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Archive for July, 2013

Damage-Your-Business-ReputationA few weeks ago I recommended a friend to a former client of mine who had a job opening.  My friend came back to me aghast.  My former client had a voluminous set of near scatological comments on various social media placed by a few disgruntled employees.  My friend thought several times about even considering the company.

The calumny spread through social media is mostly unaccountable.  It may be true.  It may not.  But, through the ubiquitous reach of Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, et. al., the false is often lumped equally with the true.

The danger to company brand and reputation is frightening.  I remember a couple of years ago (Feb. 2, 2011) when hundreds of people were being killed and raped (including reporters) in Egypt, Kenneth Cole nearly had his head taken off when he glibly tweeted:  “Millions are in an uproar in Cairo.  Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.”  Well, he got tens of thousands of response tweets like the following:

1.  arrington—WTF is wrong with you@KennethCole?
2.  soullindo—Bad taste@Kenneth Cole.  Bad.  Taste.
3.  palbi-palbi—@Kennethcole is the asshole of the day.
4.  (And my favorite)  BookGirl96—“I wouldn’t want to be in Kenneth Cole’s shoes right now.”

CROP_jason_collins_SI_coverThe threats to cyber security are no longer just from malevolent hackers like Anonymous or the cyber warfare division of the Red Army in China.  They are just as damagingly coming from inside companies, either from their own careless mistakes and thoughtlessness or from disgruntled employees.

For example, Facebook recently received a black eye because of certain “group sites” that posted misogynist and abusive comments about women.  Similarly, when Jason Collins recently came out as the first active NBA star to announce he was gay, NBA chat forums posted a lot of anti-homosexual hate speech which NBA officials claimed they were helpless to prevent, but as it turned out, they could have stopped.

So what companies face is at least a three-headed Hydra of social media threat:  external hacking, brand-threatening marketing misjudgments, and internal mischief and/or sabotage.

A new hybrid of company has appeared to combat the more wide-ranging downside of social media.  It deals not only with anti-malware technology but also with helping companies and brands streamline safe and effective social media practices and strategy that ensure reputation protection and legal compliance.

Per this, I recently met an entrepreneur named Devin Redmond, Founder & CEO of a kick-ass two year old company Nexgate, based in San Francisco which specializes in cloud-based brand protection and compliance for enterprise social media accounts.  He tells me business is brisk.

Devin_Redmond-e1363074492919In addition to social media strategy, Redmond (who’s clients include Rosetta Stone, Intel, KPMG, among many others) seamlessly addresses and monitors a full range of social media issues like:

  • Protecting against high-profile social media attacks
  • Protecting company/brands’ reputations from harmful content, both from within or third party messaging
  • Helping businesses stay savvy  in interacting and engaging with customers
  • Keeping current with technology that is available to help minimize security and compliance risk
  • Identifying social media risks, compliance issues and audience abuse

Being the technology dinosaur I am, the technical details of all this cyber genius is a bit beyond my ken, but I certainly recognize the threat, as well as the promise, for all of us in this cyber world that is moving and evolving at breakneck speed.  It’s bloody scary to think a carefully built reputation can be quickly damaged by inattention or carelessness, while our chief focus is on our core business.

Have to run now. Gotta check a tweet from

Charles Caleb Colton observed in 1825, “There are two modes of establishing our reputation; to be praised by honest men or to be abused by rogues.”  Thanks, Charles

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Last week I was in Dallas where my friend Helanie Scott, CEO of Align4Profit, was giving a two-day corporate seminar on Leadership Intimacy.  Helanie advocates and teaches a form of management, rooted in Transactional Analysis, a style that is a realistic fit for the evolving contemporary workforce and is aimed at skillfully balancing accountability and engagement in a modern corporation.


It’s hard to not insultingly oversimplify a serious, original management approach in a short post, but let me try.

Scott begins with the thesis that employees are different than they used to be and want to be treated more consultatively.  She bases her definition of intimacy in the word Boma, an African term which means “a place where one can dwell in safety.”  For corporate leaders, this may mean transforming from being traditional managers to being employee experts.  It also means moving away from a distant management style.

Scott, who’s clients include Pepsico, Cadbury Schweppes, Capitol One, Providence Healthcare, Dr. Pepper, among others, advocates creating a sense of corporate safety and intimacy through a process of executive attention based on a questioning process that trains executives and owners in a coaching, mentoring capacity, carefully balancing accountability and empathy.  Her process strikes an equilibrium between Socratic dialogue (asking) and directive communication (telling).  Each manager is measured on his or her tendencies by an extensive preliminary psychological test analysis, not dissimilar to Myers-Briggs, but based on the psychoanalytic, humanist, and cognitive approach of Transactional Analysis developed by Eric Berne.

The Align4Profit process seeks to create an executive paradigm that opens up creativity and a sense of ownership throughout an organization.  Essentially it ideally creates a through-branded army of mini-CEOs.  That dovetails nicely with what I am always striving to do in my own company, Corporate Rain International, admittedly with mixed success.

75567-050-6BF40AC2I think the hardest thing for any of us who attempt such a change is to summon the courage to be open, vulnerable, and honest with our associates.  Yet still directive.  ‘Tain’t something executives and and entrepreneurs can learn in business school.

Much of Helanie Scott’s teaching offers a practical, fairly simple and user-friendly tool for creating a greater leadership efficacy.  My hardest personal obstacle for utilizing Scott’s methodology is summoning the day-to-day courage to stand apart (as The Boss) from my associates without separating myself from them.

Scott is South African and she frequently punctuates her leadership mentoring with the philosophy of Ubuntu, often cited by her countrymen Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu.  Ubuntu is a philosophy of African tribes that can be summed up as “I am because we are.”  Mandela, whose 92nd birthday was last week, has said, “Ubuntu is the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievements of others.”

She recounts the following tale illustrating Ubuntu.

“An anthropologist proposed a game to children of an African tribe.  He put a basket of fruit near a tree and told the kids that the first one to reach the fruit would win them all.  When he told them to run they all took each others’ hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying the fruits.  When asked why they ran like that, as one could have taken all the fruit for oneself, they said, ‘Ubuntu. How can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?’”

05-martin-king-010909_14089_600x450I guess to fully apply Ubuntu one must ideally exist in a paradoxical plain between a sort of corporate communism and capitalism—a love for all God’s creation combines with a practical efficiency offered by the wealth creating process of personal enterprise.

Martin Luther King said this.  (Sermon at Riverside Church in NY, 8/8/65)

“In a real sense, all life is interrelated. All people are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects you directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

Thank you, Brother Martin.

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In the first century AD, Roman poet Ovid wrote the following:  “There is more refreshment and stimulation in a nap, even of the briefest, than in all the alcohol ever distilled.”

powernap1-600x318I’ve always been a closet napper.  Yup.  But, not wanting to be judged a slacker, I’ve kept my little secret to myself.   However, now, lo and behold, it turns out that what I thought of as weakness is in fact a salubrious invigoration and summoner of creative efficacy.  Indeed, some claim you can nap your way to greatness.

I recently came across a wonderful article by Brett and Kate McKay on napping which chronicles the benefits of napping for such illuminati as Leonardo DaVinci, Thomas Edison, JFK, Napoleon Bonaparte, Lyndon Johnson, Stonewall Jackson, Albert Einstein, and Salvador Dali. My favorite example from their piece highlights Winston Churchill.  Churchill said, “Nature has not intended man to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”  Churchill was a night owl, but he took two baths and a two hour nap every afternoon, which he claimed allowed him to be twice as productive as the normal person  Naps were so sacrosanct to Churchill that he unapologetically kept a bed in the House of Parliament.  He believed it was the key to his success in leading England through the Battle of Britain in WWII.

churchill_1944But there is more than anecdotal evidence for the value of napping.  The McKays point out that humans are among the few animals that take their sleep in one shot.  The rest of the animal kingdom consists of “polyphasic” sleepers;  they alternate sleep and wake cycles throughout a 24 hour period.

Also, according to government reports, fatigue costs American business an estimated $65 billion a year in lost productivity.  And the Harvard Business Review has reported significant scientific evidence that sleep deprivation, because of its effects on decision-making and thought process, can actually cause or facilitate unethical actions.

I think all of this probably applies in spades to us entrepreneurs.  We are passionate drivers and unstinting articulators for our firms and of our ideas.  So fatigued and slow moving minds, that don’t acknowledge the need for periodic stopping points, are even more a particular threat to our effectiveness and a diminishment of our ambient business IQ.

Robert_FulghumLet me stop with these few lines today.  I’m feeling a bit weary.  I think I’ll take a nap.  But before I slip into the sweet arms of Lethe let me leave you with this quote from Robert Fulghum from All I Really Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  “Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap.”  Thanks, Robert.

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The Bible‘s Book of Proverbs 16:32 says this:  “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”

I’ve been thinking about business and anger this week.  It has been important for me to learn to deal with anger over the years.  It’s never pleasant.

I try to be aware of the challenges of usefully managing my anger.  Of course, not always with success. The entrepreneur is faced with a plethora of responsibilities and pressures that can make it difficult to handle strong emotions such as anger.  They may not teach this skill in business school, but it seems to me fundamental for the small business manager.  Useful anger is practical, creative, and centering.  Unuseful anger is immolating, destructive, and overpowering.  It reduces one to impotence and stuttering incoherence.

Titian_1548_XX_Pietro_AretinoLet’s consider unuseful anger.  Italian novelist Pietro Aretino wrote in 1537, “Angry men are blind and foolish, for reason at such a time takes flight and, in her absence, wrath plunders all the riches of the intellect, while the judgment remains the prisoner of its own pride.”  Indeed.

I remember an episode of “Seinfeld” titled “The Comeback” in which George Constanza finds himself at the end of a zinger by a co-worker while gobbling shrimp at a company meeting.  (“Hey, George.  The ocean just called….They’re running out of shrimp.”). An enraged and humiliated George obsesses about finding the proper rejoinder.  Despite the protests of his friends Jerry and Elaine, he settles on this ungainly comeback to his tormentors.  “The Jerk Store called….They’re running out of you.”  The worst sort of anger just makes you stupid.

For sure, the business world is often a cauldron of personal animosity.  Just look at Silicon Valley.  The list of bilious exchanges there is legendary.  I can certainly recall several stupid moments early in my business life in which unnecessarily venting my spleen cost my company, Corporate Rain International, money and business.

aristotle_stoneOn the other hand, focused anger is constructive when your true intent is to clear the air and maintain an honest, appropriate relationship.  When done properly, constructive confrontation assures future harmony and better performance and productivity.  For me constructive confrontation works best when I can couch my ire in courtesy, expressing my feelings in a calm, reasonable, and controlled way–when I can also empathize with the object of my anger, when I can focus on the behavior and action of an asshole–I mean associate–and not on the person.  A dollop of humor doesn’t hurt either.  Easier said than done.

Aristotle, in the 4th century B.C., said this:  “It is easy to fly into a passion—anybody can do that—but to be angry with the right person to the right extent and at the right time and with the right object and in the right way—that is not easy, and it is not everyone who can do it.”  Thank you, Aristotle.

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Empathy.  Webster’s Dictionary describes it as “the projection of one’s own personality into the personality of another in order to understand him better.”

I saw a list of qualities entrepreneurs lack last week in the Harvard Business Review.  Right at the top was empathy.  Entrepreneurs are busy people and it is easy to see how empathy might be treated as a non-priority.  This is bad business.  However, entrepreneurs are not alone in not making time for this ineffable business value.   I think American society itself is increasingly weak in this human quality.  The dearth of empathy seems increasingly to be part and parcel of our rush, rush societal and business culture.


Those who follow this blog know my consistent and ongoing leitmotif of alarm over some of the unheralded and dangerous hidden costs of technology.  Miraculous technologies may well be slowly damaging our compassion and ability to relate in exact proportion to our advancing connectedness to universal knowledge.  Like a frog in slowly boiling water who doesn’t realized he is being cooked till he is cooked.  We are subtly, but constantly, succumbing to a world of superficiality and iDistraction.  Indeed, technology, which celebrates connectedness, is not created for anything but a conscious retreat from the inefficiency and annoyance of real human contact.  Our technology is increasingly a sort of Cliffs Notes for meaningful human interactions.

Furthermore, while we can choose to drink from an open fire hose of cyber knowledge, many folks I know use technology to only limit their connections to those media that confirm their ongoing prejudices.  Conservatives follow conservative channels, internet sites, and movies.  Liberals do the same.  In such a world, how is it possible to discern nuanced truth and grow into new thoughts and universal solutions?

Paul Saffo of Stanford states the following:

paul saffo“Individuals can select from a vast cyber-sea of media and utterly saturate their information space exclusively with information sources that reinforce existing world views.   Each of us can create our own personal media walled garden that surrounds us with comforting, confirming information, and utterly shuts out anything that conflicts with our  world view.  This is social dynamite, for shared knowledge and information is the glue that holds civil society together.  It is the stuff that caused people to change their opinions and to empathize with others [in the past].” (Farewell Media, it’s a Media Age)

This new media efficiency breeds a sort of narcissism.  I particularly worry about my young daughter’s generation that seems to be in thrall to the cheap grace of Facebook conformity, seeking social media confirmation.  “Look at me.  Love me. Want me.  Friend me.”  This is an emotional prostitution that confirms peer conformity and ersatz connection.  It is lazy.  And it is also prophylactic to real empathy and growth.

As part of this not so brave new world, this navel-gazing is habitualized and institutionalized.  It is all too easy to not make the effort to listen for the new, for anything that truly challenges our comfort level or opens paths of doubt and mutual vulnerability.

Over 18 years leading my executive sales outsourcing firm Corporate Rain International, it has become clear to me that true empathy is certainly the key to executive selling, particularly into the C-suite.  Our technology is universally eroding this skill, even for owners dealing with their peers.  I feel business leaders increasingly settle for quick, glib contact, rather than focused and thoughtful attention.

Rich Karlgaard, in this month’s Forbe’s Magazine (6/23/13, p. 38), quotes Leon Wieseltier‘s commencement speech at this year’s Brandeis graduation ceremony.  Weiseltier says,  “For decades now in America we have been witnessing a steady and sickening denigration of humanistic understanding and humanistic method.  We live in a society inebriated by technology and, happily, even giddily, governed by the values of utility, speed, efficiency, and convenience.”

People are inconvenient.  (French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said famously, “Hell is other people.”)  Empathy requires time, attention, and spiritual generosity.  Technology may celebrate connectedness, but it actually encourages a waning of deep human connection.

hemingway_2It takes work to really connect.  Emails and, even better, texting, allow us to avoid the emotional effort and risk of real human contact.  We are using technology to create efficiency, to save time.  But the saved time is increasingly bereft of richness, intimacy, and depth.

How do you serve a client or a customer well without listening for the nuance of his needs?  Empathy is the essential business skill that allows this to happen.

Ernest Hemingway said, “When people talk, listen completely.  Most people never listen.”  Yes.  Thank you, Ernest.

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