Why Do You Need a “Chief of Staff?”

“I’ve gotta keep the knucklehead stuff off of his desk, and this is worse. This is actual hot-button knucklehead. This could be a thing.”
John Spencer as Leo McGarry
“The West Wing”

Sometimes starting out at a new leadership position can feel like this!
(Image courtesy U.S. Government archives)

Congratulations! You’re now a CEO. The leader of an organization. (Large or small, nonprofit or for profit. It doesn’t matter)

But your time seems to be taken up with decisions that aren’t worth your time. Your calendar is full of meeting with department heads, other executives, maybe the media, and community leaders, but by 9:30 or 10 a.m. it’s been blown to hell with “crises” and problems that other C-Suite or director level positions can’t handle, or people who demand to speak to you “right now.”  It’s the classic argument of what’s “important” to you as a leader, and what’s “urgent,” jumping up and down demanding attention.
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Making Your Community Relations Play

Community relations needs to be a large part of any overall communication campaign, whether you’re working in politics, corporate PR, nonprofit or association communications.

If you’re going to be serious about community relations, you have to be involved in your community (online or offline) long before you actually need them. You’re working to build up community capital that you can cash in later when you need your community to back your proposal. If you’re a local civic leader, you can even beat back the threat of being fired with enough community support.

But like anything worth doing it takes time and hard work.

Community relations isn’t like a spigot – you can’t just turn it on and have goodwill come flooding out. It takes time – venturing out to meet with members of your community, and not just your immediate community, but across a geographical and demographic layer beyond your comfort zone. You have to go to their local summer BBQ’s, shaking hands and kissing babies, much like the best politicians.

You have to be involved in local governmental affairs. You can’t imagine the importance of good relations with local officials when you are trying to work on your university’s master plan, or building support for a Bond Campaign.

If you work at a school, college or university, your job is supposed to be easier. You should have departments dedicated to building bridges to communities. Parent Associations. Alumni Departments. PTAs for K-12. School Spirit Organizations. They are out there. You have to give them reasons to support you. Involving yourself with them matters.

How do you do this?

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CEO Chat – Corporate Mindfulness, and not Letting the Past Rule You

Don’t repeat the past, the past is there to guide the present into the future. Too many organizations are mired in “how things used to be run” and how to reexamine bringing the past back into the present. The past is in the past for a reason, to be learned from to help you achieve a tomorrow that is better than today, not for you to bring it back from the dead.

The past is in the past for a reason.  Leave it there and learn from it. We try to focus on the past for so much because we want to, for lack of a better term, “hoard” time.

Too many of us want to “turn back the clock” and go to the “good old days.” In personal lives we want to regain our lost youth, and in business we want to return to a day when there was “more” to go around (jobs, wealth, financial security, etc).

While in our society we enjoy poking fun at people who are called “hoarders,” considering ourselves to be above them – but it does not dawn on us that too often in the business world we end up “hoarding” many other things: money, power, desire, contacts, etc. Much like the person who has too much physical clutter in their homes, businesses run the risk of running into too much corporate clutter which warps our mental state as much as any physical junk pile.

Being mindful of not just your corporate needs, but the impact your corporate decisions will have on your community,  can help alleviate some of this, if you are aware of when this clutter begins to show up in your mind.  It’s hard because in order to avoid this “corporate hoarding” you might have to act in ways that are good for the “spirit” but not always the best for the shareholders’ pocketbook (in the short-term, I believe when you look at the long-term it will be better for your organization/city/neighbors/etc)

Authenticity – A Discussion

Note: This is an edited transcript of one of a number of ongoing Google Wave exchanges between Will Reichard of CrossCut Communications and Benson Hendrix, author of bensonhendrix.com, a blog about public relations, strategy and new media. It is being cross-posted on both sites.

Will: One of the blog ideas I had was about “authenticity”–the importance of a unique voice in an online identity. Being authentic requires courage, self-awareness and practice. Benson, what are some of your favorite examples of authenticity in action in the online realm?

Benson: In addition to the three attributes you named for authenticity, I would add patience and mindfulness, an ability to not only listen to what people are telling you, but to really hear and absorb their words, mulling them over before responding.

One of the first examples that comes to mind for me is Richard Edelman, of the mega-PR firm Edelman Public Relations. While some of the moves his company have made in the online realm have been very questionable (anyone remember “Walmarting Across America?”) Edelman himself seems willing to be authentic and upfront on his own blog.

Dell is always one of my go-to examples for what is right in the online sphere. In addition to selling over $6 million through Twitter (reported naturally enough, on Twitter) Dell has really worked hard to change their image from going through “Dell Hell” to seeking out people with Dell problems and actively engaging them to help fix their problems – I know, I was one of them a few years back. Lionel Menchaca, Richard Binhammer and the rest of the Dell outreach team have done a great job.

Other examples of authenticity online include Bob Lutz at G.M. and the Fastlane Blog, and Scott Monty on the other side of the street at Ford. Both are doing interesting things online to get people excited about their products.

In the PR world, I also like following Richard Laermer and Peter Shankman. Each one has developed a social media presence that is truly a part of themselves, it’s not phony or perceived as a sham.

For smaller companies, or companies that have a one person commanding presence that stands out when you think of that company (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Lee Iacocca) it’s almost easier to use online tools and social media to develop your business presence around that outstanding person, since the two companies are linked already.

Will: Great points, Benson, and I love the idea of quiet consideration before responding–I really think it helps to discover what’s authentic in what one is about to say. I’m also put in mind of your blog post on “swinging back” — namely, that the authentic response is the right one, not just the one that convention dictates is “correct.” Which is another way of saying, textbooks are great, but at some point, you have to leave the crutches behind.

Which brings me back to the idea of courage as a prerequisite for authenticity. And this is especially an issue in social media, don’t you think? You’re operating at high speeds without a net (pun intended).

Here in New Mexico (though with a reach that goes way beyond), I enjoy watching Lee Stranahan in this regard (http://leestranahan.com/). Lee has a unique voice and rarely pulls his punches. It’s not always easy for him, but it’s also a big part of the reason he’s as widely successful as he is.

Benson: Yeah, it’s definitely OK for people to leave the crutches behind and start experimenting with new ideas. And you’re right that courage is needed, not just in authenticity but also in dealing with authority. If you’re unwilling to discuss your concerns with your boss, or you are left in a “need to know” basis, then you will always find yourself in a situation where you have to defensively respond to what’s going on while you try to figure out what’s going on. And you can’t build trust or any kind of authentic value doing that.

Will: Great point–with all the discussion about the role of communications in the C Suite–the “at the table” discussion–maybe we should talk about educating one’s organization on the value of authenticity. As a student of management, I’d have to say this is a great case of “getting what you reward.” Look at JFK, who told his Cabinet he didn’t want a bunch of “yes men.” And yet, that’s very, very difficult to create where there is any imbalance of power (and JFK suffered from that). An organization’s leaders have to (for lack of a better word) institutionalize that attitude.

If you’re looking for truth-to-power types, it’s important to make authenticity a part of the interview process, both for the interviewee and for the organization.  You might create some scenarios and ask the interviewee about them. Better yet, when you call his or her references (and you always should), ask them about it. In any case, managers need to build this into their process to avoid groupthink and ensure communications that are thought through and genuine. You have to hold up people who practiced authenticity and let everyone see that not only was that spirit tolerated, it is in fact rewarded. This can be really tough to do! Authenticity isn’t necessarily a comfortable solution.

Readers: What do you think? What role does authenticity play in communications? What examples have you seen?

When Bloggers Attack – Swinging Back

I love working in social media – blogging, podcasting, video work, social networking and more.  All of them give you ample opportunity to interact with others. Sometime for good, and other times you’ll find you or your organization getting blasted by a blogger, content creator or just a plain old curmudgeon.

While many people in social media, a lot of whom are incredibly knowledgeable, and many communications officers feel that your organization should “rise above” any kind of crossing swords with people online who are attacking you, I wish to disagree. There is a line in the sand where you should be willing to kill any detractors with kindness (always remember to be understanding and offer the honey-laden olive branch as much as possible) but once that line is crossed you should be able to respond factually, forcefully and passionately.

Many social media peeps, especially when looking at business social media, will tell you to keep your statements and content as even-keel as possible. You never want to engage in mud throwing or flame wars. I agree with them on this, but where we might diverge a little bit is my opinion that when your organization is being attacked, possibly unfairly, by online peeps who are unwilling to look at facts, or try to skew facts to match a caricature they created to attack your organization.  Then these are the times when you will need to stand up, use the facts as your sword and shield, and call out your detractors.

This isn’t an open call to start flame wars and a rousing round of “nanny nanny boo boo.” Keep your responses slightly snarky (maybe a little more. Remember that you want to keep a little bit of a bite to them). They need to be classy, but sharp as a razor’s edge. You want to remind your opposition that if they want to misquote you, or tweak facts to match a false claim, that you are going to repeatedly respond by throwing high and inside.

Look at how various political campaigns ran their social media outlets during the 2008 and upcoming 2010 campaigns. They brought in bloggers who already had followers, but more importantly were passionate about their candidate’s stands (or, let’s be honest, became passionate about their positions once they started receiving a check) and were willing to stand up for them. In addition, Barack Obama’s campaign built online tools from scratch to help foster their community of supporters.

Balancing the Playing Field

If your organization is going to have “what it takes” to respond to online attacks this way, you need to have a CEO who has the spine to understand that for a short while, the attacks might intensify as your opposition tries to determine how far you will go before folding.  In order for this to work, you have to be willing to repeatedly defend your position with this idea of “classy passion.” Again, humor is one of your best weapons here.

Look at what the Obama White House is doing right now with FOX News, they are repeatedly responding to FOX News when they believe facts are in error.   For a while the peeps on FOX News were calling it the “War on Fox,” or some such thing.

There used to be a saying that you never go to war with people who buy ink by the barrel or tape by the yard.  Meaning it was never in your best interest to cross swords with people who run the media, because they can come after you day after day for any perceived slight.  That used to be true, but with the advances in social media, social networking (for audience building) and online communications you suddenly have the tools to create your own media outlet to respond, “balancing the playing field” more in your favor.

Being the old rugger I am, I’ll leave you with this analogy. While you want to play cleanly as much as possible, and give people the benefit of the doubt, I’ve found that one of the best ways to stop someone from throwing punches in the ruck is a good, old-fashioned cleat rake every so often.

CEO Chat: Coaches and General Manager’s – Which are You?

This past week, my beloved Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) ran headlong into a miracle this week. After four years of delving into mediocrity, the Bills fired their head coach and promoted their defensive coordinator to interim head coach.

As a Bills fan, I’m greatly relieved that the team showed the guts to get rid of their leader halfway through the season and start the hunt for a new coach earlier than the rest of the NFL. (Of course that means this season is pretty much over, but Bills fans knew that back after week 1)

Another question raised was, “Will the Bills get a real football general manager (GM) as well, hire one person to be the coach/GM, or keep the current pseudo-GM?” Since 2005, the Bills haven’t had a real GM, the person who is responsible for putting the team together, and the product on the field has shown it.

While only time will tell for the Bills, today I want to talk about the differences between “GM’s” and “coaches” in the business world.  Each has their benefits and weaknesses to developing your “team.” (For lack of a better word)

 


 

General Managers

These are the guys who hire the players (and coaches) for the team. They put the pieces in place, and figure out how to best use each person’s strength to compensate for other’s weaknesses. They are also responsible for going out and scouting which players in college and free agency can make the organization better.  Instead of creating a situation to make the sum of the parts greater than the whole, they see each of the parts and how they can be more than the whole.

In a perfect world, they trust that the people they hire know how to do their jobs without too much prodding.

Coaches

These are the guys who lead the team, develop the game plan and calculate how the team will best work together.  They take the pieces that the general manager give them and put them together in a way that will maximize their chances for success.

They try to create a situation where the sum of the team’s parts is greater than the whole.

Again, in that perfect world we all want, they trust the people they lead and believe that they can finesse the best possible outcome from their team.

 


But Benson, I hear you saying, what about the dual-rolled “Coach/GM”? Can’t they provide the best possible outcome for you?  True, but to be honest, outside of a rare few people (in the NFL you know who they are, Mike Holmgren, Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan) most fall short when trying to fulfill both roles. Whether the responsibilities for each are too much, or they lack one of the two necessary skill sets they fall short at one while usually crashing at the other.  In the NFL you too often see coaches wanting both positions – feeling that if they have to lead the group, they should be able to pick who they lead. However, this is more of an excuse to not develop a strong working relationship with the person selecting the team, there’s not the communication and trust between the two to work together for the best results possible.

 

All I want to say about this is figure out which role you better fill and stick with improving yourself at that. There will be time to develop the other side’s skills at another time when you already have a base of experience to build on.  And this way, at least you’ll be showing improvement and success to one of the other people who really matter – your boss.

This requires a truthful self-evaluation. Which of the above sounds more like you? Do you want to put the pieces in place to succeed and not micromanage them, or do you prefer the challenge of taking what you have in the office and kicking ass with that? Or am I totally off-base here?