How to be a better leader during a crisis.

It’s 2020, and we are all taking a crash course on crisis management, whether we want to or not. This is a crazy time. But life is full of crazy times. And when the crazy times come they create opportunities for leaders to step up and lead their people through the experience. So as Prince once said, let’s go crazy.

The Crisis Question

The great question that we all have to ask ourselves when we face a crisis is: What role will I play?

There are always many roles available to us. We can be The Complainer, The Blamer, The Eye-Roller. The Conspiracy Theorist, Negative Nancy, Debbie Downer, or RBF. These are easy roles to take on. But they add no value to others.

However, there are also these roles:

  • The Optimist
  • The Cheerleader
  • The Rock (the Dwayne Johnson role)
  • The Person of Few Words.
  • The Sage
  • The Jester
  • The Father Figure (George Michael called dibs on this)
  • The Mother Figure.
  • The Big Brother or Sister (Not the CBS version)
  • The Listener
  • The Stabilizer
  • The Rebel (Billy Idol and James Dean role)

These can all be valuable leadership roles that help your organization, team or family through challenging times.

When to Choose Your Role

The best time is to decide which role you will take on is before a crisis occurs. It’s good to think about which of these roles work with your natural tendencies and personality. It’s also good to understand which roles your team, group or organization already have covered, and what is available to you. Just like in Dungeons & Dragons.

Consistency

Once you pick your role, never waiver. I have spent my career building brands for some of the world’s best companies. And the most important factor in developing a strong brand is consistency.

So as you develop your strong crisis leadership brand always be who your team needs you to be.  Don’t be the optimist some days and the complainer other days. That spoils everything.

De-escalation*

In a crisis, emotions naturally escalate. Which simply exacerbates the problem. That’s why there is tremendous value in those who can help decrease the pressure in a situation. Always focus on making things better. Not worse. Others will recognize that, and seek you out in challenging times.

*This is not the down escalator.

Conflict Resolution.

My wife and I recently celebrated our 18-year wedding anniversary. I attribute much of our successful marriage to the fact that we resolve our conflicts quickly. We recently both agreed that in the 20 years we have been together as a couple, including 2 years pre-ring-wearing) the longest we have been in conflict with each other is 24 hours. We swear by the following conflict resolution formula to help get through our sticking points. (I also swear when I am not by the following conflict resolution formula.)

The Sure-Fire Formula

  1. The first person speaks without interruption.
  2. The second person plays back what they heard.
  3. The second person speaks without interruption
  4. The first person plays back what they heard.

Why this works:

  1. You both get to say everything you want to say.
  2. You both feel heard.

Try this the next time you have a conflict with another person. If it doesn’t work I’ll refund the money you spent on this blog post.

Leadership Is Lonely.

As a leader and an entrepreneur, I can’t show indecision or weakness to my team. They have put their trust in me, and I can’t waiver in front of them. Instead, organizational leaders need to find their own support group. This consists of a person or people outside your organization, team or family who you can share your challenges with.

I am part of a CEO roundtable that meets once a month to discuss the challenges we are facing, support each other and offer advice and guidance. It has proven to be a highly effective way of supporting leaders who don’t have a natural support structure within their own organization. And research on roundtables groups has indicated that any shaped table will do.

I have also created a meetup group of men who live in my community. All of them are either successful entrepreneurs or top leadership within their businesses. They are all husbands and fathers. We talk about issues that dudes don’t typically talk about. In this environment we can discuss the real challenges we face, the uncertainty we feel and share thoughts on how to be better businessmen, family men and members of our community.

Taking Care Of Yourself In Crisis.

There are stresses, frustrations and losses that accumulate every day. We are drained by daily setbacks. And 2020 has taken things to 11. So we have to prevent the stress gunk from building up and fouling our systems. The key is to figure out how to reboot, regenerate, and respond positively. 

The following 3 activities provide a proven formula for positively dealing with stress.

  1. Sleep helps your body and mind refresh and recover.
  2. Exercise helps you burn the stress off.
  3. Worship helps you rebalance and offers big-picture perspective.

You need to get rid of the stress gunk that builds up like WD-40. These back-to-basics keys help you find your balance again when you start to weeble or wobble. Try them for yourself. They will make you feel like a better human.

Key Takeaway

  1. Crisis is unavoidable.
  2. Crisis creates opportunity (Remember, chaos is a ladder).
  3. Find your most valuable role and play it consistently.
  4. Learn to de-escalate.
  5. Use the 4-Step approach to conflict resolution.
  6. Leaders need to find their own support system.
  7. Decrease your stress through, exercise, sleep and your own spirituality.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

You are complicated. And so am I.

I read the same way a prospector pans for gold. I sift through words looking for gold nuggets. Once I find those nuggets of wisdom, inspiration and insight I lock them into my mental vault. There they begin to appreciate by improving the way I think. Which ultimately makes me a more valuable human.

One of the most valuable nuggets in my collection came from a book I read on Thomas Jefferson. There was an interesting idea that appeared in his writings multiple times. It jumped off the page at me the first time I read it. Ole TJ was a complicated cat. On the one hand, he fancied himself a great champion of human freedom. On the other hand, he was a racist slave owner in love with black woman. Go figure. In an attempt to describe his complex thoughts and feelings he dropped this gold:

Of all machines, ours is the most complicated and inexplicable.  -Thomas Jefferson

This nugget serves as a valuable reminder that your thoughts, feelings and action are complicated. But more importantly, it reminds us that all humans are complicated machines.

The COVID-19 crisis has stressed human machinery in ways we have not been stressed before. Add to that the senseless killing of Geoge Floyd and the complex issues it raises, and it is no wonder that so many are glitching, smoking and crashing. #reboot

As humans, we must recognize that we are complicated. We are not mass-produced. We are individually crafted. Our hardware and software are custom made. We each have a unique collection of inputs that influence our outputs. Our individual experiences, wiring and programming mean that no two of us process life the same way. This is true in the best of times. And it is true in the most challenging of times. Like right now. And during tax season.

Key Takeaway

Humans are inexplicably complicated machines. To get the best from a human, approach them with empathy and compassion. Listen. Aim to understand. Find common ground. Accept that our diversity runs deeper than we could possibly categorize. When all else fails, treat others the way you want to be treated. That’s a little gold we can all profit from.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

The touching story of a repurposed billboard.

The week of March 16th was like nothing I had ever experienced. That Monday morning The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, met with the University of Wisconsin Credit Union about updating their outdoor billboards and TV commercials in response to the emerging COVID-19 crisis.

By the end of the day, The Weaponry presented a whole new billboard campaign. The new outdoor boards were up practically overnight in both Madison and Milwaukee. In the process, The Weaponry set new turnaround expectations that are likely to haunt me for the rest of my career.

Standing Together

I was very proud of the new work that we developed in a single day. I especially loved the billboard that said, ‘Even when we’re apart we, stand together.’  It was a great way to express UW Credit Union’s promise to be Here for every you. During that time of growing isolation and uncertainty, as our community faced both a health and financial crisis, the message was spot on. And true.

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Rome was not built in a day. But a new UW Credit Union billboard campaign was.

George Floyd

Two months later, just as our nation was beginning to emerge from the COVID-19-induced isolation, George Floyd was killed by police officers, and our country found itself deep in another crisis.

In the days since George Floyd’s murder, people across the country have searched for ways to express their outrage and create change. Some have found powerful forces for progress. A few have engaged in more divisive actions. Unfortunately, the media coverage of the divisive has far exceeded that of the progressive. Because flames, shattered glass, and unpaid for merchandise with legs make for more interesting video than peaceful demonstrations.

Back To The Billboard

Early Tuesday morning I received an email from Anne Norman, the Chief Marketing Officer at UW Credit Union. She had received an update from Adams Outdoor, the billboard company in Madison, Wisconsin. As the Adams team (no relation) arrived to do a scheduled replacement of the We Stand Together billboard they discovered the billboard has been spray-painted with the words George Floyd. They took a picture of the graffitied billboard and shared it with us so we could see what had happened.

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The George Floyd Board. It features a curious extra E, removed by Yellow-Out.

Wow

Anne and I were both struck by how powerful the graffitied board was. And we thought it would have been better to have simply left the billboard and its modified message in place. I suggested that we share the George Floyd board via our social channels.

Anne suggested an even better idea. She asked what I thought of putting the graffitied board back up. I thought it was an excellent idea.

The Reposting

Yesterday, on June 3rd, UW Credit Union reposted the George Floyd Board. Except this time they had it posted in one of the highest visibility locations in Madison, on the top of the Adams Outdoor building, beside the highly trafficked beltline. Because you know that a good billboard company always saves the best location for itself.

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The new home of the George Floyd Board. (Try saying George Floyd Board 10 times fast.)

Proud Partner

I am extremely proud to partner with UW Credit Union. It’s an organization fully committed to the communities it serves. I am proud of Anne Norman for making a courageous decision to repost this billboard, a billboard that no longer features the UW Credit Union logo, in support of George Floyd, the Black community and the Black Lives Matters movement.

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This is how Anne Norman shared the story in her own words. She uses the word ‘We’ a lot, as does everyone at UW Credit Union. But know that she was instrumental in making this happen. 

Key Takeaway

Do what you can to make a difference. Stand together. Work together. Support each other. Always do what you know is right. Like my friend Anne Norman and millions of others across America who are determined to leave this world better than they found it.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

It’s time to talk less and listen more.

I am always trying to create a newer, better version of myself. Soon after I began my professional career I realized that there are a lot of smart, talented people on this planet. To catch up to the impressive people I admired most I was going to have to do my homework. So I began studying and learning, again. Not in a structured school program. But in a self-directed, movie montage kind of way.

Communications Skillz.

Like most people who are into self-improvement, I have focused heavily on communication skills: public speaking, presentation skills, selling skills. But the deeper I got into this game Prince called, Life, I realized that most people, including me, spend too much time on the wrong side of the equation.

The most effective and important communication skill is not speaking. It’s listening.

George Floyd

George Floyd told the police officers arresting him that they were killing him. When you saw the video you heard it right? Because you were listening. Now, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, we should all be listening more. We are all being called to create a better world. A world where police brutality stops. Where everyone has safety, freedom, and equal access to opportunities. But creating a better world starts with each of us becoming better versions of ourselves.

Listening

Listening is where all improvement starts. It is only through listening that we understand the problems that we need to solved. It is how we hear what isn’t said (don’t think about this too hard or it sounds really stupid).

Through listening, we learn about other people. We learn about their history, their values, their fears, their styles, and their quirks. Which allows for deeper, more meaningful, more valuable relationships.

Yet when was the last time you heard about someone going to a class on listening? So here is a free mini-class on listening that takes 2 minutes to complete. But it is sure to make you a better, bigger-eared version of yourself.

6 Keys To Improving Your Listening Skills.

1. Close your mouth.

We are often so compelled to talk that we stop listening. If you want to be a great listener you have to silence your own impulses. And focus on your role as a listener. This means you are not providing answers, or solutions or opinions. You are harvesting. Not planting. Know what season it is. Bring the right equipment to the field.

2. Listen Competitively.

Try to be really good at listening. You already know the little things you have to do to be a great listener. We learned them by playing Simon Says when we were kids. Look at the person talking. Give the person speaking your full attention. Do this as if your relationships, influence and earning potential depend on it. Because they do.

3. Keep your partner lubricated.

I don’t mean with alcohol or Vaseline. With affirmations. And demonstrated interest. Lean in. Show you care. You will keep others flowing with information. Yet without the backlash that comes with waterboarding.

4. Listen with your Spidey Sense.

Go beyond the words that are said. Note the tone. The emotion. Those things are like limps, signaling that something deeper is wrong. Or they could signal that someone is in a good mood that exceeds the norm for the current situation. Maybe they just got engaged. Or maybe they are on drugs. You should know the difference.

5.  Play back, Jack.

The curtain call of any good listening session is the summary of what you heard. The highlight, simplified conclusion, or takeaway that demonstrates that you really heard what was said.  Show that you know what was implied and what is important. Do this and you will always leave a conversation with more personal equity.

6. Lock up the valuables.

The most important listening skill is keeping the private stuff private. You have to know which things you heard were intended for you alone. And don’t talk about them. When people know that you are trustworthy they tell you more. You become an important confidante. An insider. It’s like being sponge-worthy.

Key Takeaway

Improve your listening and everything else will improve. Better relationships with your friends, family and co-workers. Better networking. And better solutions to problems. The Lord knows we need better solutions to our problems right now.

If you have more tips, tricks and techniques for better listening I would love to hear from you.

A reminder of the business leader’s primary responsibility.

We’re all experiencing some crazy right now. But if your biggest challenge is that your kids are home from school, demanding fruit snacks, and TikTok-ing around the clock, you are dealing with a great kind of crazy. Enjoy it.

Business Crazy

Unfortunately, many business owners and leaders are dealing with a more challenging kind of crazy right now. For many, everything has gone off script. And now they have to figure out what to do next. Kind of like the fake wrestler who gets hit in their real face, with a real medal folding chair, and it really hurts. But the show must go on.

Right now leadership is all improv, all the time. In many industries business and revenue have been shut off like a water faucet. In times like this, entrepreneurship feels a lot less sexy, and I know it.

Decision Making

If you own a business, or are part of an organization’s leadership team, you are likely facing some very challenging decisions in the immediate future, or as part of your early planning for worst case scenarios (not to be confused with wurst casing scenarios at the sausage factory).

In your war room you will weigh the pros and cons of various decisions. You will model and remodel. You will debate and disagree. And none of it will be easy.

But before you make any final decisions, remember this:

A business leader’s primary responsibility is to make sure the business survives forever.

Key Takeaway

Do what you have to do to keep the business going. The difficult decisions you make now will ensure that once the current climate changes you will once again be able to provide great opportunities for great people and great partners.

*If you know a business leader facing difficult decisions right now, please share this with them.

Why you should lick and groom other people.

We could learn a lot from rats. Which is why rats get studied more than any other animal on the planet. Kinda. The most studied is probably the fruit fly. But rats and mice are the most studied invertebrates, because they reproduce quickly, and their little rat brains are a lot like yours. #sadbuttrue

Lick A Rat

An interesting body of research was performed on rats by neuroscientist Michael Meaney, at McGill University. Meaney found that there are 2 types of rat mamas. Those who do a lot of licking and grooming of their little rat babies. And those who don’t. I don’t blame those mamas who don’t want to lick their rat babies. After all, they are rats. But it turns out that a little rat licking helps them keep on ticking.

‘Eeny’ Meany and his crew of Miny Moes discovered that the licking and grooming does a lot to reduce levels of stress in little ratlings. Imagine a baby rat is having a bad day. She saw her friend get chomped in a trap. Or she just watched the opening scene to Ratatouille. Or found out that a builder in New York City was not using union labor. That stuff stresses her out. One of the best ways to dissipate that stress is to have your mama lick you, groom you and make you feel all better.

Long Term Effects

It turns out that there are huge long-term benefits to the lick’n and the groom’n. In fact, the Licking Grooming Mamas help reduce stress so that the long-term elevation of stress-related chemicals in the body doesn’t usher in illness, disease and death. Even better, researchers found that rattlings who were raised by the LG Mamas were bolder, braver and better equipped for the stresses of life over the long haul.

Licking Humans

We can apply this finding to humans too. When parents perform the human equivalent of licking and grooming, the benefits are immense. By hugging, doting, soothing, comforting, and spit-cleaning children’s faces, parents are helping to reduce stress. In turn, they are also improving their children’s health by reducing the stress in their bodies and reducing the threat of disease. Of course, the kids could still die from embarrassment, but that’s on them.

Licking Your Coworkers

You can carry this finding to the workplace too. While your HR handbook may say that you can’t lick your coworkers, you can certainly show care, compassion and concern for your work mates and direct reports. By doing so, we can not only make the workplace more enjoyable, we can actually help make employees happier, reduce stress and illness. And even help our coworkers live longer, happier lives.

Key Takeaway

Lick and groom those you are responsible for. Show them that you care. Let your friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family know that they are not alone. Go Bob Marley on them and let them know that every little thing is gonna be alright. Not only will you help them feel better in the near term, you could help them live longer, healthier lives.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

The best teaching technique I ever learned, kind of.

When I was in school I never wanted to be a teacher. I didn’t want to deal with kids like me. So I chose a very different profession as an advertising creative. But along the way I learned that if you are a manager, leader, coach or parent, you are also a teacher. You teach other people new skills. You teach processes and procedures. You teach them how to not freak out when they don’t get their way. Because sometimes dealing with adults is even worse than dealing with kids like me.  #AmIRight

Learning to teach

When I realized that I had indeed become a teacher myself I began studying teaching techniques. I reflected on what tricks my teachers had used on me (like standing in the corner, and wearing a tall pointy hat). Today I keep my eyes open for great teachers and teaching techniques in the workplace, in my children’s sports and in academia. As a result, I found a really great teaching technique from my son Johann’s piano teacher.

My son Johann is now on his 4th piano teacher. He started playing in Ohio when he was 5-years old. Then had 2 teachers in Georgia, and now has one in Mequon, Wisconsin. All of them have been interesting characters. But the current teacher, Miss Rita, is my favorite. She is Russian, with enough energy and optimism to light up all of Leningrad. She is a wonderful teacher who all the students love. Maybe it is because she tells all of her students that they are “Za best!’ Or more often, “Za Best of Za Best!’

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Miss Rita, my son Johann, and a bunch of sparkly rectangles.

However, there is one teaching technique that Miss Rita uses that I love so much that I have stolen it from her. When Miss Rita is teaching a new concept, introducing a new technique, explaining a mistake, or reiterating a point she punctuates the lesson with a short and simple question:

Do you understand, or kind of?’  -Miss Rita Shur

The Magic

There is real magic in that little phrase. First, it is great to check to see if the lesson sunk in. But I really love the ‘or kind of’ section of the question. It is so much easier to say that you ‘kind of’ get something than to admit to not understanding a lesson at all.

The question covers a wide swath of comprehension that ranges from, ‘Whaaa whaaa whaaa, whaa, whaaa whaaa,’  to ‘I heard what you said but I have no idea what you mean,’ to ‘I think I know but we should clarify that I am right.’

Make it easy to learn more

Most people are not comfortable saying I don’t understand. Especially in front of others who do. Using ‘Do you understand, or kind of?’ provides a beautiful detour around a No answer. It also offers everyone partial credit for at least kind of learning the lesson. The question also acknowledges that learning is not always binary. There is often a lot of gray area. And a teacher’s job is to help add color to the gray areas. Like a house that falls out of a tornado onto a witch.

Key Takeaway

Whether you are a professor at Dartmouth, or training a newbie how to make fries at McDonald’s, you have to know how to teach. To be effective you should make sure your lessons land. Following up your teachings with ‘Do you understand, or kind of?’ let’s you know if there is more teaching to do. It tells the student that you know they are smart, and must have picked up at least part of the lesson. It makes it easier for others to express that they could use more explanation. So try this follow-up question the next time you teach something new. I think you’ll find it is za best. If not za best of za best.

*If you know someone who teaches, coaches, manages, leads or parents, and could benefit from this technique, please share it vis zem.

A better approach to the first day on the job.

Do you remember the first day of your career? I do. It was weird. On the first day of my advertising career I got shown to a mostly empty cubicle, was handed a schedule of my departmental orientations, and was mostly abandoned. The 2 highlights of the day were that I was taken out to lunch by a handful of other creatives at the agency, and that I didn’t get fired.

The Weaponry

Two decades later when I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I wanted to do things differently. I wanted something more profound to happen on the first day. And I wanted it to be OSHA compliant.

This Week

We had an exciting new employee start at The Weaponry this week. She is significant in that she is the first member of our team who started with us right out of college, without prior advertising or marketing experience.

After talking with the new team member for an hour about what we do and who we do it for and why we do it the way we do it, and Mountain Dew and the Dewey Decimal system, we gave her The Weaponry’s unique first day assignment.

The Assignment

The assignment for our new team members is to spend 1 hour writing. Even if you are not a writer.

First: We ask that you spend 30 minutes writing down your career goals and aspirations. We want you to think about the journey you are on and all that you want to accomplish. We ask that you think big, be specific and paint a clear picture of what success looks like to you.

Second: We ask you to write down your goals, aspirations and expectations for the upcoming year. We want to know what you want to know and how you expect to grow. We want you to think about how the first year fits within the Elon-Musky career you just wrote about.

Sharing

We ask our team members to share their goals for the first year. It helps us understand what they are expecting to get out of the year. It ensures that they will get the support and knowledge they most want over the next 365 days.

However

The Career Goals Overview is private. That is just for the new team member. We want our teammates to feel as if they can think really big. We want them to set gonzo goals without judgements. We want them to start their careers with the end in mind, so that they can clearly understand how the next step in their career can help them make progress towards their ultimate goals.

We also acknowledge that their career goals may not involve us. Or even working in our industry. I am Ok with that.

Direction

This exercise helps create career clarity, direction and calibration. It will help them refocus when they lose their way, or stall. It will provide guidance when making decisions about the opportunities that come their way. And It will help them prioritize long term goals over short term rewards. Plus, the writing exercise will make for a cool scene when a movie is made about their amazing career. Note to the director: I want my role to be played by Morgan Freeman or Awkwafina.

Key Takeaway

We all have the ability to positively influence those we interact with. As a business leader, coach, parent or teacher you can have a profound impact on the lives of those you have the privilege to lead and guide. Take that opportunity seriously. Look for ways you can have a positive, long lasting influence. Because at the end of your career and the end of your days, the only thing that really matters is the impact you had on others.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this idea, please share it with them.

5 reasons you should think of people like bicycles.

My family and I went for our first bike ride of the year yesterday. It was amazing. I was once again reminded that bicycles are magical. They are The Two-Wheeled Fountain of Youth. Because the instant you start riding a bike you feel like a kid again. They make exercise fun. They allow you you to travel much faster and farther than any other human powered form of locomotion. And unlike swinging a golf club, once you learn how to ride a bike you never forget.

Revelation

As I rode yesterday I thought about how friends are like bicycles. How? I’m glad I asked for you. And for simplicity’s sake, I am rolling the terms coworker, business associate, and family into the word friend. It will save us a lot of verbosity between here and the end of the post. Let’s ride…

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A bike is a great thing. But it needs a person to make it work.

5 Ways Friends Are Like Bicycles

1. Sometimes you need to prop them up. Recognize when a friend needs a kickstand to lean on. And be that kickstand.

2. Sometimes you need to help them balance. Life constantly throws challenges at us. Knowing how to handle it all can be overwhelming. Notice when a friend is struggling to find their own balance. And help them stabilize. Lend a helping hand or prioritizing advice. Sometimes you just need someone else to show you how to shift your load so you’re not constantly fighting with it. 

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My wife Dawn and son Magnus spinning some quality miles together on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.

3. Sometimes you need to help them steer.  We don’t always know which way to go. This is a simple fact of life. We need help when we come to crossroads. We need help navigating around obstacles. So help your friends make those challenging decisions they will inevitably encounter along their journey.

4. Sometimes you need to help them pedal faster. It is easy to fall off your personal pace. Apply constant, gentle pressure on your friends when you know they should be moving faster than they are.

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My son Johann taking on the world on his Little Orangey.

5. Sometimes you need to help them stop. We can often see that our friends are heading towards a cliff, a tree or a car before they notice. In those moments, help your friends pump the brakes. Or slam on the brakes. Or remind them that they have brakes. Helping your friends recognize and stop bad behavior is one of the most valuable things you can do for them.

Key Takeaway

Your friends, family, and coworkers need you just as much as your bicycle does. Learn to recognize what inputs would be most beneficial. It could be encouragement, stability, direction or warnings. Remember, life is challenging. And we all benefit from having someone else along for the ride.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.