Who is the Most Powerful Person in the Room? The Lightning-Fast Way to Figure It Out

May 17th, 2016 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Building Relationships, Communication No Comments »

Business people laughing

This may be the shortest article I’ve ever shared with you.

The fastest way to figure out who’s in power is…

Are you ready for this?

It’s humor. Noticing the dynamics around humor is a failsafe way to figure out the power structure of almost any group of people, any time, anywhere.

First Observation: Who makes jokes?

I’m not talking about “A chicken, an eagle, and a turkey walk into a bar…”

I’m talking about little comments that are intended to be funny, such as:

“Ah, really? Don at Manchester Supply wants to meet with us. Did he wake up from his pricing coma?”

“Hmm. You’re saying Anita missed the deadline. And remind me, who is Anita’s boss?” (Said to Anita’s boss in a gentle, leading manner, with eyebrows playfully raised.)

Second Observation: Whose jokes always get a chuckle, even if they’re not funny?

Not everyone is funny, and not every joke is funny. However, if others react affirmatively to the joke, regardless of how funny it really is, you can bet this person wields power, regardless of his or her title.

You’ll really notice this dynamic if the comment is so far off the mark that it’s downright awkward. How are people reacting if the joke is not funny, badly delivered, or offensive in some way? If you tune in to the reactions in the room, you may feel the tension rise to a level that just doesn’t happen when a powerless person fails in his or her attempt at humor.

Why is the tension exponentially higher if a powerful person’s humor is off the mark? Because everyone in the room is now stuck between the utter dishonesty of laughing and the risks associated with embarrassing a more powerful person by not laughing.

Third Observation: Who gets to dismiss comments as not funny or even offensive?

The more powerful a person is, the more control they have over the humor expressed by others.

Imagine a general manager in a meeting with his or her extended staff. Imagine someone making a snarky comment about a vendor, unaware that the general manager has mended relations with the vendor and now thinks highly of them again.

The GM doesn’t laugh.

The person who shared the snarky humor about the vendor isn’t going to share it again, ever. The humor has been squelched.

The same applies to more serious situations in which humor is inappropriate or even offensive. The reaction of the most powerful person determines what happens next. For this reason, I often encourage clients to reflect very carefully on how they respond to humor. It’s a surprisingly powerful moment of truth for their teams.

By looking for these three simple clues about humor, you will know within minutes, in any meeting, who wields power.

What clues do you look for to understand the power dynamics in a room? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


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Three Keys to Hiring the Right Cultural Fit

March 2nd, 2015 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Building Relationships, Communication, Cultural Fit, Interviewing No Comments »

businesspeopleshakinghandsHas this ever happened to you? You had a strong team in a great company with a culture you loved. You interviewed diligently to fill an open position, and were fortunate enough to snag someone who was very successful, very talented, and very skilled.

Awesome! You thought you had the right fit, but within months, this individual quit – or perhaps you had to let him or her go – because he or she turned out to be a poor fit with the culture.

You thought you did everything right in posting, reviewing resumes, interviewing, being meticulous, asking great questions, and involving all of the team members. There’s no doubt you hired someone who could have been successful, since he or she had already demonstrated it elsewhere. However, their style didn’t work in your culture – and it gave you a headache just thinking about how much time and money was wasted trying so hard to fit that square peg into a round hole. Ouch.

First of all, don’t feel too bad about this mistake – most managers make at least one hiring decision that turns out to be a misfit. In fact, cultural fit is the area in which I see the greatest number of costly mistakes, because I am asked to provide executive coaching for a struggling new leader who, in fact, would have performed beautifully in a different culture.

Here are the three most common mistakes in interviewing for cultural fit.

Mistake #1: Asking direct questions about culture.

When it comes to assessing cultural fit, don’t use direct questions about culture, such as “Tell me what kind of work culture motivates you” or “Do you like the culture where you work?” Direct questions about culture don’t help you gain insights into the candidate’s fit.

In a typical year, I talk with people in 30 – 40 companies, and because they often talk about their cultures, I see firsthand that almost everyone describes their company’s culture in identical terms, such as “fast-paced.” When it comes to interviewing, this renders the use of words to describe culture meaningless.

Mistake #2: Asking about results they’ve achieved, without listening for cultural clues in their answers.

This is where many interviewers inadvertently shoot themselves in the foot. They perceive questions about results as being (somewhat logically) only about results, so they only listen for results.

I made this mistake myself, and paid the price. Early in my management career, I asked a candidate about the results she had achieved in her current role. I listened carefully and was impressed with what she had accomplished. She was quite a talent.

What I failed to do was listen closely to clues about how she achieved the goals, which turned out to be largely working on her own. She was very independent in nature, and she proved to be a terrible fit with the warm, collaborative culture that was the hallmark of my employer at the time.

People hated coming to her with their questions, which was a real problem since answering their questions was 30% of her job.

But I owned at least half of the responsibility for her failure, because I failed to match the way the candidate worked with styles the culture would embrace, or at least tolerate.

This brings us to Mistake #3…

Mistake #3: Not including a culture interviewer.

Let’s continue with the same example. Six of us interviewed the candidate, but none of us specifically owned the responsibility for a deep dive on cultural fit. Even so, two of the interviewers expressed reservations about “something I can’t put my finger on – she seems a little distant somehow – I’m trying to be open to someone who’s been successful with a different style than I’m used to, but… I’m probably being too close-minded here…”

Had at least one of us been assigned the job of being laser-focused on cultural fit, he or she would have been much more confident and certain about the importance of these concerns, and would have been asking the right questions and listening closely to the answers.

So what are the right questions to ask, and what should you listen for in the answers?

Surprisingly, you may already be asking the right questions, and you may not need to add any others. Isn’t that great?

If you’re already asking for specific stories about how they accomplished results, you’re on the right track.You’ll get much better insights into cultural fit if you ask them to walk you through how they accomplished their results, in the form of a SOAR story:

  1. Situation: What situation did you face?
  2. Obstacles: What obstacles were in your way?
  3. Actions: What actions did you take to solve the problem or achieve the goal?
  4. Results: What results did you get?

As you can see, the results are only 25% of the question, and in the other 75%, you have many opportunities to gain insights into cultural fit.

For example, if your rate of growth is particularly fast compared with other companies in your industry, you probably have a culture that values fast, independent decision-making because there are hundreds or thousands of decisions to be made every day and not enough people to make them. That’s the nature of a company in a very rapid growth stage, such as in the first two years after an IPO.

As we’ve seen, while you can ask the candidate to talk about his or her experience in rapid-growth situations, you’ll probably get a beautiful, convincing answer, but it will be useless.

If you were in the fast-growth situation above, you would listen for evidence that their actions included a lot of fast, independent decisions, and that they used time-consuming collaboration only for complex decisions that required a great deal of buy-in from multiple stakeholders.

If their answer to the question still leaves you uncertain, but the candidate is a good fit in other ways, ask them to think about a time when they had to move very quickly and decisively, and to tell you about it in great detail. Listen for clues about how they handled the situation. Would that approach work in your culture?

Compare notes with the other interviewers, and make sure you give equal voice to the culture-fit interviewer, and you’ll get the right fit.

Enjoy your interviewing, and let me know how it goes in the comments below.

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Are you frustrated with your peers?

October 9th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Change Leadership, Communication No Comments »

whiteboard_meeting“How do I get my peers to speed up decision-making?”

“How can I get the rest of the C-suite to agree to my recommendations for strategic investment? What worked at my old company isn’t working here. No one will commit.”

“How can I get these people on board? Even though I don’t report to them, I need to have their buy-in to move forward. They don’t have the authority to say yes to the budget, but they all have the influence to block it.”

What do these three questions have in common? In each case, the leader wants his or her peers to change, or more accurately, to change their behaviors. Peer-level influence is often the most frustrating persuasion challenge, since you have no hierarchical authority to fall back on if data and logic don’t convince them.

Let’s look at several techniques you can use to become less frustrated and more effective at influencing your peers.

First, make it real for them (and yourself) with action verbs.

Before influencing your peers, be sure to get behavioral and specific in your assessment of the challenge or problem as well as what would happen if the challenge or problem were successfully addressed.

In business, we often talk about the need for specific outcomes, but a specific noun or number isn’t enough. It turns out those boring English grammar classes back in your school days taught you something useful after all: an action verb is an action another person can see taking place. If you use action verbs to communicate with your peers, you will eliminate 80%+ of misinterpretation.

Using the first example, above, the leader would ask questions like this to get to action verbs and specifics:

  • What is the team doing or saying (or not doing or not saying) that leaves me with the opinion that decision-making is too slow?
  • Which specific behaviors do I think are causing decision-making to be slow, and what consequences are there to the business? (Don’t worry about the causes at this point, because the question is strictly about what you see happening.)
  • If I had a camera and I were recording everything that happens, what would I see people doing, saying, not doing, and not saying if the problem or challenge were successfully addressed?

Abstract observations are fine as a starting point for your thinking, but you have to get down to the level of the action verb to be convincing to others.

Next, consider the possible cause or causes of the current situation.

Everything in a business is the way it is because it made sense to somebody at the time, given the information and resources available to him or her.

Start with an environmental scan. Is this behavior or approach more or less the norm in this industry? If you’ve moved from a different industry, you need to get a handle on this before determining how you will influence peers. If this behavior or approach is the norm for the industry, you could be fighting a losing battle if you frame up your suggestion as an idea that’s important because you see it as important.

To be more influential, either determine how this change would support something your peers already see as very important (such as empowering their entire workforce, or providing the highest level of customer service) or begin seeding the idea that your company’s best chance at breaking away from the competition may be to pursue your recommended course of action.

If your peer group doesn’t want to break away from the pack or feels secure in their current market position, you’re going to have to be patient because this is going to take a while. In most organizations, it’s more difficult to get big changes off the ground when there is no immediate threat. You’ll have to work to get the momentum going.

Your peers may understandably be concerned about breaking something that isn’t broken by introducing the significant change you have in mind. One of the simplest and most often overlooked tools is putting yourself in their shoes and truly seeking to understand their perspectives, even allowing their perspectives to influence yours and further shape your thinking.

Take an honest look at potential trust issues in your peer relationships.

After conducting an environmental scan, it’s time to consider other factors, such as trust:

  • Are they experiencing low professional trust with you? Professional trust involves worries about your competence in the job, such as worries that you don’t know what you’re doing at this scale and that your decisions will sink the business.
  • Are your peers experiencing low personal trust with you? Personal trust involves concerns about your personal ethics, such as concerns that you will stab them in the back.

Do you see signs of trust issues? It can be very, very hard on the ego to really see these issues. Still, seeing a trust issue and acknowledging it are clearly prerequisite to working on the relationship and modifying your own behaviors in ways that will deepen trust and make you more influential.

Consider the possibility that you may need to adapt to extreme style differences.

Are you experiencing extreme style differences on the team, far more than you’ve experienced on other teams? It happens often on cross-functional leadership teams, because the leaders come from different professional backgrounds. This is considerably less common with teams of individual contributors, who often have more similar styles because they have been shaped by the same profession or business function.

If you’re new to being on a cross-functional leadership team, it can be quite a shock to find yourself attempting to influence people who seem to approach every challenge differently from you and differently from each other. Likewise, if you’ve always been able to bridge style differences on previous leadership teams but find yourself on a team with style differences more extreme than you’ve experienced, it can become discouraging.

The great new here is that style differences can be addressed more easily than the other issues, above, through the consistent, pragmatic, and ethical use of a style inventory and debrief.

The biggest challenge in the C-suite is rarely in the execution of this approach – it’s in getting everyone in agreement to do an inventory in the first place.

This is where your outside advisor can play a valuable role. I’ve found that style inventories are often more effective when integrated into a more business-focused meeting or off-site so that leadership team members can practice style adaptations real-time, working together on real business challenges, with their coach nearby to provide feedback.

Of course, none of these techniques are a substitute for your analytical chops. These techniques won’t help you if your fundamental assessment of the business problem or challenge is weak or your idea just isn’t a very good one. Hey, we’ve all had ideas that weren’t very good. There’s no shame in it and sometimes you just have to accept that your idea was a dog, after all. It’s o.k.

However, when your analysis is excellent but your peers just don’t seem to “get it,” try these techniques and then adapt your approach based on what you learn from exploring each of these three factors. Soon, you will be a much more influential peer.

What have you done to improve your influence with your peers? Let me know in the comments below.

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Want a Beer?

August 14th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Building Relationships, Business, Communication No Comments »

palealeTwo weekends ago, Kirk gamely agreed to go shopping with me. While he doesn’t exactly live for the excitement of waiting for me while I’m in a dressing room, he’s a good sport. We headed up to the Fourth Street shopping area in Berkeley.

The first store we entered, Margaret O’Leary, had a few items I simply had to try on. While in the dressing room, I overheard, “Want a beer?” When I exited the dressing room a few minutes later, there was my very, very, very happy husband, sitting in a comfy leather armchair, drinking a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. He looked at me and declared, “I LOVE shopping!”

Later in the week, he started asking, “Hey, Babe, want to go shopping this weekend? Maybe back up to Margaret O’Leary?”

Now, at this point you may be wondering what this has to do with you, so let me tell you where I’m going with this.

Generally speaking, when a wife pops in to a clothing store to try on a few things, it gets boring for her husband. The odds increase that she will either just skip the store altogether or not spend as much time and money there, especially if she really likes her husband. After all, she doesn’t want the guy to suffer too much.

By spending a tiny amount of money to give this man a beer and provide a man-cave-worthy armchair in which to drink it, Margaret O’Leary is developing a devoted customer relationship with him. Now Margaret O’Leary is the one store he really wants to visit with his wife.

It also becomes the first place he thinks of when her birthday or another gift-giving occasion rolls around.

By thinking about the person who influences the buyer with as much consideration as the buyer herself, Margaret O’Leary eliminated a barrier to buying, in this case the tedious boredom of the spouse, which she brilliantly converted into a darn good time.

So here’s my question: what’s your free beer?

What’s the no-brainer that’s looking you right in the face, that none of your competitors have thought of, to build a relationship with the influencer? What’s the inexpensive, simple, thoughtful thing that your buyer’s influencer would really like? How fast can you provide it?

What’s your free beer? Let me know in the comments below.

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The Wolf Pack

July 10th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Building Relationships, Communication 4 Comments »

wolvesI recently caught up with a client who has very successfully created and implemented large-scale, transformative change in three very different companies. He used a simile so spot-on that I’d like to share it with you. While it might seem a little cold at first, try to be open to the idea. It’s practical and useful.

A team is like a pack of wolves.

It’s very hard to break away from the pack. Only the strongest members can break away and assert themselves with new behaviors, in setting or following a new direction. To introduce change, you must identify the 2 – 3 strongest wolves and begin with them.

When the strongest wolves begin to change their behavior and strike out in a new direction, at first the others will turn against them, and try to bring them back to the established pack norms. If the strong wolves persist and have a few early successes, the remaining members of the pack will, for the most part, begin to follow them. Those who still don’t want to change will move on.

When entering a new organization, this client observes his team very closely and sizes up which of the managers are strong enough to break from the pack. If he doesn’t have a critical mass of strong wolves, he hires 2 – 3 people who have the strength to break away from the pack and set a new direction. He brings in the strongest wolves he can find, because he knows that lots of managers can manage a function, but few are strong enough to lead transformative change.

He and I have found the same pattern at all levels – if you have only one wolf strong enough to break from the pack, it’s not enough. Eventually, he or she will tire of trying to get peers to change their perspectives, of being on the receiving end of jealousy from teammates not quite confident or strong enough to transform, and of being the lone person taking a chance on a big change. Worst of all, the strongest wolves are independent. They’ll leave, and you’ll have to start all over again.

That’s one of the reasons it’s important to size up how strong each individual wolf is, and also ask, “How strong is the pull of this pack?” If you want to create transformative change, and you don’t have critical mass, go find it quickly. Without a few strong wolves, the best process, tools, influence, and communication just won’t be enough. The pull of the pack will win.

How can you spot your strongest wolves? In my experience, there’s rarely a direct correlation between performance and strength. Surprised? There are often several truly outstanding performers who always get results, but who stay solidly in the middle of pack when it comes to transformative change. Performance isn’t where you should look to size up the strength of a wolf.

There is, however, a connection between potential and strength. Nearly all of the strong wolves have potential to step up one or two levels in the breadth of their responsibilities. There are several factors, a mix of traits and experiences, that contribute to their potential.

First and foremost, they form their own opinions and naturally influence the opinions of others. They are often widely read and well informed on everything from their industry or profession to world politics and cultural trends.

They are not necessarily alphas in the way that we think of a wolf pack having an alpha at the top. Some are, but many are neither leader nor follower in any pure sense. They form their own opinions and choose what to lead and whom to follow based on these opinions. Likewise, their choices aren’t driven by a desire to compete and win against the rest of the pack. They really do want everyone to transform and have a shared win.

Regardless of whether they have any training or education on strategic thinking, they instinctively look at the big picture and make connections between day-to-day activities and long-term goals. With them, executive coaching is less about building a strategic mindset and more about simply improving what’s already there by adding discipline, structure, tools, and processes.

I nearly always find that they have done something quite unusual compared to their peers, and this experience has shaped a willingness to take chances and a much higher tolerance for personal risk. A cursory look at some of the strong wolves I’ve worked with turns up the following:

One strong wolf owned and operated a restaurant in Argentina and continued to co-own it and stay involved in major financial decisions after moving to the US, where he held a fulltime job transforming an organization born through an uneasy acquisition. If you’ve ever seen the statistics for restaurant failures, you know the risk involved in opening one. It made a difficult integration look like a walk in the park.

Another strong wolf built hospitals in Afghanistan through a non-profit organization he had co-founded with his wife, both before and after his stint introducing large-scale change for a mid-sized corporation.

A third strong wolf left home as a teenager, lived in his car, twice went broke and came back from it, and taught part-time in public colleges throughout most of his executive career as a way of giving back to the education system that pulled him out of poverty.

As you can imagine, the strongest wolves are often more difficult for the typical employee to relate to, or even to understand. They are simultaneously immersed in the organization and somewhat distant from it.

When you’re working on their professional development, it’s not uncommon to have to remind them to reach out to their peers more frequently. Excellent situational awareness is key to their success, and sometimes it needs to be developed because they don’t always understand that they are different and need to be sensitive to the emotions and motivations of others.

It’s also not uncommon to have to earn their respect (which isn’t easy), before they will give serious attention to your ideas for their development.

It’s worth it, though. You can never, ever, ever lead transformative, large-scale change alone. You simply can’t. You need your whole team, and that starts with the strongest wolves.

What are your thoughts about this wolf pack simile? Am I on target or do you howl in protest? Let me know in the comments below.

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How to Handle an Ineffective Boss

May 22nd, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Building Relationships, Communication No Comments »

bigthumbSpeaking of publishing on the new platform, I am stoked to report that one of my articles went viral and then was featured on a newsfeed on the LinkedIn site. Over 37,000 members have viewed it and over 2100 members have shared it.

Did I strike a nerve with How to Handle an Ineffective Boss, or was it just the picture that did it? Haven’t we all worked for this guy at some point in our careers? I suspect that in my first supervisory role, I was the guy in the picture. Yikes.

At the moment, I post 1 – 2 articles per week. To read the articles, please visit https://www.linkedin.com/today/author/JenniferSelbyLong. To receive a polite email ping each time a new article is posted, just click on the Follow button in the upper right hand corner.

And please rest assured that the more in-depth monthly articles in this very eZine will never go on LinkedIn before they appear here. You will always get a sneak peak before anyone else, and more often than not, you’ll get a level of depth that I don’t post on the site.

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Why Your LinkedIn Network is No Good

May 8th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Building Relationships, Communication No Comments »

manbitinghandsIf you’re underwhelmed, even feeling a little anxious, by the quality and quantity of your network on LinkedIn, today’s article is for you. Even if your network is already decent, I guarantee that by following these tips, you’ll kick it into high gear. Ready? Here we go….

Stop Being So Conservative About Inviting People to Connect

I am simply floored when I talk with leaders who are aggressive in going after business, but wimpy in building their networks. Your network is not only for people with whom you worked for years and your three best friends. You have to make your own judgment call about this, but I find that most professionals are much too shy and cautious about reaching out to connect with others.

Granted, I may be more open than you want to be. I’ve invited people with whom I’ve volunteered, even briefly. I’ve invited people I met through Impact Hub Oakland, where I occasionally work, just because I found our conversations to be so fascinating that I didn’t want to lose touch. I’ve invited people who worked at the same mid-sized business unit I was in 20 years ago, even though our paths had mostly crossed at company events and during training programs we participated in together.

I’ve never regretted it. Although some of these people are not very active on LinkedIn, those who are active post interesting and useful articles and updates, my learning is enriched by their contributions, and I have an amazing group of people to ask for advice on everything from a global marketing strategy to how to get democracy into totalitarian countries. Not that I plan to do that any time soon, but I’m happy to know I’m connected to someone who’s one of the best in the world at that very task, just in case.

Sometimes I’m asked, “Yeah, but what if somebody asks you to provide an introduction to someone else in your network, but you don’t know that person well?” That’s simple. I gently say no. I’m not going to miss out on enriching my knowledge and staying in touch with interesting, helpful businesspeople just because I will sometimes have to let someone down.

Stop Sending Generic Invitations That You Don’t Write Yourself

Take the time to write a short personal note to refresh the person’s memory about where you met, how you know each other, or your mutual friends and colleagues. It’s often the difference between Accept and Ignore. For example, when contacting someone you recognize from way-back-when, try writing “I don’t know if you remember me from XYZ company. I worked for Joe Schmoe on ABC team….”

Because I’ve done so much work in groups, I will sometimes come across a person I recognize, but honestly can’t remember which of the many group activities that connected us. In that case, I just admit it, and nearly everyone accepts.

Every now and then, you’ll hit the Invite button and then realize you didn’t add a note. That’s o.k. Just don’t make a habit of it.

Set a Slightly Broader Standard for Invitations You’ll Accept From Others

I generally don’t accept invitations from people I don’t recognize, with whom I’ve never worked, who haven’t written a personal note, or with whom I have no shared groups or connections. Everyone else gets seriously considered. I may not accept them all, but I do accept many.

You need to be honest with yourself about your comfort level on this and then stretch yourself beyond that comfort zone – at least a little a bit. For example, for a long time I didn’t accept any invitations from people I didn’t know, but now I sometimes accept an invitation if the person has a particularly interesting profile, or has commented on my posts more than once. In the first case, I can learn a lot, and in the second case, the person has been building a relationship with me on line and doesn’t seem like a complete stranger anymore.

Share Content

Offer up value to your network by sharing content, and while you’re at it, comment on content others share.

I don’t keep a regular schedule for sharing content. I just always keep an eye out for content my network might find interesting or helpful, and when I come across it, I share it. Sometimes I add my own comments and sometimes I don’t. You don’t have to make this a big deal at all. It doesn’t have to be burdensome. Just read stuff and share the stuff you like.

Now that I’ve really gotten into this, I track the number of views, likes, and comments for everything I post and I can tell you what my network loves, and what doesn’t interest them much at all. By knowing this, I now skip posting things that just don’t float their boats. I figured this out by posting lots of stuff that interested me, over a long period of time, so please don’t overthink it. Just do it!

For those who are curious, my network loves it when I post a link to an article on my own blog, but not to other blogs. They also love it when I share a cartoon or very simple graph that they can scan in a heartbeat.

They have no interest in some of the articles I find most important and interesting, such as an economist’s analysis of the structural problems in the labor market. I nearly fell off the sofa laughing when I saw how badly every complex, serious, systems-level article did when I posted it. Truly, for my network, those articles are dogs with fleas. I am a true nerd, I guess, even wonkier than my network. And I confess, I might still post the occasional wonky article for all 19 of you who read them, whoever you are.

Turbo-Charger: Upgrade Your Account

Let me say first of all, no, I am not being paid to write this!

When I went from a free account to the most basic of the paid accounts, I found that I could more easily find and reach out to quite a few terrific people I’d known from companies and projects several years back. We had lost touch in the “pre-LinkedIn” era. It’s been great getting back in touch with them.

I couldn’t begin to advise as to which account is right for you. Luckily, that’s what LinkedIn’s marketing team is for. To see your options, click on Upgrade in the upper right hand corner of your home page.

Super-Mega-Turbo-Charger: Write and Post Your Own Content on the Platform

Since I started posting my own writing directly to the platform, I have been tickled pink by the people who reach out to connect with me. They’re interesting people who are in challenging leadership roles all over the globe, and in a wide variety of industries. Engaging with them broadens my perspective in a way that my mostly American network alone can’t do.

Take a look on your home page, and if you see a little pencil icon next to your update balloon, you can publish now. Not all members have it at this point, and it’s going to take a while to roll it out. I applied for early admission by submitting two samples of my best work on this form: http://specialedition.linkedin.com/publishing/. Do this, and the screening team will review your best work. If they like it (and come on, you know they’ll love it), soon you’ll see a balloon pop up on your home page inviting you to publish on LinkedIn.

The publishing tool is crazy-easy to use. When you publish, also be sure to include a picture with each article. It would be a shame to put all that effort into writing your article only to find that few people read it. People open articles with pictures.

Also be sure you have the rights to use the image. I purchase pix from shutterstock.com to be on the safe side.

Your LinkedIn network can be an incredible source of knowledge, perspective, relationships, and opportunities to both help and be helped. Spend a little time this month implementing at least one of these strategies and you’ll be on your way to building a network that expands your world and blows your mind.

Is your LinkedIn network no good? What are your thoughts about expanding and improving your network on LinkedIn? Let me know in the comments.

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Five Steps to a Better Off-Site

April 3rd, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Communication, Professional Development 2 Comments »

0347Getting your leadership team out of the office for focused discussion, debate, and planning is one of the best tools to build your organization’s competency and improve performance.

But far too often, inexperienced leaders try to copy what someone else did in a different organization, and when they return to the office – if they are honest – they have to admit that they didn’t get much of an outcome at all.

There’s a lot involved in getting an off-site right. Here are five steps that are often overlooked, and that can make the difference between success and failure.

  1. Define the exact outcome that you want. Note that I didn’t say “outcomes.” This is intentionally singular, because one outcome must dominate over all others.Think about the one thing you must achieve at this off-site, above all else. That determines what you have to do at the off-site, and everything else must be categorized as nice to do.This lack of willingness to put a stake in the ground and hold firm leads to more mediocre off-sites than all other issues combined. That’s how you wind up with an off-site that crams in too much, with no depth to any of it, and delivers no value to the organization. At that point, the value actually turns negative, since the organization has just invested money in the off-site along with the very high value of a management team’s time. We’ve all attended off-sites like this. Don’t be the guy or gal who leads off-sites like this.
  2. Require non-negotiable pre-work for everyone. If your outcome is a cross-functional plan to execute your roadmaps, it is a massive, wasteful time suck to ask each business owner to present a short deck of his or her roadmap, followed by Q&A. Yet, time and again, leaders tee this up as their off-site design.If they’ve all created roadmaps, they’re all perfectly capable of reading and critiquing one another’s roadmaps on their own. Require everyone to share in advance what they most want help with on their roadmaps and who their key stakeholders are. Then require them to read all of the roadmaps and prepare their questions, criticisms, and any gaps, overlaps, or misalignments they see between the roadmaps.This way, everyone comes prepared to get to work, which leads me to the next step…
  3. Get to work fast, and don’t let up. I’m not saying to skip icebreakers or warm-up activities. In fact, you should start with one. However, continuing with our example, if your off-site outcome is going to be a cross-functional execution plan, you need to split quickly into interdependent work groups and dive into each plan, using the pre-work as the jumping off point.
  4. From time to time, remind everyone of the outcome. Everything else is gravy, but many people like gravy more than potatoes, so expect them to veer in the direction of spending too much time on secondary outcomes. It’s probably the first time they’ve all been together in six months, so it’s easy to start discussing things that have little to do with the outcome you want to achieve.If you’ve set your scope properly, though, you will need most or all of the off-site time to achieve your outcome. Until you feel very confident that you’ll hit that target, you need to keep them focused on it. After that, sure, give them space to tackle secondary outcomes.
  5. I admit this is a little soft, but do not let the off-site end without doing something blatantly celebratory. I bring little statues that look like Oscars, and my clients decide what to award them for. We make a big deal out of it, with a ceremony and pictures. Unless your business is circling the drain, I’d also strongly advise you to take everyone out for dinner on the company’s dime, and make that event celebratory, too.

And because I can’t resist0393 adding a bonus tip, here it is: Use the 30-second check-in technique at the end of each day. Sounds corny, but it’s actually very serious. Stand in a circle. Tell everyone they have 30 seconds to share anything at all with the whole group.

Your facilitator should keep track of the time and interrupt with a polite, “thank you!” if anyone is still talking at his or her 30-second mark. This activity must stay on time.

Use what people say to help make any adjustments or even substantial changes to your Day 2 agenda and your post-off-site follow-up plan.

What are your thoughts about improving off-sites? Let me know at www.jenniferselbylong.com.

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Who’s Afraid of Power?

February 6th, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Business, Change Leadership, Communication, Management 2 Comments »

switchI bet if I asked, you could rattle off dozens of examples of people who caused great harm from being drunk on power. It makes for great movies and it arguably was responsible for triggering the Great Recession.

But I see a different and equally destructive pattern at least as often: fear of power and ambivalence about power. Though it seems counterintuitive, these relationships with power can create as many problems as being drunk on power.

You may be thinking, “I’m an enlightened leader. I don’t think about petty things like power.” That might be true. However, if you aren’t attuned to power, it’s also possible that you are unaware of your own reaction to power and your relationship to it. Even if you are attuned to your feelings about power, and are at ease with it, are the managers who report to you as comfortable with their power as you are with yours?

How do you know there’s a fearful or ambivalent relationship with power in yourself or others? Let’s look at the some of the most common symptoms. Do any of the following statements describe you or any of the managers who report to you?

  • Tossing it away like a hot potato – Do you seek someone else to make a decision or broker decisions similar to those that your peers make for themselves or negotiate without a broker?
  • Schizophrenic leadership style – Do you swing back and forth from empowering your people to bringing down the hammer on them when they screw up, because you are not at ease with empowering them and holding them accountable in a constructive manner?
  • Acting like a friend – Do you talk with your employees as if you are peers and pals instead of recognizing that as their boss, you are more powerful and need to be more thoughtful about what you do and don’t share?
  • Accountability dumping – Do you delegate to your employees both the decision and the full accountability for the decision? Bosses who are at ease with power share accountability and know that their employee’s failure is also their own failure.
  • Excessive collaboration — Do you frequently seek collaboration and consensus on decisions that are relatively simple, straightforward, and noncontroversial? Simple, straightforward, and noncontroversial decisions should simply be made and executed, not turned into collaborative discussions.
  • Passive/Angry style with peers and your own boss – Do you not reach out and put effort into being included in key decisions, yet get angry when these decisions are made without you?

Unlike power hunger or power drunkenness, power fear and ambivalence are not obvious to others, so their destruction is quiet, passive, insidious, and pervasive. If any of these statements apply to you or to someone who reports to you, you need to understand the situation better and take action to improve it. There’s no easy answer and no one-fits-all solution, but here’s where to start:

  • If you see these behaviors in a manager who reports to you, share with that manager the behaviors that concern you and how you see these behaviors negatively impacting the team or the business results. Since this manager may have an ambivalent relationship with power, it’s particularly important you enter into this conversation in the mode of helping him or her be more successful and be certain that you’re not in the enforcer mode for this first conversation. Be ready to offer support for improvement in the form of mentoring, coaching, and/or training.
  • If you see this in yourself, the most important first step is accountability. You are solely responsible for the way you react to power in the workplace and for developing comfort and ease with power. Own this accountability.
  • Own your discomfort. Pretending you feel differently about power than you currently feel isn’t going to get you anywhere.
  • Once you have accepted your ambivalence or fear (or both), reframe power as merely something that is there, and that you are responsible to use wisely and ethically. You can’t make it go away. Managers hold more organizational power than individual contributors. Directors hold more organizational power than managers, and so on, up the chain. Hierarchy is part of the human condition. No matter how you are organized or what you call the different roles, some people will be more powerful than others. If you’re one of them, that simply is the situation. To pretend it’s not there is to deny the fundamental humanity of yourself and your coworkers.
  • Track situations in which you find yourself tempted to let your fear or ambivalence drive your actions, and note what triggers that temptation. Choose to respond differently to the trigger. You can’t change the trigger, which comes from outside of yourself, but you can change your internal response. A different internal response can lead to a different choice.

It’s by no means the whole solution, but it should be enough to get you or your direct report started on this important shift.

What are your thoughts about fear and ambivalence around power? Let me know in the comments below.

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The #1 Change to Make in 2014

January 3rd, 2014 Jennifer Selby Long Posted in Building Relationships, Communication No Comments »

In 2013 I issued my first ever year-long challenge to readers: to dramatically and intentionally improve your listening skills, one month at a time. It was the #1 change to make in 2013. This year, we’re going to take the challenge up a level and focus on dramatically improving your skill and confidence in building relationships.

This competency gets an absurd amount of lip service in comparison to the actual degree to which it’s practiced. Yet without exception, the most successful and happy people with whom I’ve worked all focus ongoing attention on building relationships.

As with 2013, I’m breaking it down into 12 new habits, one for each month. We’ll take it in these bite-sized pieces so that you can get completely comfortable with each one before adding the next. Ready? Let’s go!

January: Focus, focus, focus. Since this is a developmental process, we’re going to target it. Make a list of no more than ten people with whom you want to build stronger relationships in 2014. This is important, because the list will be the basis for our work. Let’s call them your Treasured Ten.

Include at least one person who isn’t in a position to help you nearly as much as you can help him or her. This is good generosity karma. Also include people who are in a position to help you as much as you can help them, so you don’t get stretched too thin. This is good self-preservation karma!

Why no more than ten people in total? We want a number you can stick with for a whole year, applying each month’s challenge to each relationship, and more than ten can get mighty cumbersome when you’re working on new habits and skills. You may find that as the year goes on, you remove some names, and perhaps add others in their place. That’s o.k. Situations change, and sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

February:  Set a simple goal and metric for each relationship, or to keep it super-simple, one over-arching goal and one metric for the whole process. What gets measured gets managed. How will you know you are strengthening each relationship? What signs will indicate this? Those signs can be your metrics. You’re not measuring product performance; this metric can be soft and still be useful to you!

March: Arrange to see each of your Treasured Ten in person, preferably over coffee or a meal. That’s right, I want you to kick it old school and see your Treasured Ten face-to-face. If you are not in the same geography and don’t expect to travel soon, set up a Skype call. Learn what challenges they’re facing, what they’re excited about, and what they need. Share your own challenges and what you’re excited about, too. Be sure to use open-ended questions, which are questions that can’t be answered in one word.

April: Take at least one action to help out each person. If you’re unsure if something you have in mind would be welcome, ask. It can be an action that only takes 5 – 10 minutes, or maybe it’s something bigger. Great relationship-builders create a huge “bank balance” of goodwill long before they ask for anything in exchange. If you have issues with over-helping, this will be a tougher one to manage, but you must master this, because generosity and selflessness are hallmarks of successful people. They are not stingy with their help. They don’t hold it close to the vest. They worry very little about getting screwed, because they know that for every one person who will take advantage, there are 100 who won’t, and the 100 are well worth the rotten experience of the one jerk.

May: Introduce them to people who can help them, or have a mutual interest, or ideally, complementary needs. You’ll need to develop the habit of always asking yourself who might like to meet whom in order to catch the best opportunities for your Treasured Ten.

June: Keep every single commitment to them, even the teeny tiny ones. For example, when I get going in a creative meeting with a client, I sometimes lose track of some of the follow-ups that were discussed, but maybe not committed. I decided to stop being too embarrassed to ask and instead, starting sending a follow-up email asking for their recollection of how we left it.

By “teeny tiny” commitments, I mean things like following up even when you don’t absolutely have to, but you said you would, even if it was over your shoulder as you walked away. For example, I sometimes meet with near-strangers who want my advice, because a lovely client has requested it. Each time, I say to the near-stranger, “All I ask is that you follow up and let me know how it went. Will you do that?” One hundred percent of them commit to do this, emphatically. Approximately two percent of these people actually do it. The others disappear. The 98% go down in my esteem. The two percent rise.

July: Think of your Treasured Ten beyond the main environment in which you know them. For example, does one of them have a child who’s starting to look into colleges that provide the best education for a particular major? Ask friends in your network who hire in that profession which schools they would recommend and why. Share the information, but only share names and contact information with permission.

August: Donate your money to their causes, assuming it’s a cause you’re comfortable supporting. Anyone who’s ever volunteered for a charity walk-a-thon or community fundraiser knows how much effort goes into getting people to sponsor them and put money in their bucket. Start setting aside some money to support those who are willing to dedicate their limited free time to a good cause, even the people who aren’t your Treasured Ten. The timing of these requests can be hard to anticipate, so with money set aside, you’ll be ready from this month onward.

September: Repeat the month of March. Call each person or arrange to see him or her in person, preferably over coffee or a meal, or via Skype if you live far apart. While it may not be feasible to see every person you’d like to see twice a year, it’s certainly worth the investment to make sure you see your Treasured Ten this often. If you’ve seen all of them recently, congratulations! You can kick back this month and just continue your habits from the other previous months.

October: Write a recommendation on each person’s LinkedIn profile. Granted, you can’t do this if you haven’t worked together, but perhaps there’s something else you can do in fifteen minutes or less that’s a good deed for their business or career. Write a Yelp review for their local business. Buy their product and if you like it, share your enthusiasm on the appropriate social media. You get the idea.

November: Be there when it’s tough. Over the course of a career, everyone has ups and downs, and some of them are very dramatic. When one of your Treasured Ten suffers a big blow (professional or personal, or both), many, many people will scatter. Don’t be one of those people. In fact, come in a little closer. Do what you can to help, even if it’s as small as continuing to meet up for coffee. Granted, tough times can come any time, not just in the month of November, but I had to put this somewhere. In the season of Thanksgiving, be thankful you can be there to support them.

December: Think of something you appreciate about this relationship, and share it with the other person. For example, whenever a client is the inspiration for a Traveling Light column, I let him or her know. They often have a great time reading the article and seeing how I’ve disguised their identity. I’ve placed this habit in December because it is when we are most likely to reflect back on the year and think of these moments, but you can also do it as the situation arises.

Remember to take it in baby steps, adding one technique to your relationship-building toolkit every month. By 2014, you’ll be closer to ten wonderful people, and you’ll reap the rewards of personal and professional satisfaction.

Let me know how it goes in the comments below.


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