Category Archives: Comedy

The Don Rickles School of Praise: When There’s Too Much of a Good Thing

Last week I wrote about the business case for being nice. I stand by the article and the cited research flaunting the benefits of leadership based in trust, warmth, and mutual cooperation; however, with the passing of legendary comedian Don Rickles, I’d like to honor his memory by providing a counter argument—the business case for not being so nice. More specifically, why we should be more discerning when doling out praise.

In today’s culture, leaders are encouraged to instill confidence, build self-esteem, and offer regular praise so as to encourage employees to believe in themselves. This “feel good” behavior creates a nice environment, but “nice” is not synonymous with “engaging,” “productive,” or “dynamic.” In fact, research shows that praise may actually undermine success.

I always rib people, but nobody ever gives me a hard time. I don’t know why. Maybe they’re afraid of what I might say. There’s probably a lesson in that somewhere, but I don’t know what it is.—Don Rickles

A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that when people are praised for ‘doing their own thing,’ they lose interest in the activity once the praise stops. Where they may have once felt satisfaction with the intrinsically rewarding enjoyment of performing the activity, the praise replaced the intrinsic reward with a contingent, external incentive, thus reducing the appeal of the intrinsic reward. As a result, expecting praise can soon make that thing seem not worth doing if you are not receiving the praise.

In another study published in Educational Leadership, people praised for personal attributes (being smart, talented, etc) were more easily discouraged with complex tasks and they stopped making an effort much sooner than those praised for ‘working hard’. Also, when praised for effort, participants overwhelmingly chose the more challenging task, while those praised for intelligence chose the easy test.

And according to Dr. Peggy Drexler, a research psychologist and professor of psychology at Cornell University, unpraised individuals show higher levels of confidence, while the overpraised are more likely to lie or exaggerate to make their performance sound better. Praise becomes addictive; once they get it, they need it and cannot function without it.

They always use the word ‘insult’ with me, but I don’t hurt anybody. I wouldn’t be sitting here if I did. I make fun of everybody and exaggerate all our insecurities.—Don Rickles

Before you are completely turned off from delivering praise (and decide to follow the Don Rickles’ style of ‘compliments’), the lesson here is not to withhold support or encouragement; what’s key is making sure the praise you deliver is accomplishing your intended purpose and being conveyed in the most impactful manner. A few ways you can maximize your praise include:

  • Be selective with praise. A compliment is more meaningful when it is kept sacred. If you do it all the time, it has less potency and creates an atmosphere of dependency. As David “Father of Advertising” Ogilvy says, it should be just uncommon enough to make each instance a momentous occasion.
  • Focus on what is within a person’s control. Don’t bother heaping compliments on characteristics that come natural; emphasis what they can consciously influence and control.
  • Avoid applause for easy tasks. A study found that people praised for an achievement that comes easily believe either 1) the praiser is not smart enough to realize how easy the task is or 2) the praiser thinks the prasiee is not smart.
  • Don’t over-praise for doing something they should be doing anyway. Recognize them for going above and beyond or finding a new way to complete a task, otherwise you are just reinforcing the minimum expectations of the job.
  • Deliver razor-sharp praise. Ambiguous, broad statements like, “You are great,” are worthless. Compliments should be specific and describe a detailed account of what they did well.

Don Rickles, derisively nicknamed Mr. Warmth, was always quick with an insult. He could disarm the most caustic audience with the most politically correctless jab. The greatest praise he offered was a verbal barb… and people begged Rickles to make fun of them. Of course, context matters so we should not try to emulate his form of tribute. Instead, use praise to build people up, but, at the same time, don’t rely on it as your primary form of communication. Keep it pointed, make it meaningful, and (I cannot stress this enough) don’t think “What would Rickles say.”

Five Ways Leaders Can Harness Humility with Billy Eichner

In the pantheon of essential leadership traits, are you giving humility its due? It is easy to get caught up in the power associated with your position; after all, wasn’t your greatness validated when you were promoted into the leadership role? Sometimes that is why we need to be humbled by Billy Eichner.

If you aren’t familiar with Billy Eichner, he is the talented host of the show Billy on the Street. Part street performance, part game show, and part improv comedy drill, Eichner runs through the streets of New York City asking bystanders questions that are typically self-depreciating to the celebrity shepherding behind Eichner. It is frenzied and funny.

With the big names Eichner attracts to his show, it is fascinating to see how they react to negative comments or (even worse) indifference. Eichner discussed this in a recent interview.

The more famous you are, perhaps, the less time you’ve spent actually engaging with other non-show-business people on the street. You have a team of people around you keeping you from those people, not allowing them to get to you and ask for a selfie. I’m literally dragging you over to someone on the street who may or may not be a fan. And you don’t know what their reaction’s going to be. Chris Pratt, at the height of his breakout year, ran around with me and I literally went up to people and said, ‘This is the hottest star in Hollywood right now. Hollywood Reporter says X about him, Entertainment Weekly says this about him, who is he?’ And they didn’t know. They thought he was Chris Evans, Chris Pine, Josh Duhamel. He’s just standing there, and I think it took him by surprise. We played It’s Spock, Do You Care? with Zachary Quinto. ‘Miss, it’s Spock, do you care?’ Many people didn’t care. And Zach turned to me and said, ‘Every actor should have to do this.’ Because it’s humbling, and if you have a sense of humor, you’re not really offended. These actors are doing plenty well even if not every single person can get their name right. It pops that balloon in a nonthreatening, fun way.

As leaders, we must also be willing to pop our balloon of self-importance so we can retain a sense of humility. A recent study by Catalyst found that humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an inclusive environment. In an extensive survey of more than 1,500 workers from six countries, employees observing selfless behavior in their managers were more likely to feel engaged with the team. These humility-based behaviors included:

  • learning from different points of view,
  • admitting mistakes,
  • empowering others to learn and develop,
  • taking personal risks for the greater good,
  • acknowledging and seeking contributions of others to overcome limitations, and
  • holding individuals responsible for results.

Employees whose managers displayed these altruistic behaviors reported being more innovative and involved. They were more inclined to take the initiative to propose new ways of doing work, partook in more team citizenship behavior, and were more likely to expense discretionary effort so as to meet workgroup objectives. A similar study in Administrative Science Quarterly also found that managers who exhibit humility resulted in better employee engagement and job performance.

For so long, we’ve talked about the power of persuasion and this over-the-top self-confidence in leaders, which is a very top-down style of leadership.—Rob Nielsen, coauthor of Leading with Humility

If this sounds like something that would benefit your organization (and who couldn’t), here are five ways you can harness your humility to be a more effective leader:

Put Others First. Humble leaders put the needs of their team ahead of their own. This is not purely altruistic; the teams’ success will lead to the leader’s success. Share the credit and provide team incentives.

Turn your mistakes into teachable moments. When we display our personal development it legitimizes and reinforces the growth and learning of others. Like most modeled behaviors, others are more willing to admit their imperfections if we do it first. They will also find us more relatable, influential, and “human.”

Ask For Help. Part of being humble involves not having all the answers. There is a level of vulnerability, but not acting “all knowing” shows your readiness to learn and become better.

Tend To Their Needs. Team performance increases when team members believe their leader is looking out for their best interests. Ensure they have the resources and support they need and be on the look out for new opportunities. This is not enabling or coddling; its showing how you invest in their success.

Embrace uncertainty. Many leaders want to control all aspects of the workplace. This is both unrealistic and unsustainable. We must be able to recognize when to take charge and when to let go. While the work may not get done the exact way we’d do it, the end product can end up even better.

Like Billy Eichner, we must self-regulate our humility and enforce it within our company culture. We cannot be afraid to ask, “It’s me, the boss, do you care?” If you are doing your job right, they may say, “no.” And yet it won’t matter—they respect you regardless of your title, not because of it.

10 Leadership Quotes to Get You Through the Holidays

To start 2017 with a fresh list of topical pop culture references, the following are ten leadership quotes to inspire you through the holidays.

dj-khaled

“The key to success is to motivate yourself and to motivate others. And to surround yourself with great people. And understand that you got to work hard if you want success. You have to know what success could come with. When you get all these keys, you’re going to be able to navigate success and prosper in your life. I ain’t never had nobody telling me this when I was coming up. I wish I had somebody.”—DJ Khaled, Business Insider

harland-williams

“I think for some reason my mortality played into it; its like when I’m dead and gone I want to have one piece of work that is pure. I want to leave it behind, whether you love it or hate it and whether anyone ever sees it, it was for my own fire that burns inside.”—Harland Williams, Fitzdog Radio

pete-holmes

“That’s the difference between craft and a career. A career is like, ‘I’ll have a fulfilling money thing,’ and a craft is something where you wake up every day and say, ‘I can’t believe I get to do this.’”—Pete Holmes, You Made it Weird

Shirley Manson

“I have absolutely no idea [why we’ve had such a long-lasting career] other than we have an incredible work ethic — all of us in the band. We all have a defiant streak in us — we don’t take a lashing sitting down. We tend to get up on our feet. We carry on even when things are difficult. I think you’ll find that in any career that’s lasted, that tenacity.”—Garbage’s Shirley Manson, PAPER Magazine

l-a-reid

“It’s important for my executives to feel that I am with them unconditionally, not only when they are doing great but when they struggle they can feel I’m with them and I have their back… I think people just need to feel like somebody has their back so they can make a mistake if they need to. I learned from being in the recording studio–I work with great singers and in order to do a great recording they have to mess up.”—L.A. Reid, Chicago Tribune

chris-rock

“One of the best compliments I ever got was Conan [O’Brien] saying to me, ‘You know what I like about you? You’re smart enough to be scared. So many guys come on cocky, they don’t want to go over their stuff, they don’t want to do a pre-interview. You’re always smart enough to be worried ‘til the last minute.’ That will not stop. You get some guys who get all cocky and they fall right on their f—king face.”—Chris Rock, Esquire

phil-mr-olympia-heath

“It can be ten people or thousands of people, I want them to see something special. I want them to say, ‘I saw the best in the world at something,’ and maybe that will inspire them to go do something in their life with the same vigor.”—Phil “Mr. Olympia” Heath, New York Times

zack-stentz

“If your name is on it, you need to own it. Whether you are in favor of the decision or whether you weren’t. Its like, ‘yeah, that happened, that was the decision that was made. My name is on it and I cashed the check.’”—Zack Stentz, Fatman on Batman podcast

bill-maher

“I love to change my mind. That’s one of the great things of not being a politician. If you are a politician you can never change your mind because then you are a flip-flopper. You have to know exactly what you think when you’re 18 years old and don’t change it when you are 65. That’s a politician. No! As new information becomes available, sometimes you do change — or maybe you just evolve.”—Bill Maher, Salon

“No one needs to work. You work because you want the things it gives you. I don’t just mean the ability to buy mansions and boats; I mean self-worth and fun. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than writing and directing and stand-up. I mean, that’s allowed me to buy mansions and boats, but when I’m in the mansion or the boat, I’m thinking of a funny joke.”—Ricky Gervais, Esquire

I may not say it often, but I appreciate your continued interest in reading leadersayswhat. I hope it helps make you a better leader both for your success and the success of everyone you influence.

Have a happy new year, and as my spiritual advisor sings, “Maybe this year will be better than the last.”

David

Three Ways Jimmy Kimmel Can Make Us a Better Leader

jimmy-kimmel-bannerI love a good underdog success story. If you’re familiar with Jimmy Kimmel’s history, you know that before he was one of the “big three” in late night television, he had his share of professional setbacks. Kimmel started his career in radio where he was fired numerous times—he and his wife moved every year for the first six years of marriage. Kimmel eventually worked his way into the Los Angeles market and his career took off.

In a recent Success article, Kimmel discussed his leadership philosophy and how he manages as both host and Executive Producer of Jimmy Kimmel Live!. For those of us looking for ways to be a more effective leader, you’d be wise to consider these three lessons.

#1 Punctuality

Kimmel places a high value on being early for scheduled events.

I think it is disrespectful when you are late. My boss, Bob Iger [Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company], is probably the only person who gets more done than I do, and he’s usually at his office at 5am every day… It’s also the reason why he’s my boss and not the other way around [Kimmel jokes].

Being prompt is more than a time management tool. It shows others that you are dependable, considerate, and organized. It also displays your discipline and sets the example for the rest of the team.

#2 Emotional Generosity

Kimmel’s dad was a high school dropout who ultimately earned a college degree and moved up American Express’ corporate ladder to become a senior vice president. After retiring, the CEO of American Express called Kimmel.

The only reason why he contacted me was to tell me how much, how well-liked my father was and how hard a worker he was [Kimmel begins to tear up]. I’m sorry—I’m very emotional about this because it was a very cool thing to do… My dad doesn’t even work for him anymore. He was not in the stratosphere at American Express. He came from nothing. But this man reached out to me to let me know how valuable he was to the company.

You cannot underestimate the power of small gestures of gratitude and recognition. To experiment with this, at your upcoming holiday party, make an effort to tell every employee’s spouse one nice thing about their work performance. You’ll impress your employees and create whole new base of supporters.

#3 Displaying Kindness

I mentioned generosity of words, but generosity of tangible rewards should not be ignored. When Kimmel worked at the legendary radio station KROQ, the morning team had a ratings bonus structure in their contract; Kimmel did not. Knowing Kimmel’s value to the team, the program director handed Kimmel a check from his personal account for $500.

It’s one thing to give out raises someone else is paying for, but when you reach into your own pocket, well, that’s something I’ll never forget.

Two years later, when Kimmel was offered his own show at another radio station with a substantial raise, he turned it down because the program director’s kind act, amongst others, generated an intense loyalty.

And that $500 cost me $140,000. Actually $280,000, because it was a two-year contract. So it was an excellent investment on his part.

I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of this method. Early in my career, I was fortunate to work for a division leader who planned a “meeting” in Biloxi. After going through the sparse agenda, he thanked us for the last year and handed each of us an envelope with cash. While most of us gambled it away in the hotel casino, the unwarranted gesture was not forgotten.

When you read these three lessons, it is evident that Kimmel is not using his leadership role to boost his dominance over others. He breeds a culture where his staff are fiercely loyal to him, not because he’s a star, but because his leadership is based on humility and treating others with respect. Kimmel does not have to work this hard, he chooses to because that is how he views the role of the leader. Can you imagine if your workplace operated this way?

As a side note, my apologies to Matt Damon. I was also going to write about him, but I’ve run out of space.

Weekender: Billy Crystal on the Internally-Induced Rewards

billy-crystalWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a marvelous schpeck of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just a schpeck? Because it’s the weekend!

After a failed endeavor, I can be hard on myself. There tends to be a flurry of such overly critical reflections as “If only I had…” or “Why didn’t I think of…”. These lessons learned can be productive to a point, but there comes a time when you have to move on. That’s why I enjoyed Billy Crystal’s second-hand advice.

On WTF Podcast with Marc Maron, Billy Crystal was discussing an incident last year when he was visiting his long-time friend, legendary Hollywood manager Jack Rollins. Crystal’s new series Comedians was premiering that night and he was anxiously excited.

[Jack Rollins] grabbed my hand and says, ‘Are you happy with your work on the show? Do you feel good about what you did on the show?’ And I said ‘Yes, very much so.’ He says, ‘That’s most important because they can never take that away from you.’ I carry that around with me.

This guidance may not seem particularly novel, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary. As leaders, there are few people who are going to congratulate you for your efforts. Most don’t see the struggle you put into your projects, while others simply don’t consider offering a boss the same support they would offer a co-worker. That leaves you to feel proud of yourself.

We need to get into the habit of discerning how we feel about the work we put into an accomplishment before knowing the outcome. That way, the self-accolades can seep into our psyche and help us brace for the subsequent result. It will ease the blow of defeat knowing we did all we could or, preferably, give us all the more reason to celebrate after the win. Either way, it seems healthier than tormenting ourselves on what should have been.