Why Athletes Make Better Leaders

November 12, 2015

by Kim Stangle

I wasn’t much of an athlete growing up, but in the last 10 years, I’ve taken up two new sports:  tennis and rowing.  The two couldn’t be more different, but both have taught me valuable lessons that I carry with me every day.

To succeed in rowing, nothing is done individually.  In fact, even the individual mindset that you’re better than anyone in your crew is dangerous.  There is, of course, a leader … the coveted stroke seat.  But, beyond that, success comes from trusting your teammates and working together toward a single goal.  One of my favorite quotes from the book, “Boys in the Boat” illustrates perfectly what it means to work as a team:

“The challenges they had faced together had taught them humility—the need to subsume their individual egos for the sake of the boat as a whole—and humility was the common gateway through which they were able now to come together and begin to do what they had not been able to do before.”

That was the author, Daniel James Brown, talking about the nine Americans and their quest for a gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but it could’ve just as easily been a CEO reflecting on his/her staff.

On the other hand, tennis is a very individual sport.  Unless you’re playing doubles, you’re solely responsible for your successes and failures on the court.  So what’s the business case for playing?  To succeed at tennis, you have to be able to make split-second decisions.

In fact, there’s even a documented four-step process:

  1. Perception
  2. Decision
  3. Execution
  4. Feedback

You don’t need to be Einstein to see the correlation to leadership.

Having said that, next time you interview a potential job candidate, consider asking them about their sports background.  Playing sports creates accountability, builds competition, drive and the need for constant improvement.  You develop camaraderie that you are part of something bigger than yourself.  Can you think of better qualities for your company’s future leaders?

‘Like’ Everyone Else

November 4, 2015

by Kim Stangle

Facebook has the “like” denoted by the ever-familiar thumbs-up.  Instagram lets you double-tap to “heart” something. And, of course, you could favorite something on Twitter with the star.

Today, that star became a heart.  And just like that, favorites were no more.  The heart now symbolizes a “like.”  Call it semantics, but the star was so much more than just a heart.  The star was a bookmark for tweets I didn’t have time to read fully … or at all.  The star was for tweets that—pardon the hyperbole—were my favorite.

This might be the end of the star, but if Twitter is listening, it won’t be the end of the favorite.  Unlike practically every other social platform, there is a case to be made on Twitter for the favorite.  Is the heart just the beginning of something new or will Twitter end up just like everyone else?

Who Knew?

November 3, 2015

by Roger Pynn

We often advise clients to forego asking for a retraction when something untrue has been published about them.  Why?  Primarily because we believe that in publishing the apology the media outlet will very likely expose people who never saw the error to the subject … and it will only arouse their curiosity.  In other words, “Why regurgitate the error?”

I couldn’t help but think of that when I received this email from a small restaurant we frequent occasionally.

“Hi everyone, I just wanted to let everyone know, how sorry I am about tonights (sic) Pot Roast special. It wasn’t up to our standards in quality of meat. When it was brought to my attention, I discovered that our vendor had switched products without telling us. I assure you the next time we have the Pot Roast special, it will be as delicious as it has been in the past.  
Thank you”

When I say “small,” we’re talking a total of about 40 seats … and they are rarely full.  In fact, this pub serves only the residents of a specific gated community.  You have to live there to eat there … almost a private club.

Now how many folks do you think ordered this awful pot roast?  Not many, I’m sure.  But the email list serves 1,200 property owners … all of whom are now likely wary of what their next meal will taste like.

So, the next time you are tempted to ask for a correction, think about pot roast.

A Lesson from Taylor Swift

November 2, 2015

by Ashley Tinstman

Last week, I had the privilege of seeing Taylor Swift in concert for her 1989 World Tour.  (Full disclosure:  Before I get too deep into this blog post, I should probably warn you that I am a devoted Taylor Swift fan.  I could talk about T-Swift and her music for hours, but that’s another conversation for another day.)

Now, you’re probably wondering, “Why are you writing about Taylor Swift on a blog about communications?”

Well, believe it or not, Taylor Swift can actually offer some valuable lessons for companies and professional communicators.  While you may know her as the chart-topping artist who writes break-up songs, she’s also developed a reputation for being incredibly loyal and generous to her community and her fans—arguably her most important stakeholders.

For instance, following the release of her hit album, 1989, Swift announced that she would donate the proceeds from the sale of her single “Welcome to New York” to New York City public schools.  And earlier this year, she quietly donated $50,000 to a young fan battling leukemia to help pay for her medical expenses.

Swift also gained international attention last Christmas when she personally took the time to peruse her fans’ social media pages, getting to know them and their interests.  Ultimately, she selected a group of lucky fans and sent them individualized Christmas packages filled with presents and handwritten notes.  She made a similar gesture a few months later when she sent a fan a personalized care package along with a check for $1,989 to help pay off student loans.

I could go on and on with countless anecdotes, but the main takeaway is that Taylor Swift’s actions serve as a prime example of how to develop lasting relationships with your stakeholders.  This doesn’t mean you have to donate $50,000 or send care packages, but acts of corporate social responsibility can go a long way in building and maintaining a strong reputation.

Ask yourself:  “Who are your key stakeholders and how can you strengthen your relationships with them?”  Perhaps that means investing in a cause related to your organization’s mission or coordinating regular team-building days for your employees.  Or maybe your goal is to form stronger connections with community leaders and local organizations.

No matter what type of investment you make in your stakeholders—monetary or otherwise—the end result will be stakeholders who make a greater investment in you.  Taylor Swift is proof of that.

When Media Attack

October 30, 2015

by Dan Ward

Are you, your bosses or your clients prepared for the same kind of “attack questioning” faced by Republican candidates in the latest debate? You should be.

You may not be running for President, but if you’re granting an interview you’re running for something. You’re running to sell a product, to protect your reputation, to change minds, to influence behavior. But most reporters aren’t trying to help you. Like the CNBC “moderators,” they may actually try to hurt you, because controversy brings ratings.

So how do you respond? You can’t counterattack as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio did effectively, because you’re NOT running for president and few will care that you fought the good fight.

Respond by being prepared. As we tell clients who participate in our Message Matrix® training program, preparation means ditching the Q&A in favor of the I&R.

At a time in which many reporters no longer care about Who, What, Where, When, Why and How, the Q&A is dead. How can you possibly develop Answers when you have no ability to predict the Questions?

Think I&R instead. Identify the Issues you’re prepared to discuss, and develop Responses based on those issues.

In an interview, you have no responsibility to a reporter, especially one who is attacking you, to dutifully answer questions. Instead, you have a responsibility to your companies, your customers and your communities to respond with a message that protects and enhances your brand.

Don’t engage in a debate with a reporter or attempt to answer, or even acknowledge, a negatively worded attack question. Connect every question to one of a small set of issues about your organization, and provide a response that speaks to that issue.

“Is your business plan torn from the pages of a comic book?”

  • Issue – Mission/Vision;
  • Response – “Our customers are loyal to our products because they understand and connect with our vision. We focus on three things …”

“Many shareholders say you’re rarely in the office. Shouldn’t you just resign?”

  • Issue – Performance;
  • Response – “Our shareholders demand performance, and by any measure we’re achieving great results. In the last quarter alone …”

Performance in an interview is all about preparation. If you’re attacked, will you be prepared?

Aligning Actions with Company Values

October 27, 2015

by Kim Stangle

In a completely mind-blowing move, outdoor retailer REI is closing their stores on Black Friday and paying their 12,000 employees to spend time outside instead.


Forbes.com quotes their CEO as saying:

“For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors. We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth. We’re a different kind of company—and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently. We’re choosing to opt outside, and want you to come with us.”

Can you think of a better way to communicate your company values to both internal and external audiences than making a move like this?

Words are great, but actions are better.

The Brand Thing

October 7, 2015

by Roger Pynn

Raise your hand if you are getting tired of everyone trying to tell you what makes a brand successful.

Isn’t that like telling you what it takes to earn a paycheck?

Another one from Advertising Age online caught my eye today because of the headline:  “In Today’s Disruptive World, Brand Heritage Isn’t What It Used to Be.”  But what Nick Clark (executive creative director at The Partners, New York) was really doing was ranting about the Apple Watch in a partnership with Hermes.

Brands are not born out of creativity.  They are born out of the same thing that earns a paycheck … hard work.  Hard work to understand your consumers and what they want.  Hard work to satisfy them.  Hard work to retain them by keeping abreast of what they want.

I agree with Clark that there’s no need for a Hermes Apple Watch, much less the watch itself.  After all, Apple’s iPhone and smartphones in general created a generation that all but abandoned the wrist watch because their phone keeps better time and is tied to their entire existence.  But I won’t abandon my passion for Apple products just because they introduced something I don’t need … and I don’t care that they tried to make their watch sexier in a deal with Hermes (a brand that does nothing for me).

I am loyal to Apple because 99 times out of one hundred they have thought ahead for me and figured out what I need … and they deliver on that promise.  And they give fantastic customer service.  And they have the most helpful people on the planet in their stores.

They work hard at that.  That’s their heritage.


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