Social Media and You (the Leader): Part 1

Have you received a “friend request” from an employee on Facebook?  Is a colleague “following you” on Twitter?  Has a client or vendor invited you to “Join Them” on Linkedin?  These are the realities of today’s social media age and they aren’t going away any time soon.  Being a leader today is much more highly visible than ever before.

I’d like to explore this topic over a few posts and get your feedback on the social media age and how it impacts you as a leader.  So, let’s get started.

About a decade and a half ago, we were talking about the rise of 24 hour multi-media.  Images of newsworthy (and some not-so-newsworthy) events were plastered continuously all over television and the evolving web.  However, we as the common bystander were just that.  Mere voyeurs to a world that was happening around us.  And for many, there was comfort in that anonymity.

Enter social media and mobile technology.

Social media (especially that enabled by mobile technology) has taken 24 hour multi-media to a whole new and very personal height.  At any second in the day, I can catch up on what the guy that sat 4 seats behind me in my high school algebra class (20-ish years ago) had for lunch today and what he thought about it.  I can also check on where my sister last “checked in”, what my children saying about me, and that my college roommate still likes New Kids on the Block.  Depending upon how I’ve used or opened myself up in social media, I may also know what my employees, co-workers, and boss are doing and think.

That’s an awful lot of information.  And some quite personal information.  AND in many cases….TMI.

The great majority of those over the age of 13 today are involved in or have used some type of social media.  Facebook (founded in 2004) boasts over 750M users worldwide, Twitter has over 200M members, and Linkedin has over 100M members.  And that’s just the big three.  Add in Digg, Foursquare, My Space, etc. and the numbers and frequency of use becomes staggering.  AND THEN you add in the new Google+ platform and the competitive social landscape really heats up dramatically.  All of the metrics I’ve seen only show continued rapid growth for social media usage.

So why the long set up?

It’s to underscore the importance that social media is playing in our world today.  The same world that we have to be leaders in.  Our environment is changing and we need to adapt to it.

It begs the question, “How do we as leaders use social media in our personal and business lives?

I tried to do some research on this topic, but found that there were many many differing opinions.  And quite honestly, it really depends on you, what you want to accomplish, and how disciplined you are.  So, I don’t think there are any right or wrong answers when it comes to “should you or shouldn’t you” use social media.

But, here’s four things to consider:

  1. Social media is a tool.  In fact, it can be a very powerful tool.  Powerful good and powerful bad.  You can use it to communicate, network, share, and interact with just about anyone you choose only at the risk of exposing your thoughts to others.  I have friends who are very savvy that use it to drive their businesses by creating a following.  I have friends that use it merely as a social platform for friends and family.  I also have friends that (in my opinion) make idiots of  themselves in a “public place” (which leads to the next point).
  2. Social media is public.  Regardless of how private you set your privacy settings, posting things to your “wall” can (and may) become public information.  I cringe when I see people trash others on Facebook or use Twitter to carry out a barrage of insults on someone who has done them wrong.  Folks, they call it “re-tweeting” for a reason and your private tirade can become a public spectacle in about 3 seconds anymore.  Further, the word “public” means just that.  It could include your boss, co-workers, employees, a job recruiter, client, and so on even if you aren’t “friends” with them on that social platform.
  3. Social media is in writing.  And photos.  And videos.  These are all mediums that can be copied, reproduced, and shared quickly.  If you don’t want other people to know, then don’t write about it.  If you’re concerned that people will judge you for attending that party last Saturday night, then don’t post a picture of yourself dancing on a table top while holding a bottle of your favorite adult beverage.  Writing, posting, and uploading content in some cases can create a permanent record, so be mindful of what you’re putting in that permanent record.
  4. Social media is immediate.  This one kills me.  On some platforms, the second you hit send it’s out there.  The second you tweet it, post it, or digg it – others will know.  Don’t expect it to be any different.  And since a large portion of people access social media through mobile phones (that they carry with them 24/7), the chances that they will see your information sooner, rather than later, is very likely.
We’ll jump in to some tips for navigating the social media mindfield and how employees play in to that mix in coming posts.
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So, what’s your stance?  How do you use social media today?  Leave a comment and share!
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Enjoy!
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~Jason

How Do They Describe You?

This is not a setup to a joke, but… A funny thing happened at work the other day.

Apparently, a couple of interns were talking with some of my team members when referring to me one said, “Where is that funny guy?” And the other quickly added, “With the spikey hair.”

Funny guy with the spikey hair. Hmmmmm.

My team members responded, “You mean our boss?” And they immediately became embarrassed for not remembering my name. They then asked my team not to relay the story to me, and…well since I am blogging about it…you can see how that worked out for them.

Of course, I had a little fun with them about it over the following days. After all, there are much worse things to be called.

While a hilarious situation, it really leads to a great point.

How do people describe you?

In my situation, the interns couldn’t remember my name, so they had to describe me to others based upon my actions and characteristics. They used the adjective “funny”, which isn’t too bad in my eyes, because they could have always said, “the guy that tries to be funny”. And they called out the fact that I had hair, which at my age is becoming more and more of a plus.

The use of these descriptors highlighted not only how the interns perceive me, but also the characteristics that stand out that make me unique.

So, how do people describe you?

What are the characteristics that you display that people remember? That set you apart? That you are known for?

Do they describe you in positive or negative terms?

Are you funny, hard working, caring, friendly, approachable, creative, crazy (good), humble, driven, savvy, or imaginative?

Or do people see you as condescending, stressed, arrogant, wishy-washy, unfriendly, or jerky? Yes. Jerky (not as in the edible dried meat product, but as someone they don’t want to be around).

I definitely would have been concerned if they would have said, “Where is that jerky guy with the spikey hair?”

Whether you have relatively little interaction with people or lots, how you act and treat them predominately forms the basis of how they see and perceive you. And after all, their perception is their reality. And its this reality that they share with others.

So, as a leader, be self-aware. Know how people describe and perceive you. This is a  very important skill to develop.  If you don’t know how people see you, then ask. Find some trusted colleagues, a mentor, a boss, or others and ask. If you don’t like what you hear, then do something about it.

How do they describe you?

Three Lessons From My Great Race

I blame my parents for my competitive nature.  While not the most athletic lad growing up, I certainly was taught to “strive for excellence”, “do my best” and to “never give up”, which fuels this competitive fire inside of me.  While I wasn’t great at sports, I most certainly learned some valuable life lessons from sports, of which I will use this post to share three.

When I was a teenager, two friends of mine convinced me that I should take up long distance running.  There was a 5k race approaching and they talked me into training for it.  My friends were on the cross-country team at school and had much more experience than I.  I trained hard and prepared for race day, but was still nervous about the race.  I didn’t know what to expect or how I would perform.  I just knew that I would do my best and try not to embarrass myself too badly.

Before the race, as most young men do, we ribbed each other and I remember one of them saying, “Just try to keep up.”  Of course, I responded in kind.

As the race was getting ready to start, my parents reminded me to “do my best”.

As we lined up with the crowd of racers at the starting line, I looked at the other racers in admiration, hoping and believing that my mind and body were ready and they would not fail me. I reminded myself to just do my best.  The announcer started the count and at a gunshot, we were all off and running.

I was excited in the beginning because I was keeping pace with my friends.  I think I was full of adrenaline, because I felt great and wasn’t winded!

At about the one-mile mark, one of my friends started stumbling and slowing.  He complained of side pains and started breathing heavily.  Because he was slowing, my other friend and I started to outpace him.  He started yelling that we needed to stay together (which meant that we would have to slow down to stick with him).  The faster friend and I decided that we needed to “run the race” and not slow down.

We told him what we were going to do and started pulling away.  Our friend was clearly not happy with our decision.  His curses grew softer and softer as he faded into the distance behind us.

The two of us were moving at a pretty brisk pace when, at mile two, my friend (the more experienced runner) started to slow. For a moment I didn’t know what I was to do, but was comforted when my friend told me that I needed to go on and do my best.  I nodded and started to pull away from him, but this time I didn’t hear curses.  I heard him cheering me on saying, “GO! GO! GO!  You can do it!”  This fueled my pace.  And I heard his encouraging words grow softer as he faded into the distance as well.

Now I was by myself.  I had outlasted my two experienced friends.  I was moving at a good pace, but didn’t really have a gauge for whether I was doing good or bad. The only thing I could do was increase my own speed and focus on what was in front of me.  So, I ran faster.

I started to pass other runners, which quickly gave me new purpose.  After I would pass a runner, I would set my sights on a new target in front of me and try to run past them.  I did this over and over.  So, I ran faster.

Finally, before I knew it, I was in the home stretch and I could see a crowd of people.  I could hear them cheering.  So, I ran faster.

Before long, I was sprinting as hard as I could almost to the point of hyper-ventilating.  Yet, I kept the sprint up until I passed the finish line.

My parents were probably more surprised than excited at my achievement.  My mom didn’t get any pictures at the finish because they didn’t think I would finish that quickly.  I definitely surpassed everyone’s expectations.

I finished third in my age bracket with a time of around 20 minutes.  Not a super fast 5k race time, but not to shabby for my first race.  It was a very proud moment for the Jackson household.

I share this story with you not to relive a glory day (although some great memories came back while writing this), but rather because sports always seem to provide great life lessons and this parable had some for me that I’ve applied in both my personal and professional life.

So what did I learn from My Great Race?  Here are three lessons:

PLAY TO WIN

When you’re in the ‘game’, you have several choices.  Among others you can choose not to play, play not to lose, or play to win.

Each choice has a different mindset behind  it and each elicits different results.

My personal opinion is that if you are in the game, ‘choosing not to play’ really isn’t an option.  Although, I can think of countless stories where I have watched people sit on the sidelines and/or give up along the way.  Not playing is simply not acceptable.

‘Playing not to lose’ is an example of what I would call an incremental (and sometimes mediocre) effort.  It falls in line with other choices where you set a specific limit or goal and then play only to that goal and then stop.  For example, if I set the goal of doing 30 pushups in my morning workout.  I will almost always hit 30, but rarely go beyond that.  In business, it may mean performing to match or stay slightly ahead of a competitor’s performance.  Or performing to a specific number (e.g., comp sale, volume number), but not blowing it away.

We often have to set incremental goals in our mind or on paper, but how we truly view that goal is what will determine our level of success.  There is a time and place for setting these types of performance goals, but if you constantly ‘play not to lose’ you will rarely meet your FULL potential.

Playing to win means that you ‘show up’ and strive for the greatest result possible (doing your best) regardless of the goal.  Doing so will propel you towards meeting your potential and surpassing everyone’s expectations – even your own (as happened with me)..

In the race, had I stayed with either of my friends as they slowed, I would have met my goals of finishing the race and not embarrassing myself, but I never would have met my true potential that day.  So, ALWAYS do your best!

BELIEVE IN YOURSELF

Believing in yourself is something that I am sure you have heard many times before.  Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, the author of the Power of Postive Thinking, captured it well when he wrote, “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”

This is often easier said than done.  There are many factors that contribute to whether or not you believe in yourself.  A major factor is what those around you say.  Depending upon your sensitivity to others’ comments, they can lift you up to the highest of highs or bring you down to the lowest of lows.

Few roles open you up to more scrutiny than the role of a leader.  People always have opinions and comments about your performance.  Sometimes good, sometimes bad.  As I have told many, you can’t control what someone says, but you can control how you react to it.

Part of being a leader is learning to listen to others, determine the value of the information and then choose a course of action and drive forward.  You can ignore it, ask for more information, change your behavior, or let it fuel you.  Regardless, you have to learn to accept the cheers and the jeers.

Thinking back to the race, my first friend (perhaps out of frustration) cursed us for outpacing him.  He tried to hold us back and guilt us in to staying with him, which would have hindered our performance.  My second friend, cheered me on when I outpaced him and encouraged me until I couldn’t hear him anymore.  Two very different reactions to my performance, but because I believed in myself it was easy to process the information; one I ignored and one I let fuel my efforts.

SET YOUR SIGHTS FORWARD

There was an interesting point during the race that I found myself without a benchmark.  When I was in the last mile by myself, I entered the “okay…what now?” phase.  I didn’t know how I was performing, but instead of just running down the road aimlessly, I decided to set my sights forward on beating the next racer, then the next, then the next.  This helped me go faster and achieve greater results.

This definitely has application to how we function in the business world.  While we need to be aware of our surroundings, we should constantly be looking forward at how to achieve even greater results and higher heights.  Don’t be satisfied with the status quo.  Don’t run the race at the same pace as others.  Run faster.

I hope that you’ve found these three life lessons to be valuable.  I know that I have and practice them regularly in my career, leadership, and life.

What life lessons have you learned?

Enjoy!

~Jason

Is That the Best You Can Do?

This week, we were honored to have Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, speak at our workplace.  She is a very interesting and dynamic speaker.  Many that attended found her brutal honesty to be refreshing.

Among the many experiences and stories that she told was one about the speechwriter for Henry Kissinger that I think was very intriguing.  So much so, that I did some research on the story.  I found out that earlier in his career, Winston Lord was Kissinger’s speechwriter before he later became the ambassador to China.  The story basically goes like this:

Lord was preparing a speech for Kissinger and delivered a draft.  Kissinger called him in the next day and simply said, “Is that the best you can do?”  Lord said, “I thought so, but I’ll try again.”  He returned a draft to Kissinger, only to be called back again and asked the same question, “Is that the best you can do?”  This back and forth continued several times until Lord, who was exasperated and exhausted, finally said, “Yes!  I know it’s the best I can do.  I can’t possibly improve one more word.”  Kissinger then replied, “In that case, now I will read it.”

While I found that there were a few variations of this story (even as told by Lord himself in interviews), I found that the moral of the story remained constant and rings true; are you giving your best the first time?  The story is popular and I found it used in several blogs on leadership , articles and speeches. 

So the story begs the question, “Are you delivering your best work the first time?”

All Kissinger really wanted was an assurance and confidence in the fact that this was in fact his speechwriter’s best work.  If the speechwriter would have said “Yes” the first time Kissinger probably would have accepted it, but by repeatedly issuing the challenge he ultimately received his speechwriter’s best.

As I think about the application of this story to leadership, I think about it in two ways.

First, as leaders, do we elicit the best work from our people? How do you know?  What are you doing to challenge your  people to be better?  Are you teaching and developing them to produce quality work?  Do they convey their confidence when submitting work product? Do they strive to provide their best the first time?

Second, as leaders, do we set a good example and provide OUR BEST work the first time?  To your boss?  To your subordinates?  To your colleagues and partners?  To your customers?  Are people seeing your best work the first time?  Or do you scrape drafts together and submit them haphazardly just to get by? 

Here’s 5 tips on helping you achieve your best work the first time:

  1. Chuck laziness aside!  Don’t procrastinate!  You may be thinking, “Ha!  Easier said than done.”  Procrastination is one of the most widespread workplace diseases that there is.  Many even fall victim to the fallacy that “I do my best work under pressure.”  Well, then create artificial pressure to get you there, because leaving things to the last-minute generally leads to less than desired performance.  Force yourself to get started on things early.  If you can get in to this habit, you will be a step ahead of many.   This basic tip also sets you up for more effectively employing the next three tips.
  2. Plan for the Red Pen Plan time for the proof-reading, editing and review of your work.   Your boss shouldn’t be spending time red-penning (editing) your work.  Make sure this is part of your own project or work plan.  And honestly, once you learn to use it appropriately it becomes second nature. 
  3. Find Good Hole Punchers!  In addition to planning the proofing process in to your work, is the development of a list of trusted people who can review your work before you submit it.  Have them punch holes in your theories, format, content and anything else they can.  This list should be of people from a cross-section of your work environment because you may want different or multiple opinions on varying pieces of work.  Two key callouts though are that your list needs to be made up of people who have no fear of being brutally honest with you AND you need to be willing to accept any feedback that they provide with an open mind. 
  4. Sleep on it!  One of the great tricks of the trade, especially if you don’t have good hole punchers is to come to a stopping point in your work, put it aside, sleep on it a day or two, and then come back to it with a fresh set of eyes.  This gives your mind time to rest.  And when you come back to the work, you may see things you didn’t see before or think of new ways to phrase or say things.
  5. Obsess on improvement!  How many times has spell check saved your life in catching a misspelled word?  How many times since then have you misspelled that same word over and over only to have spell check catch it again?  I know it’s happened to me.  However, you won’t always have spell check around to save you.  So, wouldn’t it be good to get past being lazy and learn to actually spell the word right?  The same applies to all that you learn each time you submit a piece a work for review.  As people proof your work or provide you edits, learn the lessons they are teaching you and apply them to future work.  Learn to spell the word right!

What tips do you have for submitting your best work the first time?

Enjoy!

~Jason

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