Category Archives: Networking

When Leaders Insulate: The Dangers of Corrosive Privilege

I recently read a fascinating article by Rebecca Solnit on how being born to privilege has had a corrosive effect on Donald Trump and his presidency. She discusses the ways an individual raised in a protected bubble of wealth and power becomes isolated from the rest of the world. After reading Solnit’s piece, it’s evident that the trappings she associates with Trump can become obstacles for all leaders. Here are three lessons that sound out:

Setbacks

We gain awareness of ourselves and others from setbacks and difficulties; we get used to a world that is not always about us.—Rebecca Solnit

There is a mentality amongst some leaders that acknowledging failure is a weakness. As a result, they shift responsibility (i.e. blame others) so they are no longer accountable, artificially reframe setbacks as new opportunities, and/or outright change the end-goal so the outcome can now be viewed as a win.

While “not failing” may feel good, it is a false sense of satisfaction. Leaders must build the thick skin necessary to accept and learn from disappointment without carrying the weight of feeling like a failure. Otherwise we risk becoming overly sensitive and brittle, unequipped to make the adjustments necessary to rebound and adapt.

As leaders, we must also allow others to fail. Solnit writes of rich college kids who are not allowed to fail because their parents “[keep] throwing out safety nets and buffers” that protect them from experiencing adversity. As nice as this may sound, when we live without consequences, our lives become inconsequential—we cannot feel the highs of achievement without also having faced the lows of failure.

Self-Reflection

Power corrupts, and absolute power often corrupts the awareness of those who possess it.—Rebecca Solnit

In Hannah Arendt’s book On the Origins of Totalitarianism, she promotes the need for an inner dialogue where we can cross-examine ourselves, where we can ask the difficult questions. If we can master this skill, we are better equipped to have these discussions with the people around us. If we lack the ability to self-interrogate, we are prone to suffer from, what Arendt calls, the banality of evil, i.e. “the inability to hear another voice, the inability to have a dialogue either with oneself, or the imagination to have a dialogue with the world, the moral world.”

Obliviousness

Equality keeps us honest. Our peers tell us who we are and how we are doing, providing that service in personal life that a free press does in a functioning society.—Rebecca Solnit

We need people in our lives who have the ability to provide unfiltered commentary. These individuals cannot be fearful of repercussions, nor can they hold back in the hopes of gaining some type of advantage. They must be willing to give it to us straight and we must be open to what they are saying. Otherwise, we risk becoming oblivious.

Obliviousness is not a sign of low intelligence, but an indication that the leader is sequestered from information that runs counter to their viewpoint. It tends to happen over time as we weed out those who are the bearers of bad news, those who are perceived as not being “on board,” and those who are damaging our precious self-esteem with their critique. Before we know it, we are surrounded by yes-men and sycophants who tell us what we want to hear versus what we need to hear. In the end, not only are we alone, but their biased feedback has infected us with delusional thinking, faulty decision making, and a general lack of insight into how our team and the population-at-large are feeling.

Being in a position of power can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to. Leaders must seek and foster relationships outside of their power structure. Our associates keep us honest. They ensure we remain grounded and in touch with reality. And they provide the feedback, criticism, and advice that, while not preferable, is essential to avoiding the impairments of corrosive privilege.

The Business Case for Workplace Friendship: 8 Reasons You Need It and 1 Way to Build Them Fast

In all the talk and research centered around company culture, one aspect is often ignored: The power of friends at work. I was thinking about this last week when I saw a preview for the new CHiPs movie.

If you’re unfamiliar with CHiPs, the source material for the movie was a delightfully cheesy 1970s-80s series about the California Highway Patrol. In one respect, it was about motorcycle police officers who solved crimes and cleaned up California. However, it was also a story about the brotherly love between two partners—Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox) and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Erik Estrada). Dax Shepard, who plays Jon Baker in the movie, echoed this in a recent interview:

I believe if you actually tried to isolate what was so appealing about the show, especially on a global level, it was two buddies.

As Jon and Ponch can attest (their record of arrests speaks for itself), there are many benefits to maintaining workplace friendships. Besides the opportunity to spend fifty-ish hours a week with people you actually like, research has proven time and again that strong social connections have both personal and business advantages.

A study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that quality (not quantity) friendships lead to significantly greater job satisfaction.

Research in Personnel Psychology found that employees with more “multiplex relationships” – colleagues you work with who are also your friends outside of work – have significantly better job performance. These bonds were associated with experiencing more positive work-related emotions, like feeling excited, proud, and trusting.

The Study of Adult Development at the Harvard Medical School, which is the longest-running study of human happiness, has consistently concluded that positive relationships result in happier, healthier, and more meaningful lives.

The latest Relationships @Work study found that millennials rely on their work friends to boost their moods with 39% reporting that friendships made them more productive and 50% saying that friendships were motivating.

Gallup found that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be fully engaged in their work.

In Matthew Lieberman’s book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, he discovered that with an economist’s mindset where you put a price tag on relationships, a friend you see on most days is like earning an additional $100,000 each year. That’s quite a value from a social connection.

Innovation psychologist Amantha Imber says, “Having a friend at work, or more broadly people that you trust and people that you feel will support you, is really important for boosting confidence and when you’re confident that can lead to all sorts of positive work outcomes.”

And executive coach and organizational psychologist Michelle Pizer states that having a genuine friend in the workplace “makes us feel safer to take risks” because we know someone has our back.

Once we understand that workplace friendships are more than simply a fun way to pass the day, the real question is how to build them. Some may say it takes months or even years, but who has that much time? We need friends and we need them now. Arthur Aron may have the answer.

Aron, a social psychologist at Stony Brook University, has been studying ways to induce meaningful connections for nearly 50 years. Through his research, he uncovered how to foster closeness and break down emotional and social barriers in less than 45 minutes…and it’s easier than you may think.

In one experiment, participants were split into two groups and then partnered up. In the first group, the partners asked each other casual, impersonal questions. The second group wasn’t allowed to engage in any conversation suggestive of small talk. Instead, they asked questions like, “Given the choice to invite anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?”

As you may have guessed, participants who asked deep, evocative questions felt significantly closer to one another than those engaged in small talk. People in the second group also reported greater interest in collaborating with their partner on future projects. In addition, when these results were replicated in another study, they found that a key factor in determining whether mere workplace acquaintances would transcend into actual friends involved self-disclosure around non-workplace topics and the more they shared, the closer they became.

Workplaces that convert their employees’ untenable ties into the durable bonds shared by fast friends will have cultures and communities that are alive and generative—in one word, thriving. As denizens of these communities, we will be doing something even more powerful than bringing our lives and souls with us to work: We will be sharing them with friends.—Jessica Amortegui

Who’s your Ponch? Who is your friend at work? This is not a trick question; it’s a challenge. Whether you’re in the elevator or grabbing coffee in the break room, quit your small talk. Ask real questions and disclose real information. This may feel unnatural at first, but if Arthur Aron’s research is correct, you could form the beginnings of a new friendship by mid-week. Who knows, maybe you two can go see CHiPs together in the theater.

Carol Leifer on the Easy Hang

Carol LeiferOn your ascend towards the upper echelon of management, there is an X-factor that is rarely discussed, but vitally important—your people skills. I’m not referring to the people skills necessary to lead others; this goes into the competence column. I am talking about the ways you interact with other members of the C-suite. Carol Leifer calls this the “easy hang.”

Carol Leifer is a four-time Emmy Award-winning comedian, writer, producer and actress. She appeared on Late Night with David Letterman over twenty-five times and has written for such acclaimed shows as The Larry Sanders Show, Saturday Night Live, and Seinfeld. Leifer also recently published a business book, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying.

In a recent interview on Reddit, Leifer discussed a lesson she learned from working in so many writers’ rooms:

I think the best quality for a writer to have (and I talk about this in great detail with my new book) is ‘the easy hang.’ And it’s something that Larry [David] and Jerry [Seinfeld] used to describe writers they wanted to hire. You can be as funny as anybody, but if people don’t like hanging out with you, if your personality is a drag, you’re not going to last very long in a writer’s room. So I always advise people to work on their personality skills along with their comedic skills…. As an agent once told me: ‘Don’t be an a–e, because if you are, they will fire you and hire someone else who isn’t.’ And that’s applicable to anybody in any field.

There comes a point in one’s career where your capability to do the job is simply expected. When you’ve reached this stage, your reputation and list of accomplishments clearly demonstrates that you are experienced, intelligent, and hard working. Once this is established, going to the next plateau involves transcending your standing as a “worker bee.” This is when others assess your easy hang-ness.

On one end of the spectrum are those born as easy hangs. They make friends effortlessly, maintain a solid network, and are universally liked. The other end of the spectrum are the introverts who actively avoid social interactions. And in the middle are the individuals who are able to hang but have forgone informal get-togethers so as to concentrate on the work. If you are someone who needs to make a more conscious attempt to forge relationships with co-workers, consider these tips:

Smile. If this sounds corny, there are mounds of research supporting the idea that smiling has a positive collateral effect on others and the overall environment. One study found that when shown pictures of people smiling, test subjects tried to imitate the expressions in the pictures. It took a conscious effort to avoid smiling. If smiling does not come naturally to you, first, I’m sorry. Second, you can trick yourself into smiling. Research found that holding a pen in your teeth in a way that simulates the muscle movements of smiling can result in the same effect as a legitimate smile.

Mimic others. One of the best ways to gain social skills is through modeling. Seek out the people who exude socially savviness and study their mannerisms. It may feel unnatural at first, but you’ll make it your own with more practice.

Prepare your small talk. What can be worse than being stuck in an elevator with a co-worker who has nothing to say? An easy hang-er can engage in meaningful small talk that is more substantial than the weather, yet lighter than a work-related issue. If this sounds like a lot of pressure, keep a few topics in the arsenal for the moments you need them. A conversation starter may include: “Any big weekend plans?”, “Did you see ______ in the news?”, or anything sports related.

Set a goal. You got ahead because you are goal-oriented, so create socially-focused, easy hang goals. Start with a few specific interpersonal skills. Determine the ultimate objective and then break it up into attainable, bite-sized targets. As you accomplish each goal, your confidence in other social settings will increase.

Your work-based skills will only get you so far. Start mastering the easy hang so you’re prepared before the next interaction with the CEO. Practice at home, the gym, or with strangers. Experiment with different openers and push yourself to see how long you can keep the conversation going. In the end, you’ll be more professionally successful, and you may even make a few new friends.

Want to Mentor Others? Be More Like Prince

prince2“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate this thing called leadership.” And when I think about a leader, I picture someone who actively mentors others. I’m not referring to their subordinates (the leader’s job demands support of them), but up-and-comers who are seeking guidance, advice, and focus.

The leader does not directly gain from aiding these promising talents. Sure, it might help build the leader’s legacy and expand their network, but the intent of taking on a protégée it not meant for personal gain. For a prime example, look no further than Prince.

I don’t need to tell you much about Prince. He’s been on the forefront of popular music for almost forty years, sold over 40 million, earned 50 Hot 100 singles, and recently released his 38th album, HITNRUN. In addition to being a juggernaut of quality music, Prince has always been eager to nurture the careers of gifted musicians. Here are three things we can all do to be more like Prince.

Humility

Prince can proficiently play a few dozen instruments, yet when talking about Esperanza Spalding, a four-time Grammy winning jazz musician, Prince said,

I thought I could play bass until I met her. Not even close! [Laughs] She just kills it, man.

Many people in Prince’s position would not be so forthcoming with such a generous compliment—when you’re at the top of the mount, why lower yourself to a lower level—however being a mentor begins with this sense of humility. You need to be willing to help people who have the potential of being better than you.

Arrogance and an excessive ego will lead you to choose protégées who are geared to become more like lackeys than individual contributors. Humility, on the other hand, will ensure that you are guiding others towards the direction they want to go, not building mini-me’s. You, therefore, provide practical value through a path of self-discovery.

Ability to recognize talent

Prince has a long history of encouraging the careers of others—Sheena Easton, Sheila E., Vanity, etc. When he’s interested in a musician’s work, Prince will often invite them to his home in Minneapolis to jam or just hang out. Recently, he found a talented performer on Instagram named Golden Hippie. She has since appeared on Prince’s album Art Official Age.

I like young energy. If there’s a big mess, you can bet an old person did it.

Finding high-potentials is not easy; one study found that top tier employees constitute only 3-5% of a company’s talent. To identify you next mentee:

Get introspective. Ask yourself: What do I have to offer? Determine your strengths and how you can best provide support for a future superstar.

Define criteria. Figure out what makes someone a high-potential. What qualities, characteristics, skills, and abilities are you looking for in a protégée?

Make it measureable. With your skill set and the criteria you’ve selected in a protégée, you can now identify and select your next candidate.

Willingness to put others at center stage

When Prince was asked about the process of developing his latest album, he could have waxed on about the way he creates a song or how this album stands out from his last. Instead, Prince said,

I don’t need to be more famous. I want you to write about Josh [Welton, Prince’s producer], so that one day when he’s producing Beyonce’s next record you can say, ‘I was on that.’

This is the essence of being a mentor, an unselfish desire to promote someone else. If you accept your role as a mentor, then you are accepting your responsibility to push others into your spotlight. They may reciprocate with the public recognition you deserve, but this would just be a nice bonus. You are doing it because that is what a great mentor does.

Not every leader is a mentor, but every mentor is a leader. You may have missed the boat on being the Prince of the music world, but it’s not too late to become the Prince of your world. Use your experience and expertise to take on a protégée. It is personally rewarding and will make the doves cry with tears of joy.

Sammy Hagar’s Rules of Success

sammy-hagarAfter writing on leadersayswhat for as long as I have, I am embarrassed that it has taken me this long to discuss Sammy Hagar. As one of my favorite musicians (the album Red Voodoo is a must-own), Sammy has been a preeminent part of the rock n’ roll scene since the 1970s. He was the lead singer of Montrose, Van Halen, and two all-star bands (Chickenfoot and Circle) and has an accomplished solo career. What you may not realize is that Sammy is also an accomplished businessman.

Besides the wealth created as a performer, Sammy has generated multi-millions of dollars with his various non-music ventures. Fueled by his entrepreneurial spirit, Sammy has built a dynasty in such industries as liquor, cycling, restaurants, real estate, and travel. To tell you how he’s done it, Sammy spoke with Liz Welch at Inc.com. The following are some of my personal highlights.

Identify Your Inner Drive

I’ve never started a business thinking, ‘Oh, I’m gonna make money off of this. All my ideas have come from sheer enthusiasm.’ I felt that way about Cabo San Lucas. I bought a condo down there in 1981. There were three hotels, and none of the restaurants had air conditioning, telephones, or TV. But I fell in love with the place. I wanted a place to hang out down there, so I said, ‘I’m going to build a tequila bar.’

Look for Opportunities That Excite You

Back [in the early 1980s], I was seriously into bikes. My friend Bucky was working at a bike store in Corte Madera, California, and he said, ‘Man, these guys are building mountain bikes with big tires and gears.’ I gave him an old junky bike and he built me this crazy-ass mountain bike. I was like, ‘This is awesome!’ I can go off curbs, over rocks, up hills. So I bought the bike store and hired more mechanics to convert more bikes, and then opened a bigger store, Sausalito Cyclery, in 1987, which was doing $4 million in annual sales before I sold it.

Branding

After I left Van Halen, Shep Gordon, a music manager, came to visit me at Cabo Wabo. I was wearing shorts and flip-flops, and he said, ‘You need to roll your whole thing into your whole thing.’ Around that time, I met Kari, my current wife, who said, ‘You remind me of Jimmy Buffett.’ I thought she was nuts. But then she took me to see him and I’m going, ‘Holy s–t. This is awesome.’ Some fool with a parrot on his head would get his ass kicked at a Van Halen show. But a light went on. He created a lifestyle for his fans. I had already started Cabo Wabo. I said, ‘We beach all day, eat tacos for dinner, drink tequila. I get onstage and play. That’s it.’

Surround Yourself With Good People

My strategy for running companies successfully is to find the right guy… Marco [Batali] and Steve [Kauffman] are the best partners on the planet. And I can’t get through the day without Renata Ravina. She is my business manager and has been with me for 26 years. She organizes my day and handles my calendar. We talk several times a day at least. Tom Consolo, my music manager, oversees that part of my world.

Networking

Friendships are really important in any industry… I’m connecting the dots all the time. And though I don’t tour as much as I used to, I try to make sure every radio station gets a bottle of my rum. The DJ will say, ‘Hey, Sammy sent me this rum–this stuff’s great!’ And I try to make sure the rum is in every venue I play.