Tag : executive communications

Why leaders subconsciously reject change

When our brain senses that our status is being threatened, our thinking shuts down.  We avoid the person or situation making us feel so uncomfortable, and we often stay away from any activity or idea about which we’re not confident. Worse, we label the other person as “wrong” so we can be “right.”

We don’t necessarily do this consciously. It’s just our brains’ natural response when our status is under attack, say the neuroscientists.

So when  corporate rebels and mavericks challenge an organization’s status quo and executive decisions, leaders’ brains go on high-alert. Their decisions, their plans, their position feel threatened and under attack. The neuroscience research says this threat to status activates the same brain regions as physical pain.

The leaders’ knee-jerk reaction is often to label the people with the fresh new ideas as troublemakers. Or not having enough experience to really know what they’re talking about. And jeez, that kid isn’t even a manager, what could she  know? (See how put downs can make you feel better and restore your status?)

Guess what this reaction does to people with the fresh ideas that you need to lead? They run for the hills. Maybe they try to approach you or another executive again, but you’re likely not to welcome what they have to say.  Through words, tone or body language you broadcast the message throughout your organization: your ideas are NOT WELCOME.

And then you wonder why the culture isn’t more innovative and creative. Why too few people speak up with substantive comments at meetings.  Why it seems like you’re the only one with the answers.

Time to get your brain in line and recognize your “threat” triggers so that you can control them —  instead of them controlling you.

Who needs to change their ways: leaders or rebels?

Some executives have told me that “rebels and change agents need to learn how business works. You can’t just disrupt things and expect everyone to change.”

But should the corporate rebels be the ones to have to adapt their style? Or should leaders find ways to better understand how to control their threat triggers so that they can create a safe, welcoming climate for new ideas?

To me, this is the responsibility of the leader. All people can benefit from understanding and managing what trips them up. But with the prestige and financial compensation of being a leader comes the responsibility for first and foremost managing oneself. So your head is ready to be in the game of leading.

Humility and reappraising

This is why so many great leaders are humble. Humility reduces the status threat. It puts people at ease talking with you. It clears the leader’s mind of emotion so that he or she can really understand what people are saying.

Another way to manage the brain is to reappraise situations that start to trigger your emotions. What’s  the other person’s perspective? What does he want me to understand? What does she want me to do and why?  Look at what’s being said as data and nothing more.

Economic and competitive threats are relentless, causing their own set of threats and associated behavioral responses. But to succeed companies need new ideas and the best ideas are likely to come from the rebels and mavericks inside your own organization.

As a leader, help those people who can most help you succeed. Even if they make you uncomfortable. Maybe especially because they make you uncomfortable.

Help yourself by seeing challenges to the status quo as possibilities not attacks on your position.

The end of employee communications as we know it

Will companies need employee communications departments three or five years from now? I think not.

Just as Twitter is changing how news and information is gathered and shared. So will social communication change business communication, eliminating the need for a centralized employee communications function.

In an interview this week NYU journalism professor and media critic Jay Rosen said, “Because of Twitter, the news system is tending toward a state where every user is a node in the news gathering network. And a distributor. That’s a very different system.”

Employee communications will quickly evolve into a very different system as well. With every employee a node in the company information network. Whether it’s Twitter, a private company social network or some other social form of communications, people will want to find out what’s going on in the company — not just from executives and department heads but from one another.

A Fortune 100 company called this morning to talk about new skills and competencies for corporate communications professionals. There are many, which I’ll try to address in another post.  But this got me to thinking that perhaps we need to elevate the conversation to what communications skills and competencies executives need in this evolving world.

Soon — or maybe it’s already here — executives will need to be direct communicators, like all team members. How they participate will determine the effectiveness of workplace communications and how well they attract talent.   Not the Intranet, the employee newsletter, the beautiful posters or the occasional and well-scripted town hall meeting.

While this transition like all transitions will be full of uncertainty, I hope it is not full of fear. Leaders with a clear sense of purpose and passion for their employees, customers and community  have all they need to be superb communicators. Just be yourself. And help people see the way forward.

Leveraging corporate-speak and business jargon to empower lazy thinking and seamlessly obscure challenged strategic initiatives

The SOS call came  on Thursday night from a friend who was working with the CEO to close a major acquisition and get a press release out.

“You know why we’re spending $100 million to buy this company?” she said. “I’m being told to say that it ‘leverages our assets and talents in our core business.'”  I pushed back and told him that that this doesn’t explain why we’re buying the company.  But he insists “leverage” is a good word. The street will like it.”

The next day I was reviewing an executive’s business objectives. “What do you think,” he asked.

“I can’t understand what they mean,” I said. “All this deepening and strengthening and aligning and empowering and seamlessly enabling. Could you just tell me in simple words about what you want to do and why it matters?”

Icy silence, but point taken. This exec is smart enough to know that the corporate jargon was preventing anyone from understanding some big ideas. If if people can’t understand, nothing happens. Which may be the point of many a jargon-riddled document.

Why is there so much business jargon?

Insecurity: Part of the overuse of business jargon is insecurity — people think certain phrases and words make them sound knowledgeable.

Lazy thinking: An even bigger reason is that people have not thought through the ideas, so they dress up incomplete thinking with all kinds of blah blah.  It’s like putting a Mercedes medallion on a beat-up Honda Civic and expecting people to believe it’s an expensive car.

Over their heads: And then there are the people who are in way over their heads, and can’t communicate clearly because they don’t know the subject matter well enough.  Jargon is tap dancing, hoping no one finds out that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Fear: People are afraid to explain the facts, especially in touchy situations like layoffs.  They think that if they couch things in obscure explanations, people won’t get upset or ask difficult questions. People see right through these wimpy attempts to avoid tough issues. Worse yet,  obscuration erodes people’s trust in that wimpy leader who can’t just give it to them straight.

Cover up: Hello Enron, Tyco, BP and all the other slime balls who used corporate speak to try to cover up bad situations. (And many still do.)

Good sources of corporate speak phrases, dictionaries, outrage

If you’re trying to help a colleague get on the straight-talk wagon — or you have the urge to send that insecure product manager a secret email about what what his stupid jargon really means — are are some good resources:

Try this: omit all the adjectives

One piece of advice, that’s  helped me reform corporate speak addicts: ask them to cross out all the adjectives and adverbs in the document.  What’s left?  Usually nothing, resulting in something like: “The (deleted adjective) (deleted adjective) product, is the (deleted adjective) in our industry.”

Good ideas need no fancy words. Think of all the plain but effective messages in history: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Your take?

Social leadership

Some days I get so sick about talking and reading about social media. Here’s why: most of the fundamentals of  marketing and leadership are the same as they always have been.  The social tools are merely enablers.  You can be a social media wizard at using Twitter, YouTube, blogs, communities and the like and still be a marketing or management dud.

One of my passions is helping leaders develop their communications competencies, as leadership is grounded in communications. What has changed in this area is that people expect leaders to be more human and social in their leadership style and communications.  Part of it is due to new social communications tools, another part to generational influences, and another is the Obama effect.

If you’re involved in developing an  “enterprise 2.0″ strategy, I recommend reading the article “Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership,” by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. Their framework for assessing an executive’s social leadership can also be used as a framework for prioritizing where  Web 2.0 social platforms and processes could provide the most value to your corporation. The leadership principles are fundamental; how you help an executive team or organization realize them with new social strategies is tactical.

  1. Empathy: do you understand what motivates other people?
  2. Organizational awareness: do you appreciate the culture and values of the group?
  3. Influence: do you persuade others by engaging them in discussion and appealing to their self-interests?
  4. Developing others: do you provide feedback that people find helpful for their professional development?
  5. Inspiration: do you articulate a compelling vision, build group pride, and foster a positive emotional tone?
  6. Teamwork: do you solicit input from everyone on the team?

Humanizing diplomatic communications

What was remarkable about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to Asia last week was that it showed an innovative approach to diplomatic relations and communications. Rather than just the formal meetings with dignitaries Clinton showed a much more human communications style, both in style and actions, making time to speak at universities to talk with female students, to appear on a popular television show,  to go to church.

Clinton told reporters that she is determined to make a connection to people “in a way that is not traditional, not confined by the ministerial greeting and the staged handshake photo…I see our job right now, given where we are in the world and what we’ve inherited, as repairing relations, not only with people.”


Better yet, the previously overly cautious, overly messaged Clinton, has seen the light about the value of straight talk.

Mark Landler of The New York Times reported on Saturday: “Mrs. Clinton raised eyebrows among journalists and analysts with a frank assessment of how a succession struggle in North Korea could undermine talks over its nuclear program. She said she was baffled by the reaction.”

“Maybe this is unusual because you are suppose to be so careful that we spend hours avoiding stating the obvious,” Mrs. Clinton said. “I think it’s worth, perhaps, being more straightforward, trying to engage countries on the basis of the reality that exists.”

This straightforward, human approach to communications is what all people are craving — in foreign relations, in government, at school, in business. In fact, one of the effects of social media has been to amplify this desire.

Gary Hamel recently posted “25 Stretch Goals for Management” on the Harvard Business Publishing blog —  summarizing a two day summit of business leaders tackling the topic of how to reinvent management.  My favorite goal, which underscores Clinton’s recent style, is #24:

Humanize the language and practice of business. Tomorrow’s management systems must give as much credence to such timeless ideals as beauty, justice and community as they do to the traditional goals of efficiency, advantage and profit.”

Mrs. Clinton has come so far in changing her leadership communications style over the past two years to be more real, more human, more direct.  Now let’s help our business leaders do the same so they can be more inspiring leaders vs. merely effective managers.