Sage or Saboteur? Who Are You Listening To?

If you think CEOs are supremely confident and invincible, think again. Consider these words recently written by CEOs:

I often feel like I’m a fraud.
I’m feeling very sad and lonely and the antidepressants I’m on don’t seem to be working.
I don’t love myself very much.

Shirzad Chamine takes a great interest in the inner voices of CEOs and helps recalibrate those voices. The Chairman Emeritus of CTI and author of the New York Times bestseller Positive Intelligence discovered the power of inner voices by accident.

His childhood was an unhappy one. He freely admits his parents were “awful,” and at an early age he began rationalizing the world around him by silently judging people. “I’m crap, but that person is crap, too,” he’d tell himself. This little trick also had the effect of making him feel better about himself.

Most of us fall victim to this voice and it’s prevalent in our daily lives. Yet, we didn’t emerge from the womb that way.

“You are born in complete touch with your greatness, beauty and power—a radiance,” says Chamine. “But it begins to fade over time.”

It’s akin to losing one’s innocence. Chamine calls the negative voices in our head “Saboteurs” and says they flourish quite naturally because, after all, that was the default mode of our ancestors. When you’re in survival mode you assume the worst so you’ll be prepared to elude the claws of the tiger.

Robin Williams’ suicide brought sorrow to the world and a renewed focus on depression, addiction and other conditions of the mind and spirit. It’s easy to imagine the inner Saboteur dictating or at least strongly influencing people’s self-destructive tendencies.

I have been abusing drugs and alcohol to deal with stress.
I am self-destructive and I don’t know why.  
I fear dying at an early age of overwork and stress.

Chamine runs seminars for CEOs and other professionals, helping them tame their inner Saboteur and access their inner Sage. The Sage, he says, is the positive voice that serves us—the source of our wisdom and power. The percentage of time the Sage is dominating your mind is your Positive Intelligence Quotient, and Chamine says people with a high PQ live longer and are happier. Research has even shown a correlation between high PQ and increased performance. It’s been said successful entrepreneurs possess an “irrational optimism.”

Just look at the two side-by-side:
  • Saboteur: creates feelings of anxiety, shame, anger, disappointment and guilt
  • Sage: creates feelings of curiosity, compassion, joy, creativity, peace, calm and resolve
It would be overly simplistic to say we have a choice, so choose the Sage. Just snap out of it! It’s not that easy. Humans are complex creatures, tortured, conflicted, shaped by their family of origin and their environment. At least the death of Robin Williams reignited awareness of the availability of mental health support.

I have no idea how to truly connect with my only son.
I’m afraid of ending up like my father who is unloved and will die alone.

When Chamine reads these anonymous comments to a room full of people, the silence is disarming. When he admits they were written by CEOs, there are a few gasps. We shouldn’t be surprised.

Chamine counsels people to label their Saboteur. Make a Wanted Poster and list all of the negative things your Saboteur tells you. Then dump that thinking and the behavior that follows it.

“When The Sage takes over and says ‘I can turn this into an opportunity’ you feel compassion, you become creative; it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

There are many resources for people struggling with depression, anxiety and other disorders. One which is highly regarded is the National Alliance on Mental Illness.


Tempted to Punch? Know When to Pull Back

Most people don’t think about CEOs until a crisis: auto recall, data breach, insider trading. But a lot goes into the selection and molding of CEOs because – face it – it’s an important job and there’s a ton at stake (like financial performance, shareholder confidence, employee morale and reputation).

So what makes a great leader? Like the Supreme Court justice said, “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.”

"Executive presence" is a term consultants like to use. When I hear those words I picture the divisional CEO of a company I used to work for. He had a commanding voice, walked erect and briskly, and was given to garrulous speechifying in meetings.

I’ll admit it’s a narrow-minded definition. Like, from the 1960s.

Times have changed. Our definition of the ideal leader has broadened. Or has it? We talk a good game about diversity in the C-suite, but efforts to get there are fitful.

Women hold only 17 percent of corporate board seats in the United States. That’s not representative of the real world, where there are as many women as men, and in many instances women make more purchasing decisions than men.

There are many laudable efforts underway to even the score. I once served on a Diversity & Inclusion task force. As the communications representative, I advised on how to show employees that we were a progressive company, committed to improving performance by cultivating talent regardless of sex, race or background. We had some success; I witnessed firsthand how a group of smart, like-minded, sincere individuals can bring about change.

I was reminded of those days recently when I attended a breakout session titled Executive Presence at a conference for women in business. I was one of two men in the room – which is an advantage when you wish to quietly observe.

The presenter said not enough women are being sponsored for upward mobility. Why? Because male executives are the ones doing the sponsoring, and they’re looking for that elusive thing called Executive Presence. This is where it starts to get muddy.

Apparently, Executive Presence comprises three elements: 1) gravitas, 2) communication and 3) appearance. Of the three, executives say gravitas is the most important. (Appearance is more important than they admit, due to fear or litigation.) Gravitas – according to the presenter – is grace under pressure, decisiveness, integrity, emotional intelligence, reputation, vision and charisma.

Here’s my problem with the word gravitas. Merriam-Webster defines gravitas as a very serious quality or manner. It’s from the Latin gravas, or serious. Sure, companies want serious leaders, but leading is much more than being serious.

I understand the need to roll all those qualities up into one word, but to me, gravitas misses the mark. Who wants to follow someone who’s serious all the time? Granted, there’s a time to be serious. But, there’s also a time for a leader to be human, compassionate and even funny.
  • Human: In a newspaper interview on his first day on the job, one of my bosses admitted “I don’t have all the answers.” He signaled he alone couldn’t turn around a third-place news operation, that it would take a team. In the ensuing months we clawed our way to #1 because everyone contributed.
  • Compassionate: I had the pleasure of supporting a woman who ran a large commercial insurance business. She always spoke to her team with a passion and warmth that made us want to outperform for her. She commanded respect without garrulous speechifying. It was from the heart.
  • Funny: Maybe you saw Obama on Between Two Ferns with Zach Galafianakis, pitching the Affordable Care Act. Reactions were mixed, but I was pleasantly surprised that POTUS didn’t take himself too seriously and actually got off a few good lines.
What’s the common thread? Well, I think all are exceptional communicators. You can have the best intentions, clear vision and the intelligence to lead, but it’s for naught if not expressed effectively.

Still, the road to executive presence can be a rough one. Women trying to find their voice have less margin for error. One of the participants in the breakout I attended said “I’m often accused of being curt and short with people. That’s just the way I am.” Another recalled a contentious back-and-forth with a colleague in a meeting: “I was very polite throughout, but afterwards my boss said ‘you should have punched him between the eyes.’”


If I Were 22: The Last Thing You Want to Happen During a Job Interview

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of a series of open letters to college graduates.

Dear grads,

Sorry this letter is a little late. I’ve been busy starting my own business. Imagine that. At 55, starting over. Yeah, I’m reinventing myself – one of those people you read about who left the corporate world to seek his bliss elsewhere.

It’s been fun, exhilarating and sometimes scary. But totally worth it. I’m making new friends and building relationships I never would have had if I’d stayed in my corporate job. I’m making my own destiny, setting my own objectives and charting my own course.

You could say my career started with a flat tire. Not exactly an auspicious beginning.

Me at my first job -
in the newsroom.
I was 23 and fresh out of grad school, with a bachelors in English and a masters in Journalism. My advisor told me the news director in a nearby city was looking for a 10 o’clock news producer. I made a phone call, set up an interview and hopped in my car for the two-hour drive. (It really was simpler in those days.)

Arriving at the station, I found there was nowhere to park. I felt a momentary panic as I scoured the lot until my eyes landed on a single empty spot marked FELDMAN. Now, I knew Scott Feldman was the principal anchor but I reasoned he wouldn’t arrive for work until 2pm – at least four hours from now. Surely I’d be long gone by then.

I entered the station, had my interviews, met some of the staff and, well … one thing led to another and I wound up spending the day, watching them put together the evening news. It was a heady experience. I got chills just thinking my first job might be in the 17th-largest market in the country! I stayed to watch the 6 o’clock news, then said my goodbyes, got the usual “we’ll be in touch” and walked out of the building.

I started to hop in my car when I noticed something amiss. My eyes darting around, I noticed the two rear tires were completely deflated. Someone had let the air out of them! It must have been that Feldman guy, I thought. Sending a message. How dare I park in the main anchor’s space? I was mortified. So was the assignment editor, who was embarrassed on behalf of the station – not mad at me. He called a tow service which showed up and re-inflated my tires.

Off I went, back to college town, and a few days later I received word that I got the job.

Feldman and I never said anything to each other about the incident. We enjoyed a cordial, professional relationship. I don’t even know if he realized that was my car.

The point is … life will throw you a curve from time to time. Often it will come in the most unexpected way. I mean, letting the air out of my tires during a big job interview? Really? So, you’ve got to keep it light. Keep smiling. Don’t let anyone or anything dent your confidence.

My son just graduated from law school and he’s looking for work. I know it’s a stressful time. I, too, am going through a big professional transformation. That’s the world we live in. So my advice is … when you suffer a setback, remember it’s just a moment in time. Things will pass. Keep your eye on the big picture. It’s the only way to maintain your sanity.  


Adoration of the Magi, err, Magic

For 15 seasons Earvin “Magic” Johnson entertained and delighted fans of the Michigan State Spartans and Los Angeles Lakers. His leadership, presence and playmaking propelled teams to six championships and he earned MVP honors many times over.

He retired from the game in 1991 when he was diagnosed with HIV. Most people thought he was through. Finished. Stick a fork in him. Instead, he treated the disease like any other opponent and prevailed. He even played again in the NBA, answering his detractors and winning over even more fans.

Everywhere Magic goes – from courtside to the C-suite – his charm is a constant companion. There was little doubt he would leverage that charisma into business success. When Magic and Guggenheim Partners bought the Dodgers, people in LA were like “well … sure!” After all, the guy opens doors and builds bridges.

So I wondered if landing Magic for a panel discussion at the Milken Global Conference was a big coup, or if he actually seeks out opportunities like this? (Finding a target-rich environment is akin to hitting your teammate cutting toward the basket with a perfectly timed skip pass.)

As I sat down to my steak salad several hundred feet from the stage in the Beverly Hilton ballroom I also wondered if everything they say about the guy is true. Does he always make a positive impression? Is the million-dollar smile a put-on or is it genuine? Does he blow smoke, or does he mean what he says?

By the first sip of iced tea, I was feeling the Magic Love. The other guys on the panel didn’t stand a chance. Everyone wanted to hear Magic’s take on the issues of the day.

On Donald Sterling: Magic applauded the Clippers for staying focused and winning a playoff game the day after the story broke that their owner told his girlfriend not to bring her black friends to the games. Johnson said NBA commissioner Adam Silver made the only decision that could be made, dismissing Sterling from the league. Anything else would have provoked a walkout, he said.

“Racism has no place in our society, in sports or in the NBA,” he said, to generous applause. Of his playing days, he said “We didn’t care what color the guy on our team was, as long as he [could] get the job done. If his ass couldn’t get the job done, he’s got to go. All I wanted to do was win the NBA championship, that’s it.”

Magic knows. He suffered racism in his day. And he knows Sterling; he’s been a guest in his house and even advised him in the past, so the whole nasty incident seems a bit surreal.

Now more than ever, he said, teams and their athletes need to recommit to reaching out to their communities.

At one point Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals – no slouch himself – said something about the upside and downside of social media. But nobody paid much attention. We were basking in the glow of The Magic Hour.

Everyone wanted to know if Magic will buy the Clippers. His response: “I will own an NBA team sometime. If the Clippers is the right situation, then ... " followed by a pause and an ear-to-ear grin that spoke volumes.

At one point Brian France, Chairman and CEO of NASCAR, said something about the economy and TV hurting attendance. But we were still thinking about Magic reinventing himself into a business man.

This was the Adoration of the Magic.

People wanted to hear Magic talk about the resurgence of the Dodgers since his group rescued the team from the evil Frank McCourt.

“Everything we said we would do, we have done. We improved the stadium, improved the team. Now the Dodger brand has exploded because of social media.”

He proclaimed that Dodger Stadium is the 8 most Instagrammed landmark in the world; in fact, the Dodgers are tops in social media by several different measures. It’s great for the sport and the fans, he said.

All this talk of baseball led moderator Jim Gray to ask “Are you a basketball guy or a baseball guy?” His reply: “I’m a business man.”

Another panelist, Patrice Motsepe, a South African business man and legendary soccer owner, said something about sports galvanizing a community. No one will remember it.

Even when Magic wasn’t speaking, the others were speaking for him. Fitzgerald paid Magic a high compliment, saying he’s a great example for players who want to make a successful transition into life after the game.

And that’s how it went for most of the hour: The Magic Show.

Toward the end, NASCAR’s France said he once asked Johnson “How can you be so nice, so affable to everybody?” And Magic answered with a story about a man and his son at a Lakers game who were asking players for a photo. All the players shrugged them off, except Magic. Years later, he encountered this man in a business setting and against some pretty big odds the man chose to partner with him because he remembered his gracious act from many years ago.

Even in the hard-bitten business world, generosity and humanity win the day.
(Photos: Milken Institute)


From Brown to Green

The Milken Global Conference attracts A-list panelists and speakers like Tony Blair, Deepak Chopra, Matt Damon, Magic Johnson, Bob Iger, Les Moonves, Janet Napolitano, Hank Paulson, Leon Panetta, Sean Penn, T. Boone Pickens and Charlize Theron. It’s a crazy spectrum and the range of topics is no less broad.

But for every session on Redefining the Middle East, Global Capital or Entrepreneurial Leadership there’s a diamond in the rough. Like the breakout on impact investing. Every year Morgan Stanley challenges MBA students to come up with a compelling proposition that combines returns and growth with a passion for values.

Three students from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management emerged as the winners of the competition and pitched an investment opportunity called Fresh Coast Capital. It was a full-on dress rehearsal in front of a discerning audience.

Now, I worked several years for Swiss Re, an early adopter of sustainable business practices, so I’m drawn to anything that seeks to generate returns and leave the world a better place. However, I don’t claim to know much about environmental issues, so when the panelists begin throwing around the term “brownfields” I knew I was in for an education.

The concept behind Fresh Coast Capital is simple:

Step 1. Lease toxic land cheap
Step 2. Remediate land by planting poplar trees
Step 3. Sell the timber, pulp and paper
Step 4. Harvest and sell biomass for energy production
Step 5. Collect a percentage of land appreciation, or charge land owner for remediation services

Brownfields are prevalent – there are nearly 450,000 of them in the US, according to the GAO. Imagine the combined land area of 60 of our largest cities; that’s how much land we’re talking about. And the possibilities are limitless. Fresh Coast co-founder Nicole Chavas told of a site in Elkhart, Indiana – a vacant railroad roundhouse that today yields lumber for nearby manufacturing facilities, including the wood paneling in motor homes and RVs!

The genius in successful investing is diversification, and investors of a large scale (e.g. pension funds, insurance companies) are always looking for instruments that aren’t correlated with the rest of their portfolio. If I were in their shoes I’d kick the tires on this one.

Watch the session.


Steve Wynn Learned Something About Fear From Michael Jackson

The most-read blogs are the ones full of fast facts, tidbits of helpful information and quotes. Here are some great observations from yesterday’s closing session at the Milken Global Conference in Los Angeles.

Panelists were Steve Wynn, Chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts, Janet Napolitano, former head of Homeland Security and now President of the University of California system, and Howard Marks, Chairman of Oaktree Capital. Michael Milken moderated.

Steve Wynn, Wynn Resorts
Wynn on leadership and taking risks: “I like the idea of pushing the envelope but I don't like being reckless.”

Wynn on taking bets: “When things get complicated I back off. I operate largely on instinct.”

Napolitano: “Everything you say and do should be an energy source for the people who work for you.”

Janet Napolitano, President, University of California system
and former director of Homeland Security
Howard Marks on investing and business in general: “Outperformance often comes from having a variant perception."

Wynn on failure: “You’ve got to give up the fiction of infallibility. When you fail, it's an opportunity to define yourself. That's leadership.”

Wynn: Leadership is persuasion. It’s about raising the self-esteem of the people you're leading and helping them feel good about what they’re doing. (paraphrased)

Napolitano: Taking risks is a way to exercise leadership. (paraphrased)

Napolitano said going from Homeland Security to the University of California was like going from defense to offense.

Wynn said he once had an intimate conversation with Michael Jackson, during which Jackson asked him a disarming question: “Don’t you ever get scared?” Wynn said by the time he breaks ground on a hotel, he’s vetted it thoroughly with everyone, over and over, reviewed and re-reviewed the economics, so he’s confident.

Napolitano said she didn’t have time to vet everything at Homeland Security, where decisions had to be made in the heat of the moment, often as a situation was unfolding. That demands a different type of leadership skill.

Only Steve Wynn calls Buzz Aldrin "Buzzy." They're neighbors in Sun Valley. Wynn said he told Aldrin next time he lands on the moon, get off first.

This was the 17th annual conference, which “attracts 3,000 leaders in business, finance, government, public policy, academia, philanthropy, law, science, news media and more. These individuals represent some of the world's top firms, organizations, universities and governments.” (from the web site)

Here's the playback.

I’ll share more from the conference in the next few days.


The Third World is Watching

I don't have the data, but I imagine smartphones are now as common in developing nations as in the First World. The President of The World Bank says that for the first time the poor know how the rich live - thanks to the images, videos and content they view on their iPhone.

Bringing a glimpse of the developed world to developing nations can have its advantages. This LinkedIn column explains how the World Bank along with its private sector and NGO partners are making significant investments in Third World development: improving access to energy, jobs, sustainable food supplies and opportunity.

Swiss Re and Oxfam America are making some of the world's most vulnerable areas more resilient. For example, they offer an income replacement insurance to farmers in Ethiopia and other sub-Saharan countries whose livelihoods depend on the weather. When a drought or floods wipe out an entire crop, the policy makes them whole. But how can these nearly-impoverished farmers afford insurance, you ask? Instead of paying a premium, they invest in their own sustainability by building an irrigation system!

Thanks to the smartphone, more people in the planet's remotest areas have access to news about these initiatives. The smartphone is shrinking the world in dramatic ways and showing us what is possible.


Have You Seen This Movie Before?

Intuition is the thing that’s often missing in communication. After all, if you have intuition about your audience (what they’ve experienced, their motivations, etc.) you can engage with them more effectively. And if you’re faced with a business decision about which you have to communicate, intuition is a guide that won’t let you down.

Call it a hunch – or, following your gut.

Intuition isn’t entirely learned, nor are you just born with it. As a journalist, I had to mentally process huge amounts of incoming data and decide what’s important to the reader or viewer and how to serve it up. It was important to be a quick study. 
It certainly helped that there was a lot of sameness in what we saw day-in and day-out: political scandals, shootings, fires, missing children, a hero’s homecoming. You felt like you’d seen this movie before.

Certainly much of my intuitive ability was cultivated and practiced in a newsroom. Intuition is one of the three pillars of Novaria Communication: intelligent, intuitive, influential. I help people communicate intelligently, with an intuition about their environment, and in a way that will influence their stakeholders. So imagine my delight when I read a piece in Huffington Post that says intuition is a highly valued attribute in the business world. The author explains how intuitive people cultivate and access their sense of “knowing.”

Intuition takes many forms, like knowing what’s going to happen next, like a feeling of déjà vu because you’ve experienced something so very similar before, like that comment you make and somebody else says “I was thinking the exact same thing.”

Intuition isn’t the only imperative for business and communications success, however. Some scenarios call for a more deliberate approach. I grew up in Missouri – the Show-Me State – where we took a little extra time and sized things up before coming to a conclusion. People say that Midwestern sensibility is a highly-valued attribute.

I think it comes down to being grounded. Experience helps. Having been through countless business transformations, counseling numerous executives and steering communications and engagement initiatives, I honestly believe that saying “there’s nothing new under the sun.” Yes, the people are different, the organizations are different, even innovation brings different ways of doing things, but the fundamental motivations are the same. People want the same outcomes – efficiency, ease, transparency, clarity, honesty.

Intuition tells me that. And it hasn’t failed me yet.

Today's question: How has intuition saved your bacon?


The Share is the Thing

When was the last time you made a purchasing decision based on what you saw on local TV news or read in the paper? It could be a new restaurant, auto insurance or a new wellness regimen.

Now, when was the last time you acted on the recommendation of a friend or someone you trust?

Chances are the second question is easier to answer than the first. There is a difference between the media you know from an arm’s distance and the “friend” who’s part of your “community” – be it family, work, Facebook or Reddit.

When I worked in television news, we felt we had earned the trust of our viewers; when they heard it from us they could feel safe acting on it. When we went on the air during the hot summer and made a plea for donated fans the public would step up and deliver.

When I moved into public relations, I played a variation of that theme, telling clients we were delivering value by placing their experts, products or solutions in the media. I would tell them that third-party endorsement is much more effective (and believable) than if they simply talk about themselves.

I was having lunch recently with a friend who runs the US digital practice of a global PR firm and we got to talking about the changing media landscape. I launched into my tried-and-true opinion about the media bestowing credibility, and I could see by the look on his face he differed with my take.

“Not anymore,” he countered. “Nowadays, the share is the thing.”

Admittedly, that’s a bit oversimplified, but I have to agree with him. Traditional news media have lost ground as a trusted source, and you could argue that with the proliferation of social media they are no longer our “go-to” source for information and opinions.

The fact is … we get and share our information differently today. We shout out to members of our hand-picked community in Facebook. We posture on Twitter to the people who choose to listen to us. We do whatever people do on Reddit! We review a restaurant or realtors on Yelp and, thanks to crowd-sourcing, people looking for a good restaurant or realtor read our review and take our advice.

All of the above have replaced watching the evening news or opening the paper (including reading the online edition). See the difference? With traditional media, you tune into a broadcast – broad in that a diverse array of news is delivered. With social, you’ve become selective about what you want to learn and discuss – and with whom.

You’re more invested in the process because you’ve essentially shaped your personal diet of daily information. As a result, you put more stock in what you hear and read.

Yet what I find amazing is that the path we take through social media is fantastically convoluted and most of the time we’re not even aware of it.

For instance, think of how often you will read a friend’s post, click through to the site she’s recommending, see something related and click on that and read a few of the comments, then jump to something else. Your path through social media looks like a twisting mountain road rather than a straight freeway. And that’s how it usually goes when we are consuming our daily information.

So it’s understandable that like beacons lighting the way, those “shares” or recommendations from friends and acquaintances help us make sense in a chaotic world overstuffed with choices and decisions.

What do you think? Where do you get your information? Whom do you trust?


Don't Apologize Unless You Mean It

I stabbed a kid once.

We were cleaning gear from a Boy Scout campout in the Methodist church kitchen and Jon Perkins and I got to horsing around, at which point I picked up a butcher knife and pretended to terrorize him, chasing him around the room. He stopped short and the blade sank about a half-inch deep into the skin between his shoulder blades. I was mortified, and probably apologized a dozen times (breathlessly, I might add) as the Scoutmaster pondered disciplinary action.

Now, that incident made an impression on me and I never stabbed anyone again. But most apologies pass our lips and are quickly forgotten. You probably apologize to a spouse or close family member several times a week, but can you remember the situation?

My wife and I have a solid marriage of 31 years. But we have a fundamental disagreement about apologies. I will admit I’m the flawed one. I want to apologize and move on; she wants me to apologize, then demonstrate over time how I’m working to change my ways. I want the quick closure an apology brings. Check the box and move on. She has feelings (of course) and isn’t easily placated by the utterance of a few words in a solicitous tone of voice.

When it comes to politicians, CEOs, athletes and celebrities, the public seems to favor my wife’s point of view. A simple spoken apology is inadequate; we are loathe to forgive unless the person backs it up with action.

My personal favorite is “I’m sorry if I offended anyone.” Seriously, you’re going to make it conditional?

These forms of mea culpa do nothing more than provoke further outrage. Instead of dousing the fire with water, they add gasoline:

Lance Armstrong apologized, but failed to answer the question “Did you dope?” Grade: F.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie apologized multiple times, but has it changed anything? Grade: D-.
Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel apologized for allowing hackers to steal our personal data. I'm willing to give him an “Incomplete” because it’s too early to tell how effective the company’s remediation will be, and more will surely come out during litigation.

These tepid apologies fail to score points with the public, yes. But, they also offer a lesson of how not to do it.

Andrew Ross Sorkin and Dov Seidman are putting the offenders under the microscope. Sorkin, a New York Times writer and Seidman, an advisor to companies on how to operate “in a principled and profitable way,” have declared a moratorium on apologies until we get it right. No more apologies, they say, until public figures and their PR people accompany every apology with an explanation of the steps taken to correct the problem.

They’ve asked us (yes, you and me) to make a note next time we hear a public apology and check back over time to see if the person truly made good on their word. They’ve even suggested a “time out” (I know, it sounds like CEOs are children), a go-to-your-corner and think about it before you issue another apology.

You can read more about it here and here. Let’s see if the increased public scrutiny works.

My advice to a client is: Your apology has to be sincere. And, you’d better have a three-, four- or five-point plan for change and start acting on it. You can even regain lost credibility down the road by periodically pointing out the positive change you’ve made – whether it’s treating workers better, restoring impeccable accounting or resolving customer complaints.

To Jon Perkins, wherever you are: I’m glad that knife in the back didn’t damage our relationship. I can’t comment, however, on which is worse: a real knife in the back or a figurative one.


Birds of a Feather

They’re called the bird streets. They have precious little names – Blue Jay Way, Oriole Drive, Bluebird Avenue, Skylark Lane and Robin Drive. But the homes that sit on these streets are anything but modest.

The bird streets are a clutch of winding roads in the hills above West Hollywood, an enclave built decades ago by the wealthy and famous drawn to the dazzling views of the L.A. basin. 

Of late, this neighborhood has launched the careers of celebrity realtors – see HGTV'S Selling L.A. or Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles on Bravo. And, they represent the latest mother lode for foreign investors.

Big money gets attention, and that’s what L.A. sorely needs right now. Mayor Eric Garcetti is all smiles about the exaggerated value of these wealthy neighborhoods. You see, the world’s richest people are buying up L.A.’s platinum properties as investments. They don’t live there; some of them generate a little extra cash flow by renting them for five figures a month. (If they’re going to just let it sit there I’d be happy to occupy one of these vacant mansions, tend the gardens and clean the pool.)

It’s the new world order. It used to be L.A.'s tonier neighborhoods were synonymous with their longtime residents: the Hearsts, Jack Benny, Barbra Streisand and Aaron Spelling lived in places like Holmby Hills, Bel Air and Beverly Hills. Now, investors from distant shores of unconscionable net worth are buying these homes, sometimes tearing them down and erecting something decidedly more au courant and often more ostentatious. 

Absentee owners bought more than one quarter of California’s $1 million-plus homes last year (even more staggering is the fact that nearly half the homes in the Hollywood Hills were purchased by absentee owners.) They come from China, India, Hong Kong and Tunisia. They fly in, they look, they fly out. They also look in New York and London, where prices are higher. So L.A. is still a good buy at an average $1,340 per square foot compared to $2,240 in New York and $4,300 in London.

They’re looking for an investment that bears little or no correlation to the rest of their portfolio. And real estate is just the hedge. It’s all good, according to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, because it’s good for the city’s reputation and for the economy.

“For too long, L.A. has not been in the global conversation,” Garcetti recently told Bloomberg News. “I want those people to come here. I want those people to talk about L.A. when they go back.”

While the film industry struggles to reverse the trend of “runaway production,” this is good news, a positive trend. We don’t care who you are so long as you’re bringing green to the economy. It’s a global world, after all. Frankly, I’m energized by the international nature of Los Angeles – a city that is anything but provincial. 

We’re seeing foreign investment not only in homes but in massive properties, scalable businesses and startups. The future of cities this size is in their ability to foster opportunity for investors of every stripe. I have no problem with this so long as the dollars or dinar keep flowing into our economy and keep L.A. relevant and vibrant.

Money talks, and L.A. doesn’t care what language it’s speaking.


Putting the People Ahead of Privilege

My daughter just texted me that they were getting more snow in Lawrence, Kansas – along with photographic proof from the Dillon’s parking lot. It’s been a brutal winter in the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast.

We were remembering the many dismal winters in the ‘80s and ‘90s and my wife reminded me that when Dick Berkley was mayor of Kansas City the first street that got plowed after a snowstorm was Greenway Terrace. I’m sure this still happens everywhere; heck, it’s possible that Kansas City mayor Sly James’ street is the first to get the blade.

The point is, it doesn’t matter so long as the other streets are treated with equal urgency, and the city where I lived for three decades seems to be getting it right – finally. A recent article in the Kansas City Star points out that snow removal in the last snowstorm was damned efficient and the public was, for the most part, pleased.

Aside from improvements in forecasting and GPS technology and the hard work of the crews, the X-factor seems to be the mayor himself. Now, the article points out, the mayor doesn’t run the city; the city manager does. But James seems to be setting a tone that all leaders should emulate. He’s visible, he’s aware and he’s accountable.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James
Kansas City Star

James scored major points for showing up on the 5 o’clock news from the command center, giving tips to help residents prepare and assuring them that the snowplows were ready to roll. People want to know someone is in charge, and whether or not that person is pulling the strings, perception is reality. Not only have residents warmed to James’ transparency, but his mere presence at the command center no doubt boosted the morale of city workers.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding, and this time around most gave the city high marks. I can remember a time when our side street in the Armour Hills district never did get plowed and it would turn to ice for the rest of the winter. Obviously, Kansas City’s public works department has come a long way and it’s due to effective planning and preparation, but in the end the only thing people will remember is the reassuring presence of their leader.


Facebook? That's Nothing New

We had a facebook back in 1976. It was about 50 pages long and full of beguiling photos.

I had just started college and every student was issued a Freshman Directory so we could get to know each other.

Of course this quickly devolved into us guys sitting around late at night, flipping the pages, looking for the cutest girls in our class.

“Does she really look that hot?”

“I don’t think so. John Kermath says she’s in his Lit 151 seminar and she’s marginal, at best.”

“Wow! Look at so-and-so. Is she really a student here?”

“I think I saw her at Harry’s Luncheonette with a bunch of guys. No way you’re getting near her.”

And so it went.

Whenever we got bored, out came the Freshman Directory and we perused more faces, hoping to recognize someone new, hoping to make a connection.

Years later, Zuckerberg came along and digitized the whole thing. And you know the rest of the story.

Today, Facebook claims to bring 1.23 billion people together. Not a second goes by when one of my 561 friends isn’t posting or commenting.

Freshman faces at my alma mater
I have to admit I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. Sometimes I relish seeing what my friends and long-lost contacts are up to. Other times I have a sort of disdain for the exhibitionism. I have a handful of friends who make me belly laugh (and they do it effortlessly). Some are profound thinkers and some are excellent writers – they know how to express their thoughts and feelings.

I guess my life is enriched by the experience, then. Without Facebook, I probably wouldn’t realize how smart/funny/engaging/extraordinary these people are.

Today, friends are posting movies of their Facebook lives. It’s really pretty cool. A nice birthday present to all of us who took a deep breath and took the plunge into this community.

We’ve come a long way from the Freshman Directory of 1976. Wonder what became of that girl at Harry’s Luncheonette?


Loud and Proud?

Yesterday I wrote how Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman infuriated and polarized with his globally televised postgame rant. 

Today I learned that his teammate, Marshawn Lynch, was fined by the NFL for NOT talking. (I'm a little behind the curve; this happened a couple of weeks ago.)

So, which way do we want it? Do we like our heroes fiery and demonstrative (to the point of obnoxious) or do we like them silent and introspective (to the point of appearing petulant)?

By the way, a friend pointed out that the Seattle paper asked readers what they thought of Sherman's passionate rant and 33% said they were fine with it, 37% were disappointed but forgive him and about 30% found it classless and offensive. 


Will The Real Richard Sherman Please Stand Up?

Sherman: “I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree that’s the result you’re gonna get. Don’t you ever talk about me.”
Andrews: “Who was talking about you?”
Sherman: “Crabtree. Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick.”

Confident. Arrogant. Thug. Plays with heart. An exceptional person.

All of the above describe Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who last night became a household name with his postgame tirade on FOX after his team beat the San Francisco 49ers to claim the NFC championship. Longtime fans and observers of #25 were less surprised than the rest of the 98 percent of the world who for the first time got a taste of his swagger.

Social media exploded and it didn’t take long to see how people felt about Sherman’s bravado.

I posted my outrage on Twitter and Facebook. Just to show you the difference, tweeters I don’t know personally responded with things like “haters gonna hate” and “lolol we goin to the super bowl shut up” while Facebook friends supported me with “likes” and supportive comments. Over dinner, however, I started to second guess myself. Glass houses and all that. After all, I’m a communicator and should understand better than anyone that my objections were now laid bare and will remain public forever.

I decided to not to delete my posts. No, I’m sticking with my opinion that Sherman’s rant was classless and when the Seahawks don’t muzzle him he brings dishonor to himself and his team. As a communications consultant, I would jump through the TV screen if I saw a client behaving that badly.

Sure, as Sherman later wrote in his blog, it was in the heat of the moment. Peter King today reminded us  that the NFL has a cooling off period before reporters can enter locker rooms for just this reason. Sure, Niners receiver Michael Crabtree had supposedly tried to fight Sherman at a charity event last offseason. Of course there’s bad blood between these teams, and these two. And Sherman’s remarkable, odds-defying transition from the mean streets of L.A. (Compton) to Stanford as a student-athlete and to the NFL has been well documented. But does that give a guy license to spew?

I believe in free speech and Sherman made his point. After all, the NFL is a universe unto itself, where bigger/faster/flashier wins the day. But give me the quiet, understated superheroes – Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Joe Montana. Sherman is a motormouth who needs one of those t-shirts that says “I’m talking and I can’t shut up.”

Maybe the NFL needs a few Richard Shermans for sheer entertainment value – someone to stoke the competitive flames, guys who are provocative. Sherman has said he’s not afraid to call people out and to address the elephant in the room. But what’s puzzling is that – in the light of day – the guy has range. Just read his blog and you’ll see a guy who’s swung from the aggressive posturing to a calmer, more thoughtful tone. He’s not contrite by any stretch, but he does credit his teammates and say he doesn’t want to be the villain:

“… people find it easy to take shots on Twitter, and to use racial slurs and bullying language far worse than what you’ll see from me. It’s sad and somewhat unbelievable to me that the world is still this way, but it is. I can handle it.”

Did he write that himself? Who knows? Was he coached? Most likely.

There are too many things we don’t know about Richard Sherman. Yes, his life off the field including charity work has been documented and he tweets hourly. His teammates speak of him with an almost reverential awe; they wouldn’t self-promote in such a brash manner but they admire him for doing it.

I guess as polarizing as he is, Sherman is a brand unto himself with a reputation. There’s no doubt about it. But Lord help him if he should ever want to change his image, because last night’s rant is all we will remember.