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COMMUNICATION BLOG

Welcome to the Vargacom Blog!

Join the conversation – read, discuss, and share Mari Pat’s unique writings that offer insight into successful communication techniques, communication strategy, business marketing communication, leadership and more!

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    Lagniappe: 10 ways to say thanks this season
    November 22, 2017
    Lagniappe is an inspiring word.  Its origins are from Louisiana Creole French and it means “a small gift or additional quantity you might give to a valued customer”.   Just this a.m. I received a little lagniappe when I picked up my dry cleaning and the owner gave me a complimentary lint brush (I love lint brushes!) In this season that focuses on appreciation and thanks, here are some ideas on how you could do something extra to let your colleagues and co-workers know you appreciate them. Lend a hand with a project that could use an extra set of hands Suggest an idea that might inspire a project that has hit a wall Stay late or come in early Volunteer to join a workplace sponsored community event Make the time for a coffee or lunch with someone who needs it Proof read a colleague’s work Teach a skill Share a technology tip Make an introduction Simply ask, “How can I help?” Lagniappe is that 13th donut when you ordered a dozen.  Look around this season and finds ways to give a little something extra.  You’ll be glad you did – and so will they.
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    Notice: 5 ways to improve your observation skills
    May 22, 2017
    I do my best to take daily walks in the park near my home.  This past week I happened to walk by a father with his two young children on a couple of occasions as they traveled the same path as me.  One thing that struck me was how the dad would focus his children’s attention on different things as they walked. “Hey, take a look at the bird’s nest in this tree…do you hear the chicks chirping?” “See how that person is picking up trash in the park on his own just to keep it clean?…what a nice thing to do…” “Notice how different people are exercising…some run…some walk…some play kickball…” With each remark the children would follow with questions to help them understand what they were seeing even more clearly. We live and work in a time when our observation skills are compromised or diminished.  Our attention is grabbed by technology and the screen of the moment.  We forget to notice, observe, reflect and contemplate. As leaders, there can be value in helping guide and direct team members to notice.  Is your staff paying attention to the right things?  Are they observing the full picture?  It has often been said that “seeing is not observing” – observing is more rigorous and combines seeing with what you know and hold to be true.  When you are observant you watch people, situations and events and think critically about what you are seeing.  Observation strengthens our communication and makes it more compelling. Here are a few practical suggestions to share with your team to sharpen their powers of observation: Take notes and document If you are trying to assess customer behaviors, for example, zero in on a new store display and take notes on how customers interact with the promotion. Have your staff compare notes at the end of the week. When you pause, don’t pull out the phone Instead, the next time you find yourself in an airport or a crowded conference, take a moment to sit and watch the people passing by – notice how they interact with each other and navigate the crowd. Coffee with a colleague Challenge yourself to take time to learn something new from a colleague who may have very different life experiences or expertise than you. Go on a photo expedition This is where you are “allowed” to take your smart phone with you. Take a lunch break stroll with the intention of capturing specific kind of images (people wearing hats; city birds; abandoned clothing, trash, etc.) Read body language When you are in a meeting, make mental notes about what you think other’s body language is communicating (Interest? Distraction?  Anger?  Acceptance?) Notice what you notice.  At the end of the day, gather your staff (or ask yourself) what did you notice today that stood out to you?  What elements of our customer service worked well?  What aspects of our internal collaboration piqued your interest? Communication is enhanced whenever we can bring a fuller, more informed perspective to the dialogue.  The better we observe, the sounder our decisions will be and the richer our experiences will become.      
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    7 Ways to Share the Love on Valentines Day
    February 14, 2017
    Valentine’s Day is devoted to expressing love, appreciation and affection for others. Those ‘others’ do not have to be limited to romantic partners. Valentine’s Day can be a fun opportunity to express your appreciation for those you work with every day. Here are a few simple things you can do today to share the love – Place a “secret admirer” Starbucks card on your colleague’s desk thanking them for work well done. Write a surprise LinkedIn testimonial to recognize a co-worker. Take to lunch a behind-the-scenes, under-appreciated, hard worker. Volunteer to come in early or stay late tomorrow for a deserving team member. Write a profile on a superstar and post on the company intranet Leave pink post-it notes on desks with short messages like: Awesome Colleague, Hard Worker, Fearless Intensity, Super-Duper, Rock Star… Fill a fishbowl with heart-shaped “share the love” coupons you create that offer little perks like (each team member gets to pick one): End your day 15 minutes early Ask me for a Godiva chocolate Extend your lunch hour Take a lunch hour yoga class Whatever the gesture may be for you – simply do it. Nothing feels as good as sharing the love.
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    Bruce Springsteen on teams and the ties that bind
    January 10, 2017
    Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band provided the soundtrack of my youth.  There was something magical about the chemistry and charisma of that ensemble.  I felt they were a tribe of brothers whose bond seemed unbreakable. In Bruce Springsteen’s recently released autobiography titled Born to Run he talks about what went into forming this memorable band, the E Street Band.  As he pondered who should be in the band and his vision of what he wanted the band to be and represent, he first thought about all the great rock bands he knew.  He knew they coalesced around a clear persona, a compelling story and a dream so powerful that it could stir emotions and camaraderie between the performers and the audience. For teams to be successful, there must be an overarching vision that captures the imagination and motivates the work ethic in a way that produces joy and meaning. He wanted good musicians, friends and personalities he could bounce off – he wanted the “neighborhood block.”  He said, “You don’t need the best players, you need the right players.”  All those players ultimately click into something unique. Successful teams know each other, work hard, laugh together and inspire creativity. He also knew that having a band of brothers wasn’t enough for long term sustainability. “Democracy in a band can be a ticking time bond,” says Bruce Springsteen.  He decided early in his career that it would be his band and he’d make all the final artistic and business decisions. Drummer Max Weinberg once stated, the E Street Band members are not Springsteen’s equals. “This is not the Beatles.” In any team, any work group, someone needs to have the “D” – the final decision-making authority. High performing teams can relate.  You aren’t successful simply because you have top talent.  You do well because there is good old fashioned chemistry and shared values.  If you adapt Bruce’s playbook to your work teams you might translate his philosophy to say: Look for talented individuals who you actually like (and enjoy hanging out with). Gravitate to team members who bring out the best in each other and complement strengths and minimize limitations. Make sure there is decision-making agreement (understand and accept who has the “D”) Appreciate the unique contribution each team member makes. * Know and nurture the story your team must tell (a long history of collaboration; from the neighborhood; coalesced around a start-up; eclectic backgrounds, etc.) The team’s story bonds them and holds them together through shared sensibilities. *Bruce, describes in detail what each member of the E Street Band brought to the table.  He captured the essence of each player’s strengths and limitations and how those merged to create a singularly fine band and brand.  As I read the descriptions of each band member I thought – he knows his band members inside and out and appreciates their individual gifts and forgives their flaws. Here’s a New Year challenge for us all.  Imagine you will have an opportunity in 2017 to pay tribute to each of your team members at a celebratory event – what would you say?  Pay exquisite attention to your team and its members, take notes, and get ready to tell the story. In describing his band, Bruce recalled, “We struggled together and sometimes with one another.  We took care of one another.  In the end, we kept faith in each other.”
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    60 points in under 30 minutes - Teamwork in Action
    December 13, 2016
    33 shots in 29 minutes.  45 assists and 54 fields goals. 60 points in under 30 minutes makes history for Golden State Warrior, Klay Thompson. Recently waiting for a business meeting to begin, a couple of colleagues and I were sitting around and one mentioned the December 5th basketball game between the Golden State Warriors and the Indiana Pacers.  I hadn’t seen the game but was riveted by the enthusiastic re-telling. Turns out Klay Thompson, considered the GSW’s third best scorer, dropped 60 points in less than 30 minutes during the game.  He made history that night for the most points since the shot clock era (1954-55) by a player in less than 30 minutes.  The previous record holder was his more famous teammate, Stephen Curry, at 46 points. How the heck did he do this?  What were the factors that needed to be in place to allow this extraordinary feat to occur?  I did a little research and here’s what I determined was crucial to this successful splash - Attune – When the GSW players saw that Thompson was in a flow and had a “hot hand” they automatically feed it. When his teammates realized Thompson was in a groove they found him in transition, off screens, standing idly in the corner — wherever he was open. Cheer – The GSW bench went wild and added excitement to the streak. Curry couldn’t contain himself.  “Thompson hit four three-pointers in the second quarter, prompting fans to stand every time he touched the ball behind the arc,” shared the NBA Morning shoot-around. Complement – Thompson is said to be a “complementary scorer” and as such, complements well what his other teammates bring to the game. Curry and Kevin Durant are “primary scorers” and are considered the top two scorers for GSW. They excel at creating points with the ball and can create shots for themselves or others off the bounce.  Thompson excels at creating points without the ball.  Writer Kelly Scaletti shared, “You want the cheese to go on your crackers, not more crackers. His gravity, shot creating off the ball and alacrity with it makes it easier for Curry and Durant to create shots. Their ability to create means all his cutting and coming off screens isn’t for nothing.  While Durant, Curry and Thompson produce points, they require different skill sets, and Thompson has honed his as well as Curry and Durant have perfected theirs.” Sports, like business. can be very competitive – not only with the opposing team but with fellow team members. One player or teammate tries to outdo the other and sometimes that competiveness can get in the way of the best results and outcome.  What if the next time you worked on a project with your team you Looked to see whose open, available and ready for the next challenge. Paid attention to the co-worker with the hot hand and cleared the way of distractions and diversions to let them go full speed ahead. Don’t interfere with the creative process. Cheered them on and built energy and excitement around their momentum. Remembered that we all have a part to play and at best, we bring something unique that complements our team. Own that and build those skills. No matter if your team is in the stadium or the office:  ATTUNE, CHEER and COMPLEMENT.
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    Conversation Rules of Engagement this Holiday
    November 28, 2016
    We look forward to gathering with our families and friends during the holiday season and yet this year may offer interesting challenges. With the recent political upset, many families are divided and it is easy to have conversations dip into contentious territory. Here are a few tips to keep the dialogue civil - Post a Playful Sign - with a little humor, post a sign on the welcome door that says, "Enter for good food and laughs. Leave politics and punditry at the door. Eat, drink and be merry. Break the rules and you host next year." Agree to Disagree when a conversation gets stuck - "I respect our differences and I don't think we will change each other here and now. Can we simply agree to disagree?" Note Passion AND Pivot - Rather than calling someone (or their ideas) stupid you might say: "I can see you are very passionate about your stance AND (pivot to a distraction or diversion) it looks like Ana could use some help in the kitchen." Talk about the issues, not the politicians - It is easy to demonize any one politician and focus your fury on them. A helpful approach is to carry on a dialogue and identify the ground rules as: "You can debate issues but leave the politicians aside." First one to name a politician has to buy everyone a bottle of champagne for New Year's Eve. Tell me more - Be curious and ask questions. This political year has shown that we don't listen well to each other. Be curious and ask to know more. Assign Tasks - Keep people busy and think through in advance little assignments to keep folks engaged and occupied. Keep it civil, respect the differences and focus on what matters most - the relationships you have with family and friends.
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    Tolerance or Acceptance: What are you communicating?
    November 15, 2016
    Growing up, I often heard my parents preach the importance of demonstrating tolerance for all who might be different than me – different in background, politics, race, beliefs, etc.  We just experienced the most tumultuous and polarizing year in politics that any of us can remember and it ended in a result that not many expected.  There are protests, arguments, and ideological battles occurring everywhere.  All of this makes me think again about the word:  tolerance. Is ‘tolerance’ what we are striving for or does the answer lie in ‘acceptance’?  I ran into a neighbor this week who is a high school teacher and we talked about the distinction between these two words.  He too said he was taught to be tolerant by his parents.  I posed the question: “Do you like to be tolerated?” He smiled and agreed that did not exactly sound appealing.  I asked, “Would you rather be accepted?”  He shared that each year he begins with a group of new students who clearly tolerate him but by the end of the year when trust has been built he says they accept him.  That acceptance fosters dialogue, collaboration and even friendship. Neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson, Ph.D. shared a way to define acceptance: “Accepting people does not itself mean agreeing with them, approving of them, waiving your own rights, or downplaying their impact upon you. You can still take appropriate actions to protect or support yourself or others. Or you can simply let people be. Either way, you accept the reality of the other person. You may not like it, you may not prefer it, you may feel sad or angry about it, but at a deeper level, you are at peace with it. That alone is a blessing. And sometimes, your shift to acceptance can help things get better.” At home, at work, and in social situations, when you recognize you are stuck in conflict or feeling frustrated you likely opt to either dismiss or argue with the other person, tolerate them, or accept them. Which is more likely to reap the best results?  Acceptance is the path that will likely bear the most fruitful outcomes. No matter what side of the political divide you found yourself on and after the dust settles a bit we can benefit from listening more and learning from each other.  If you are struggling to find your bearings after this election or you’ve had on-going conflict with colleagues at work take time to enter the acceptance zone by: Looking for the positive points of agreement – you may have to dig deep but they are likely there. Thinking before you speak – are you leading with judgment or understanding? Being present – avoid focusing on what happened in the past and focus on how to move forward now. Wiggle into their shoes – can you see the world through their eyes? Asking questions – be curious and seek first to understand. I write this today as I need this counsel and reminder myself.  Acceptance is aspirational.  When we feel passionately about our point of view it is a mighty challenge to set aside our beliefs and hear the other party out.  But if we do, just maybe, we can move forward together.      
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    Are you a Decathlete or Specialist at Work?
    August 21, 2016
    At work, do you do one thing really well or have you developed the ability to do many things with a high level of proficiency? I look forward to watching the Olympics every four years – not only to watch the amazing athletes who have trained so hard to get to this point – but to also observe how the athletes manage the pressures and intensity of the competition. How they express “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”. While locked in battle, how well do they work together and demonstrate respect? This past week I was glued to the track contests and noticed the difference between what I would call the specialists (athletes who train solely in one sport) and the decathletes (who are required to master 10 different sports).
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    3 Convention Speakers & What We Can Learn From Them
    August 1, 2016
    I am admittedly a speech nerd and as such I watched just about every speech at both the RNC and DNC forums. While doing my own analysis I was struck by something that NY Times columnist and PBS commentator, David Brooks said. He remarked that at the conventions he found that speakers generally fit into one of three categories:
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    Improve your Presentations with an Actor’s Moves
    June 29, 2016
    When we go to the theatre and see actors on the stage communicating a story we get wrapped-up in the action and forget that the lines that are spoken are scripted and the movement on stage is choreographed. If the production and talent are good it all looks and feels organic and yet it was orchestrated well in advance.
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    Ali: The Go Big or Go Home Communicator
    June 7, 2016
    Muhammad Ali was a triple threat. He had personality, passion and principles - an unbeatable knock out punch in any ring. I grew up in Louisville, KY. where Muhammad Ali was an ever-present reminder of the impact of personality, passion and principles. I marveled then, as I do now, about how he boldly took a stand that transcended his sport – risked it all – and stood for things that shone a light on the most important issues of the day. Writer David Remnick recently said, “Ali became arguably the most famous person on the planet, known as a supreme athlete, an uncanny blend of power, improvisation, and velocity; a master of rhyming prediction and derision; an exemplar and symbol of racial pride; a fighter, a draft resister, an acolyte, a preacher, a separatist, an integrationist, a comedian, an actor, a dancer, a butterfly, a bee, a figure of immense courage.” As a communicator, he was masterful. He was charismatic, funny, and had unbelievable swagger. He knew how to command attention and hold it – sometimes without saying a word. He was an innovator - rapping and rhyming before it was a major part of popular culture.  He worked hard and grabbed the opportunities that came his way. He leveraged his success as an athlete to segue to an even more important communication platform as a civil rights champion. I will let his words tell the story. Personality Be quotable and let your unique personality shine through. “If you even dream of beating me you'd better wake up and apologize.” I'm so mean, I make medicine sick." "Float like a butterfly. Sting like a bee. You can't hit what your eyes don't see." I’ve wrestled with alligators. I’ve tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning. And threw thunder in jail.” Passion Express what matters to you in a way that sparks thoughtfulness. "A man who has no imagination has no wings." "A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” "Don't count the days. Make the days count." “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” Lead with your Principles Take a stand for what you believe in. "I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world." "I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world. True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so-called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion." "People say I talk so slow today. That's no surprise. I calculated I've taken 29,000 punches. But I earned $57 million and I saved half of it. So I took a few hard knocks. Do you know how many black men are killed every year by guns and knives without a penny to their names?” “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” Thank you Muhammad Ali for inspiring us all.  You had a lot to say and you said it.  The world is a better place for having had you in it.
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    Conduct Team Meetings like a Yogi
    May 15, 2016
    We all attend more meetings than we would like. Some are more effective than others. Many are status updates or reporting forums while others are brainstorming or idea-generation sessions. It is rare, however, to find a team meeting that has clear objectives and purposeful content and that also operates in a way that strengthens the team and helps them to coalesce around goals. I wonder – why can’t my workplace meetings feel more like my yoga class? I’ve been paying attention to how my yoga instructor conducts her classes. Her classes are popular so everyone arrives early and is ready when she starts. She always begins by centering the group – important as most folks come to class directly from their busy work-days and welcome the opportunity to shift focus. She sets the tone by inviting us to join in on a group “om”, or she might share a meaningful quote or simply ask us to be still and focus on our breathing for a minute or two. She then proceeds to guide us through a variety of movements and poses. She is always scanning the room and making suggested adjustments – “be sure your hips are aligned, relax your shoulders, stretch your neck”, etc. Her comments might be prompted by one individual but she shares it globally and makes each of us feel the suggestion is meant just for us. I see everyone simultaneously making the same modification. She will praise someone and she will quietly guide another but creates an environment where everyone feels part of the whole. It’s a challenging class and she pushes us but always provides options on how to execute. At the end we circle back to the communal “om” before we go on our way. What yogi practices can you adapt to make your meetings more meaningful and inclusive? Center the Team – take a moment to welcome, share a brief but pertinent anecdote, take a breath and share the meeting’s intention. Provide transitions from one topic to another – make connections between ideas and find synergies in projects. Encourage course-correction with global comments that apply to all. Acknowledge what’s hard and challenging but inspire anyway. Be hands-on when it is needed Push the team to do more than what they may believe is possible Be clear about the end goal but provide options on how to execute Come full circle at the end with a final call to action. Your workplace meetings don’t have to include down dogs or tree poses but could benefit from creating an environment that one finds in the yoga studio. Yoga cultivates the ways you can maintain a balanced attitude and perspective in the day-to-day while building your skills and fostering a connection with others. Consider conducting your next team meeting like a yogi.
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    Prince: 7 lessons 4Ever
    April 25, 2016
    The first time I saw Prince in concert was 1981 at the LA Coliseum. He was the warm-up band for the Rolling Stones on a bill that included the J. Geils Band and George Thorogood. Prince was few people’s radar at this time as it was before Little Red Corvette, 1999 and Purple Rain. He came on stage in a black leather trench coat and what appeared to be black bikini briefs and the crowd couldn’t deal. His appearance and music provoked a hostile response from the crowd and they literally booed him off the stage after three songs. Fortunately he didn’t let a little adversity stand in the way of his long-term aspirations.
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    Passion Re-boot & Reclaiming your Game
    April 16, 2016
    My sister Ellen has been kicking some serious butt lately. She re-booted her passion for tennis after abandoning it for several decades. Ellen grew up playing tennis. Between the ages of 13 – 18 she was on the tennis court, playing in tournaments and practicing weekly with a pro. She was competitive and successful. Then she lost interest – for a variety of reasons – didn’t like her coach, was getting ready to go to college, friends and relationships started to take priority. She left tennis behind. About a year ago, she started to hang out with a few new friends who happened to play tennis. She said, “Why not?”   Ellen Baldwin, who is a Client Manager for SAP, never does anything half way and this was no exception. She started slowly but ramped up quickly and began playing 4-5 games a week, practicing every opportunity she had, joined a competitive team and began playing matches on a regular basis. She called last night to tell me that she just won the USTA Sectional in Combos and Doubles - all of this at the tender age of 56 (defeating women half her age!).  She has reclaimed a passion and feels stronger and more vital than she ever has. I have been hearing more and more versions of what I am calling the “Passion Re-boot” and while many involve picking up sports left behind years ago some are simply about re-awakening an interest or hobby. I have a friend, for instance, who learned to sew as a young person and recently took up the needle and thread again and is making her own patterns and thinking of designing for others. Another friend learned woodworking as a high school student and is now making wooden toys for his grandchildren. In recent years I, myself, returned to a couple of my passions of younger years and joined an intramural basketball team and enrolled in ballet class at a local studio. For me, these experiences were humbling, thrilling and most importantly - empowering. We can all fall into routine no matter what our age. What prevents us from breaking out and grabbing a hold of the opportunities for self-growth and personal exploration? Fear and the risk of failure I suspect. I am reminded of the quote, “Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the ability to act in the presence of fear.” Feel the fear and do it anyway. Ellen’s journey was not an overnight transformation. She needed to convince herself to jump back into the competitive fray. I asked her what helped and she shared - Practice Beginner’s Mind - “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki. Work on opening yourself up to the possibilities and your world will suddenly get much bigger. Commit to making memories – Her favorite motivation is to recognize that each day provides the opportunity to do something that will be photo album-worthy or at least make for a good story. Maintain a resilient state of mind – learn to bend and remain supple – physically, emotionally and mentally. I encourage you to do a Passion Re-boot. Find something you used to do and dust it off and try it again – or find something new that energizes or intrigues you. Maybe it is learning a new language, taking a new course of study you’ve always wanted to pursue or volunteering for a cause you are passionate about. The benefits are clear. You will Build resilience Boost confidence Gain vitality Have fun Bring others along for the ride (passion is contagious!). And don’t be afraid of failure – it is the endeavor that counts. If you are lucky you’ll “fail up” and learn and grow from your mistakes or limitations. We all have busy lives and the daily demands of work and home can conceal the rich opportunities we have to reveal a passion we put aside, dust it off, and start all over again. Go out there and kick some butt!  
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    Leadership Lessons from the Boy Scout Handbook
    March 26, 2016
    Sometimes what is old is new again. The Boy Scout Handbook was first published in 1910 and it has recently been used to turn around a troubled school and transform boys into men. Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 4.54.10 PM In a recent episode of 60 Minutes that aired on March 20th, St. Benedicts Prep School in Newark, New Jersey was featured. The school, once a mostly white, prestigious prep school had fallen on hard times. Today the all-boys school is 50% African American and a third Hispanic – with the remainder white. The majority of the student population live in poverty and gangs, violence and drugs rule their neighborhoods. The odds are against these kids.
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    Make a business case - it TRUMPS name-calling
    March 7, 2016
    As I observe the insanity we currently called the Republican Presidential Debates I am amazed at how the candidates seem to miss the boat on what most business professionals know is necessary to not only be heard but to have their idea green-lighted for approval and action – make a well-thought out business case for your idea.
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    Make Meetings Great: 11 Rock Star Principles
    February 29, 2016
    Another meeting? Ugh. Arrgghhhh. Most of us complain about meetings and here's why - Most meetings are not well organized, are too long and lack a clear purpose. To become a Meeting Rock Star, here is what you need to know to host a great meeting –
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    Lead with a Headline: Remove Presentation Static
    February 15, 2016
    head·line noun - a head of a newspaper story or article usually printed in large type and giving the gist of the story or article that follows. They-Begged-Me-Not-to-Write-This-Twitter-Headlines-to-Change-Your-Life It is no secret that living in the digital age means we are bombarded with information. Some of it is important and relevant but most is a great source of distraction - or static. Static is that crackling or hissing noise we might hear when we have a bad connection to one of our telecommunication devices. It is annoying and causes communication fatigue.
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    One thing all leaders can do to drive culture
    January 25, 2016
    Talk about it. organizational culture, analysis and development concept Leaders want to integrate core values, mission-critical goals and culture into the DNA of their companies. Internal marketing and communication teams align to that goal by promoting culture through internal campaigns. Human resource groups survey employees to see if it is happening.
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    Bryan Cranston on How to Fake It
    January 11, 2016
    You’ve all heard the expression, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” In essence it’s a technique to avoid the trap of a self-fulfilling prophecy related to a lack of confidence. For example, you are getting ready to deliver a big speech at your company’s conference. You are nervous but that won’t help you. Instead, you “pretend” to be confident. You “act as if” you’ve got this one nailed! To accomplish this you might reach out to a mentor or coach to get some last minute advice.
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    Bill Marriott on keeping employees engaged
    December 31, 2015
    Eric Chester writes - In researching my new book I got a rare opportunity to visit with J.W. "Bill" Marriott. (Marriott Hotels are No. 53 on Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For list for in 2015.) Marriott emphasized how vital two-way communication is to keeping his employees fully engaged.
  • How You Say It in Business
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    Say it, Don't Stuff It
    December 15, 2015
    It’s been bugging you. Something your colleague said at a meeting last week that made you feel attacked. You weren’t sure you heard it right, and the two of you have conveniently avoided each other for the past week, but you just can’t let it go. The downside of not having a direct and candid conversation with a colleague is that nothing gets resolved, tension remains high, and resentment rules the day.
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    How to get a ROI when you attend a conference
    December 1, 2015
    A good conference experience will see you come back with new contacts, new information, and a refreshed perspective, ready to take things on anew with some fresh ideas. Here are some tactics to help you get the best ROI when you attend a conference.
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    12 ways to thank co-workers this season
    November 25, 2015
    As we move through this holiday season, remember that there are many small and simple things we can do to let others know they matter. Here are 12 ideas to get you started -
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    8 Balance Best Practices from 5 Women Leaders
    November 3, 2015
    “Managing it All” is a phrase we may aspire to but are often challenged to achieve. On Friday, October 16th, MB Financial’s Women’s Leadership Resource Group (WLRG) sought to get some answers to this elusive goal for professional women. Here are some highlights.
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    Gaga, Brooks and Pursuing Passion
    October 24, 2015
    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/23/opinion/lady-gaga-and-the-life-of-passion.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share Those who immerse themselves in their pursuits show courage in exploring their inner selves and in getting past worrying about what others think.
  • Leadership Business Blogging
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    Cubs, Cardinals and Don's Blog: 3 P's of Leadership Blogging
    October 20, 2015
    One of the best ways to engage employees and drive the desired culture in any organization is to start a conversation that everyone wants in on. One of the best ways to start that conversation is through blogging.
  • Winning Teams on the Field and in Business
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    The Dugout Dynamics That Create a Winning Team
    October 6, 2015
    When you attempt to dissect the winning formula for great teams it usually doesn’t come down to having big talents or experts. More often you find it is the intangibles – the communication, the chemistry, the camaraderie, and the coaching.
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    Six Change Management Tips from Vietnam
    September 22, 2015
    Whether in business, sports or art, we know that conviction and confidence are key to success. There are few opportunities for those who are unsure or unclear about the direction they would like to take their work. This important perspective was illuminated to me again as I traveled recently through Vietnam – a magnificent country of resilient and generous people. There is, however, one problem – the traffic.
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    Tips to Help Make Your Idea Go Viral
    September 8, 2015
    Videos, articles, ideas, can all spread faster and wider than ever, and it’s something that businesses can leverage to their advantage, if they’re savvy and a little (or a lot) lucky. You can't force something to go viral, but here are some things you can do to help out its chances.
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    Donald Trump Communicates like a Reality Show Villain
    August 25, 2015
    As a communication professional, I try to reconcile Trump’s communication strategy as he vies for the Republican nomination. For true leaders, communicating with clarity, integrity and compassion are key to success – no matter what arena you play in.
  • Wrecking Crew and Lessons for Business Success
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    Six Lessons from The Wrecking Crew: How to make yourself indispensable
    August 11, 2015
    The backbeat of the vast majority of the hits you hear from the 1960s-70s were played by a group of about 20 musicians who you've probably never heard of. They became known as The Wrecking Crew. A new documentary entitled "The Wrecking Crew" is out this year, and it features interviews with key members of this group of elite musicians. As I listened to them share their stories and phenomenal success, I realized that any business professional today could learn a lot from the ways they truly cornered their market.
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    Can golf's demise inspire business leaders?
    July 28, 2015
    When we think about the need to embrace change in business to keep pace with competitors and consumer tastes we don’t always have the chance to see how this type of change might apply to the world of sports. On HBO’s Real Sports, Bryant Gumbel examined the future of golf.
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    Wait...what?
    July 14, 2015
    The importance of not only hearing each other, but of actively listening - focusing, and accurately interpreting messages - in a work environment is vital, especially when communicating between management and employees.
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    Feeling Entitled? – It’s the surest way to NOT get the promotion you want!
    July 7, 2015
    What stands in the way of you getting that next job promotion you want so badly? Is it your experience? Your education? Your timing? All these factors certainly play a role, but the biggest obstacle is carrying around a sense of entitlement!
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    Communicating Your Strategic Plan to Employees
    June 23, 2015
    A robust strategic plan should have focus and clarity around company strategy, vision, mission, goals and tactics. To elevate employee engagement and participation, a communication plan needs to provide a simple, straightforward description of the plan and overarching goals that every employee and team can align to. Once your strategic plan is completed, the next step will be to effectively communicate it to employees.
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    Ice Hockey’s handshake tradition: 4 principles for good sportsmanship
    June 9, 2015
    As the Stanley Cup Finals are underway, I’ve paid closer attention to hockey’s tradition of lining up after the highly competitive series to shake hands with the opposing players. This display of good sportsmanship is equally important for us in business.
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    Get your boss to say YES!, Part 2 of 2
    June 2, 2015
    In Part 1 of this 2-part look at how to get a YES from your boss, we covered how to successfully lay the groundwork for approaching your boss with your idea, need, or suggestion. Here's what to do next to get a Yes from your boss.
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    3 things David Letterman taught us about graceful exits
    May 22, 2015
    I've watched David Letterman since the early days and while my attention to his show has waned in recent years, I've always appreciated his prickly, peculiar approach to late night. Yesterday evening watching his final show - the first show I'd watched in a long while - I was moved by his expression of gratitude to friends, family and staff. He did it right. He took a few moments and paid his respects.
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    Get your boss to say YES!, Part 1 of 2
    May 18, 2015
    As an employee, chances are you’re going to want something from your boss eventually, and you’re going to have to ask for permission or approval. Even if you have amazing ideas for new ways to do things, your boss may be reticent to change things and you may get “No” because things have always been done this way, we need to be realistic, maybe in the future, and so on. But it’s not always about what you’re asking for, rather how you ask for it. The concept of "managing up" to your boss is problematic (no manager likes to be managed). Instead, think about other ways to influence your boss.
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    Six tips to respond to tough media questions
    April 29, 2015
    Getting a chance to be spotlighted in the media is a great opportunity for a business or organization. It helps you to continually define your company’s story and shape your public image. Sometimes you may get hit with some tough questions from the media, and since the way you respond to these sorts of tough media questions can affect your public image, it’s important to know how to handle the spotlight gracefully.
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    Teamwork: 3 keys to keep arms locked in battle
    March 31, 2015
    As I watch my NCAA men’s basketball brackets fall apart as the tournament winds down (or winds up depending on your team’s good fortune), I have noticed an interesting body language phenomenon. I watch the guys on the bench. In these super competitive games, the players on the huddle together, with arms locked in solidarity as their teammates battle it out on the court. It is such a powerful demonstration of unity and fraternity. It says, ‘We are here, cheering you on. We believe in you.’
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    What does a business consultant do?
    March 24, 2015
    While mingling at a networking event, one of the most common questions asked is, "What do you do?" Wouldn't it be fun to be able to respond with, "I'm a Cirque de Soleil performer." "I'm a mountaineer and have climbed Everest four times!" However if you respond with "I'm a business consultant" you may get a friendly nod at best and at worse a yawn. It is an overused descriptor but is a role that is crucial to the success of many organizations. Business consultants are organizational thinking partners. The need comes about when people find their organization needs a jumpstart, a fresh perspective or an update of their current business practices to be more successful. The business may just be starting out and need some guidance as to how to be most successful, or they may be reorganizing and restructuring, or perhaps hovering dangerously close to business failure and financial ruin.
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    Photos that prove seeing may not mean believing
    March 5, 2015
    Last week, working on a project at a client site, a colleague approached me excitedly and said, "So, what color do you think the dress is?" Living under a rock as I sometimes do, I had no idea about the huge "Is it a white and gold or blue and black dress?" internet meltdown that had just engulfed social media. Curious, a group of us gathered around a computer screen to view the dress in question (worn by a mother of the bride on the Scottish island of Colonsay) and sure enough half of us saw it as blue and black and the other half of us saw it as white and gold.
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    March Madness: A model for business management consultants
    March 3, 2015
    College basketball's March Madness will soon be upon us and basketball fans everywhere look forward to watching the best teams face off as they complete their brackets. Tuning into these super competitive games can be exhilarating. In business management consultancy, I recommend that my clients keep an eye on March Madness. What makes watching NCAA basketball so exciting - and instructive to management teams - is the level of competitiveness and the "all in" effort these student athletes exude. The love of the game and the fire in the belly are brilliantly on display.
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    Communication Training the Thelonius Monk Way
    February 17, 2015
    You don’t have to know who Thelonious Monk is (bonus points if you do) or even be a musician to know what that quote means – if just one player in a band is off beat, the whole performance will sound off. Creating music is about more than a group of players each performing their individual part – it’s about the way those players listen to each other and perform together that really counts. Like any group working toward a common goal, the whole should be greater than the sum of its parts.
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    Tru Blue: How one employee makes the customer experience memorable
    February 10, 2015
    I am always on the lookout for great customer experiences. Whether in a restaurant, my bank, or any retail environment, I look for individuals who make a difference. A new Mariano’s grocery store moved into my neighborhood in April of 2014. I like Mariano’s. It is where Whole Foods meets Jewel. The one near my house features fresh produce, delicious prepared foods and even boasts a wine, oyster and sushi bar. Oh yes, and there’s fresh flowers and a gelato bar downstairs. Pretty fancy stuff.
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    The Strategic Planning Process: 10 essential steps for success
    February 4, 2015
    "Strategy is the direction and scope of an organization over the long-term which achieves advantage for the organization through its configuration of resources within a challenging environment, to meet the needs of markets and to fulfill stakeholder expectations"- Johnson and Scholes
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    Reach 100% of employees during times of change
    January 26, 2015
    Every organization goes through change. Perhaps yours is: Emerging from a merger or acquisition Recovering from a crisis Preparing to enter a new market or re-branding Whatever the change, it is essential not only to manage the immediate logistics and requirements inherent in that change, but to also bring your employees and the organizational culture along with you.
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    C-Suite to Business Consultant: 5 communication practices that work
    January 20, 2015
    As a business consultant and corporate communication strategist, I consider myself lucky. Before leaving the C-Suite and going into my own practice I was fortunate to work for a corporation who believed good communication was paramount to their success. I was able to see how consistent, relevant and engaging communication can rally employees, foster pride and drive results. I saw how we put theory into practice and it worked. We were able to make the list of FORTUNE’s 100 Best Places to Work and surpassed all anticipated business results in terms of revenue, customer engagement and corporate citizenship. Our efforts were not always perfect but we did a pretty good job of delivering a unified message that helped build a cohesive culture.
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    Communicating Culture: Eight essential components to cascading
    January 13, 2015
    I often hear leaders in organizations say things like: "We want to build a culture of accountability" or "We'd like a sales-driven culture" or "We want to create a culture where the customer comes first." It is one thing to identify the kind of culture you want to develop and another to fully integrate it into the DNA of the organization. To be effective, insist on internal communication practices that ensure mission-critical messages that define the culture are cascaded to 100% of employees.
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    Amy Poehler's Awesome Career Advice
    January 5, 2015
    Just when I thought there was no refreshing new advice on how to best manage your career – Amy Poehler stepped up to the plate. She covers a plethora of topics in her book “Yes, Please!” but one that jumped out at me was a chapter titled: Treat Your Career Like a Bad Boyfriend.
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    Wait to be seated until your party arrives
    December 17, 2014
    As a Chicago communications consultant I am always looking for examples (good and bad) of how businesses communicate their value proposition on a daily, operational basis. If you are committed to giving your customers a fabulous experience that standard needs to be apparent at every customer touch point.
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    Does Chicago communications training have an edge?
    December 9, 2014
    One of the most important elements of effective communication is the ability to think on your feet and adapt quickly. What better way to do that than discovering the tools and techniques inherent in Improvisation – and what city knows Improv better than Chicago?
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    10 tips for successful branding
    December 2, 2014
    One of the most important aspects of my Chicago communications training practice is helping my clients know how to effectively build their brand - whether that is your personal brand or your organization's brand. Your brand communicates to the world and your customers who you are, what you're about, and who would want what you've got.
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    Business Consulting: Vision engagement and why it matters
    November 26, 2014
    If your company or organization wants to embark upon or has recently undergone a significant change, it is vital that you know how to make your employees become your best ambassadors and not your worst enemies through the process. Chicago communication consultants will tell you that the success and effectiveness with which you navigate your employees through new waters is crucial to how the business or organization will fare after the changes are implemented.
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    Overcoming the “Ta Da” Dilemma
    October 22, 2014
    I recall with dread the many times I was positioned backstage or seated at a table close to the stage waiting for my name to be called to present. I could hear the introducer reading my bio and suddenly, “Ta Da!” – here she is Mari Pat Varga… I would bound onto the stage full of energy but I could instantly tell that my audience wasn’t quite there with me yet. They had already heard a bunch of other speakers and now me – someone they really didn’t know from Adam. Because of that, they spent the first few moments of my presentation checking me out. “Boy, she’s tall…” “I don’t recognize her name…who is she?” “I love that suit but not so crazy about the shoes…” “I hope she’ll be good…”
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    Connect with your audience before stepping on the stage
    October 22, 2014
    I recall with dread the many times I was positioned backstage or seated at a table close to the stage waiting for my name to be called to present. I could hear the introducer reading my bio and suddenly, “Ta Da!” – here she is Mari Pat Varga… I would bound onto the stage full of energy but I could instantly tell that my audience wasn’t quite there with me yet. They had already heard a bunch of other speakers and now me – someone they really didn’t know from Adam. Because of that, they spent the first few moments of my presentation checking me out. “Boy, she’s tall…” “I don’t recognize her name…who is she?” “I love that suit but not so crazy about the shoes…” “I hope she’ll be good…”
  • Catch Your Breath for Better Business Presentations
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    Catch a Breath and Captivate your Audience
    October 16, 2014
    Engaging an audience is a balancing act of many things. You must educate and entertain. You must have well-organized content and good delivery skills. All these elements are important but perhaps the most over-looked and under-appreciated technique for captivating an audience’s attention is to catch a breath and CREATE SPACE.
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    What can business speakers learn from comedians?
    October 8, 2014
    I have become a fan of Jerry Seinfeld’s popular new vehicle, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. The show features Seinfeld driving to pick up a fellow comedian to get coffee – all the while having an interesting conversation about the nuances of comedy.
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    6 Engagement Practices that Get Results
    September 30, 2014
    The connection and sense of community that can grow between a CxO (referring here to all C-Suite members) and his or her organization's employees is one of the most overlooked points of leverage that a business can tap into for generating results. Your company's bottom line depends on the people on your front line - the individuals meeting your customers each and every day, the people creating the products and systems that are the heart of your business. Today, you, as CxO, need to stay close, personal, and relevant to your constituents—your employees. How? By leveraging great communication practices that narrow the chasm between you and your valued employees is the solution. Consistent, timely and relevant communication is critical to engage your team in building the culture and accomplishing the organization's goals, growing the business, and generating results.
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    Professional Presence is just a Tweet Away
    September 18, 2014
    You are new to the organization. You are learning the ropes and trying to figure out the culture and the politics of the company you are now working for. You wonder how to fit in while standing out. You begin to find yourself in networking situations, company meetings and hallway conversations where it is important to be your authentic self while also demonstrating your professionalism.
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    Bryan Cranston comes full circle: Sneaky Pete crafts a memorable acceptance speech
    August 27, 2014
    Bryan Cranston was at his best accepting an Emmy for Best Actor at this week's award ceremony. He crafted a perfect acceptance speech that included gratitude, appreciation, humor and heartfelt emotion. He utilized "circular construction" to highlight his most important message at the beginning and the end.th-1 I always encourage my speech coaching clients to utilize this technique in speeches and important presentations to capitalize on the fact that audiences remember best what we say first and last. Bryan Cranston provided a shining example of it.
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    Is it time for a Communication Face-lift?
    August 15, 2014
    Are you experiencing wrinkles of confusion? Have you witnessed sagging relationships? Don't panic, this may be occurring because your face has fallen into your phone. Recently, I conducted my own informal research using Chicago's Loop as my field of study and observation. I was in and out of meetings downtown and observed people at work, at lunch and traveling on the L. I would guesstimate that 80% of people did not go for more than a few minutes (at the most) without interacting with a cell phone or mobile device. Their faces mostly fell into their technology. I can't remember making eye contact with anyone - I did get very familiar, however, with the tops of people's heads. What do we lose when our face falls?
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    Resuscitate your interpersonal acumen in the digtal age
    August 3, 2014
    Over this past weekend, visiting with family friends, I noticed my friend David’s 10-year old son, Carter, immersed in his iPad during the entire afternoon’s get-together. Carter sat in the living room surrounded by guests but in his own separate world playing games on his device, never really interacting with the group. In an attempt to engage him, I presented him with a good-natured challenge – for every thirty minutes he did not engage with his technology, I’d give him a dollar. Excited to earn some money, Carter took the challenge and by the end of the afternoon, devoid of the temptation of technology, he was interacting with guests, played outside with friends and even managed to do some homework. He earned five dollars and remarked that it was “more fun than I thought it would be.”
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    Vision Engagement: Transformative communication that puts everyone on the same page
    July 15, 2014
    Every organization goes through change that needs to be communicated in a comprehensive, congruent manner. Perhaps yours is * Emerging from a merger or acquisition * Recovering from a crisis * Preparing to enter a new market or re-branding Whatever the change, it is essential not only to manage the immediate logistics and requirements inherent in that change, but to also bring your employees and the organizational culture along with you.
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    Leadership is a contact sport
    June 25, 2014
    CEO Coach, Marshall Goldsmith, recently blogged about his new model for leadership development that involves 8 steps outlined in more detail at http://tinyurl.com/ko9dbhk. I always appreciate his practical ideas that can have powerfully results. Here are the eight steps:
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    Are your employees engaged at work?
    May 31, 2014
    In Sunday's NY Times there was a featured article called Why You Hate Work By TONY SCHWARTZ and CHRISTINE PORATH MAY 30, 2014 Here are some highlights:
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    Something to Ponder by George Carlin
    May 29, 2014
    A colleague shared this great piece written by George Carlin which reminded me how brilliant he was and such a keen observer of the human condition. Enjoy. George Carlin's wife died early in 2008 and George followed her, dying in July 2008. It is ironic George Carlin - comedian of the 70's and 80's - could write something so very eloquent and so very appropriate. An observation by George Carlin: The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.
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    Word play for logophiles
    May 12, 2014
    Because I love wordplay I wanted to share this amusing and clever take on creating "new" words from old. Enjoy! th The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again invited readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are the winners:
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    Coaching in action at hbk
    April 27, 2014
    What if there was an established channel in our organizations where the senior people could learn from the junior people and the junior people could be coached by their senior counterparts? Recently I had the opportunity, along with my colleague Richard Pearlman, to work with Ron Kaminski, CEO of hbk Engineering, and his senior leadership team. After we completed a communication exercise together, we were chatting in the hall with Ron, asking about the company and how he develops leaders.
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    What Google looks for when they hire
    April 20, 2014
    This past Sunday in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman featured “Part 2” of his interview with Google’s Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google. logo11w Mr. Bock had some powerful things to say about what matters to them when it comes to hiring decisions. No matter what your company or business, these insights into what Google looks for are valuable for us to consider. Here are some highlights from Friedman’s article:
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    Become a business meeting superstar
    March 10, 2014
    A recent Time Magazine article, titled “Code Red” by Steven Brill, revealed how a quickly assembled group of tech gurus descended on D.C. to help revive HealthCare.gov late Fall 2013. We are all familiar with the story of the disastrous launch of the site but what the article revealed is how this team of tech wizards (the same team that the Obama campaign had used for his re-election in 2012) came together to quickly and effectively revitalize the site and reduced the response times from eight seconds in late October to under ½ a second in January and the site has now processed 1.9 million enrollments.
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    We are love
    February 8, 2014
    Last evening as I watched the opening ceremonies to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, a song was played at the end of the evening's broadcast called “Nothing More.” The lyrics by Tim Warren and Eric Donnelly of The Alternate Routes, caught my attention. It was moving and beautiful in its simplicity. It was apparently written to honor the victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. It's message is a universal one that bears repeating here.
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    Watch your tone, Missy!
    July 4, 2013
    “Watch your tone, Missy!” I heard that a few times growing up from my parents and I knew exactly what it meant and still cringe today thinking about those moments. It referred to the times I was being disrespectful or mean spirited in my comments. Speaking that way got me nothing but trouble. As an adult and communication coach I recognize that “tone” is one of those important tools we need to be sensitive about when it comes to the way we communicate everyday. If we want to get traction for our ideas rather than trouble, we’ll watch our tone.
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    Increase your influence by perfecting your pitch
    May 24, 2013
    If they'd only ask what you thought. You have twelve ideas percolating in your head about ways to improve the business processes, but will anyone listen? You want to stand out and be heard, but you can never seem to get a word in. Making sure you are seen and heard in the crowded marketplace of ideas and personalities can be a challenge. Distinguishing yourself, however, is essential to success in the world of work. Following are a few practical and concrete steps to help you perfect your “pitch” and become a powerful advocate for your own ideas.
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    Free the business strategy and mobilize people power
    May 9, 2013
    As a leader in an organization, you are likely to be perceived as the one with the answers. You can expect team members to look to you for direction and customers to look to you for accountability. Certainly there are situations and organizations that may require an autocratic leadership style in the short term, but it rarely produces the kind of growth, efficiency, and brand reputation that is necessary for long-term sustainability. Your greatest resource for long-term sustainability is the people you interact with on a daily basis- both employees and customers; their knowledge, their commitment, and their perspective are your reservoirs of growth potential.
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    Cascading communication is key to success
    January 20, 2013
    What would it mean to you and your organization if your employees were well informed, clear on strategy and focused on the right things? I know we can all agree you'd would be unstoppable. Great communication is key to creating an organization that prides itself on knowledgeable employees, transparent communication and an engaged atmosphere. A critical element in the flow of communication is the power of CASCADING.
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    The nine components of happiness
    December 1, 2012
    Bhutan is an idyllic Buddhist kingdom known for its gentle way of life. Bhutan is located in Southeast Asia at the eastern end of the Himalayas. The fourth king of Bhutan coined the phrase "gross national happiness" (GNH) more than 30 years ago to suggest an enlightened Eastern alternative to the pressures of the materialistic West.
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    Fresh perspective from Panera CEO
    September 2, 2012
    Advice from Ron Shaich, Founder and co-CEO, Panera: 1) Look beyond shareholder value as its a narrow definition of success and is actually dysfunctional. Profit and stock price are not things I can make. They're a by product of delivering for all my constituents.
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    Stuff Authentic People Say
    June 23, 2012
    Jack and Suzy Welch's recent opinion piece in FORTUNE (April 9, 2012) shares three guidelines for how any leader can tap into and communicate their authentic self. First, quoting the famous philosopher, Popeye, they site that you often hear authentic people give you some version of "I yam what I yam, and that's all what I yam." Authentic people are deeply comfortable with themselves. They acknowledge both their weakness and their strengths without apology.
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    Good advice for the Class of 2012
    May 12, 2012
    I found this commencement speech by Charles Wheelan to be refreshing and very practical! 10½ Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said," by Charles Wheelan. 1. Your time in fraternity basements was well spent. 2. Some of your worst days lie ahead 3. Don't make the world worse
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    What we can learn from viral videos
    April 9, 2012
    How do you get heard? How do you make sure that what you say has staying power and gets cascaded though out your circle or organization? I recently watched Kevin Allocca's TED talk. Kevin is YouTube's trends watch manager and his talk was an interesting look at what makes a video go viral. He shared that the three key elements that influence whether or not a video goes viral are:
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    A New Year's Resolution: Write Now
    January 3, 2012
    After reading Diane Keaton's memoir, Then Again, I was reminded of the power of keeping a journal. Diane's mother wrote about her life and those she loved and it provided great perspective and solace for Diane as she reviewed and reflected on her own choices and decisions.
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    Putting things in context
    November 7, 2011
    One of the biggest stumbling blocks to good communication is the absence of context. Context is defined as a set of facts or circumstances that surround a particular event, situation or communication. At best, that information can help the listener put things in the proper perspective. It can also be a persuasive tool to influence with integrity.
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    Coach and Be Coached - opportunities abound
    October 1, 2011
    I picked up the latest issue, 10/3/11, of the New Yorker today and read Atul Gawande's article, Personal Best. He wrote about the reality that all professionals, regardless of their field, reach a plateau at certain junctures in their career. As a surgeon, he realized, that no one had observed or critiqued one of his surgeries in over seven years. He goes on to share the power and benefits of his experience in getting feedback and perspective from outside eyes and ears.
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    A Field Guide to Successful Panel Moderation
    September 6, 2011
    Moderating a panel can be a great opportunity to enhance your own visibility while managing a dynamic conversation between experts in the field. The role is one not unlike that of a orchestra conductor. You are directing, guiding and getting people to play beautiful music together. Here are a few tips to keep in mind, before, during and after the panel.
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    The power of story and passion - did Obama forget?
    August 9, 2011
    OPINION What Happened to Obama? By DREW WESTEN Published: August 6, 2011 RECOMMEND TWITTER COMMENTS (365) E-MAIL PRINT REPRINTS SHARE Drew Westen is a professor of psychology at Emory University and the author of “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.”
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    Dan, Dilbert and the words we use
    June 27, 2011
    Last evening I ran into my neighbor, Dan, after we had both parked our cars in our respective garages and were making our way through our backyards to the house. Being the friendly neighbor that I aspire to be, I said to Dan, “Hey, how was your day?” He looked at me and said with a straight face, “Well, I’ve been on quite a transformative journey! I have shifted many of my paradigms, increased my intellectual bandwidth, clarified my understanding of our company’s vision and I’m fully engaged and on-board! After a second or two trying to determine if he was for real, we bought started to laugh.
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    Building a Personal Board: ideas from Bernick & Carpenter
    June 20, 2011
    I have always been a believer in the concept that each of us needs our own personal board of directors - a group of people we can pull together four times a year to share where we are, our strategies for what is ahead and receive candid feedback and guidance.
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    Media Interviews: Be Bold, Bundle, Bridge and Bounce
    May 30, 2011
    Sitting down for an interview with the media assumes a few things: You are prepared, you've done your homework, you know about the reporter and the publication... All of these elements are important but once you begin keep in mind the following:
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    Customers: Wired and Dangerous
    May 22, 2011
    How many of your customers have over 5000 followers on Linked-in, Facebook or Tweeter? So, instead of telling five people about their service hiccup with you, they can now instantly tell a thousand times that number! It would not take many unhappy customers to cut a sizeable dent in your bottom line and brand reputation. With customer expectations up 33% over this time last year, you are very vulnerable to a today’s wired and potentially dangerous customers.
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    Seeking Advice: Networking Protocol that Builds Bridges
    April 7, 2011
    It has happened to all of us. We are introduced to a professional colleague who piques our interest. Maybe they are pursuing a line of business that intrigues us...maybe they have a body of expertise we want to know more about...perhaps we simply want to know how they got to where they are. Knowing how to approach that individual in a respectful and focused way is key to building a relationship.
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    Communicate with Inspirational Stories: Daytona 500 Surprise Win
    February 22, 2011
    As a speech coach, I talk to my clients about the value of incorporating stories and real life examples into their presentations. I encourage them to use the 3N method for collecting those stories: NOTICE, NOTE and NARRATE.
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    Following up on Customer Feedback
    February 15, 2011
    I wonder what has happened to all the customer feedback surveys I have filled out in my time on the planet? I believe in providing feedback to companies and services I do business with. So, as a customer, when I've been asked for feedback - whether over the phone, online or through a mailed survey - I do my best to take the time to respond. I am one of those people who will also write a letter if deserved. It has been my way of giving back - as in, feedback is a gift. I believe in the value and importance of a great customer experience - and I recognize that it is a two-way street. To get it, you have to give.
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    Hoop Dreams - Revisiting the essence of teamwork, one basket at at time
    November 18, 2010
    I hadn’t spoken to Loretta in what felt like ten years. I hadn’t played basketball with her…well let’s just say, in a very, very long time. So, when she called out of the blue and asked me to join a new women’s basketball league at a local park district in Chicago, I responded with a stammering “ok” that likely communicated equal amounts of excitement and terror.
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    Reach your goals and live the lessons
    October 30, 2010
    Sustaining the effort is key to reaching your goals. My newsletter this month features many ideas on how to "live the lessons" to ensure success both personally and professionally....Take a look:
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    Working with the Waves that come your Way...
    August 28, 2010
    Earlier this month on vacation, I found myself in Huntington Beach, CA. (better known in some circles as "Surf City"). My visit just happened to coincide with the finals of the U.S. Open Surfing championships. Curious too see what this kind of sporting event would be like, my brother, who I was visiting, took me out onto the Huntington Beach Pier in time to watch the men's final event. It had come down to the two top surfers - hometown native, Brett Simpson and South African, Jordy Smith - the number one ranked surfer in the world.
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    What Wooden's words communicate
    July 26, 2010
    Former UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden died at age 99 on June 4, 2010. His legacy as a coach will live on and even in retirement - through speeches and books - he translated the lessons he shared with his championship teams to business professionals and anyone who wanted to discover the champion within themselves.
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    Defining Success – The Courage to Choose Work you Love
    June 1, 2010
    How do you measure success? If you live on the north shore of Chicago chances are that things like a good education, a prestigious career where you can command a high paying salary would be counted among the indicators. All good things but not always the measures that count for everyone.
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    Go Undercover for the Customer
    April 15, 2010
    Many of you have seen the popular new CBS series titled, Undercover Boss. Each episode follows a senior executive of a major corporation who is working incognito as a new entry-level hire for one week. Through the experience they discover how the company really works. The show is well done and sends out an important message to leaders: You need to experience your company through the lens of the employee to truly understand what is working and what’s not.
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    Seven Communication Practices for Personal Success in 2010
    March 16, 2010
    The arrival of Spring signals an opportunity to refresh skills and try on new techniques to improve your personal communication. In a down economy it becomes more important than ever to be at your best, get noticed and be remembered. In this edition of my newsletter I will focus on elements of your personal communication that will help you accomplish those goals. I'll review best practices that will get you noticed and remembered positively after a networking event, job interview or even within the environment where you currently work.
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    Cardio Kick Boxing or Corporate Interview: Make first impressions count
    February 23, 2010
    On Saturday I went to take a cardio kick-boxing class I attend on a regular basis. It is normally taught by an energetic and very fit young woman named, Anne. As a bunch of us were mingling and waiting for the class to begin, a rather disheveled man came in to the studio space and appeared to be getting organized to teach the class. He looked as if he had just rolled out of bed, was in need of a shave and could have benefitted from running a comb through his long, stringy hair that seemed be be flying in many different directions. He wore what appeared to be sweat pants and a t-shirt left over from the ’80’s and capped off the outfit by tying a tattered red bandana across his forehead. His t-shirt, likely purchased when he was 20 pounds lighter, revealed a protruding belly. He explained that he was the substitute instructor.
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    Can smiles predict marriage success?
    February 4, 2010
    I loved Clara's thought-provoking article about the power of the smile and what it can predict about the future success of relationships Let me know what you think!
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    Communication that Complements Engagement
    January 20, 2010
    To foster a culture where employee engagement thrives it is important to have a common understanding of what engagement really looks like, sounds like and feels like. When I am working with a new corporate client I do my best to soak up the atmosphere determine whether or not I see employees who Talk About – employees who openly talk about and share their company pride with others. Stay With – employees who stay with your organization and are loyal Strive For – employees who commit to striving to help the company reach its goals.
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    Be a little brighter and lighter in the New Year
    December 28, 2009
    As 2009 winds down and the requisite ritual of New Year's resolutions lies ahead I am reminded of the practice I value most at this time of year. It is the gesture that requires us to think of what we want to let go of and what we want to bring into the new year. brighten your possibilities for the new year
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    Make the Holidays Magical: Communicate you Care
    December 15, 2009
    I am as guilty as everyone else. As much as I tell myself I will be conservative this year when it comes to holiday spending - I spend more than I should. As much as I tell myself to not send cards and save a few trees - I still send them out. As much as I tell myself to spend time thinking of meaningful gestures for family and friends - I often don't.
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    Leverage Holiday Shopping to improve your Customer Experience
    December 9, 2009
    One of my favorite customer service gurus is Dennis Snow and in his blog today (http://dennissnowblog.com/) he talks about how to leverage the holiday season's shopping experience to improve your organization's customer service experience. I wanted to share with you his recommendation - it's simple and brilliant. Dennis says -
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    Fast, Intimate, Team Feedback
    November 29, 2009
    As a leader, you are always looking for new ways to engage and enlist your team. The following is an opportunity to consider. With a mature and seasoned team, one of the most powerful and fast, exercises you can take your team through is one where the feedback your team hears is from each other - not you, their leader.
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    Adventures in Communication
    November 1, 2009
    I am excited to announce a new collaboration with filmmaker and videographer, Steve Zagata, called Adventures in Communication. Our video blog invites you on an exciting journey to communication mastery through expert guides, timeless wisdom and exceptional resources. We know that good things happen when you communicate powerfully! When you join the AiC community you will
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    Are you a Morale Booster or Morale Buster?
    October 6, 2009
    When communicating with your team here are quick tips on what engages and what enrages:
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    Substitute Men - inventive opportunity in South Korea
    September 23, 2009
    Listening to a story yesterday on PRI, Jason Strother tells us about a service for the stressed-out in South Korea. It’s called “Substitute Men” and they’ll do just about anything customers ask – within limits and the law.
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    What do leaders need from their leader?
    August 31, 2009
    Ideally, individuals are assigned to a leadership position within an organization because they are trusted, highly competent, great with customers and know how to enlist and engage their people. With that high level of competence comes an assumption that they don’t need much guidance or handholding. They are big boys and girls, being paid accordingly and know what to do and simply need to be given the runway to make it happen. What then, is the role of their boss - the CEO, President or Business Head? The obvious answer is to provide strategy, direction and clear goals and to allow that individual to accomplish them. Beyond that, what else would support their success? Here are a couple of ways the leader of leaders can stay connected and provide additional support:
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    Watch what you say - everyone is listening.
    August 3, 2009
    Recently I attended an event where colleagues gathered. Time was spent catching up, swapping stories – all good. At a certain point, however, the conversation turned sour. Suddenly the talk turned to jabs/slights/disparaging remarks about individuals who were not there. This portion of the conversation probably only lasted about 15 minutes but it was enough to change the energy in the room from one of celebration and reunion to mean-spirited gossip.
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    Michael Jackson - connects the dots
    July 13, 2009
    The passing of Michael Jackson has produced an outpouring of reflections, commentary and tributes. I will add mine. Michael Jackson was a phenomenal communicator. Through his art - his music, his dance, his theatrical presentation - he reached millions across the world. In the few weeks since his death I have paid less attention to all the media hype and more to the very simple ways that his art communicated and connected people.
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    Geoff Colvin on The upside of the downturn
    June 20, 2009
    I was reading with great interest an article called "The upside of the downturn" by Geoff Colvin (in FORTUNE, June 8, 2009) and the article highlighted five moves to make now which I found to be right on...so much so that I wanted to re-enforce Colvin's ideas here:
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    The communication adventure - examples abound
    June 19, 2009
    The great news for folks who want to improve their communication is that we have coaches, tutors and guides all around us providing examples of big and small ways we can improve. A few days ago I stopped into a neighborhood restaurant for lunch. The waitress, Nancy, approached the table and with a big smile on her face and said, “Gosh, you look so much like my sister, Carol, and because of that I am gonna be super attentive to you today and if you want dessert, I’ll be sure to secure the biggest slice of cake for you. I know you probably don’t have a lot of time, so, what can I get for you…?” Nancy delivered a great experience for me that day and I noticed as she floated from table to table she exhibited the same upbeat friendliness to all her customers.
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    Many ways to get to the finish line first...
    May 3, 2009
    Horse Racing today is justifiably fraught with controversy and scrutiny due to the recent deaths of high profile horses and the on-going risks that jockeys are subjected to every time they get in the saddle. At yesterday's Kentucky Derby - May 2, 2009 - it was good to see how much of the coverage focused on new safety regulations and innovations and the on-going pursuit of ways to make the sport safer for the horses and jockeys. I need to mention this because as a Kentucky gal - born and bred - I grew up having an enormous respect and appreciation for horses and the men and women who ride them. Part of me thrills at a horse race and another part of me is repelled by it because of the danger. Cheering one minute and chastising the next.
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    Hallway Hellos: What happens on the way to your next meeting speaks volumes
    April 30, 2009
    The first time I ever visited Africa I had a life-altering experience. It had nothing to do with the incredible wildlife or beautiful landscapes I saw. Those things were wonderful but what changed me was the people and most specifically it was the way they communicated with each other. I was instantly struck by how friendly people were. No matter where I walked I was greeted by whoever passed by me - on an isolated dirt road or in a fancy international hotel. I consistently received a direct eye contact, wide smile, friendly “Jambo” (Swahili for hello). I was told that in African culture it is considered very impolite and disrespectful to not greet everyone with whom you come in contact. It is the custom…. it is what people do to continually re-enforce the idea of community.
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    Great Communicators are curious, kind, clear and colorful
    April 13, 2009
    When I think of leaders and influencers who I admire, I always take note of the way they communicate. Over time I have found that there are four qualities that appear to be consistently present in their approach to communication.
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    Looking at your WorkPlace through the Customer's Lens
    March 30, 2009
    Working with the Chief Customer Officer at Northeast Utilities, Johnny D. Magwood, has been a great experience. We had a stimulating conversation last week about the challenges and opportunities that surround a shift in organizational culture to one that focuses on the customer. He recalled an experience he had early in his career where the organization he was working for had determined to be more customer-focused. He described that the entrance to the company headquarters doubled as a smoking area for employees. The lobby area where customers passed through on a daily basis was a mine-field of ashtrays and cigarette smoke that individuals had to wade through to make it to their appointments. He wondered what kind of impression that environment made on customers. Rightly so, he assumed customers were left with the notion that the company did not value them and were OK with putting obstacles in the the way of them having a positive experience. Recognizing this issue, management removed all the ashtrays and instructed employees to smoke elsewhere. Within a week, the ashtrays were covertly brought back in and old habits resumed. Eventually, through persistent effort, the smoking area in the lobby was permanently shifted to another area - away from customer's view but it took awhile longer to shift people’s mindset around building an environment that worked for the customer.
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    Destination: Employer of Choice
    February 8, 2009
    Attracting and retaining talent is at the top of the priority list for most successful businesses, particularly so in the current economic climate. To drive and sustain business success, you need the right people in the right seats – and you need to keep them. So, how do you accomplish this important goal to attract and retain? Shoeless Joe Jackson’s famous line in the film, Field of Dreams provides the answer: “If you build it, they will come.” If you build an organizational culture where people (and customers) come first, you’ll keep the talent – and attract new talent – that will realize your business objectives.
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    Rose, Bud, Thorn
    February 8, 2009
    Sometimes you want a fresh approach to generating conversation with family, friends and colleagues. My daughter shared with me an idea they used at her summer camp called "Rose, Bud and Thorn." At the end of every day the campers would gather around in a circle and share what they had experienced during their day.
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    After the sales have gone...
    January 11, 2009
    Remember the old Earth, Wind and Fire song whose lyrics contained the memorable lines, "After the love is gone....what used to be right is wrong...can love that's lost be found?" I can't get those lyrics out of my head as I continue to see the huge sales that surround us all at every turn. "70% percent off" seems to be the key driver of traffic to most retail stores today. In these difficult economic times, huge sales are what brings customers in the door. You are most often met with robotic greetings and responses, at best, or surly impatience at worse. And we ignore or resign ourselves to "this is the way service is these days" or "it is what it is" because the cost savings somehow make the bad service acceptable.
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    Practice your Speaking Skills by forming a "Sounding Board"
    December 16, 2008
    Have you had the opportunity to take a presentation skills course or study with a speech coach and were excited to keep the learning alive but when you returned to work with limited practice opportunities you found the skills you developed faded?