Tag Archives: Authentic

Weekender: B.J. Novak on Maintaining Steadfast Devotion to Your Ideals

B.J. NovakWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a tad of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just a tad? Because it’s the weekend!

How do you spend your time? As leaders, it’s easy to get sidetracked by endeavors that fall outside of your priority list. We try to be a servant leader, but there is a point when serving other’s needs thwarts our ability to tend to the global vision. We want to stay on point, but shifting priorities knock us off balance. And we want to concentrate on big picture items, but daily emergencies fill our remaining time. If this sounds familiar, B.J. Novak has some beneficial advice.

B.J. Novak is a comedian, screenwriter, and author. He’s written two New York Times Bestsellers and was a writer, actor, and executive producer on The Office. To attain this level of accomplishment by such a young age, Novak relied on some guidance from his father, an accomplished writer in his own right. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Novak said,

My father gave me advice when I started stand-up: ‘How about you say only what you like and keep only what they like?’ Don’t say anything you don’t love, don’t share anything you don’t love, don’t make anything you don’t love, but if you love it, try to make it popular. My goal is not to make popular things. My goal is to make the things I love as popular as I can make them.

Novak has captured the spirit of the truly authentic leader. It is easy to say what we think others want to hear. However, endorsing ideas, initiatives, or products that do not reflect your passion and ideals is a sure path towards disappointment.

Your influence, reputation, and happiness hinge on sincerity. Hold steady in your principles so you can avoid making popular things and strive to make the things you love popular. It will keep you honest and bolster your longitudinal enthusiasm.

Top Gun on Five Overused Jargon To Avoid

Top GunIn the workplace, we often shortcut conversations by using clichés. While these quick, popular phrases are commonly understood, are you aware that they can damage your credibility? The Navy’s Topgun Fighter Weapons school put a stop to this thirty years ago. Maybe we should follow their lead.

In 1986, a now classic movie flaunted the glamorous life of Naval fighter pilots in their most elite training program, Topgun. Maverick, Goose, and Ice Man conveyed such quotable lines as “Jester’s dead, Hee-haw;” “Talk to me, Goose;” “It’s time to buzz the tower;” and of course “I feel the need/the need for speed!” It taught us that our friends should be referred to as “wingmen” and badly (but loudly) singing the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” is an effective way to introduce yourself to a girl.

As much as we enjoy reciting these sayings from the film Top Gun, can you imagine how annoying and overused these adages were in the real Topgun? It got so bad that they instituted a $5 fine to any staff member who quoted the movie. This may seem amusing (and it is), but how guilty are you of abusing clichés?

According to Darlene Price, author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results, “you need to avoid business jargon and be clear in order to get your point across and be heard.” While most clichés were once a creative way to express a thought or idea, she says that “because of long, excessive use, each phrase has lost its originality, impact, and even meaning.” To avoid the stigma associated with stale sayings, here are five clichés that you should consider eliminating from your vocabulary:

“It’s a paradigm shift”

When this idiom began in the early 1990s, speaking about paradigms was a sign of intelligence. Now, this phrase is synonymous with nonsensical lingo. Instead of saying something that clearly displays your lack of depth or knowledge, try such simple phrases as “major difference” or “fundamental change.”

“Drink the Kool-Aid”

I’m particular culpable of using this one. Some workplaces have an intense culture that can feel cultish, so when we feel a part of it, we may say that we’ve been “drinking the Kool-Aid.” The idea itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but maybe we can avoid a proverb that stems from the tragic 1978 Jonestown suicides.

“We work hard and play hard”

In the history of this phrase, has anyone who said it really worked hard AND played hard? Just say you believe in work/life balance and let’s move on.

“Do more with less”

Besides it’s overuse, this phrase has negative connotations. While you are trying to tell others to be resourceful, they are hearing vague criticism to work harder with less pay. Include more specifics in your advice. If there is a lack of available resources, explain this and ask how we can get the job done.

“Think outside the box”

Of all the clichés, this has gotta be the most overused. If you say this, you are showing others that you are trapped in “the box” with no hope of escape. In its place, encourage others to “consider a different perspective” or “stretch your imagination.” These references may not be as visual as a box, but it is clear, descriptive, and far more effective.

Every time you speak you have the opportunity to gain credibility and effectively engage others. Therefore, do not pollute your communication with hackneyed expressions. They don’t make you look poetic or deep, just generic. So take it to the next level by finding a more sincere way of talking. It’ll help you move the goal post so you can say what you really mean. Fake it until you make it so you can hit the ground running. And, as always, synergize.

Kelly Ripa on Open Communication

kelly ripaHow do you inform your team of organizational changes? Do you give some advanced notice before it is going to take place? Maybe provide a few hints so it is not such a surprise? Or do you drop the preverbal bomb with little to no warning? If you lean towards the third option, consider this cautionary tale from ABC.

There has been some drama on daytime television and it didn’t come from the soaps. On Live! co-host Michael Strahan announced he was leaving to join Good Morning America. The problem is that Kelly Ripa, his co-host, was informed of this revelation mere minutes before Strahan was going to proclaim his good news on air. She was not pleased and did not appear on the show for a few days.

I think what people need to understand about the entire situation is that I didn’t just not show up. I said, in the room, ‘I am going to take the day off.’ I needed to actually sit and gather information. I needed to make sure I said the appropriate things on TV and didn’t just come out and say whatever.—Kelly Ripa

This was not the first time Ripa has been blindsided by ABC executives. A similar thing happened when Regis Philbin announced his retirement in 2011. The only difference is that when Philbin left, Ripa was in the more junior position to Philbin. Today, she is the lead and was intentionally left out of the loop.

As leaders, we often wrestle with what, how much, and when information should be shared. I’ve often struggled after terminating an employee where I wish I could explain more to the team but, out of the respect for the individual who left, I convey a more general message. It would be so much easier to display the personnel file illustrating the number of conversations, warnings, and developmental opportunities that took place before the difficult decision was made to let someone go.

In Strahan’s case, I understand why the negotiations were kept under wraps. What if Ripa became jealous of Strahan’s move? What if it leaked to the press? What if there were rumors that Strahan was unhappy at Live!? Could this hurt his reputation or affect viewership? And what if negotiations fell apart and he stayed at Live!? I also see Ripa’s side. She’s been with the show and the network for over 15 years, and in the lead chair for the last five years. Shouldn’t this garner some degree of respect?

To their credit, Ripa’s executive bosses, the president of the Disney-ABC Television Group and his leadership team, immediately owned their misstep and personally apologized to both Ripa and Strahan. It was the right reaction, but has the damage been done? How long will it take for Ripa to trust management again?

I’m not dealing with monsters. I don’t think of anybody as a monster or out to get me…When you’re dealing with big business, it’s easy to forget that you’re dealing with people and that people have feelings. It’s easy to just look at it like a business unit.—Kelly Ripa

As a result of Live! and the many similar situations we face, I’d like to advocate for more open communication. Some may try to take advantage of this display of vulnerability, but as Brene Brown said in her TedTalk, The Power of Vulnerability, vulnerability is not synonymous with being weak or submissive. To the contrary, it denotes the courage to be yourself. This means embracing doubt, risk, and emotional exposure so as to allow for authentic relationships.

Open communication establishes the trust leaders need to attain greater engagement, loyalty, and productivity. Leaders are seen as being more dependable and the team feels more motivated. Conflicts may occur based on this increase in information, but it is easier to resolve a conflict where there is a foundation of trust versus reactively trying to clean up a mess stemming from distrust.

Before you institute your next organizational transformation, consider the feelings of the people on your team. This will not change your plan, but it may change the way you communicate it to those involved. Familiarize them with your strategy, address their concerns, and give them more than 15 minutes to acclimate before announcing it in national television.

Bobcat Goldthwait on Maintaining Your Authentic Persona

bobcat-goldthwait linWhen we enter a new environment, there’s a tendency to change our persona. In an attempt to fit in, we may behave, dress, and say things that are not quite in line with our natural state of being. Sometimes this motivates us to make slight adjustments that result in better versions of ourselves. But what happens when your public self strays too far from your authentic self? Bobcat Goldthwait has first-hand experience.

Bobcat Goldthwait is a critically acclaimed writer and director (World’s Greatest Dad is one of my all-time favorite movies). Before this, however, Bobcat was known for his outrageous standup comedy act. He created an Andy Kaufman-esque character on stage that was simultaneously funny and dangerous.

Whether through the Police Academy movies, lighting Jay Leno’s Tonight Show couch on fire, or all-out destroying the Arsenio Hall Show set, Bobcat never broke character. He maintained his distinct speech pattern and unapologetically reigned chaos and humor on the crowd. But after many years in this role, Bobcat no longer wanted to be this character. As he said in an interview on The Nerdist podcast,

I painted myself into a corner, I was so unhappy… I’d go on a talk show, I’d do this persona, it’d go over really well, but I wasn’t doing anything else. I can’t really blame showbiz; I wasn’t doing the things that made me happy.

When we find something that works, it’s hard to change course. No matter how painful it may be to remain in this persona, success (and the fear of losing it) have a way of solidifying habits that are uncomfortable and unpleasant. So we continue to be inauthentic and discontent with the hope that success, in and of itself, will one day provide happiness. Bobcat shows that we cannot ride out the hypocritical behavior; it takes a concerted effort to change.

– and then my working class upbringing would kick in. I’m at the national Zanies [comedy club] and people are there to see this persona that I have nothing in common with anymore. And I feel like I have to do it because this is what the people paid money to see. So I became trapped and felt an obligation. I mention that club because that’s where it ended. I just said, ‘I can’t do this.’ I thought I hated stand up, but no, I hate this f—king character.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Herminia Ibarra discussed the increasing struggle leaders face to be authentic. Today’s workplace demands frequent and radical changes, which involve more opportunities to be in unfamiliar environments. We are more globally connected, interacting with more people who don’t share our cultural norms or expectations, thereby forcing us to “choose between what is expected—and therefore effective—and what feels authentic.” And social media puts us on display for all to see, making us even more likely to behave in a manner we think others are expecting of us.

New situations push us out of our comfort zone while our unconscious tries to protect our identity by pulling us back to our engrained impulses. As our psyche tries to balance these opposing ends of the spectrum, we need to decide how much of ourselves we willing to sacrifice to be popular, successful, or well-liked. And if it’s been personally beneficial but is feeling less and less satisfying, how are you going to pivot so you can retain your status while getting back to your core sense of self?

Learn from Bobcat; he waited too long to regain his authenticity. Bobcat got to the point where he loathed that false persona and doubted his entire career. If you can identify the signs sooner, you can more seamlessly begin to make the shift. By the time you’re done people may not even realize how different you are from where you were.