elements help you as you execute on your tasks and build your relationships during the day. ‘Recovery’ in sports is the equivalent of your commute home. You can use that time to regroup from the stress of the day and refocus to be present to your family for the evening.”

“Major League Soccer is focused on equipping players with a variety of total wellness resources, so they can be successful now and beyond their playing careers,” said MLS Vice President of Player Engagement, Dr. Jamil Northcutt. “Mindfulness and meditation techniques can easily be translated into everyday life. From improving resiliency and mental grit, to harnessing the ability to focus and let go, these aspects are important for professional athletes to master to manage the various transitions that come along with being a professional athlete and business professional.” The same can be said of any profession.

Second, recognize that one size does not fit all when it comes to resources to improve mental well-being.

According to Bunce, U.S. Soccer and MLS have partnered with Headspace to provide access to the app for all players and staff of both organizations. That access allows the players to apply the same diligence they have in their work on the field to their mental health development. Because Headspace has customized the app for each of the 25 players, each woman has charted a personalized mental health roadmap that will take her from now throughout the last day of the tournament.

“Every woman on the team has different needs and faces different challenges on the field and off,” says Shaffer. “There are modules on the Headspace app geared specifically toward athletes. However, some of the women on the team pulled content from the other sections of the app to build their own customized programs.”

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Similarly, as business professionals, we each get our support and our encouragement from different places. Some of us rely on self-help books, spiritual direction, humor, exercise, YouTube cat videos or a quick Words-With-Friends break between meetings or on the way to and from home. Whether we realize it or not, what we do to prep for, contribute during or recover from the day can have a profound effect on our mental well-being. If our chosen activity is specifically and consciously directed to helping us relax and refocus, we’re far more likely to see the benefits of that activity in our sense of calm and presence to others. While we may occasionally quickly jump on Facebook to relax or take a break, the political commentary from family and friends may make us more riled up than relaxed. Our efforts can backfire. A mindfulness app, however, is designed with a certain goal in mind. In short, not all resources are equal in value.

Finally, our mindfulness regimen shouldn’t be limited to a single activity.

For years, the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team has had a psychologist work with the players, both in groups and individually. But the players are only together for short stints. In between, they’re home in their own cities and towns practicing separately and dealing with whatever challenges they each face, just like the rest of us. According to Bunce, “That’s why we determined the Headspace app was the best resource for meeting the vastly different needs of our players. We needed to address this opportunity for improvement from a few different angles.”

The same is true for those of us in the corporate world. While we don’t usually have millions of cheering fans watching us or booing us from the sidelines while performing our tasks, like the women on the U.S. team will this summer, we still feel the pressure to perform. The rate of mental health issues among lawyers, for instance, has been in the news lately and is only becoming more significant. That’s why one global law firm has added access to Headspace as part of its health benefits – again as only one of many resources available to people.

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The challenge for each of us is to find the right mix of support that help us face the challenges of the day. What we read, what we listen to, who we talk to, what we reflect on, all impact our ability to perform well. When you know you’ve reacted well to a situation because you’ve been calmer, more focused and more present to those around you, somewhere deep inside you’ll hear your own little, “GOOOAAALLL!”

Originally published on

Posted in Innovation, Life Skills, Uncategorized, Women in Business

Go For The Ask

Last week, I attended a fantastic Women’s Leadership Conference in New York. The program was filled with excellent speakers sharing their insightful stories, highlighting advice, and encouraging attendees to stand up and be heard.

One woman – an entrepreneur – made a comment that resonated with me – GO FOR THE ASK. It made me think:

What holds people back?

What do they need to feel they are ready to pitch?

As a consultant, how can I provide tangible, easily implemented guidance to make this intimidating experience a lot less painful?

This is what I’m fortunate to do nearly every day. To feel ready and win the deal, you need to craft your unique pitch in a clear, concise, and compelling way. Here are my four quick tips on how you can go for the ask with confidence:

Know your audience

Most people want the bottom line. Keep it simple and eliminate the jargon.

Craft a clear, concise, listener-directed message

Position your message to highlight what’s in it for them. It’s always about the audience. If you are trying to get someone to buy in and back your idea, you need to appeal to what they care about.

Share a story that highlights the benefits

A brief story or example to make your message concrete, specific, and tangible helps your listener picture your pitch. If they can see it, hopefully they will invest in it.

Deliver with confident body language

There’s no substitute for strong eye contact. If you use a dynamic voice, hand gestures, sit up tall, and command the room, they will have no question you belong there.

So, what are you waiting for? Go for it. The worst thing anyone can say to you is “no,” which leaves you exactly where you are right now if you DON’T pitch. Be bold, and mighty forces (plus the tips above) will come to your aid. You’ve got this.

Want more great advice on pitching your startup? Anne Teutschel will host a session at MATTER in Chicago. Can’t attend in person? Join virtually! For more information and to register, click here.

Posted in Coaching, Interviewing Skills, Leadership Skills, Women in Business

Where Left And Right Brain Meet

The Top 3 Aspects Of Professional Development Applied To Both Process And People

Theories of what makes us successful professionally fill entire sections at bookstores (the few bookstores that are left, at least). Many stake out a position about left-brain analysis, or right-brain intuitiveness. As we gain experience, we learn that it’s the intersection of the two approaches that allows us to succeed. We learn that earlier on in our careers, if we’ve exposed ourselves to the right ideas.

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Mike Ohata, the partner-in-charge of KPMG LLP’s Business School for the firm’s Advisory Practice, is responsible for providing professional growth opportunities for 11,000 professionals across the U.S. His early work life and multiple graduate degrees have provided him the perspective and depth of knowledge to help guide the development of leaders across varied practice groups and with diverse personal backgrounds. He is described by his colleagues as someone who thinks both conceptually and concretely, with the right mix of possibility and pragmatism. I spoke with him recently about what makes a good leader and how he fosters leadership development at KPMG.

Jay Sullivan: Early in your career, you taught and developed the curriculum for schools in both Hawaii and Indonesia. What did you take away from those experiences that helps you in your current role?

Mike Ohata: I discovered that we can all be better teachers if we are better learners. I was new to teaching, so to help my students, I had to ask lots of questions. I am a naturally inquisitive person. I love learning new things, how folks do their jobs, what kinds of technical or specialized knowledge they need. The added benefit of constantly learning is that you start to see connections between seemingly diverse ideas.

Sullivan: In addition to your undergrad degree, you have two Master’s degrees – Applied Linguistics and Education. How does that training help you, and what exactly is Applied Linguistics?

Ohata: Applied Linguistics is the study of how we learn a language, how it shapes our thinking, how we experience communication. Much of our early learning happens not through language but through watching and repeating, and there is still a role for that throughout our lives. However, in a professional context, most learning takes place through language – what we read, what we listen to, what conversations we participate in. Therefore, understanding how we learn to communicate was very helpful not just when I created curriculums for schools, but as I spent 11 years at a tech consultant. “Tech-speak” could be viewed as its own language. Understanding how others might hear my comments and guidance heightened my consciousness around how I needed to translate my content.

Sullivan: You sound like you’re on a constant learning journey.

Ohata: At KPMG, one of our mantras is that we must all be “students of our clients” and “students of the firm.” By that we mean we have to go beyond just listening to the client and each other. We have to adopt a true learning culture, where we dig deeper to understand the issues our clients are facing, and then truly study our own organization to understand trends in our business and opportunities to be of service. That’s why we’re investing so heavily in learning right now—why we’re building a world-class learning, development and innovation facility in Lake Nona, FL called KPMG Lakehouse, and expanding our library of digital learning resources available year-round. We’re continuing to drive a culture of energized, engaged, continuous learning.

Sullivan: All very theoretical, but your colleagues have described you as ultimately very pragmatic. Where does that come into play?

Ohata: In leadership development, we are at the crossroads of processes and people. Consulting can be a heavily process-driven business, which requires structure and attention to detail. Our biggest asset is our talent, which requires nuance and flexibility.

Whenever we look at training, on leadership or anything else, I always start by asking, “What does this mean for our folks?” and “What does it mean for the firm?” The impact isn’t in the knowledge they gain—it’s in how they are able to put that knowledge to work. I look at it from a practical perspective: How many hours will this take them away from their client work? How quickly can they apply the skills on the job? How does it align with their other formal and informal learning? Would the objectives of the training be better met through something other than the proposed approach?

Sullivan: I’m hearing questions, not directives.

Ohata: There’s absolutely a place for direction—people are hungry for guidance. But that guidance is much more effective if it’s grounded in an understanding of what they need and what they want.

Sullivan: In other words, you need to listen.

Ohata: Exactly. You have to create a learning culture, where growing toward the next role is part of the plan. If you’re having honest conversations with your people about their growth paths, and you’re focused on helping them get to the next level of their career, they’re all ears regarding what they can be doing better.

Sullivan: What are the most important factors business leaders should promote to develop strong leaders in their organizations?

Ohata: First, hone your inquisitive instincts. Expose yourself to broader ideas. Set aside time to read, or to watch something on television that challenges you to think differently. I watch science shows and documentaries, sometimes on stuff that’s outside of my typical interests. You never know where the next new idea will hit you, so you have to look in lots of places.

Preparing leaders to deal with change and disruption requires innovative thinking, and you innovate more effectively when you are always exposing yourself to new ideas. Being inquisitive leads to a broad perspective, fosters detailed understanding and creates balance, helping you to prioritize how you integrate ideas and processes.

Second, leaders need to integrate lots of diverse material and issues. Some people think that leadership is about charting a path, but charting a path is the outcome, not the talent. The talent is to be able to pay attention to lots of moving parts at the same time and see possible connections. We help our leaders hone their ability to bring things together and articulate key ideas. This means focusing on their communication skills – both listening and speaking.

Third, leaders need to show their teams consistency with regard to values, principles and integrity. Someone on your team may disagree with you, but they should always have a sense of how you arrived at your conclusion. That sense of consistency gives people comfort and a sense of stability. If you don’t create that sense of security for your team, you’ll undermine all the good stuff that happens with the first two talents.

Sullivan: So, stay inquisitive, look for connections to apply your ideas and act in a consistent manner toward your team. Sounds like great advice. Thanks for your time.

Originally published on

Posted in Innovation, Leadership Skills, Uncategorized

Advice For Startups From The Trade Show Trenches

You had a great idea. You knew it met an important need in the marketplace. You pulled together a group of friends to design and perfect the product. You understand both the market for the product and the competition. You have the manufacturing in place and you’re ready to launch. Right? Wrong. You’re only at the threshold of the market, still looking in. You’ll likely need additional guidance as you step through the door and navigate the halls of commerce.

Trade show
Photo credit: Getty

On April 18 – 21, 300 startup companies will showcase their products, most for the first time, at Startup Launchpad, part of the Mobile Electronics Trade Show in Hong Kong. Minesh Pore of Global Sources, the event producer, has helped propel literally hundreds of startup companies from nice ideas into functioning businesses. I had a chance to speak with him recently and gather his advice for those he serves.

Jay Sullivan: What’s the biggest challenge startup companies face?

Minesh Pore: Most startup companies start as what would be the R&D division of a larger entity. They have an idea for a product or service and have spent all their time developing it, which is important. But R&D doesn’t constitute a complete corporate entity. They need to understand sales, financing, manufacturing and distribution, among other things. They also need legal advice to protect their intellectual property.

Sullivan: So they’ve built a product, and now they need to build a company.

Pore: Exactly. They have to do their R&D on the market as much as on their product or technology. What niche does it fill? What are people willing to pay to access that product or service? Who are the best business partners to get that product to the people who want it?

Sullivan: How can small companies with limited resources gain that knowledge?

Pore: They need to build relationships. No one does all of this on their own, especially newer companies. That’s why they go to trade shows. They can learn from others.

Sullivan: What steps can a new company take to develop the connections they need?

Pore: They need to learn to communicate. Most small companies literally don’t know what they don’t know. They need to be able to craft a simple message about how their product helps a particular audience, and then ask tons of questions about how to get their product produced, distributed and sold. That communication loop – info out, info in – allows them to build the relationships they need.

Sullivan: The first relationships they need are with investors, correct?

Pore: I actually believe it’s more important that they pursue a sale rather than an investment. $100,000 sale is far more valuable than a $100,000 investment. Most distributors dealing with startups know their purchase order for $100,000 in product will give the startup the leverage to borrow the money to produce the goods. They also know the products aren’t sitting on a warehouse loading dock already. When the startups build a relationship with the distributors, they start sharing the risk. They’re a player in the game at that point.

Sullivan: And success begets success.

Pore: Right. For startups, their buyers become their advisors. The distributor needs products in its channel. They have lots to choose from, but once they sign a PO with a new manufacturer, they have counted on those products filling their pipeline. They have a vested interest in helping that startup succeed. That’s why our trade shows are all about helping everyone build connections.

Sullivan: But investors are important as well.

Pore: Of course, but it’s easier get investors once you show value. The sale is the important part.

Sullivan: How do you help startups gain these skills?

Pore: We run training sessions before and during each conference on a wide range of skills. But just as valuable I think is the coaching we give startups as my team and I walk the halls of the event. Some of the inventors are “quiet types,” more comfortable with ideas than with people. They’re so steeped in the design of their product, they’re literally “heads down,” deep in the product, instead of looking up at market with all its opportunities and dangers.

Although they’re very proud and excited about their product, they sometimes need help conveying that enthusiasm. They tend to talk about the product itself instead of how the product will benefit or be attractive to the end user. We’re always coaching startups on how to talk about their product features in terms of benefits.

Sullivan: And they have to keep talking.

Pore: Right. If you aren’t talking, what’s the point of being at a trade show? Startup Launchpad is only one small part of the greater Mobile Electronics show. These 300 startups will benefit from being right near another 3,200 booths of well-established companies with proven products. We’ll have 37,000 global retailers passing through the show. That’s a lot of foot traffic. Having a clear and concise message about your product is crucial, because you’ll be saying it thousands of times, not just at trade shows, but throughout your process for building your brand and building your company.

Sullivan: So to sum up, it seems any startup, whether at one of your shows or elsewhere, needs to focus on three things. 1. Build the relationships that take them from patent owners to business owners. 2. Focus on selling their products rather than seeking investors. 3. Keep talking – to whoever will listen – about how your product or service adds value, rather than about how it’s designed or created.

Pore: Yes. That’s certainly a great start.

Sullivan: Thanks, and good luck helping launch another 300 companies.

Originally published on

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