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Category Archives: Executive Presence

Life and leadership lessons from Frank Oz

When I was a kid, The Muppet Show was constantly on. Whether it was Roger Moore’s rendition of “Talk to the Animals” while fighting spies with laser guns, or Lynda Carter just being awesome, I loved watching. My most enduring memories of several songs are the version I saw on The Muppet Show – “In the Navy” (Viking pigs singing); “Time in a Bottle” (one of the more poignant versions rendered); “The Gambler” (old ghost gambler guy!); and “Grandma’s Feather Bed” (one of several collaborations with John Denver).

Even better than the guest stars and music were the muppets themselves. Scooter had dreams and a work ethic. Sam the Eagle suffered fools. The Swedish Chef was…well, Swedish. And I’m pretty sure Statler and Waldorf are related to me. When I started to learn more about the craft underlying the creation of The Muppet Show – and later all the movies – I was amazed by the talent and dedication of the people who brought my favorites to life.

Other than Jim Henson (who created the whole thing), the puppeteer who shined brighter than them all for me was Frank Oz. He created Animal, Fozzie Bear (Wakka! Wakka! Wakka!), Sam the Eagle, and others. On Sesame Street, he was responsible for Grover, Cookie Monster, and Bert. And lest we forget…he created Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back – a role for which George Lucas campaigned for an Oscar nomination.

Beyond puppeteering, Frank Oz is an acclaimed director – Little Shop of HorrorsDirty Rotten ScoundrelsWhat About Bob?, well…you can look up the rest on IMDB. He even occasionally made a cameo in movies – including that riveting prison clerk scene in Blues Brothers (sacred viewing in my childhood household).

I bring all this up because I want you to really understand what Frank Oz has accomplished throughout his career. This child of puppeteers who grew up to be so instrumental in so many lives.

And now – Frank Oz is on Twitter. And I adore him. 

Joining Twitter in December 2017 and using the handle @TheFrankOzJam, Oz has been authentically interacting with people in a way that’s both delightful and stunning. He shares thoughts as he goes about his day. He loves talking with fans, asking them where they’re from and admitting he can’t possibly talk to everyone because he still needs to talk to his wife!

Frank Oz on Twitter is a master class of humility – that most elusive of leadership traits we all claim people need, but often secretly dismiss as weakness when we see it. Since he’s been on Twitter, I’ve been glued to his feed and I think there are some things we can all learned from this man:

  • Remember the team: Oz nearly ALWAYS mentions everyone he’s worked with on just about every project. When complimented for his performance as Yoda, his response was it only worked so well because Mark (Hamill) interacted with Yoda like a real person. He throws credit to his collaborators far more than he accepts credit for himself.
  • Be honest and open: One of the more honest tweets came from Oz asking everyone which character the public thought he most identified with. After some guesses, he said, “There have really been wonderful guesses. Thanks! Okay. So. I most identify with Grover and Fozzie. Grover because he’s pure, Fozzie because as a kid I really wanted to be in show biz too. I shouldn’t have put Yoda in the mix. He is way deep inside me, but I’m not that wise.” Later he said, “Yes I identified most with Grover and Fozzie, but there are bits of me in all of my characters. Me being boring is Bert, me pure is Grover, me obsessed-Cookie, me neurotic-Piggy, me insecure-Fozzie, me uptight-Sam, me crazed-Animal. I’m a bit like each of them. And so are you.”
  • Know that luck is real: He very much acknowledges the opportunities he’s had, and knows how lucky he’s been. “I don’t know how I got here. I was this kid with low self esteem and a bit of talent. But a lot of people have talent and haven’t “made it.” Why did the planets line up for me? Why didn’t other talented people get their Jim Henson as a mentor? I don’t think I’ll ever know why.” When a follower mentioned his obvious “passion,” Oz replied, “No. Not true. I wasn’t passionate. I just had fun with Jim and my fellow performers. And I never struggled to find work. Jim always found it and I just delivered. Others have had to struggle.”
  • Don’t forget what work looks like: Frank Oz knows how weird it is that he makes a living through entertainment. He thinks about it a lot. “I’ve always believed the world is lopsided. I get attention & money while others do far more important things to keep our world going: Yes, those who work with their hands, as my father did, but also from teachers to mental health workers. Thank you all for keeping us afloat.” And them he immediately followed it with, “I’m not being humble. What i’ve done in my work life has given value or you wouldn’t be reading this. But what I truly believe is that the lesser known and lesser paid people are the ones holding up the world. So please give kudos to them. I’m doin’ fine here.”
  • Believe in the potential of others: “There are hidden artists among us. A really good short order cook is one. Bacon’s on the griddle, bread in toaster, slice bagel, orders shouted, crack eggs, flip bacon, grab toast, hands moving, body in motion. All rhythm, rhythm, rhythm. A beautiful thing to watch. An artist.” Seriously.
  • Cherish your elders and those who paved the way: Oz often thinks about the older folks he sees in his travels and encourages us to learn from them. “In my twenties, (mid 1960’s) I bought a video camera with a VERY heavy battery case and huge camera. Before they became too old, I recorded hours of footage of my mom and my dad telling me their life’s stories. They are gone now. But I have their stories. Don’t wait too long.”

If you struggle with how to interact with others, follow Frank Oz on Twitter and study his language use, approach, openness, and humility. He’s the internet hero we didn’t know we needed. He is the balm to all the anger in the world right now. If we could just try to lead with curiosity and listen for understanding, maybe we’d be a step closer to being the people we hope we can be.

I view kindness as a weapon. Not the kindness that is paternal or condescending or platitudinous. I mean the kindness that comes from true empathy; that gently acknowledges another’s travails and so makes her/him feel less alone. For me, there’s no stronger weapon. 

Frank Oz, 12/31/2017

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2018 in Authenticity, Executive Presence

 

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If I were king of the forest: in praise of managerial courage

I’m one of those people who lacks a strong natural filter.

I know – shocking, right?

I mean, I can have a filter – a damn good one. I’m very good at spinning a story to make it seem like it’s a good idea, or at the very least, not a horrible one. I’ve worked in tech startups, for crying out loud. I had to write press releases to make a letter of intent sound amazing even though we didn’t really have a product that worked. And I’ve work in Human Resources, for crying out loud. Do you know how many times I’ve had to “sell” a new policy or change in benefits? I can filter, dammit. It just takes effort.

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With a woof and a woof and a royal growl – woof.

 

So why am I talking about filters when I so clearly stated in the headline that I’d be talking about managerial courage? Because I think that filters sometimes overtake our willingness to be bold. We are so concerned with not ruffling feathers or rocking the boat or saying the wrong thing or looking a little silly that we turn the filter up to 11 and refuse to speak up and let things happen that shouldn’t. [I used ‘and’ a lot in that sentence. Oops.]

Leaders should exhibit managerial courage if they want to be successful. I’ve got reasons:

  • Innovation doesn’t come from being meek: Change happens because someone stands on a desk – metaphorically or otherwise – and yells they are MAD AS HELL AND AREN’T GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE. Courage means sometimes you have to do something unpopular to move forward.
  • Feisty managers can instill pride in a team: Employees know when bullshit is going down. They might not have the best spin detectors in the world, but they know enough to be able to tell when a bad idea is implemented. Managers who speak up appropriately against the craziness in their world show their teams that not every leader accepts the crap that rolls downhill. (You’ll notice I said ‘appropriately’ – that’s important.) Teams like a manager who stands up for what’s “right” – whatever that looks like.
  • Speaking out can foster healthy conflict: Not enough organizations know how to fight. Too many people seem to think debate = anger = personal attack. Can we stop thinking this? Seriously. Managerial courage requires leaders to accept the momentary discomfort of conflict and start an exchange of ideas, which leads to better decisions because people have learned to talked about the issue and not each other. Healthy conflict – good. Artificial harmony – bad.
  • Safe is boring: Ever heard the line Fortune favors the bold? No? Well, now you have. If you have ambition to move up in an organization or want to gain influence with your stakeholders, you’ll need to speak up. It creates opportunities for you to be viewed as a thinker – as someone who thinks big and isn’t afraid to share their big ideas. I don’t mean that you should naysay everything. Then you’re just an asshole. I mean you should accept a little risk in order to gain a bigger reward.
  • You learn how to fail: Not every episode of managerial courage will end with you draped in glory. In fact, you’ll most likely fail more often than not – especially early on. Each time you will refine your timing, target your message, and fine tune your approach. The powers that be will start listening, and even if you don’t change their minds this time, you’re depositing influence for a later discussion. It’s kind of like when a star player argues a foul call or a called strike. They know they won’t reverse the call…but it just might get the ref to lean towards their point of view the next time.

Being a leader is exhausting. You often feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle and all you get is blame and you never get the recognition. You’re responsible for a team of people who may or may not trust you, and may or may not care to be engaged at work. Oh, and if you’re like most people, you’re a “working leader” – meaning you have a whole bunch of deliverables due, too.  I think that’s why so many leaders shut down and decide to go along to get along – they just don’t have the energy to fight anymore.

Well, I say – fight, dammit. Step up to the plate and display your courage. You’ll energize yourself. You’ll energize your team. You’ll energize your organization.

Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
– Winston Churchill

 
 

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Doing the “correct” thing isn’t always right

Recently I read a story about a restaurant manager who received complaints about a mother and her autistic child. Policy would have dictated that he move the duo to another part of the restaurant, away from the other patrons who were being disturbed. But after one question from the mother, he decided not to. He told them to have an awesome day. He high fived the child. He went back to work.

In his words: Sometimes doing the right thing does not make everyone happy; just the people who need it the most.

Good for you, Tony Posnanski. You rock. You recognized the needs of this mother who had been through this before but just wanted a normal experience with her child. That’s what we call managerial courage – you didn’t hide behind a policy or the bottom line. You assessed the situation and made a judgement call.

justice

This is what leadership looks like. It looks like a person who is aware of policy and procedures. Who listens to the needs of ALL customers. Who assesses things on a case-by-case basis, makes an “executive” decision and stands by it.

We need more leaders like that.

Policies and procedures have their place, but they’re no match for the human touch. People need to reach out to people and engage with them on a one-to-one basis. As my friend Steve Browne often says, you have to meet people where they are. And sometimes that means breaking policy and doing something that just makes sense.

Lord forbid we do something that makes sense.

We all have something in our handbook that HAS to be there because we think we can’t trust employees and managers to make the right decision in the moment. Sometimes it’s dress code. Sometimes it’s bereavement leave. Imagine a world where we let it slide that an employee is in a pair of jeans because there’s 2 feet of snow out but they still busted their butt to be in the office that day. Or we let an employee take bereavement leave for a dear family friend who was like a parent, but gosh darn it, that relationship isn’t listed as covered in the policy.

So as you go about your day-to-day at work, don’t be so quick to say “no,” or “we aren’t allowed to do that.” Think about the person you’re dealing with – the PERSON – and respond in kind. After all, policies and procedures keep us sane, keep us legal, keep us on the right side of compliance.

But our empathy and adaptability makes us human.

 


Think we need more humanity in the workplace? Join me at the WorkHuman 2016 Conference in Orlando, May 9-11, 2016. To register, go to  and use promo code WH16MF300 for $300 off.  

 

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Leadership takes time (Lessons from the Super Bowl)

I know, I know…yet another post about football players and what we can learn from them in moments of great stress. But it’s such a rich topic, people. I mean, really.

I’ve actually already written some posts about how players respond after a big moment – some do well (Peyton Manning), some not so well (Richard Sherman). So when I saw the post-Super Bowl press conference with Cam Newton (or “presser,” as they say in the biz), I figured I’d leave it alone. There are plenty of people out there who will weigh in on his behavior. Besides, I have work to do.

But then I read some of the comments and tweets from his peers and from sports reporters. Reaction is kind of all over the place, with a majority of people landing in the, “We get you’re upset, but you need to be a leader” camp.

People will contrast Peyton Manning’s performance in post-loss interviews with Cam Newton. They’ll point out that Peyton is always gracious, that he always makes time for the press, that he waits to congratulate his opponents. And to some extent, that’s fair.

But Peyton has been around the league for a long time, not just as a player, but as the son of a quarterback who played for a pretty terrible franchise. He learned over time the importance of humility, of dealing with the press, of using reporters’ first names, and of managing his image. In short, Peyton has learned the lessons of leadership. He did not spring from the forehead of Zeus with perfect leadership behaviors (despite what some would have you believe). He has made mistakes, learned from them, and moved on. cam

Having seen the footage, I do think Cam Newton was pretty unprofessional. He was an outspoken player throughout the year, gregarious and emotive, unashamed of how he celebrates. And he suffered a crushing disappointment – so he shouldn’t have been surprised by the onslaught of questions. If you’re chatty when you’re winning, the press expects you to be chatty when you lose. It shouldn’t be a surprise to him. He’s been called out for his “pouting” (for lack of a better word) in previous years when the team lost. This year, he was much better…because his team hadn’t really lost. As soon as he was faced with adversity, the smile was gone and he his frustration was apparent.

Despite this, I think Cam will be okay.

Cam is young. He did not grow up in a football family. He is an emotional player who hasn’t learned the art of equanimity with the press. That is not, however, everything that he is. He gives footballs to kids. He volunteers at elementary schools. He came back from a horrific car accident that could have killed him to be the NFL MVP.

I guess I just hope that this one moment does not end up defining him as a LEADER. Leadership takes time. Leadership takes repetition. Leadership takes mentoring.

Think about your own leadership growth. Can you really say you’ve never messed up? Multiple times? The only difference between your leadership growth and Can Newton’s is that he’s getting paid a LOT of money…and has the added pressure of learning in public in a 24/7 news cycle.

I think the seeds for Cam Newton are there. And he has support.

When asked about the presser, Peyton Manning had this to say:

“I’ll tell ya’, Cam couldn’t have been nicer to me.He was extremely humble, congratulated me, wished me the best. I told him just congratulations on his outstanding season, and just what a great future he has ahead of him. He’ll be back in that game, I can promise you.

Only time will tell if Peyton is right. But we should give Cam Newton that benefit of time. Rome wasn’t built in a day…and neither is leadership.

 

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Leaders: Don’t be an asshole

Whether you want it or not, the title of ‘leader’ comes with more than more responsibility and more headaches. It also comes with a lot power – or at the very least, perceived power.

This perception may not come from your peers or from the power that be. It comes from your direct reports. In their world, you’re kind of a big deal. You can hire, fire, write up, praise, assign work – in short, make their lives great or miserable.

And you thought you were just some middle manager. dibboss

Now that you’re drunk with power and omnipotence, listen up.

Don’t be an asshole.

Sometimes it’s tempting to throw all that power around, particularly when you’ve had a bad day or just came out of a meeting where you were made to feel like a powerless employee. Just…don’t.

The thing is, your actions resonate loudly as a leader – and nowhere loudest than with your people.

In case you can’t possibly think of how you’re being an asshole, here are some ways asshole status might be achieved and how to avoid being “that manager.” (And notice, being an asshole doesn’t always mean being belligerent.):

  • Ignore them: Employees like to be noticed.  If you’re in the office, stop by a few times.
  • Yell at them: Seriously. Yelling is what happens when you can’t use your words. And it’s unacceptable.
  • Forget what it’s like to be new at something: Leaders need patience. Everyone was new at something once, so take a breath and coach them to competence.
  • Take credit for their work: That’s downright crappy. They worked hard – they deserve the credit.
  • Give them the blame: Guess what? Their failures are your failures. Do you hold them accountable for their actions? Absolutely! But finger pointing is classic asshole behavior.
  • Wait too long to give feedback: Don’t surprise them with a bad review or corrective action. You owe it to your people to give them a chance to get better.

It really boils down to this – remember that boss you once had that was a total asshole?

Don’t be that boss.

It’s as simple as that.

The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate you away from those who are still undecided.

 
 

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Victorio Milian, Master of Creative Chaos (this year’s Tim Sackett Day honoree)

The world of blogging might seem very large (and it is) but it’s amazing to see how communities and relationships grow within it.

Since I’ve started this blog, I’ve had the chance to meet talented, funny, intelligent – sometimes crazy – people that I never would have encountered otherwise.  And that’s a darn shame. Because these people are truly special (not “short bus” special – like, cool people who will challenge the way you think and say good stuff).

And that’s where the annual Tim Sackett Day comes in.

Started in 2011-ish, Tim Sackett Day came about because Tim Sackett was (and is) a fantastic blogger who didn’t get any love from the makers of lists.  So the blogger community got together and recognized one of their own.  This has grown into an annual tradition of giving a communal “shout out” to those who have greatness in their hearts, in their heads, and in their blogs.

This year, we recognize Victorio Milian. Why? BECAUSE HE IS AWESOMEv3

I first came across Victorio through Jennifer McClure – a mutual friend.  Since then, I have had the opportunity to read his work, follow his words, and get to know him a little bit better.

In the great tradition of numbered lists (’cause everyone loves those), here are 7 reasons why I admire the hell out of Victorio (and you should, too):

  1. His unique point of view. Victorio’s writings on his blog Creative Chaos are brief, to the point…and stick with you long after you’ve read them. (Super jealous of the “brief” thing, man.  Help me out.) He drops a knowledge bomb then moves on.  Or he shares a quote, and challenges you to think about it. Or he asks a question that seems simple, yet has no simple answer. You cannot ignore Victorio. He dares you to use your brain.
  2. He says good morning to people in fun ways on social media pretty much every day. One day he might call you a “funk fanatic.” Another time, he might call you a “master of mayhem” (that was a good day). Whatever it is, it makes you smile.
  3. He speaks many languages. Or at the very least, convincingly posts in them. I don’t know how to type an accent over an e. (Don’t judge.)
  4. His Twitter bio includes this – “Talk to me and I might surprise you.” That simple line says so much about how I see Victorio…and what I want to emulate – the invitation to talk, and the opportunity to surprise.
  5. His obvious love and pride in his family. You can just see it in any post or picture shared.
  6. The Unnamed Graphic Novel Project. Okay, bear with me.  There was a Twitter conversation going on about blogging and how often you should blog if you have one, the importance of quality, etc. I made a reference to sharing your voice in any way that makes sense to you – including a graphic novel – and Victorio was ALL over that (and Paul Hebert is on board, too).  THIS WILL HAPPEN. Be on the outlook for an HR Hero-based graphic novel coming near you!
  7. His galactic swagger. Seriously.

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So join me in honoring Victorio.  The best way to do that?  Get to know him.  Connect with him.  Read his stuff.  Here’s how you can find him:

Seriously, Victorio. Happy Tim Sackett Day. So honored to know you.

YOU DA MAN.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2015 in Authenticity, Executive Presence

 

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How can you afford your Whac-A-Mole lifestyle? (hint: you can’t)

You’ve seen them.

Running from place to place.  Conducting drive-bys at every cube, leaving unclear action items in their wake – and frustrating employees everywhere.

These are the Whac-A-Moles. And they are hurting your business.

In case you’ve never been to a midway, Whac-A-Mole is an entertaining game in which the player (you) get to use a giant soft mallet to smack (whac) moles that pop out of holes at random intervals.  It’s oddly satisfying.

That little moment of happiness you feel when you bonk that mole on the head in a game is the same feeling that the Whac-A-Mole Leader gets when they run around the office reacting to every little thing.  I mean…I assume that it’s the same because I can’t imagine why you would want to work that way.  It sounds exhausting.

Just as exhausting as it sounds to BE a Whac-A-Mole Leader, it can be even worse to be AROUND the Whac-A-Mole Leader.  Any attempts at prioritizing your day goes out the window.  You rejoice when the Whac-A-Mole is out of the office or in an all day meeting (though you dread the next day when they’re back with action items).  It can make for a very frustrating work environment.

Think about the costs of Whac-A-Mole Leadershipwhac-a-mole-new-version

  • Lost Efficiency: When managers rush in and demand immediate action, the employees who receive that demand have to stop what they’re doing and respond.  Once they’re done, they then have to figure out where they were, which costs time and brain power.
  • Lost Vision: A manager who reacts may think they have a vision, but really they are just reacting to things that happen.  By reacting to everything happening rather than having a plan, Whac-A-Mole Leaders abdicate their strategic vision to the will of others.
  • Lost Credibility: Think about it. If you’re a Whac-A-Mole Leader, your team has no time to do their normal work and are forced to rush through the “emergencies,” and you don’t have your own vision – how much credibility do you think you’d have? Your team will think you have no real leadership of your own, and your peers will take advantage of you because they know you will whac any mole they throw at you.

There is hope for you yet

It is possible to break the Whac-A-Mole cycle, but you have to commit to it.  

FIrst, admit you have a problem.  Seriously.  If you think you DON’T have a problem or have been told you do by a couple of people and don’t believe it, ask to have a 360 feedback survey conducted.  That should give you enough perspective to realize how pervasive the issue is.

Next, wean yourself from the need to react to everything. Stop reacting and start thinking – about your vision, about your team’s priorities, about the true needs of the business.

Because if you continue to react to everything, the last thing you’ll react to is the fact you got fired.

Are you a reformed Whac-A-Mole Leader?  Did you survive one?  Share your stories in the comments!!

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2014 in Executive Presence, Managing Up, Skillz

 

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